Lessons Learned from the FDCP’s Film Industry Conference

The good, the bad, and the essentials of making better film festivals and perhaps, a better industry.

by Ramon De Veyra, art by Andrew Panopio


The Film Development Council of the Philippines held its first Film Industry Conference a few weeks ago, hosted by the 5th QCinema International Film Festival.


Taking advantage of visiting professionals from other countries in town for QCinema, panelists were not limited solely to local players in the industry, and thus panels over the weekend conference ranged in topics from the state of the local film industry to financing, marketing, distribution, and managing the post-festival life of your project, with an eye to opportunities outside the country.


The Conference as a whole was largely considerate of the Philippine film industry in relation to the world stage. As such, most panels proceeded on the understanding that we already have talented filmmakers and worthwhile stories, so the biggest challenge facing us is: how best to share these stories with the world?


Now that it’s submission season for some of next year’s production festivals (Cinema One on Dec. 19, QCinema on Jan. 12), we thought it’d be an opportune time to present some of the more notable lessons learned over the two days and ten panels of the Conference.


Know your options for funding


You may be lucky and already wealthy, or you may know someone wealthy and can convince them to finance your project, but you’re more likely going to be applying to one of our local production festivals (QCinema, Cinema One Originals, Cinemalaya, etc., who provide seed money for film projects) or applying for grants from local and international organizations. One of the best panels, “From Script to Festival: Roundtable on Festival Grants,” saw the heads of our production festivals discuss the differences between them, from the amount of seed money granted, to how rights are apportioned, to larger themes and goals hopeful filmmakers should be aware of when applying. Maryo J. Delos Reyes, head of the TOFARM Film Festival, talked about their advocacies for farms/agriculture/nature/environmentalism, and how these must be present in the projects they choose. Wilson Tieng of the Sinag Maynila Film Festival talked about how a universal theme is one of the key ingredients they look for in a project. Research these details about the festival you’re interested in and adjust your proposal/application accordingly.


..be aware that this could take years, as most grants are unlikely to cover the entire budget of your project


As for going the grant route, Tonee Acejo of the panel “Getting Films Funded Through International Grants” advised that you be aware that this could take years, as most grants are unlikely to cover the entire budget of your project. You have to apply to numerous groups and foundations, sometimes more than once. As with production festivals, some grants are eligible to specific groups and topics (“values-based,” women filmmakers, etc.) so again, research is key. And you should have other projects in the pipeline. Not all eggs should be in one basket, keep several plates spinning in case one falls through.


Stop rushing productions


Whether from a small indie company or Star Cinema, too many projects are rushed, sometimes to meet a prescribed playdate or because Artista A only has so many hours before he/she is needed for another thing (teleserye/commercial taping, mall show, etc.). Sometimes projects are shooting when scripts aren’t even complete. Sometimes stories suddenly change and whole days of shooting are rendered unusable. Quality suffers as a result, and it shows in the “finished” product. Festival programmers can tell. And they did—this was from “Real Talk: Programmers from A-List Festivals Reveal What They Look For in a Film.” Try not to rush your script, shooting, or post-production. Give each stage its room to breathe, while being mindful of your schedule and budget.


Get a great team


As the Conference’s participants were mostly budding filmmakers, one thing producers Raymond Phathanavirangoon and Isabelle Glachant (in their panel “From Asia to the World: Producing Asian Films for the European Market”) warned against was trying to do everything yourself just because it’s less expensive that way (fewer salaries). Learn to delegate tasks, and make sure you’re working with competent, creative people. Get a great producer, who jives not just with your personality and work process but is on the same page with regard to your vision. Filmmakers’ brainspace should ideally be occupied by the film and not ancillary concerns.


Up your technical standards game


If you’re hoping to penetrate international markets, you’ll need to be mindful of their technical requirements. Chinese markets ask for 4K image resolution quality, for example. If you’re still shooting your movie with a digital SLR, you might be limiting your options. And more than one foreign panelist (Raymond Phathanavirangoon, Paolo Bertolin, etc.) mentioned that too many Filipino films have substandard sound quality. Whether it’s in the recording or in post-production, improvements need to be made, which led FDCP chair Liza Diño-Seguerra to wonder aloud about whether it was a tech or training issue, with a reminder to herself to look into it.


Know who you’re talking to


Whether applying for a grant or marketing your movie, know your audience, and tailor your approach. As Michael Masangkay (the only solo panelist in the Conference) recommended in his panel “The North American Market: Important Steps on How to Distribute Your Film Internationally”: do your homework beforehand, and be aware that you shouldn’t be approaching a faith-/values-based company with, for example, your violent exploration of underground dogfighting rings. Don’t pitch your coming-of-age story to a boutique that specializes in genre films. But don’t lie about your project either. Don’t dress it up as something it’s not, or you’ll get something worse: a bad reputation.


Planning ahead never hurts


From “Global Film Finance: Funding Films Through International Investors”: When talking to people who have something you want, it’s always good to have answers for anticipated questions. The more preparation and research you have, the better. You can present a detailed budget, timetable, and be aware of secondary or backup opportunities. You can shoot marketing/promotional materials on set during production to save the trouble of gathering people again after a shoot is over (this was also repeated by Masangkay). Planning ahead saves time and money, and prevents you from rushing other things. Ideally you’ve thought of everything and covered your bases, so that when someone asks you something you’ll always be ready with the answer.


Surprising, but familiar


The first panel, “Let’s Talk About Us: The State of Philippine Cinema as an Industry,” saw guests from Viva and Star Cinema talk about their year in film. Though their hits remained firmly in the field of romance movies, whether comedic or not, they did note some differences in the established “formula”: unconventional topics like suicide in Last Night and aliens in Love You to the Stars and Back, or a surprising pairing like Empoy Marquez and Alessandra Rossi in Kita Kita. They discussed how millennials, now a prime mover in the box office success of a movie, are more sophisticated in their viewing, and are looking for something new and riskier. While the genre itself is familiar, you can take chances with the details to provide something that can surprise the audience. You also have to know how to stress this difference so you will stand out from the pack.