After watching ‘Sisters Island‘ by Miguel Almagro, we were blown away by the quality of production and the storytelling in the short film. The film was conceived and brought to life via Indiegogo, an American crowdfunding website, and has gone on to win numerous awards.
‘Sisters Island‘ bagged the Winner Award of Merit Indiefest 2017, the winner of the Audience Award at the White Whale International Family&Social Film Festival, and was screened at a few notable film festivals in the United States.
Miguel Almagro is no stranger to producing short films. He has shot commercials for the Universal Studios in Singapore and worked with Toyota for a commercial – which featured Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling. He has also worked with MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) and MCI (Ministry of Communication and Information), Ferrero Rocher, and Hask.
Despite his hectic schedule, Miguel Almagro made time to answer some questions we had about ‘Sisters Island‘:
Hi Miguel! Tell us a bit about yourself. How did a filmmaker from Barcelona end up in sunny Singapore?
In Barcelona, I loved summer and beach time. I always dreamed of living in a tropical place and enjoy a never-ending summer. But I ended up living in rainy London for a decade. I came to Singapore with my wife for a business trip and we fell in love with this place. One year later we moved here. Six years later, we still love it.
How did you hear about the legend of Sisters’ Islands, which gave you the idea for the film?
Months before moving to Singapore, I’d already decided I would make a short film. I was researching about diving locations in the region and I read about the legend in a diving website.
How did this story spur you to write the script? What elements intrigued you?
I was moved by the strong bond between the two sisters and the significance of marriage in that particular time in history. There’s also a strong connection in their lives with nature and this becomes an important part of the legend.
The juxtaposition of two siblings was interesting; two sisters from the past and two brothers from the future.
I wanted to tell the story from a contemporary time and explore what can we get out today from this legend. I feel like not much has changed since ancient times about marriage. There is always some uncertainty about how this is going to change our lives and how siblings sometimes grow apart – distancing themselves from each other. The siblings in the story find the courage to risk their lives to stay together. I wanted to show that we can do brave things for our loved ones.
What was the hardest part about filming ‘Sisters Island‘? You had multiple outdoor location shoots, different language dialogues, and special effects.
I’d not filmed underwater before. At that time, I only dived a few times and I had to get myself and the actors certified before filming.
I was lucky to meet a great team of local underwater cinematographers. We had storyboards underwater to communicate. To create the storm was also very challenging. The young sisters could barely swim properly in the ocean and we needed big waves.
In a previous interview, you shared a trick that allowed for a tiger to appear in ‘Sisters Island‘. Are there any other clever techniques applied in the film that viewers should know?
To create rain, we used a water pump. We pumped water from the ocean and sprayed sometimes directly to the actors. It sounds like a cheap option but gave us a lot of control. It looked like waves were hitting the talent. I used visual effects to create the storm, sky and ocean replacement with waves.
Some people questioned you saying “what do you know about Singapore and Asian culture” when you were making this film. How did you respond to that?
Despite some initial rejection, it did not discourage me. When I work on a film project, I enjoy researching a lot about the subject of the story. You have to show people that you care and you want to learn more from them. Then they open up and want to share their experiences and knowledge.
I became good friends with some of the people along the process. I went many times to the Malay Heritage Centre. We walked through the exhibitions and they told me about the history of Singapore before colonisation. I learned about the Orang Laut and how the lived in connection with the islands and ocean. We filmed in Batam where an Orang Laut village exists. They live like they did thousands of years ago. I also learned about ocean life and water conditions in the region. Behind the fiction, it becomes a real-life experience.
Your film started out as an Indiegogo campaign. What lessons did you learn from the crowdfunding process that other filmmakers should know? (Psst: We also have a fan-funding project on Viddsee, Vee!)
I did a crowdfunding video explaining why it was important for me to make this film. That helped me understand why it was special to me. At that moment, I recently got married and became the father of twin boys. The story is about two brothers trying to reconnect. All the money from the campaign came from family and friends.
Documentaries that are touching hot social issues have a higher chance to receive more donations. It’s easy to spend a lot of time trying to promote the campaign on other platforms, sending emails and posting. Unless you have a huge network with many thousands of social media connections, it is very hard to reach a high goal.