Is Maltese Television Drama Dying?

In this article, we will be discussing Maltese television drama and its prospects. We sit down with Patrick Bonnici, a popular actor who has a significant presence on Maltese television over the past recent years. Patrick has given B?P the honor to discuss the prospects of Maltese drama together.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the television series you featured in?

A 41-year-old struggling to find time to cope with everyone and everything! So much going on in my life right now, so it is a continuous struggle to find time for everyone and that includes myself! Being involved in local drama has taken its toll on me, however, that was my choice, which I do not regret. My drama career took off with me being an extra and it further progressed to main roles. To date, I have been involved in eleven different TV drama series (Bahar Wiehed, Il-Patt, Rifless, Klassi Ghalina, Caqqufa, Strada Stretta, Intricci, Tereza, Aenigma, Santa Monika and Fattigi) and one cinema movie – Id-Destin.

When did you start working in the TV industry?

My first ever role was as an extra, back in 2014, relatively late considering my age and in July 2015, I managed to land an important recurring role, however, my first main one was in 2016.

What was your proudest moment on set?

In all honesty and modestly speaking, my proudest moment was when I was being considered and recognised as one of the finest actors on the island. That for me was one, if not the biggest, of my achievements.What was your most embarrassing moment?

Well, had quite a few of those, but there was this particular instance which definitely takes the top spot. We were filming and the scene required some extras out of which one, in particular, had a few sentences also. Unfortunately, this lad struggled to remember these two sentences even when they were told by the director just before the ‘Action’, so yes, it was a complete disaster. Finally, we managed to hear ‘CUT’ and the scene was over. Soon after, we were having a ten-minute break and the director came to me quite frustrated describing how awful that guy was. This was of course followed by a couple of laughs also and there it is! This guy was eavesdropping behind the door and he just came in, said goodbye and left! I still feel so embarrassed talking about it today.

What is your view on the progression of Maltese television series?

I strongly believe that local drama has improved over the years in terms of quality, resources and awareness since now it has become super popular, especially amongst young age audiences, in fact, it is much easier now to find drama schools where parents can enrol their kids.

Do you think that Maltese television series leaves a lot to be desired? Could this be due to lack of ideas and resources?

I wouldn’t say that local series leave a lot to be desired when one considers the lack of resources and funding. I believe that with all the limitations we have, we are producing decent productions. Let’s keep in mind that this is done on a part-time basis and all the people involved do it because they simply love it and nothing more. Having said so, lack of funds is a determining factor, when it comes to producing that something extra, leading to a high-quality product which can compete with foreign ones. It is a pity because the people involved such as producers, scriptwriters and also actors themselves have so many ideas and willingness to produce higher quality productions.

What can you tell us about the viewership numbers of such series?

Viewership has never been an issue with our local productions. Some productions enjoy much more viewership than others for various reasons such as station, production houses and politics. The biggest percentage of the viewership includes middle-aged people upwards, however, we Maltese do have a passion for local television series and since lately, we are producing more and more realistic scenarios, hence attracting people of all ages. One also has to keep in mind that back in the day, you wouldn’t dare to have kissing or a sex scene or ones involving drugs, but slowly they are being introduced, thus improving on the existing level when compared to foreign productions. There is also a religious aspect and the fact that we are more sensitive in this area. Malta is a small island and unfortunately, people tend to negatively label you if you dare to do something out of the norm, even though if it is just acting! This is a vast subject and this question would require a whole interview on its own.

In a competitive landscape where international series are easily accessible on Netflix or else with just a few clicks, what do you think is the future for Maltese television series?

With today’s improvements from the local television service providers, one can easily access local productions, so I don’t see an issue with that. However, we produce series in Maltese language, so I don’t see any international opportunities. Having said so, we are introducing subtitles in English as required. A case in point was the cinema movie I shot which was aired abroad with English subtitles, so yes, we are moving forward however at our own pace.

What can you tell us about actors in the local context? Is there really a career?

This is the one-million-dollar question. Very proudly I can say that we have a bunch of super talented actors that can easily feature in foreign productions. One needs to understand how difficult it is for locals to excel in such an industry, where we have our full-time jobs and at the same time, we need to dedicate a lot of time at home studying and onset. At times we are hardly at home since we need to go to film soon after finishing from work, or very late in the day or weekends. Unfortunately, we can’t have an acting career on a full-time basis in Malta and this frustrates us quite a lot. Maybe we can try our luck far from our shores? Yes, why not, but we have families here, commitments and a million other things that make it extremely difficult. We might be used to watching famous foreign actors in popular movies or series however rest assured that they went through hell to get that far. Personally, I can’t afford to do that now at least! Honestly, sometimes I wonder why it can’t happen in Malta. I might have an idea or two why, but this issue needs to be addressed and dealt with at national level.

Television advertising is expensive and the medium is becoming less popular due to streaming. This leads to fewer quality productions. What is your view on this matter and what can be done to improve the situation?

I don’t really agree with this statement – let me explain: Advertising rates differ according to the station, air time and production being aired at that time. Is it expensive? Maybe yes, however in no way is it effecting the quality of productions, at least from a drama productions point of view! The quality of a drama series reflects on the production house firstly, and ultimately the station and I am sure that neither one or the other would risk having a production of low quality. Fewer productions as in quantity? This depends on the station. Once again, we can’t compare much here since we have one national station and two political ones (comparing these three since they are the top three in terms of viewership and also the most stations used to broadcast drama series). TVM is undoubtedly the most popular amongst the Maltese and the most requested from production houses to have their product broadcasted there. However, businesses are now focusing their advertising according to the popularity of the production, meaning that some productions and TV stations struggle a bit when it comes to advertising sales.

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