The measure of a film’s success comes mainly in three different ways: box-office response, awards received or achievement of particular goals the filmmakers may have.
Being a child of enterprise, filmmaking has no better practical purpose than to bring in profit for its producers. And success is almost always measured in terms of tickets sales. Paying outrageous fees to actors and for marketing requires an acceptable amount of return – preferably more than what the other producer made. Like launching a shampoo, the process has long been perfected by the experts who leave nothing unturned in order to cash in. For those who have tight-budgets, the best one can hope to achieve is a miracle through novelty or sheer luck, such as what happened to Home Alone and The Blair Witch Project.
Many others who poured money into their projects went home wondering where they made a mistake. Remember Waterworld and Pearl Harbor? A film venture can be as tricky as any business venture. If you can’t bring in the audience on the first day, there is no reason why they will come the next day. That is why Hollywood producers love to highlight opening day sales or that of the opening week when they hit it big.
In short, nothing promotes a movie better than the moviegoers themselves.
But then, there are film awards which add to the value of a movie. Some poor box-office contenders may still recover after the jurors give them more than the expected share of awards or even one important award of recognition. The low-budget films often get their breath of life in this manner. So, when it is not the size of the audience that speaks for the film, it is the film guilds (with the help of the media) that do it.
Serious Filipino independent filmmakers realize they will not bring in the necessary income locally. Hence, they have endeavored to promote their films abroad and have reaped honor from prestigious festivals such as the one in Cannes, France. Aureaus Solito’s Pisay is a recent consistent winner in many of these major film festivals. (Unfortunately, as a Pisay grad myself, I still have to see this acclaimed movie since the scheduled showing at SM Block last year was canceled due to lack of ticket sales. Hmmm, no prophet or filmmaker is respected in his own country, as is well known). Perhaps, when he finally comes home with his bundle of trophies, Aureaus will decide to re-launch his movie here.
And so, that brings us to other reasons film producers may have in making movies. There must be as many reasons as there are filmmakers; but let me just use a singular case.
Kidlat Tahimik, whom I met when I was living in Baguio, is well known for making films that take years or even decades to finish. The last time I talked to him at length, it was when he invited me and a friend to see his dream-project: an epic documentary of Pigafetta and his Filipino slave, who ends up becoming the first person to circumnavigate the world (Kidlat’s hypothesis-theme). The project entailed building a mock-up of a Spanish galleon which he had decided to erect on his hillside lot in Camp 7 along Kennon Road. (Kidlat, a.k.a. Eric de Guia, was a graduate of a prominent business school in the US and owns properties in Baguio.) Trying to shield his outlandish structure from his bewildered neighbors, he planted bamboo trees around his property. Ironically, those living above him could see way above the tops of the trees. He was sure his neighbors saw him as a modern Noah expecting another Great Flood.
The galleon Kidlat was building made use of a trove of antique lumber and recycled housing materials like Japanese flexi-glass sliding doors and capiz windows. For each part of the ship, Kidlat spent much time deciding how it would look like and for each material he got hold of, he spent time thinking where to put it. He said of a particular large piece of driftwood, “This piece of wood didn’t speak to me for weeks at first; but, finally, last night it told me it wanted to go above that door.”
Here was a filmmaker, no, a consummate artist, whose way of creating was way beyond my own ways of doing things. As an engineer and as an artist, I often decide in terms of function, strength and aesthetics. His was a very personal, even mystical process. Many may think of that as weird or abnormal but it was his way and his alone. Who could question him and not also question Spielberg for making a character like Jar-jar Binks who speaks and moves in such a fashion? Or, come to think of it, Princess Leia’s hairdo?
The most unusual thing about it is that Kidlat was not merely thinking of making a film. He was wanting to relive history and even rewriting it with his own vision of what might have happened. A Filipino slave had served as Pigafetta’s interpreter even before Magellan sailed to the East and eventually succeeded in circling the globe and, hopefully, put on record as the first circumnavigator, not De Gama. Every Filipino would derive much honor and satisfaction from knowing that a slave conquered the world in much the same way that a tricycle–driver named Renaldo Lapuz conquered American Idol and the world. Or maybe as much as from knowing that Lapu-lapu killed Magellan and that Pacquiao beat another Mexican boxer.
I don’t know if Kidlat has finished his docu-film. Or even if he has finished the galleon set. It may still be in the making.(Apologies to him if ever I have preempted his story.) But I do look forward to seeing the finished product. Unfortunately, his films are rarely shown locally. And if they are, they run so long that it takes hours and even days to watch them.
Now, there’s one man whose idea of success for a film changes our way of looking at things. Yes, looking at things differently can help us understand better. Two things to ponder upon: Films let us see how others see things. And, that they show us the care and patience that went into making them.
Undoubtedly, Kidlat Tahimik sees and does things differently. Others can only envy him since he can afford, literally, to take his time while doing a film. He has also garnered some awards abroad for his works. Now, if that brings in some profit, he probably wouldn’t mind.
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