If we look back around 150 years ago, audiences could only view films through Kinetoscope, which is designed to be viewed individually and run for a few seconds. Who would’ve thought that it would evolve into a projector where we could view it on a designated screening with strangers surrounding us. Next the film went to our home. First from TV to our phones, we could enjoy watching films everywhere thanks to streaming platforms. When we’ve thought that the breakthrough is done, enter another (surprisingly FREE) platform with a potential market for films. You’ve guessed it from the title: TikTok.
In the end of March 2021, X&Y was released on the TikTok platform, marking the first narrative vertical film to be officially released (correct me if I’m wrong. But it’s certainly the first one in Indonesia). I was actually intrigued with how the director Jason Iskandar adapted the narrative in 9:16 aspect ratio. With the intention of supporting the film industry through the vertical container, could TikTok really be the platform for filmmakers to express their ideas?
The daily life of reels
Since Snapchat’s innovation of releasing 10-second “Stories”, other platforms started to implement this idea with several new features. Long story short, TikTok became the worldwide video-sharing platform with a duration from 15 seconds to 3 minutes. It has become a cultural phenomenon in our daily lives to watch people dancing to beat, creating skits as well as educating others. But why had nobody really thought of creating a short narrative on this platform before?
The answer is pretty obvious. We’ve all been “brainwashed” that film could only present in horizontal aspect ratio since that’s how our eyes perceive it in real life. Besides, the vertical videos platform had a limit on its duration (TikTok being 3 minutes). For lots of creators, it limits their creativity since everything needs to be achieved under that director. Last, monetization plays an important factor. Let’s face it, filmmaking had always been an expensive investment and at the very least break even is a must.
However, with production houses and executives trying to match the market pace, independent and original ideas become a rarity (at least in Hollywood, but this also happens in Indonesia). The monopoly of theaters became out of option to release films in cinemas, can TikTok be the future generation for film platforms?
X&Y behind the scene
If we’re to observe behind the scenes of X&Y production in TikTok, it’s seriously not child play. It is understandable for people to fall into thoughts that the series are shot on phones with available lighting. But turns out, with the financial support from TikTok it really took the film production route from pre-production to distribution professionally.
Each stage is planned meticulously. Storyboards are drawn and photographed. Sets are designed to achieve the look. The series are shot with (presumably) DSLR cameras with the support of light rigs and actual diffuser. This is not a no-budget film but a serious production full of heart to support the film industry, never hoping to receive any payment in return.
The thing that caught my attention the most however is its thought in framing. In an interview, Iskandar had stated on how much our eyes are actually used to see everything in a vertical aspect ratio. Caught everyone off guard actually since most had taken this for granted. Yet implementing narrative to 9:16 is actually a difficult task since not much could be translated visually. That’s probably the reason why detailed planning is needed.
See the behind the scene of making X&Y here.
Will it be the future platform for filmmakers?
The initial thoughts have been put in a form of review before. But the review doesn’t really cover up on how it impacted the external impact of X&Y. Truth to be told, I haven’t seen any other vertical films (at least in TikTok) since the release of X&Y. So should I say that X&Y had failed to be a stepping stone?
To be fair, X&Y must have taken longer than 3 months to reach the distribution phase. And Studio Antelope had been an anomaly as well, being a well-known Indonesia Independent Studio to break the convention of filmmaking. There’s certainly doubts for production companies (even for independent ones) to actually release their films on TikTok probably due to the monetization problem. But as a form of expression, I believe that there will be more to come in the form of no-budget films.
Perhaps those aspiring filmmakers could change the course of the platform from skits into professional filmmaking. It’ll take a while for the fruit to bear, but there’s no denying a small portion of filmmakers are challenged to take their ideas onto the next level of convention.
X&Y is available on TikTok (only in Indonesian subtitles)