Jul 05
DIGITALS ON THE RISE by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Thu, Jul 5, 2007

Last year, of the 56 local movies commercially exhibited, 11 were digital films, and as predicted, the number will steadily rise.

The digital film was called such because of the medium used. Where the traditional films use the 35mm film loaded in huge cameras, the digital film uses the compact digital camera with digital video output. Most of the veteran cinematographers criticize the “complexion” of the digital film like the color or the grainy (or lack of grainy) effect. But it all boils down to the rise of technology, that digital films comprised 20% of local films commercially exhibited last year.

Without intention, the digital film is turning out to be a genre. Aside from the lower budgetary requirement for production, the digitals normally have no big stars in their cast and their stories are mostly poetic, figurative and palatable, mostly for deep-thinkers. To further the handicap, most digitals were produced by the aspiring director who also wrote the script from his own concoction of the story concept.

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Brillante “Dante” Mendoza is a member of the PDGP (Production Designers Guild of the Philippines) who had a fancy for movie production. With a dream story in his head, Dante tapped his connections to gather enough funds and went ahead with the planning and eventual production of Masahista, with him as the instant director. Since location shooting was a problem (because they had no permit), Dante had to handle the camera in order to save time in shooting the outdoor scenes. Although Masahista didn’t earn enough to cover the production cost, Dante was happy with the nominations it earned from local and foreign award-giving bodies.

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Mr. Jang, the Korean producer with Gina Tagasa

Ang Lagusan, scripted and directed by Gina Tagasa for a Korean producer had the same fate as that of Masahista. With religion as its theme, Ang Lagusan was doomed to fail in the box office. Shown for one month in SM theaters, it earned just a fraction of the P3 million production budget. But Gina and the producer of Lagusan are both contented with the award it earned in the New York Independent Film Festival.

Despite the lower production cost of a digital as compared to the traditional film, recouping the investment is a tall order since most the local theaters are not equipped with digital projectors. As of late, SM Cinemas has only one theater per mall reserved for digitals. Except for some remote cities, provincial theaters have no digital projectors hence their lack of capability to exhibit digital films.

June Reyes, a professor of Bulacan State University, is another aspiring director for the digital genre. Armed with the support of the academe, June had the vision of producing his first movie with the entire cast and crew composed of Bulacan State University faculty and students. After finalizing the story concept, June toiled with the script for a formal presentation to his benefactors. He is to actually hold a sort of audition for the cast of his movie.

With a science fiction project for his dream movie, June infuses his technical knowledge in the project since he knows digital video editing and animation. Aside from being the scriptwriter and director, he is also the self-appointed editor, sound technician and musical scorer.

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June Reyes at left with Emman Dela Cruz of the Independent Filmmakers Group

Furthering his ambition, June wants his movie to be shown commercially. Since the production was virtually a one-man team, June was advised to hire a creative consultant to check on the flaws of the story and to maintain the continuity of the sequences. As with the storyline, the SGP (Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines) had lent a hand in studying the commercial viability of the movie.

Since digital films have a limited venue, June plans to convert his digital movie into the traditional 35mm format even if he has to spend one million pesos. “Nakita mo ba yung Spiderman?” he asked as if to proclaim that his movie is in the league of foreign animated films. There’s actually no formula for a box office hit but based on the track record of blockbusters, big name stars and intense promotion are important factors to look at. And Spiderman is not a good basis for comparison since it’s a foreign movie. It’s sad to note that local movie audience has a natural prejudice for locally-produced sci-fi movies.

Promoting a commercial movie is no joke when it comes to financial considerations. A simple premiere can cost a lot since you have to rent a theater, gather famous personalities (not necessarily movie stars), put in the trimmings with eye-catching posters and costumed ushers, and not to forget the press releases in the media.

A movie press conference looks simpler than a premiere but it involves tact because showbiz reporters are not that difficult to invite but if they go home empty-handed, don’t expect to read a good review. The movie press conference of Ang Lagusan was done in haste and with the absence of the so-called envelope brigade, the reason perhaps why the invited reporters didn’t cooperate in the promotion of the movie in the newspapers. There was even one reporter who wrote a bad review of Gina Tagasa’s movie.

“Baka puwedeng sa school na lang mag-premiere,” June was thinking aloud. The 22,000 students of BSU can be considered a captive market since the movie is for and by the BSU studentry and faculty. But June has some apprehensions on the costing of the admission ticket. “Baka kasi mamahalan ang mga parents kung one-hundred pesos. Mostly kasi, mahihirap lang ang mga students namin.” The purpose of the planned movie premiere is not yet clear in the head of June since his main intention is just to break-even with the production expenses. After some mental computations, he offers an opinion, “Actually yung kikitain sa movie premiere siguro puwedeng gamitin pa-convert ng digital sa 35mm film, ano?”

Another one bites the dust, a warning by a song’s refrain. This reminds one of the dictum that a movie is a product of an artist and a businessman. Producing a movie is also an acid test to prove that artists can easily go hungry if they insist on their artistic prowess. As big producers say, the audience is the market and the market is the main factor for the success of the movie.

But what really is a successful movie?

Comments to this article can be sent to ajsocorro@yahoo.com