The art of storytelling in the age of viral videos

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The Philippine entry, "Pagnanakaw" by Miguel Sotto and Jazmin Reyes, won first runner-up in Singtel Group's "The 5-Minute Video Challenge." The film tells the story of a father's reminder of an age-old value that has been handed down from generation to generation. Screengrab from PAGNANAKAW/YOUTUBE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s one thing to craft a meticulously thought out film, but another to make a genuinely affecting short clip that will be shared by thousands — and even millions — of users online. Now that Facebook is fast becoming a video platform, slowly edging out YouTube, putting video content out means you don’t have to scramble as much to find an audience.

With the “5-Minute Video Challenge,” participating films from various countries have had the opportunity to send a message to all of Singtel Group’s 600 million customers. In a small-ish gathering recently at the Grand Hyatt Singapore’s The Gallery, a handpicked group of press people joined heads and officers of Singtel Group’s associate telcos — Australia’s Optus, Thailand’s AIS, South Asia and Africa’s Airtel, Philippines’ Globe, and Indonesia’s Telkomsel — in ushering in a new strategy for content innovation.

“What’s a film viewing without popcorn?” one of the ushers asked us, a bag of the snack in question on hand, a few minutes before the press screening of the 12 competing films, two from each representative country (South Africa is represented by Tanzania). The screening started with hardly any fanfare, delivering a mixed bag of five-minute clips that range from the amateur to the skillfully polished. But later, during the jury’s discussion, an emphasis on storytelling and emotional resonance would inform their decision on picking the winner. It doesn’t matter how glorious the shots are — as in the case of some of the tourism-ready videos in the competition — the videos that resonate should latch on with an impassioned sense of telling a story.

globe regional judges2.jpg The regional judges of Singtel Group's "The 5-Minute Video Challenge" are Thailand’s AIS chief marketing officer Pratthana Leelapanang, Tanzanian creative director Raqey, Singapore's most acclaimed fimmaker Erik Khoo, Filipino film critic Philbert Dy, Indonesian filmmaker Monty Tiwa, and Australian content innovator and leader Simon Joyce. Joining them on stage is Singtel Group’s vice president for business development and COE programme, Oliver Foo. Photo courtesy of GLOBE TELECOM

The jury is headed by Singapore’s most acclaimed filmmaker Erik Khoo and comprised of Indonesia filmmaker Monty Tiwa, Australian content innovator and leader Simon Joyce; Filipino film critic Philbert Dy, Thailand’s AIS chief marketing officer Pratthana Leelapanang, and Tanzanian creative director Raqey.

“I think online you got to seize them right away, you know?” says Khoo. “It’s gotta be bloody shocking. The best thing is horror. Throw some blood on the wall, get them there, keep them there. I think the short film format, up to three minutes, is the punchiest. Anything out of three, it starts getting diluted, I mean for the young attention span of the [online or mobile user]. But it’s got to be original. I mean, it’s easy to say [but] it’s really difficult, right?”

Of all the almost 600 submitted entries (each participating telco had a selection committee to pick the two films to represent their respective countries), the 12 finalists provided perspectives of how the filmmaker ran with the theme “Connecting lives,” reflecting not only their cultures but their film traditions as well.

“[With] the two Singaporean films,” says Dy, “the one was about culture clash and the other one was about a mother [and] the familial bond, seem to me [as] very big Singaporean themes. The Tanzanian [films], you can see that it’s a very young film scene. Like they’re still trying to copy what they’ve seen in videos, and stuff like that. And you could definitely see the film culture, if not the culture. With the Philippines, you can see our tradition of filmmaking.”

“It’s edgier. It’s punchier,” adds Khoo.

globe grand winner - rotasi.jpg The Indonesian filmmakers of "Rotasi," the grand winner of Singtel Group's "The 5-Minute Video Challenge." Photo courtesy of GLOBE TELECOM  

In many ways, the challenge provides an avenue for filmmakers to test out ideas in the time of viral video ads and receding attention spans. Even Singtel Group’s vice president for business development and COE programme, Oliver Foo, admits that the content strategy was put in place to hit the “sweet spot” of videos online, ranging from three to five minute clips that are easily digestible on social media.

“[A video] is something that you can also consume on the go as well,” says Foo. “Whether you’re in the MRT, whether you’re in a car, or a bus. Whether you’re in the lift going up to your office it’s something you can consume quite easily.”

Most of the participating filmmakers are young, certainly with the case of the winner, “Rotasi,” from Indonesia, is made by a group of student filmmakers; and the regional runner-up “Pagnanakaw” by Filipinos Miguel Sotto and Jazmin Reyes. Centered on the core themes of connection and the human condition, the videos toe the line between cinematic expressions to ready-made viral videos, with telcos’ values of communication and relationships in mind. “Rotasi” is about genuine connections in the digital age and “Pagnanakaw” is a poetic depiction of age-old values that have been handed down from generation to generation. The audience choice runner-up, “Hello Gorgeous” (Thailand) is a cheeky parody of belonging in the time of influencers and hashtags.

 

But one thing these young filmmakers have the advantage of is that they possess an intimate knowledge of what makes audiences click. The challenge is now to harness that knowledge to create something that shows their capabilities as young professionals and adapts to the client’s needs as well.

“What would retain your attention is different from what would retain my attention so I guess, just tell a good story,” says Pagnanakaw’s co-director Miguel Sotto. “Tell it without any bells and whistles. Like the judges said a while ago, it’s not about the technique but the message that you can tell people. And as long as that message is true and honest, as long as it’s honest and it’s coming from a place that is true, then it will capture someone’s attention.”

“I think kasi our consumers are smart so they could smell fakeness from a mile away,” adds Pagnanakaw co-director Jazmin Reyes. “There are some, let’s say viral videos, whether it’s funny or hard-hitting that became viral for a reason; because they triggered an emotional response. So that’s it. That’s all you need. Not even a lengthy time. It might be a 30-second video. As long as it can hit you somehow and it’s sharable somehow to them, because they can relate to it, it’s good to go because we’re all connected with stories, emotions, and feelings.”

globe with albert de larrazabal 2.jpg Globe Telecom's Chief Commercial Officer Albert de Larrazabal with Filipino filmmakers Miguel Sotto and Jazmin Reyes of "Pagnanakaw," and Christine Silva of "Shrimp Struggles" during the awarding ceremonies of "The 5-Minute Video Challenge" at the Grand Hyatt Singapore. "Pagnanakaw" won first runner-up in the competition. Photo courtesy of GLOBE TELECOM  

Its also interesting how some of the other filmmakers responded to the theme of “Connecting lives.” Some of the more engaging clips toyed with the concept of communication using different filmmaking techniques. Jason van Genderen’s “Life in Boxes” (Australia) portrayed an open-call to some of his friends and their response to a letter containing an infographic of the span of a human life in boxes. The result is a harrowing confrontation of the fleeting nature of ourselves and how we make of the moments that comprise our lives. Koh Chong Wu’s “When You Are Old” (Singapore) presents an affecting five minutes in the life of the artist Danny Raven Tan as he takes care of his mother who is suffering from senile dementia. Christine Joyce Silva and Jan Michael Jamisola’s “Shrimp Struggles” is a hilarious, sometimes stream-of-consciousness conversation between two filmmakers and their plans for a shrimp-related film. “Shrimp Struggles” emerges as one of the most distinct entries as it mixes live action and hand-drawn animation.

“There’s also this advantage to shorter films because they just deliver a punch because kuha mo agad yung attention nung viewer,” says Silva. Part din kami ng new generation so ang hirap kumuha ng resources para gumawa ng longer films. I mean, locally speaking, medyo mahirap yung process. Parang mag-pi-pitch ka with people and ang daming hoops na lulusutan bago ka makagawa ng longer films. I guess malaking part yun na parang mas nalilinya din kami sa short filmmaking [since it’s] also a way toward the full-length films sa local scene.”

 

It's this problem that Globe Studios addresses as it provides a platform for new and established filmmakers to experiment outside the big studio business. Their initial launch for the Globe Independent Film Festival saw a “master’s showcase” with short films from industry stalwarts such as Bb. Joyce Bernal and Dan Villegas. Soon to launch is Erik Matti’s “On the Job (OTJ)” mini series. And in the pipeline are projects with Lav Diaz and Antoinette Jadaone. Early next year, Globe Studios will launch its own Globe Independent Film Festival, which has six categories including Animated, Experimental, Music Video, and Webisode.

“It’s a risk,” says Globe Studios director Quark Henares, “but right now the fact that one of the biggest companies in the Philippines had this mandate to make really good content and it doesn’t have to be branded, it doesn’t have to be subtle commercials ... I think that’s really the reason why I joined. I mean, doing this is leaving directing for a while, right? — which is what I love the most — but just to be a part of that, then game!”

For more information on the Globe Independent Film Festival, visit their official website. Click here to watch all the entries in “The 5-Minute Video Challenge.”