Filling a gap in the Philippine film industry

“This is something bigger than us. More than the profit, is the social impact: I want our company, our films, to address issues and actually provoke audiences into doing something about them.”

A camera rolls, and a director quietly instructs a movement to get a better angle. The shot steadily focuses on the face of a woman. She’s half Filipino, half-Japanese, born during World War II, and carries an ambiguous sense of identity due to her mixed heritage. Later, the video is edited and prepped for the screen: the story of those half-Filipino Japanese members of society, and their struggle for social acceptance.

These are the kinds of stories shared by Sine De Oro, a local production house that focuses on creative social documentary, events coverage, short form videos and films. The group was co-founded by partners Rona Lallana and Vic Julius Ong (later joined by Joshua Reyles).

Ainoko, which explored the lives of those half-Filipino, half-Japanese post-war children, was a college thesis, and their first project together.

“He’s from Mindoro, and my Mother’s side hails from Cagayan de Oro,” Rona says, when asked about their company’s name. “And ‘de oro’ means ‘of gold’. So Sine de Oro basically means golden cinema.”

The beginnings of Sine De Oro are largely tied to the pair’s relationship and dating history. The two had a lot in common upon first meeting each other in film school. Both were transferees from other colleges; Vic had been a Biology major, and Rona, a Life Sciences major; both come from families of businesspeople and professionals, and took a bold step away from their parents’ expectations by pursuing film instead.

Coming into college feeling out of the crowd, the two gravitated toward each other. Soon they were working on projects together. Often, when someone drew Rona into a production, Vic would be along for the ride, and vice-versa. They even joined the same workshop with filmmaker Andrés Morte, who inspired their passion for films for social impact.

“What he taught us,” Rona explains, recalling those workshops, “is that, it’s not just about filming what’s there. You have to approach it as if it were life itself. As if there were no camera.”

And then one day, a client for whom they were filming asked for a receipt, and the two knew it was time to get registered. Sine De Oro took off from being an impromptu partnership between two film students, to a real, registered business.

Social documentaries remained the heart of their work – they were soon working on stories that gained recognition locally and abroad such as Women of the Shore, about the mothers from fishing villages in Mindoro, that landed in the Top 5 of Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival. Their infomercial titled 10 Innovations for the Filipino Farmer also got first place in the To Farm Film Festival.

By expanding into some commercial videos, and doubling as a rental service for cameras and other filmmaking equipment, they earned enough to make a fair profit.

That meant, of course, all the ups and downs that come with running a business, too: “It’s a lot of pressure,” Vic says, ticking of the daily challenges of a start-up. “We work on long days of productions. But we also have accounting, marketing, managing crew … What we constantly battle is the burnout.”

Have they ever thought about just giving it up and joining a major production house, as their peers have? Of course. At the height of their fatigue, hopping from project to project and chasing deadlines in post-production, they’ve imagined the joys of clocking out at the end of a 9-to-5 shift.

“But, we’re still here. This is something bigger than us.” Vic points out, giving a nod to the driving mission they’re trying to accomplish. “More than the profit, is the social impact: I want our company, our films, to address issues and actually provoke audiences into doing something about them. And at the same time be able to leave everyone, in our films, with a stronger mindset and motivation.”

“The beauty of a start-up,” Rona concludes, as a tip for future businesspeople, “is that you’re in control, at the end of the day. You see all the results of your hard work. It’s right in front of you. It’s not the money, talent or even hard work that can get you places. From your business partner, teammates, clients, family and friends —relationships are what you really have to take care of the most.”

Liked this story? Check out Sine de Oro’s Facebook page here:

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