Foreign filmmakers get creative with small budgets

Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:34am EST
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By Christopher Lisotta

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In 1911, Dadasaheb Phalke was an unemployed printer and part-time magician trying to make his way in Bombay. Phalke's life took an unexpected turn when he stumbled into a tent for a screening of the silent movie "The Life of Christ."

Instantly mesmerized by the new medium, Phalke decided he wanted to make films specifically for the Indian audience. But like so many directors before and after him, Phalke had problems financing his first film. The father of two young children sold virtually all his household possessions to pay for his project. The film got made, Phalke became an instant success, and Bollywood was born.

Flash forward almost a century to first-time filmmaker Paresh Mokashi and his biopic of Phalke, "Harishchandrachi Factory." Mokashi spent years trying to get financing for his small, period film with no big stars or musical numbers. When no financiers came forward, Mokashi took a lesson from his subject and mortgaged his home. The gamble paid off; the film got made and "Factory" has been submitted by India as its selection for the best foreign-language film Oscar.

"I'm sure every first-time filmmaker will go through the same thing," Mokashi says of his quest. "Once I decided to do that, there was no dilemma. You don't care about these things that may be in the future."

That sense of optimism serves Mokashi and other Asian filmmakers well in a business rocked by financial instability and a dearth of viable funding sources. Creative financing schemes are plentiful, but there are major challenges.

For director Soxie Topacio, the worldwide economic slowdown has taken its toll on the film industry in his native Philippines, which has gone from making 200 films a year in its heyday in the 1980s to about 50 a year now. According to Topacio, film production has been hit with the double whammy of piracy and an audience that finds ticket prices too high.

"It's 100 pesos ($2.17) to watch a film," he explains. "The people who really watch a lot of Filipino movies cannot afford it. They watch television and watch (cheaper) pirated films instead."

To combat the downward spiral, the local industry stepped in. Topacio's film, "Grandpa Is Dead" was one of six special projects made for $45,000 each with help from an angel investor and the involvement of the Directors Guild of the Philippines, which is using proceeds from the films to fund scholarships for unemployed production staff and their children.   Continued...