Making films, the Jacen Tan way
Jacen Tan is the director of Tak Giu, a popular online film about Singaporean football, and Zo Peng. He gives his 7 cents worth on how to make that first short film.
People often ask me: “What was your budget for making Tak Giu?”
I’m not embarrassed to say: “Erm, actually I made it with no money.”
Yes, that’s true; you don’t really need money to make a short film. Many budding filmmakers often think they are faced with budget constraints, but let me share with you:
How to make your first short film without much money and show it to 100,000 people
1. Write a story about yourself
Before we can go about making a film, we first need a story. Your first film should preferably be about something you love and feel strongly for.
For example, I like football (or soccer, or whatever you wanna call it). As a kid, I was chased around by policemen for playing soccer at the void deck. This fired me up to speak up for all local footballers and soccer fans. (I still get rounded up by the police nowadays, just that I don’t run away anymore.)
Make your story simple. Doing a film on something you like allows you to justify what you want to say.
2. Write a screenplay within your budget
Since I was shooting a film about my hobby, I already had all the props I needed. Anything else was easily obtainable. Here’s what I used:
Jerseys, cap, backpack, shoes, and socks we own
Soccer ball from Carrefour – $8.90
There was no need to spend any money. Now you must be thinking, “But you spent $8.90!” True, but it was a really cheap ball, and I bought it to be played with! (But try not to play with cheap balls lah, they go out-of-shape real easily)
3. Borrow equipment
Use Mini-DV, the cheapest and best medium for the beginner filmmaker. You don’t even need to buy your own video camera. Tak Giu was shot with a consumer camcorder, and using a tripod I found in my storeroom. The camcorder was borrowed from my brother’s school, free-of-charge. Of course, you will need to pay for tape stock.
Now you can also shoot a film with a mobile phone, so anything is possible.
4. Cast your friends
Look around you. See the dude from your army camp who likes to joke and imitate your officer? Cast him in your comedy. Know a guy who’s always getting ‘bullied’ in the group? Cast him as the ‘loser’. He has a sister whom you have a crush on? Make her the female lead. (Maybe you’ll get to go out with her after the shoot!)
Most people will be happy to ‘appear on tv’ for free, just ask nicely. Choose actors who are already in-character in real life, so that they don’t have to act that much. Trust me, most people can act, it’s just they don’t know it yet! And working with friends makes it easier ’cause you already know them quite well.
Try not to cast yourself though, otherwise you will have to juggle roles and that makes it hard to concentrate.
5. Shoot around your home, school or workplace
Again this helps you to make your screenplay work within your means. If you write a mafia story about gangs having a gunfight in front of the Istana, you might face more than one policeman chasing you around.
I set Tak Giu in void decks, and guess what: I had all the void decks in Singapore to choose from. Of course, I picked the nearest ones, so that I could use my flat as the holding area. My camcorder battery could only last 3 hours and we had to go back to recharge it every now and then.
Best of all, we could get around to the locations on bicycles!
6. Screen your film online
What is the only place where thousands of people can access your film and you don’t have to pay a single cent, or move your bum an inch? The internet!
For now, you are not going to make money with your short film anyway- There’s no real ‘film industry’ in Singapore, let alone a short film industry (although I hope to be proven wrong very soon). So why not put your film online and share it with the world?
If you’re reading this, you probably already have access to the internet. With websites like YouTube, video-sharing has never been easier. When I first hosted Tak Giu on my website, video-sharing sites didn’t exist yet. My movie file was about 42 MB in size, and when word of mouth spread, the server couldn’t handle the downloads. With YouTube and its ilk, that’s a problem of the past.
7. Have fun
Now why would you wanna make a film? Because it’s fun! Enjoy yourself and have fun learning. After all the hard work, nothing beats the feeling of finally showing your film to an audience!
Watch Jacen Tan’s films Tak Giu, Zo Peng and his latest Zo Gang at Sinema@Timbré on Tuesday, March 13 at 7 pm.