Who Wants to Be a (Fully Funded) Filmmaker?

Getting bankrolled for a screenplay worth even a few hundred thousand pesos isn't as easy as picking low-hanging fruit.

Photos taken at this year's Qcinema

Following the money trail

Grants for short films can sum to Php30,000, and a full-length up to a few millions. Cinemalaya 2017 finalists receive Php750,000 in production grant. The QCinema International Film Festival hands over seed money pegged at 1M. Meanwhile, the CineFilipino Film Festival fetches in grants at1.5M. Cinema One Originals bags in 2M. In some years, these grant-giving bodies have either lowered or upped their funding a notch.

But what is it really like to get funding for a film?

Photos taken at this year's Qcinema

Paper talks

Convincing a panel of established individuals to fund your concept is daunting enough. For an independent filmmaker based in Visayas or Mindanao, it usually means paying—investing, really—for your airfare to Luzon where many central offices are located.

When you get that go signal, the effort that follows is where the rubber meets the road.

Any freelance worker will know how it feels like to work and operate on the basis of a promise or a written contract.  Funding is almost always by tranche, so there is often little you can do with delays in payment, even after deliverables are up and looking good. Filming on that scheme is just as familiar.

Time is never on your side, even with the best planning. Jumping ahead even without the moolah can sometimes be your only choice when you have a definite festival date to think about. For full-length films, imagine paying a few hundred thousand pesos to fund pre-production with money you do not have yet, which goes to pay tangibles for constructing sets and paying for raw materials and props. Some of the money goes to down payment for cast and crew, unless they are fine without it during the early stages. In other words, all these are what will get the motor running to a well-oiled production; it will take money to get things rolling.

Why not obtain financial support from other established sources? Sure, extra producers mean more money. With more money and more people wanting to get involved, you tend to be obliged to listen to more mouths, possibly compromising your artistic vision in favor of personal opinion.

Photos taken at this year's Qcinema

Name game

Many film festival panelists will encourage you to hire actors whose names will ring a bell to the paying audience. Recently, a film panelist sent a team of filmmakers from Mindanao a photograph of a half-naked Moreno with a full set of abs and gym-toned arms. They were told to consider the actor for their lead role. His presence can fill up the screen even without doing much, but could he have traversed a virgin forest to the location every day, speak the native language perfectly, walk across a batang, and climb a tree full of fire ants?

Famous names and good-looking actors on your set can get you instant following and hype, and if a star-studded cast matters more than the storytelling, then by all means hire a Mercedes Cabral or a JM De Guzman. Ultimately, if the peg does not fit the mold, why should creative integrity be sacrificed for the idealized but detached wishes of panel members?

Photos taken at this year's Qcinema 

Give or take

Biting the hand that feeds you is beside the point. Film grants are de facto collaborations between grantors and grantees. All grantors begin with the vision to infiltrate hard-up and hard to reach independent minds through available resources. The road to storytelling for a big production can be a logistical nightmare without proper funding and here are opportunities up for grabs every year.

If grantors leave you to your own creative flow, then congratulations—you are able to make a film to the best of your own devices. If you get stuck with funders that impose, suck it up and smile—or get through it and warn others about their wicked ways. After all, grant-giving bodies with a bad reputation will reap their own rewards soon enough.

The author has recently been part of a team of filmmakers trying to get funding from a local government organization

Words by: Anna Miguel Cervantes