This week on #WebSeriesWednesday I watched the Hong Kong guerrilla production ‘Squattertown.’ This series is a great example of using the resources you have available to you to create an absolutely awesome show with no budget – in this case an amazing series of rooftops and shanty towns in Hong Kong.
What resources do you have readily available to you right now? For series creator Marco Sparmberg the most obvious resource was a series of mostly abandoned, lightly guarded, shantytowns in Hong Kong, where he currently lives (not in the shantytowns, but somewhere nicer, I assume).
The areas are dirty, lived in, and often filled with partially destructed buildings. The rooftops provide great vistas of Hong Kong and its old world. These shots recall some of the very best parts of films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and are of just as high a quality.
If I did not know that most of these areas came ‘as-is’ I likely would call ‘Squattertown’ the bar for production design and art direction. That would be quite the achievement for a production that did not even have an art department.
The locations are so incredible that the group spent three months searching out the best places to shoot, and then tailored the script to the areas they were going to use. The downside was that there was not a lot of time to actually shoot in each location. The areas are patrolled by security guards who would come around every thirty minutes or so, sending the team racing to the next roof to create the next scene.
What is amazing about this style of production is just how well thought out most of the shots are. The camera is rarely set on a tripod for the wide shot, but instead focuses on the little details of each area. These are things like an overhead view of a board game being played, shots of feet walking through puddles, close ups on faces, and the walls and sheets which separate characters.
While many of these are stylistic choices it is also very likely that these shots were there because of the inability to really spend a lot of time in each location and getting all the shots they really need. I think this could be a great example of a time limitation fueling a greater level of creativity. For that Marco Sparmberg, who directed, deserves an awful lot of credit. Either way I loved the direction in this show.
The real downside of this style was its limitations on story – mostly that there was not much of one. We have a guy running around stabbing people, and other guys running around trying to stab him. It is all very cool but it left me wondering why. Future seasons of ‘Squattertown’ will try to add in more story.
What I really liked about the show was how it instantly feels like the beginning of a feature. It comes off as the opening chapter of a foreign kung foo movie – leaving you with a big ‘wtf’ as to what exactly is going on. Ideally this sequence would be a little shorter, and then go into a very narrative focused segment.
‘Squattertown’ is the type of production that should having you taking inventory of all the cool things you have at your disposal as a filmmaker. You can watch the show on the website http://squattertown.com – and you can also check out Marco Sparmberg’s shorts on his youtube channel.