The toughest aspect of short filmmaking
What is it about short films that some people like? Do they find them one-dimensional? Are they too short or perhaps too long (as opposed to the two-minute videos on Tiktok and YouTube)?
I have talked to the filmmakers competing in the Short Feature Category of this year’s Cinemalaya about the toughest aspects of making short films, and the possibility of turning their short films into full-lengths.
Glazing Life (GL): Why did you want to tell this story in your short film?
Maria Estela Paiso (MP): Ampangabagat is both my love letter and farewell to my turbulent childhood. I’ve always wanted to consume Sambal media but there weren’t really that many Sambal pieces readily available, so this piece is also a response to that. Lastly, I’m a post-production girl, so this piece was also an attempt to illustrate the power of post-production in boosting a film’s narrative.
Claudia Fernando (CF): Roundtrip to Happiness is, in its simplest form, an enumeration of some of a nation’s basic needs such as education, public infrastructure, and sovereignty—needs that have been intensified yet set aside during the mishandling of the current health crisis. I wrote this for the state to be reminded of what it owes us, and for the audience to be reminded that genuine sovereignty is integral, if not a prerequisite, for the pursuit of happiness.
Cypher John Tan Gayorgor/Nino Maldecir (Team Mata): Mata Kang Busay is a showcase of Ilonggo folkloric beliefs made creatively through moving pictures. We wanted to tell this story because it is in the very foundations of our identity as Filipinos. Some of us tend to forget these things; thus, Mata Kang Busay was conceived for us to revisit and rekindle a part of ourselves that we may not be aware of.
Kat Sumagaysay/Richard Salvadico (Team Handum): We bring you Mga Handum Nga Nasulat Sa Baras, a comedy-drama narrative that focuses on the huge change that has happened in the educational system [during the pandemic]. We have always heard our parents or grandparents say that we should study hard because we are lucky to have even stepped into school.
Raz De La Torre (RT): The past two years were a challenging time for all of us. It was a communal ordeal, but it was still very personal to everyone. It wasn’t always easy to look out for our neighbors and find space for compassion for what others are going through when we are also right in the thick of it. I want decision-makers in government to watch it and realize what it’s like on the ground, to give a face to the desperation that overwhelms ordinary people. But ultimately, I made this film to send a message of hope. Kwits is about how kindness comes in many forms. It may run scarce and is sometimes hard to recognize, but it is never wanting.
Xeph Suarez (XS): City of Flowers was born out of frustration and anger when the national government expressed its plans on dropping the charges against the main perpetrator of the 2013 Zamboanga Siege despite the Zamboanga LGU’s stand on pursuing the case. City of Flowers is an anti-war short film dedicated to the City of Zamboanga. It is my way of calling for justice. Because personally, I believe that peace can never be achieved without justice.
GL: What are the toughest aspects of making a short film?
MP: I think the toughest aspect of making a short film is its length because you need to get your intention across and make an impression in a matter of several minutes. But length is also what I like about shorts.
CF: Concept-wise, it’s knowing for how long or how short you’d want your film to be. For a short film, every minute counts. You’re either leaving out important details to meet the time requirement or dragging out the film to be able to say what you want to say; both of which you’d want to refrain from. Economically, it’s mostly the funding. Grants are already competitive for short features, which mostly only cover principal photography (which is only one-third or even one-fourth of film producing/ film making).
Team Mata: Formulating a story and putting it on the screen is one of the toughest aspects of filmmaking, as a filmmaker you need to deliver a significant message to your audience. Next, the resources. It is very hard to create and produce a film without enough resources and as a filmmaker, we should utilize what is around us. Lastly, the location of the film, it is difficult to find a place that matches the settings of your story. In making films, you should consider their feasibility and attainability of it.
Team Handum: The toughest aspects were; Shooting during the pandemic and ensuring our actors’ safety; and the storm that is approaching the island. It was both challenging and fulfilling to be able to finish the film despite the pandemic and the weather.
RT: Short films are fruits of passion. Very few filmmakers create short films expecting to recuperate their investment of time and resources. They’re not as easy to move as other content like full-length films, digital series or teleseryes. When you can’t make money from something, it’s hard to find financial support for such endeavors. And when you can’t find the support, it’s not encouraging to make more of it.
That’s the biggest challenge for short films. Where do you get the support for one-off stories that are best told in less than 30 minutes? Not all messages need to be told as 90-minute narratives, as 60-minute episodes, or for an entire season. But that doesn’t mean that short films are less valuable. They can be just as potent and life-changing as full-length films. It’s not about the running time but the message and storytelling. Sadly, the industry is only used to bankrolling the usual formats or content categories.
XS: Finding funds. There are very few funders and grants for short films.
GL: Do you see this short as a standalone piece or would you like to expand it into a feature?
MP: I actually have a personal/made-up trilogy about memory, and Ampangabagat, which tackles a personal experience, is the first part. The next is my short in development, Objects Do Not Randomly Fall From The Sky, which focuses on a collective experience. The last is my feature in development, Karaoke Dreaming, which dissects individual memories as part of a collective experience.
CF: Sticking with the integrity of the form of the film, I see Roundtrip to Happiness to be a standalone short feature.
Team Mata: We consider our film, Mata Kang Busay, a total package. Mata Kang Busay delivers a complete and strong plot with compelling actors and scenes. Furthermore, it has crossed the message it intended to convey. For these reasons, I can see our film as a standalone piece.
Team Handum: Yes, we would surely love to turn this into a feature film and give the story an in-depth interpretation.
RT: Kwits is a standalone film. But there are many stories about the pandemic experience like Kwits is, that can be told as feature films.
XS: The story of City of Flowers was already told clearly in a short format. However, in the future, you can expect more films — short and feature — from me about Zamboanga City and its people.
Catch these competing short films in this year’s edition of Cinemalaya, happening from August 5 to 14, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. See you at the cinema!