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Saturday, June 17, 2006

CAVITE: Formula For a Successful $7K Film


This political thriller, made with peanuts, is riding a wave of positive reviews, capacity crowds, and has launched the career of it's makers. Let's call it the holy grail of all film student-video film geek "nobody's" who aspire to be "somebody's" in our domestic cliquish and fickle film industry. Two pinoy buddies (Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana), pack up a video camera, and just "do it".No need to dwell on the background history of these guys, and the story's behind it....you can do your own search...this blog is about the film's textbook EL MARIACHI/RUN LOLA RUN formula (btw--El Mariachi was advertised as being made for $7K too - the reality is that once a distributor picks it up, they go eeeeeechhhh, and pump in another 100K or so to polish up the post work).

So, here it is : HOW TO MAKE A $7K FILM THAT THE FILM INDUSTRY(and CRITICS) WILL NOTICE

1. Tell a story that has never been told before (CAVITE is about an Filipino American Muslim dragged into the underbelly of Manila and the Abu Sayaf underworld - audiences LOVE to "go where no man has gone before"). It helps that it had the classic Hollywood Structure of indentifying the SIMPLE problem for the protagonist, and we follow him as he tries to solve it. I call this kind of film the "premise" film -- it's not a true story, but more of a "situation"(RUN LOLA RUN needed money to save her boyfriend. In CAVITE, it's money to save his mother and sis). Another example of a "premise" film would be Fincher's PANIC ROOM. Note: The simple plot point "tension" thriller element brings in the crowds -- the film's socio-political messages bring in the critics.

2. Include great locations and lots of people - it makes the film look more expensive. (Cavite was clever that way. If two American guys are walking down the street with a video camera in the Philippines, EVERYBODY is gonna stare...but hey, thats no problem, because the one protagonist in this film is paranoid and sticks out like a sore thumb there....so people are gonna stare anyway...so the shots give a POV reference -- clever, eh? - the locations in this film could only have been accomplished video guerilla style with one or two people - try shooting in an airport with a full crew--good luck)

3. Shoot in a foreign country: Exotic Location with exotic characters (El Mariachi did it)

4. If the plot is simple and thin (like RUN LOLA RUN), keep a manic pace, jump cut edits, and clever visuals....do not bore the audience with long takes cuz the plot ain't gonna hold their interest.

5. Here's a clever device they used that could almost be considered "artsy". There were 2 scenes (SPOILER alert!) that there was no way they were gonna shoot because of the money, but were pivotal in the story. The first was a scene inside a bank where the protagonist has discussions with the teller, bank manager, and gets a sack full of money out--what did the boys do? They recorded the conversation inside the bank, and laid this audio on a kid watching our protagonist ENTER the bank, we cut to the kid going buying a burger, and coming back to see him coming OUT of the BANK. Voila! Story telling accomplished! Another similiar tactic was even more audacious--The protagonist sets a bomb inside a church that will go off in 7 minutes and leaves. The story follows him feeling guilty and upset. We know what he did...but there is no explosion, no blown up churches, worshipers dying, etc... it's just simply left out, because the story revolves around the protagonist's mindset. We, the audience, knows what he did, and that's all the filmmakers care about....it worked.

6. Small Crew and minimal amount of Actors (CAVITE really set a record for this - One protagonist we follow throughout, a couple of support actors here and there, a crew of 2, with some of the shots definitely hand held by the actor himself pointing at himself!!!)

Bottom line -- an impressive indy effort.

Playing this week at the LUMIERE