Why did you decide to make this short?
Raise your hand if this is you: hypnotically binging content across platforms, numbly sliding your thumb across instagram’s infinity scroll or better yet, falling uncontrollably into the depths of Netflix’s streaming tunnel. I’ll put my hand down though, so I can finish typing — One morning at 4am, the finale rolling credits of another binged series descended us into darkness as the projection screen dimmed before our eyes. I looked quizzically at my wife and producing partner, Rheem and asked, ‘Why aren’t we making content?’ Think about it – we have an opportune moment to splash our stories, ideas and creations across screens that face humans who are bored to death while trapped in quarantine. Content, especially during these times, is I.V. drip therapy for the global, house-ridden captives. We’ve surrendered our attention to the online/virtual world in search of information, education and more than ever, a safe means of escapism through digital media. There is a very clear demand with no middle man to ‘jumbie the vibe ‘. (Plus, I was seriously having filmmaking withdrawals). In that moment, we brainstormed some ideas and fleshed out the concept that was the creepiest — ’19’ (2020) was born.
What did you have to do to prepare for filming and were there any challenges?
Honestly, I’ve been preparing all of my life through my early trial and error phases in academia and work experiences, so there wasn’t much preparation for this specific film but ore of an action plan. Of course without a crew and professional equipment, my goal was to simplify the process and focus on the things that we can control. With that mindset, I wrote the script on WhatsApp that same night, all the while being mindful to incorporate the limited resources that we had at our disposal. The film was done with a cellphone, a flashlight, a small selfie mobile light, a broken tripod, an Osmo, a free mobile app, free editing software and the internet. The most challenging aspect was lighting. I wanted to preserve the image integrity as much as possible, despite shooting on a phone, by avoiding underexposed, grainy and soft-focused images. All of which was a bit challenging when working on a tiny screen with weak light sources and no grip gear.
Were you satisfied with the outcome?
Yes, and the extremely positive global response concretizes that satisfaction.
Is there anything you would change about it if you weren’t limited by the constraints of the pandemic?
Yes! I missed my production crew. (haha) I really enjoy their energy of collaboration and the fun of set life. However, I won’t change anything with regards to the outcome of ’19’. These ‘pandemic limitations’ forced me to make directorial choices that had to be technically accomplishable, economical, visually distinct and story/character-driven. Limitations pushed me to improvise…like using crunched up aluminum foil around the flashlight to control light spillage instead of the more convenient black wrap.
How have you been coping in this time and is there any advice you would give to fellow creatives in this time to stay afloat, mentally, financially and otherwise?
I am the kind of person that latches onto positivity in most situations. The positives may not outweigh the negatives, but they are sure as hell less tedious. For me, I am working on sharpening the skills that I have and embracing the idea of learning even more. #neverstoplearning I’ve started back editing and have since produced and premiered a global music video where we invited families from all over the world to submit personal cell phone videos singing along to Erphaan Alves’s ‘Hold On’. It was a new experience
where I directed persons from all over the world who had different languages and lived in different time zones to create a cohesive product while observing social distancing. I’ve also released, using untouched BTS footage, a new series entitled ‘Fly on the Wall’ where we give local audiences a peek into the behind the scenes of my local music video productions. I’m honestly, just sitting here thinking to myself, ‘What would I want to binge?’ – but , instead of binging, I’m creating. . This change in perspective created a more uplifting, purposeful mood and positively shaped my mentality towards work while allowing me to ultimately break it down to this – our digital products are made up of ones and zeros – it’s intangible – we sell air – and air is essential and always in demand, just like water. ‘What’s the difference between tap water and bottled water?’ — primarily packaging — it’s still water. Therefore, the crucial decision lies with how we determine the right packaging for our content for the appropriate method of distribution. It is important that we do the much needed research and find out more information about the demands and trends of our target audiences/clients and (re)package our content to suit their ever-changing needs for maximum financial returns.
How have you been spending the time generally?
Generally, I’ve been avoiding setting alarms or paying too much attention to time because counting the number of days spent inside can only become depressing. My days are a mix of cooking new recipes with my wife, social media management, grabbing the occasional seat in one of the many instagram LIVE sessions, constant online networking, dressing up for the occasional date nights and liming on Zoom with friends and family, both locally and abroad.
What do you think the future of the film industry can look like after this time?
If we use this time to truly hone our writing/development skills while drawing inspiration from our personal experiences, we can become more consistent at developing stories that bare souls by creating on-screen characters that tug at our emotions. If we take a step back from the overly-indulgent cinematic gimmicks and return to a place of pure ‘gut’ creativity which could potentially lead us, as individual creatives and as a community, towards even prouder ownership of our authentic and unreplicable voices. I think we can look forward to seeing more films that are somewhat stripped of borrowed form to ones that boldly set out to birth a new legacy of memorable character-driven stories.
What do you think can be put in place to help filmmakers and other creatives recover from this blow?
Everyone will recover differently from this experience but why wait until after to put things in place? We need the opportunities at this very moment. One idea would be to curate an active, digital job offer board that connects creatives directly to global opportunities and also offers assistance that pairs paid brand partnerships with content creators. Additionally, investing in more financially incentivized opportunities for icons, new and emerging creatives, to share knowledge through virtual workshops, online conferences and mentorship portals. It’s about adding value to what is available within our borders and embracing untapped human resources as we shape our new “normal”. Overall, we will come out of it with a broadened scope of knowledge and some sense of financial sustainability.