Did Covid-19 kill the filmmaking industry? Asian Filmmakers Weigh In


Those of us in production know that nothing ever really goes according to plan no matter how meticulous the prep. So we make loosy-goosy plans with room for error and changes; after all managing a production set takes into account a lot of variables.

None of us anticipated a pandemic-size allowance shift in our plans, though.

Luckily, we’re an adaptable industry made up of creative folk who think quickly on their feet. That doesn’t mean we’re immune to boredom, anxiety and uncertainty – but let’s fall back on what we do best, and that’s telling stories. That’s what StoriesTogether by Viddsee is also about.

Kenny Tan, the executive producer of Viddsee Studios reminds us that film is “an art form that has proven itself to survive through major historic disruptions”. An example would be Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thieves – made just after WWII!

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Kenny Tan, executive producer of Viddsee Studios

We speak to some storytellers and filmmakers around the region as they sit out their location-specific quarantines – from Movement Control Order in Malaysia to Circuit Breaker in Singapore to PSBB (Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar, also known as ‘large-scale social restrictions’) in Indonesia and lockdown in the Philippines.

We may have different names for it, but we’re all doing the same thing.

By now, we’ve heard it all. Plans being shelved, postponed, delayed until further notice. Or worse, projects being cancelled or scrapped completely. Being kept in limbo is not a pleasant place to be, and here’s what a Covid-19 shaped hole in your plans look like for these filmmakers:

A Covid-19 spanner in your plans

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Jonah Garcia, Filipino filmmaker

Jonah Garcia, Filipino filmmaker: “All freelance productions during this time were paused indefinitely, which is kind of difficult, especially for creatives. These troublesome times are not just a threat to us physically and financially; it also puts us in a state of anxiety because of the big changes we’re all experiencing now. Every day has been a challenge for my mental well-being, and sometimes it really is hard to just relax or pursue other creative endeavors amidst all the chaos.”

Yudha Narayana, Creative producer of Viddsee Indonesia: “I think every country has its own way in supporting the industry. Here in Indonesia, our situation is to support the government’s appeal to stop production until further notice.”

Candra Aditya, Indonesian filmmaker: “As a freelancer, jobs were postponed. I miss shooting. I miss going to other places. And my cat seems to be hating me more and more every day because I occupy his place 24/7 lol.”

Tan Ce Ding, Malaysian filmmaker: “I would say it has impacted heavily on all the film productions in Malaysia. We started MCO on 18th March, since then all filming activities have come to a halt. A couple of shoots have been cancelled and the rest postponed til the end of April or May. Now with the MCO postponed even further, it has definitely affected most, if not all Hari Raya festive video productions.”

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Tan Ce Ding, Malaysian filmmaker

Using creativity to cope, connect & collaborate

What did we say about being adaptable? Much like making it work when things don’t go to plan on set, we can also do the same right now.

Bonus: Check out Malaysian filmmaker Quek Shio Chuan’s attempt to stay sane during these times – the creativity into these stop-motion (click here) and music videos (click here) are astounding!

Kenny Tan, Executive producer of Viddsee Studios: “Despite the lockdowns and social distancing measures, we can still connect with one another through social media and video conferencing tools. We can also continue to share ideas and keep each other creatively engaged as well as collaborate on projects with other filmmakers such as scripting, building series bibles, or challenging each other with simple video challenges. There are also filmmaking interest groups online where work and commissioning opportunities as well as funding and government aid packages are shared for the benefit of the community. Viddsee Studios is actively working on initiatives as part of the StoriesTogether Content Fund to support the commissioning and creation of content so that it can benefit filmmakers and production houses in our community who are suffering from the lack of work.”

Tan Ce Ding, Malaysian filmmaker: “I still have pre-production meetings with clients everyday, which we rely on Zoom and Google Hangouts to connect. But what’s challenging is the planning and scheduling, due to all the uncertainties. For example, we’re meant to film a live-action scene for a project but have been forced to change direction using 3D animation and stock footages instead. It’s a good thing to see how everyone is trying to come together and be creative even under such extreme limitations.”

Candra Aditya, Indonesian filmmaker: “I managed to make a new episode of my web-series remotely with my actors. It’s been interesting to work like this. Because this is a new experience for us all, I’m still trying to figure out how to make it better.”

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James Davis, Filipino filmmaker (far right)

Seeking inspiration within the four walls of your home

So, what have you all been doing while at home? Bonus: Singaporeans, try your hand at the CB Challenge and win $$ weekly by making videos at home! Click here for more info!

Jonah Garcia, Filipino filmmaker: “You don’t really have to push yourself to do a lot of things with all your free time. It’s okay if you can’t finish that script, but don’t forget to look after yourself. I revisited Isao Takahata’s ‘Whisper of the Heart and it made me learn some new things about the film and myself. It’s the little things!”

James Davis, Filipino filmmaker: “I’ve been using this time to look for free courses online to learn more about lighting, sound, and other techniques in filmmaking. There are so many sources now to gain knowledge about cinematography so I use the spare time to do so, and then I practice photography and filming with my children LOL.”

Kenny Tan, Executive producer of Viddsee Studios: “This is the time to consume all the content that we’ve been putting off. From Netflix to classics to the many short films on Viddsee that I’ve placed in my ‘Watch Later’ list. [editor’s note: did you know we have that feature?] Watching can also be a form of creative process; through watching these works, it can re-energise and inspire the ideas that we’ve been thinking about. Whether it’s the script that we’re currently developing or the film we’re currently in the midst of editing.”

Yudha Narayana, Creative producer of Viddsee Indonesia: “One of the newly creative ways is thinking of simpler storytelling ideas that could be executed with minimal people. Even then, we still need to think about safety issues. We should use this time to have a breather, and reflect on how this could inspire to create more stories. It is an important moment in the history of mankind. So we better think about the next step after this unfortunate situation has passed.”

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Candra Aditya, Indonesian filmmaker

Looking forward to a new normal

Most filmmakers just can’t wait to get back out there and film!! Maybe get that much-needed haircut. But most of us are thinking about the stories we’ll get out of this time. We may not have been ready but it’s a testament to how resilient we can all be.

Candra Aditya, Indonesian filmmaker on what he’s looking forward to after this is all over: “GETTING A MASSAGE. Oh My God. Also watching lots and lots of films in cinema. Eating at restaurant again. Singing karaoke with friends.”

Jonah Garcia, Filipino filmmaker on what she’s looking forward to after this is all over: “Just going outside and being around people, even strangers. Nothing inspires me quite like seeing other people live their life.”

Kenny Tan, Executive producer of Viddsee Studios with some optimistic thoughts: “Will we ever return to the status quo? I guess the jury is still out. I hope for normalcy and familiarity to return to so we can resume doing what we do best: telling stories. With this pandemic, new stories and perspectives will be observed and filmmakers will be one of the first creatives out there to turn them into interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking works. I am eagerly looking forward to that day.”

Now let’s come together and explore what stories we can get out of this!

StoriesTogether is a regional initiative bringing together our community of storytellers, audiences, and partners to bring hope through films in this challenging COVID-19 pandemic.

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