How to create an indie film when you’re broke
For established directors, filmmaking is their bread and butter. But for struggling indie directors, filmmaking is a career pursued out of passion.
Just like any young, budding filmmaker, Ryann Joseph Murcia has set his eyes on the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Ambitious and determined, Ryann knows producing a carefully crafted art film can cost a lot of money.
When his low-budget short film Apasol (“Chasing Sun” in Chavacano) became an entry for this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival—the benchmark of success for most filmmakers in the country—Ryann thanked all his lucky stars.
He didn’t expect that a film with a lean PHP 20,000-funding would be shown in the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
For 23-year-old Ryann, his fate as a young filmmaker is heavily dependent on luck. His second short film No Ama Conmigo (“Love Me Not”’ in Chavacano), produced with a tight budget of PHP 5,000, became an entry in Salamindanaw Film Festival in 2014.
“Gusto ko sumali kasi, as a filmmaker, you have to prove yourself and to prove yourself, you have to make films,” Ryann said.
Having directed three short films on a lean funding, Ryann is used to being a jack-of-all-trades. He is a director, producer, writer, videographer, location manager, and editor rolled into one.
He entered filmmaking at a time when Filipinos are making names in the international scene-a time when high budget sci-fi and post-apocalyptic-themed films are on the rise.
Spending within his means, Ryann says his spectacular vision for a film is often sacrificed. A week-long shoot is wrapped up in one day. He visualized a romantic scene in a posh hotel, but he ended up shooting it in his friend’s room. He dreamed of a venerable cast, but ended up with volunteer actors, mostly his friends, who work without pay.
“Nasa-sacrifice ‘yung vision ko so I always put what is available,” he said. (“My vision is sacrificed so I jut work with the resources I have.”)
Growing up middle-class, Ryann was raised to be resourceful. His family ran a coconut farm and a motor parts business.
He only got his precious 70-D camera when he graduated Mass Communications in Ateneo de Zamboanga at the age of 22.
His first film, Sausage—about a transsexual who longs for his penis—had a budget of PHP 1,000.
Half of the expenses in No Ama Conmigo went to food and the other PHP 2,500 for transportation, batteries, lights, and props. For his third short film, Apasol, Ryann had a budget of PHP 20,000, which was mostly from solicitations and sponsorships by his family and friends.
He could have used cranes and high-definition cameras for stylized shots. He could have directed more actors to emphasize drama, but he only resorted to two actors, including himself, to produce a silent film that heavily banked on human emotion.
“I feel really challenged to pursue filmmaking. You have to find ways to do it,” he said.
Landing his film in Cinemalaya can be a surreal feat for any 23-year-old, but Ryann knows that filmmaking can’t be his bread and butter.
Aside from filmmaking, Ryann earns PHP 8,000 a month teaching film at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is also a wedding videographer and offers same-day edit services for extra income.
“Wala ka naman talagang income sa short films. Hindi ako secured kaya may mga Plan B ako sa life,” he said. (“Money can’t be made from short films. I need to secure my future that’s why I have several Plan Bs.”)
Suntok sa buwan
When his mother asked him about his future, Ryann was silent.
“Wala na akong naisagot kasi suntok sa buwan ang filmmaking. Ang conflict ko hindi physical, but more of emotional. My parents cannot comprehend so much,” he said. (“Filmmaking is shooting for the moon. Pursuing it is an emotional struggle. My parents cannot understand why I make films.”)
Despite his parents’ lukewarm appreciation for his work, Ryann is thankful for their support. In fact, it was only when his name was featured in a newspaper when his mother understood the prestige of being included in the Cinemalaya.
Ryann doesn’t care if his films are not box-office hits or if only a quarter of the seats in the cinemas are filled. So long as he can “educate the people” and break the stigma against the LGBT community, he will continue keeping his reel rolling.
“Gagawa ako ng paraan. I will make myself visible. Magsa-submit ako ng script sa may funding. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be lucky they’ll love it.”
A filmmaker, a father
While Ryann hopes to land his films in prestigious film festivals like Cannes and Cinemalaya, Fernando Dizon is happy just having his films screened in class-B malls and in dilapidated movie houses.
For most seasoned filmmakers, it took decades before they could rely on filmmaking as their primary source of income. But for Fernando, it doesn’t matter that nobody knows who he is and that his movies are not being shown in classy cinemas.
“Ito na ang kinuha kong propesyon. Ano man ang mangyari, ito na ang dadalhin ko sa pagtanda ko,” he said. (“This is the profession I chose. Whatever happens, I’ll continue doing this until I’m old.”)
Having children with three different wives, Fernando must make ends meet. He has 11 mouths to feed (eight siblings from three different mothers), four students to send to school, three toddlers to take care of, and a 27-year-old adult to support.
Fernando is living life like a character in a teleserye about fathers with extramarital affairs, juggling three sets of wife and kids.
Much like what’s happening in his personal life, filmmaking requires Fernando to split himself into three: He is a director, an actor, and a production manager.
He plots and directs fictional characters in “reel life.” But in reality, he can’t seem to direct his own.
“Kulang na kulang sa tatlong pamilya [ko ‘yung kinikita ko] pero kahit papa’no pinakikiusapan ko sila na puwede naman nating paghati-hatian ‘yun,” he said. (“What I earn from filmmaking is barely enough for my three families. But I assure them that we can divide the money and make it work.”)
Although filmmaking is a hit-and-miss opportunity, Fernando still bets his life on it.
He is determined to sell his films to every producer and financer listed in his phonebook and he will literally knock on their doors if has to.
In fact, he just finished filming his latest action movie called Hari at Alas: Akin ang Batas, in which he is the director and the supporting actor. The film had a budget of PHP 1.7 million, funded by his loyal financers and it is set to premiere in Ever Gotesco cinemas this September.
From shy kid to stuntman
In a time of high-budget sci-fi films, romcoms, and indie films, Fernando’s notion of movie entertainment is still about goons and guns and life-risking stunts.
As a shy kid from a poor family, he had a simple dream: to star in an action film with his idols Lito Lapid, Fernando Poe, Jr. or Rudy “Daboy” Fernandez.
He imagined himself leaping through burning buildings and engaging in gun fights as he watched Daboy and FPJ movies from his neighbor’s TV.
“’Yung mahiyain daw katulad ni Rudy Fernandez, ‘yun daw ‘yung nagiging superstar.” (“They say the shy ones like Rudy Fernandez eventually turn into superstars.”)
In 1997, a teenage Fernando was discovered by a talent scout who led him to star in That’s Entertainment, a hit reality TV show by German “Kuya Germs” Moreno.
He also had acting stints with former matinee idols Jestoni Alarcon and Toto Natividad.
Soon after that, Fernando saw himself slowly living his dreams when he did stunts for his idols Lito Lapid and FPJ.
“Habang ako’y gumagaling, sabi nila, at lumilipad sa ere, nagpapatihulog, ang lagi kong iniisip ‘yung pinanggalingan ni Lito Lapid kasi talagang galling siya sa mahirap,” Fernando said. (“As people noticed how good I was getting at stunts, I always thought of Lito Lapid. He came from a poor family like me.”)
Fernando’s showbiz career did not last. But he hoped to be a bigger version of himself-he wanted to be the man behind the camera.
Without formal education in filmmaking, Fernando learned the basics from books.
Practicing his new filmmaking skills was like walking around with a blindfold on. He was a no-namer, and worse, he was broke.
But that didn’t prevent him from climbing up his improvised ladder. He convinced every producer he knew to fund his films. And with the support of his aunt-slash-producer, he was able to co-direct the movie Suicide Ranger in 1992, a film directed by his idol Lito Lapid.
Pornography = money
The movie industry was harsh to him and his audience was not receptive. His first premiere night was unlike how he imagined it: the cinemas were half-empty and the tickets did not sell.
He almost thought his career was over…until a greater opportunity came. He entered the risque business of pornography and titillating adult films.
Adult movies were the talk-of-the-town in the late 90s. Curious Filipinos became avid moviegoers and huge billboards of sexy stars like Joyce Jimenez, Ara Mina, and Ina Raymundo towered over Recto, Avenida, and Quiapo.
In a time when tits and twats made more money than action stars jumping from burning buildings, Fernando did not hesitate to dive into adult filmmaking.
He was funded by a foreign company to direct a pair of Filipino porn stars for PHP 50,000 per episode. In one day, he could make three episodes, giving him a total of PHP 150,000. Dividing this amount among a three-man team, he can take home PHP 60,000, more than enough to support his three families.
From the late 90s to early 2000s, his adult bomba movies became blockbuster hits in pirated CD stalls and Manila’s movie houses.
“Alam mo naman kalakaran dito sa bansa natin, karamihan dito malilibog eh,” (“You know how it is in our country. Many viewers are lustful.”)
Instead of directing fight scenes, car chases, and witty lines from action stars, he was directing penetrations, sex positions, and seductive moans from porn stars. It might not be his imagined career, but he was living his dream.
He continued it for two years until he fell into a reeling loss.
“Naramdaman ko na malaki nga kumita, mabilis naman maubos. Mas lamang ‘yung ikaw ay nagigipit kaysa ikaw ay nagkakaroon. May karma kasi parang ikaw na rin ang nagtuturo sa mga kababaihan na pumasok sa ganung trabaho,” he said. (“The money was good but it also ran out fast. There were more times when I was strapped for cash than I was swimming in it. Maybe it was bad karma. I felt like I was somehow encouraging women to enter the adult film business.”)
He ended his short-lived career in porn and went back to action movies at a time when the genre had become unpopular.
At 46 years old, Fernando is deadset to continue filmmaking. He is no longer at the point of choosing which path to take. He has gone through a number of checkpoints and has already reached the point of no-return.
He tried being a family driver and a real estate agent but nothing really comes close to the PHP 200,000 he earns a month for making films. But the catch is, he never knows when his next film would be.
“Mahirap nang i-give up ‘yung trabaho ko kasi tatlong pamilya ang umaasa sa’kin.” (“It’s hard to give up making films because I’m supporting three families.”)
For nearly 10 years of being an underground and unrecognized director, Fernando has accepted that he’s still an anonymous name and that his filmmaking career hasn’t picked up yet. Or to use the famous colloquial phrase, “walang forever.”
“Wala tayong magagawa kung talagang hindi tayo kilalanin dahil siguro mahina ‘yung mga nagawa natin o kaya hindi tayo karapat-dapat na humilera sa mga malalaking director. Ok lang sa’kin ‘yun. At least nabigay mo ‘yung best mo sa propesyon na pinili mo,” he said. (“You can’t do anything if you’re not fated to be lined up with the big names. The important thing is that you give your craft your best shot.”)
But really, Fernando’s dream is simple: to have one of his films shown in mainstream cinemas like SM.
For the time being, he can’t wait for the premiere night of Hari at Alas: Akin ang Batas in Ever Gotesco-Commonwealth. His actors do not include popular stars like Coco Martin or Piolo Pascual. But for a PHP 1.7 million film funded by a close friend, he got Sonny Parsons and Archie Adamos to star in his movie.
Those names might not ring a bell for young people today, but they were prominent action stars in their parents’ time.
Instead of a standard 15% commission, he only expects to get PHP 100,000 from his Hari at Alas.
He even nearly “lost his reputation” to his crew and actors when their salaries were not delivered on time. But he knows that this is just a portion of a bigger problem.
Luckily, he didn’t have to wait another year to start making his next film. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has agreed to fund him PHP 100,000 for a documentary about the military.
“Kung ikaw ay nasa puso na ng dagat at may gusto kang marating na pulo pero gusto mong bumalik ulit, siguro itutuloy mo na lang ang pagsagwan para makarating ka na sa iyong paroroonan.” (“If you’re already in the middle of the ocean and you want to go back where you came from, you just have to continue rowing to your destination.”)