Feb 29
DIGITAL MOVIE PRODUCTION by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Feb 29, 2008

(This article is in response to the numerous queries about free workshops on digital movie making.—Editor)

Due to technological serendipity, the digital movie is gaining an edge over the traditional film in terms of production requisites. First, the cost or budgetary requirement is much less. Second, the production time is much shorter. And third, there are so many innovations that can be easily done to a digital film that can’t normally be done to a traditional film without incurring heavy cost like complex animations, doctored settings and fancy credit fonts, not to mention the not so popular storylines.

The main consideration in producing a movie is the budget. Mainstream production needs at least 10 million for their movie to be decent enough with a respectable cast, appropriate locations and ample production design. But in a digital– also called “indies” (independent producers as opposed to big studio production outfits)– most of the corners could be cut with the so-called digital enhancements which can produce desired scenes with even significant improvements. As one digital filmmaker said, “Masyadong matindi ang mga software ngayon. Hindi na nga imposibleng makagawa ng movie out of the computer alone, yun bang animation na 3-D (3-dimensional digital image effects) na akala mo talagang mga tao.”

The main reason why the number of digital movies is on the rise is because of the facilities provided by new softwares. Editing is much easier now such that a computer enthusiast can learn competitive video editing in less than a week. The animation software, although not that easy to understand, is gaining ground among techno geeks. Also, the camera is not that too expensive and can be rented even with a little budget. And most of all, the knowledge of producing a movie is all over the internet now.

But before embarking on the details of movie-making, another major consideration that should not be forgotten is the audience. Typically, a digital movie has an intended audience. Realistically speaking, the majority of the digitals produced and shown in the year 2007 are thematic and that majority of the themes are geared towards homosexuality or the gender issue. The gay film, as the producers would like to call their genre, have a captured market similar to the bold movies of the olden times where the male population is the clientele.

Basically, there are 3 stages in making a movie: Pre production; Production; and Post production.

The producer is in full control during the pre-production phase because it involves the laying out, analysis and deciding on the available options pertaining to the genre–the specific story and plot, the casting, and also the budget vis-à-vis the viability. It is not unusual for a traditional film project to start moving from the pre-selected cast. This trend was very common during the time when Nora Aunor was at her peak of popularity where the casting came first before the story. But in the digital era, the most common prime mover is the desire of an aspiring director to be known as a filmmaker. So it is not surprising to know that most digital directors were also the ones who wrote the story or the script. And not just several directors were themselves the producers or close to the producer.

Not to forget that a movie is both an art and a business, there’s no hard and fast rules on how to come up with a winner of a movie. As of this moment, where the digital movie is at a disadvantage because of the limited venue of exhibition, most digital movie producers don’t really look at the very slight prospect of breaking even with the cost. Like in SM theaters, on an average of 10 cinemas, only one is equipped with a digital movie projector. That also goes for the Robinsons cinemas. Therefore it is assumed that what the digital movie maker has in mind is the recognition and probably the sense of fulfillment.

The most common dilemma in the pre-production phase is the casting. A producer is always torn between spending much for a popular actor or just settling for a mediocre one in order to scrimp on budget. Unlike in a traditional or mainstream film where the lead actor/actress should be popular enough to command an audience, digital movies generally scratch out superstars in their casting. “Hindi naman affordable sa amin kaya kahit nga hindi artista ay puwede na,” confesses a first timer in digital movie direction.

After deciding on the preferred story and casting, the next step in the pre-production phase is the selection of the crew. Unlike in the traditional film where the list of crew is very long, digital movie production sometimes involves only less than 10 people of which number already includes the cast. And like in the traditional film making, the selection of the crew is first and foremost based on friendship or affiliation. “Syempre mas madaling gumawa kung kabisado mo ang katrabaho,” explains a veteran cameraman.

The production phase is actually the shooting of sequences based on the prepared script. This is clearly the territory of the director who is in command of the pacing, of the cast’s performance and everything related to the shooting. A director whose first digital movie was invited to a festival abroad says that there were several instances when he was the one who held the camera. “Mas madali kasi kung ako na ang titira ng eksena kesa ipaliwanag ko pa sa cameraman.”

The post production starts with the editing and other technical works and ends in the promotion and exhibition. This phase requires the full cooperation and supervision of the director and the producer. “Mahirap bitawan ang post prod kasi pag nakalingat ka, didiskarte ng sarili ang editor,” warns a noted film director.

For aspiring movie makers, here are some salient points plucked from the recent column of Nestor Torre, Jr. in Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb. 27 issue):

The UP Film Center has provided a welcome venue for digital movies. And some indie filmmakers are happy that the Robinson’s cinema chain has designated its IndieSine theaters for digital features.

SM cinemas also occasionally screen indies like the current Endo, a grantee in last year’s Cinemalaya. Other past Cinemalaya grantees that have also done well on limited mainstream release include Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Tribu. But these relative successes are only a drop in the bucket, so other schemes have to be worked out to help more indie productions end up in the black.

Our main suggestion has been for indie filmmakers to plug into the school circuit, as many theater productions have done. However, indie producers who have tried this route have encountered problems like difficulty in convening school officials and faculty to cooperate, poor ticket sales and insufficient income.

Clearly, for the school film circuit to work, teachers and student organizations have to develop a much more visionary attitude towards the valuable role that indies can play in the enlightened development of the country’s youth, and of Filipinos in general.

The school circuit scheme was tried and tested by June Sheldon Reyes. With the aid of his skills in digital animation, June had struck a deal with the Bulacan State University in producing a full length digital movie. He came up with Y Compañera, a science fiction movie with animation taking almost half of the scenes. The movie starred BSU students who passed a formal audition. The production crew was filled up by the students. And the audience were also the students, all 8,000 of them who were willing to pay 60 pesos just to see their pet project.

June says that the BSU will again screen Y Compañera in the next school year for the benefit of the incoming freshmen. “Money maker na rin kahit paano,” muses June with pride of the movie he produced, directed and wrote.

Another scheme that June wants to try is the so-called indirect advertising. “Isasama mo sa movie yung mga sponsor.” This was already done by Enteng Kabisote 4 in the recent Metro Manila Filmfest. But the indirect advertising scheme requires a good marketing staff who shall do the solicitations. Sometimes the sponsors can also be featured in the premiere showing, if ever there is one. Nevertheless, sponsors, whether big or small time, can augment the ever-needed budget of a digital movie production.

(Next week, Part 2: the duties and responsibilities of digital filmmakers)

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