It used to be that only a person named Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia in real life) had the interest of making short films. With the Filipino culture for the backdrop, Kidlat played the lead role in the short films he directed, using his own script and probably handling the camera all by himself, not to mention that he was also the producer.
Kidlat’s cinematic experimentations may have been ahead of his time because despite his Mababangong Bangungot earning raves abroad, articles about him and his works could only be read in Jingle Magazine, a chorded song book. And surely, only a few of his peers have seen his short films on his own projector.
Although it is a given that short films are not made to earn money, there were plenty of other reasons why only very few followed Kidlat’s footsteps. The expensive “moving camera” was a rarity then and a roll of film was priced in gold. The specialized processing involved would cost a limb, not to mention that only a handful understood the intricacies of developing the film into positive, editing and merging. Compounding the problem, the finished product could only be exhibited using a special projector.
Few may know that there was a proliferation of short films during the Martial Law era. However, Kidlat and his ilk were waylaid by the blue movies, commonly known as fighting fish – the slang for pornographic films – which were the handiwork of filmmakers wanting to have an outlet for their artistic inclinations. Understandable was the concern of those aspiring filmmakers for it was easier to recoup their investments in the black market than fighting with tooth and nail in the mainstream. But those blue movies couldn’t be considered short films for the simple reason that they were mostly visuals and had no stories at all.
On a brighter note, Kidlat’s pioneering efforts were not in vain. Digital shorts are getting to be in vogue nowadays. Like what was stated in my previous articles, we can thank the technology for the positive changes the movie-making industry is currently undergoing. Video cameras are getting cheaper, and even smaller for better portability, with amazing features that can defy imagination. Tapes or mini-DV used for storing the raw footages are affordable to the masses. The DVD or VCD as storage for the finished product can be obtained in any of the numerous computer stores and even bookstores. Moreover, movie projectors, particularly for the digital films, are becoming a common fixture during presentations.
Adding flavor to the game are the encouragements which are springing everywhere, from the academe to cultural groups, TV networks and even movie producers. One proof is the recent Cinemadali, a short film contest thru the collaboration of NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) and FAP (Film Academy of the Philippines). The objective was to create a short film of one to five minutes using any kind of camera. And to emphasize the point, even the video output of a cellphone camera is accepted. Despite the small cash prizes, the gesture is a good indication for the direction of digital shorts.
Making a digital short is not so difficult especially if one owns a video camera. Scouting for talents is not a problem since digital shorts, especially experimental ones, tend to showcase the innate talents of the moviemaker or his friends and relatives. There are video enthusiasts who are continually collecting footages for a probable documentary or maybe the collected footages can serve as backdrop to their future short films.
Shooting can be fun because one can choose any location that will suit the script. The Rizal Park, for one, is a favorite haunt of amateur filmmakers. The setting can also be right in your own home or neighborhood. Shooting in public places may require a permit but it can be overriden by the technique called “guerilla style” of shooting where the filmmaker is very discreet so as not to attract the attention of authorities.
Documentaries or MTV types don’t need a full script but a storied film can be complete in a one-page script. The story can be a drama or a thriller complete with preliminaries and a fitting climax. It can also be a mere joke with a nice punchline. The genre is unrestricted as long as the running time follows the standard minimum of one minute and maximum of five minutes. This standard, however, is just tentative as of now.
Digital shorts can be done in a day or two or maybe longer but, of course, the duration always depends on the availability of resources, not to mention the whims and caprices of a meticulous filmmaker. According to the veterans, good planning is required lest one forgets the props or the necessary costume change for the continuity of the film’s story. Another advice is to have a flawless script and, if possible, a shot list detailing the camera angles that will dictate the tempo of shooting the sequences (or a series of scenes).
Exhibition of the digital short is as simple as inserting the DVD (or VCD) in the player which has become ubiquitous in the Filipino household. Depending on the theme or the story, the digital short can be shown in gatherings or even business meetings.
As per my experience in a project for a recently held digital filmmaking workshop, the actual shoot was shorter compared to the preparation of the set or in finding a suitable location. Since we chose Rizal Park as the only location, we only had to walk from one place to another to get the desired setting changes.
Guerilla style of shooting in Luneta
The shot list, which served as the guide for the videographer, lessened the shooting time. Actual takes took only a few minutes although previewing often caused small arguments. Previewing the shots was a big help in determining if the take was good enough. Fortunately, we only had a few re-takes and the talents were very accommodating to our requests for a re-enactment.
Doing the project seemed to be a breeze and we were able to submit the finished product on time. But upon exhibition, during the last session of the workshop, the realization hit us that making a digital short is not really for amateurs. Even a digital short of 3 minutes requires ample evaluation for best results. The video quality suffered a lot of resolution losses due to the series of transfers we did – from different computers using different media (CD and DVD). There were technical matters like “frames per second” and “frame size” that we couldn’t fully comprehend. There were some parts with unsynchronized merging of scenes that resulted in abrupt transitions.
Another important point to ponder on is the music or sound which greatly enhances the overall presentation. And for good measure, the titles with fancy fonts, colors and effects should meld with the theme. All these problems can be solved by a professional editor or with the guidance of a seasoned director. Nevertheless, even if our digital short was graded amateurish, the mere thought of making the film by ourselves is already a great achievement for workshoppers like us.
Digital shorts may not be as attractive as the digital full length (which runs for 90 minutes or more) in terms of audience share but it is a good training ground for those aspiring to be real filmmakers. Besides, contests and festivals are coming up to provide the needed venues of exhibition (the Film Academy of the Philippines had announced its plan for this year of holding a digital shorts festival with Filipino Literature for material).
Amid the plusses for the digital shorts, it’s still a long way to go but there’s the likelihood that an oversupply of short films would tend to create its own market. And whether it becomes a reality or not, one thing is sure – Kidlat Tahimik’s efforts finally bore fruit.
Dig shorts, anyone?
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