Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Pipas Forjaz: I grew up in Maputo, Mozambique. We moved here when I was 5 years old and the country had just gained independence from Portugal after a 10 year guerrilla war. It was 1975. Life was very different than it is now. The city was empty, mostly abandoned by the approximately 100,000 white Portuguese that left Mozambique and went back to Portugal. There were few that stayed and then there were those like us that actually came back. My father had lived here as a youngster and then again when he was in the Portuguese army, but had left in the mid-sixties. I was born in South Africa and lived in Swaziland. Maputo was a great place to grow up in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Even though a new war had started it never reached the city. We felt the war in other ways. Like food shortages, the inability to travel out of the city, the very occasional bomb blast I remember clearly when my mother’s best friend was killed by a letter bomb. Her name was Ruth First. But all in all, we were lucky in the city, and life went on. Our weekend pastime was going to the cinema. For some reason, there were always movies to watch, and my friends and I did not miss one movie, or one weekend at the movies. We saw everything, from American Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns, French comedies, Russian Second World War movies, Chinese karate films. Then there was the 8 mm projector my parents had bought, with all the Charley Chaplain and Laurel and Hardy black and white short Filmes that we loved, and watched again and again. It just seemed like our life was surrounded by movies. Television only started in 1980, and it was only once a week on Sunday nights. My mum worked at the Mozambican Film Institute and she made documentaries, so it was natural for me to sometimes go on shoots with her, and that was when I started to get really interested in making movies. They used to shoot in Arri 35 mm BL’s and I remember looking at the cameras and falling in love. She would edit on Steenbacks and I would be there in the edit suite, watching and listening in the dark, and holding the pieces of spliced film in my hand, and looking at the pictures, 35 mm film. It was really quite something. It was a great experience. That is what I remember of growing up.
Film Courage: Which of your parents do you resemble most?
Pipas: For sure my mother. She was the one I ended up going with to work, when I was on holidays from boarding school.
Film Courage: Since your parents were both artistic, did they encourage you to do the same?
Pipas: My father always told me “Do something you will like doing as it will then never feel like a job, and if it does not feel like a job, you will never get tired of doing it. You must enjoy it.” My mother was the one that encouraged me to go to film school. She was the one that pushed me to choose were to go. It is she that I must thank for me going to Chicago and study film, and I must thank my father for all the work he did to find the money to pay for me to go to film school and live in Chicago for 4 and a half years.
“I remember when Jean-Luc Godard came to Mozambique to teach about filmmaking to the few Mozambicans at the Film Institute and my mother was one of the students there, and one day my mother invited him for dinner and that is when I met him. It was the early 80’s.”
Pipas Forjaz, Co-Producer/DP for RESGATE
Film Courage: Was there a moment growing up that solidified your love for film?
Pipas: I remember when Jean-Luc Godard came to Mozambique to teach about filmmaking to the few Mozambicans at the Film Institute and my mother was one of the students there, and one day my mother invited him for dinner and that is when I met him. It was the early 80’s.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Pipas: Yes, I went to Columbia College Chicago, a very interesting film school. I loved my time in Chicago, it was the early 1990’s. We started out with Bolex cameras, then we had Arrie’s, CP 16’s and Eclairs. All 16 mm. Later we stared to shoot in color. There are 3 teachers I will never forget, my sound teacher, Diego Trejo, my Lighting teacher Michael Wright, and my Cinematography teacher Robert Buchar. I think those 3 were the ones that most influenced me and taught me the bases of making movies. Later, in 2012, I did a course in Los Angeles that was great at the Global Cinematography Institute, with teachers like the late Vilmos Zsigmond, Yuri Neuman, Chris Probst, Ron Fischer, Daniel Pearl and Dante Spinotti. It was a great time in Los Angeles and a pleasure to meet and learn from these masters. I also attended REDUCATION in 2010, and learnt from the masters Michael Cioni and Ted Schilowitz.
Film Courage: What was the most profound take away from your time at Columbia College Chicago?
Pipas: I think that what I really learned from my time in Chicago was that movie making is an art that you need to make with many people. You all need to be involved in the process. To make good movies, you all need to be on the same page, for sure. You need the vision of the director, but you need all the rest of the crew and cast to be there with all their heart. It is a collective art.
Film Courage: How much culture shock did you experience when leaving home for college?
Pipas: I was lucky, I did not have much of a shock as by the time I arrived in Chicago in the fall of 1991. I had already lived for 18 months in London and a few years in Portugal, so it was not much of a shock.
Film Courage: What have been your top 5 favorite opening shots of any movie?
Pipas: Well, this is a difficult question, as it’s not easy to round it down to just 5, is not easy. There are too many. For me to choose just 5, that means that so many others will fall to the side, so I will just go with the first five that pop into my mind, and then worry later about all the others I did not mention.
The sound of the helicopter, music from the Doors, the Palm trees, the dust, the explosions when the music starts “this is the end,” then the camera pans right and dissolves into the face and the over head fan. What a good opening sequence. It tells us everything that the movie is about.
The opening helicopter shot following the car up the mountains, all by themselves, like they will be in the hotel in the mountains.
Opens with a white screen of snow, then a car appears in the distance, only the lights and slowly it approaches. Then the music starts. The cars pass and the name of the film appears. We follow the car.
It gives you the feeling of what the rest of the movie will look and feel like.
The whole montage of the guy opening his book, cutting with a blade, writing, all shot in close-ups and macros. What a great sequence. It is where you get to know the villain of the film. You only really meet him much later in the movie. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Everything, the cinematography, the lighting, the sets, the story… I am a fan.
Los Angeles 2019… The City at night, flames, the reflection in the eyes, it is like Los Angeles has become hell. Then the whole interrogation sequence which ends up with the replicant killing the interrogator. I love this sequence and the whole movie.
Film Courage: What did your mother teach you about cameras and filmmaking?
Pipas: My mum did not teach me per se, I watched her work. I sometimes grabbed her Nikon camera and took a photo or two. She showed me the basics; this is to focus, this is how you expose a photo, how the light meter works. But she was a busy woman, and I was sometimes lucky that she let me have one of the cameras for me to play with. But that was more photography. Filmmaking was more of the experience of being on the shoots, and watching the process, when I was on holidays from school. Because I got to know how films are made. I was on the shoot, then she took the film to the laboratory at the film institute and I saw the film being processed, then to edit suite, for hours on end, first sinking the sound, the editing, then later to the sound mix. So I learned by watching this process over and over again. She did not actually tell me “this is how it is done, do it like this…” I just got the taste by being there and watching. She used to make these weekly news reels that went to the cinemas, they were called Kuxa Kanema’s and on the weekends when I went to the movies. I would watch with my friends what my mother had directed and edited on the big screen before the main feature. I would sit in the cinema, and watch what I had already seen in the edit room, what I had seen her shoot and direct during the week.
Film Courage: You’ve mentioned being an avid reader of American Cinematographer magazine growing up. Was there a piece from years prior that you never forgot?
Pipas: Yes, I loved to read American Cinematographer. My mum had a subscription and every month a new magazine would arrive. It was a great time. I remember reading them avidly. Some even now jump to mind. I remember one that showed how they had made Superman, on the green screen. I remember one about the film 1941. I loved that one, or one about Star Trek and all the special effects. This must have been in the very early 1980’s.
Film Courage: What has been the biggest challenge in working as a DP digitally versus with film?
Pipas: Hmmmm, not sure it was a challenge? Shooting on film was much more of a challenge than shooting digitally. With film you never knew if it was all okay until you got it back from the lab, which could be many days later. Digitally even seems like a bit of a cheat. I love it. I love that we now can instantly see what we will get, put LUT’s on set. With film, only the DOP really knew what it was going to look like, and hoped that it was all okay, the focus, the exposure, the framing. Now, even the PA spying through the director’s monitor can see what it is going to look like.
Film Courage: What inspired the story for RESGATE? What is the film about?
Pipas: We were in the middle of writing another story. My good friend and business partner is actually the writer (Mickey Fonseca). But suddenly a new thing started happening here in Maputo. Kidnappings. It started out slow, but suddenly it picked up, and became a weekly and even daily occurrence. And one day, someone I know was kidnapped and later released, that was when I suggested to Mickey “why not write a script about kidnapping” and off he went and that is how it all started. But that was 4 years ago, and he has written so many versions, that now it is more of a love story, a story about redemption that intertwines with a kidnapping story.
Film Courage: What is your role with the movie? Do you also plan on being the editor?
Pipas: My role is first as co-producer of the movie. Then as director of photography and ultimately as editor of the movie. I will work with a young Mozambican filmmaker called Ernanio Mandlate on the edit. He will do the first draft while we are shooting. Cutting each day’s rushes so that while we’re shooting at the end of the day, we can sit and watch a rough cut of the previous day’s shoot.
Film Courage: Why are you crowdfunding?
Pipas: We are crowdfunding because we need the money to make the film. We need the money to pay cast fees, location fees, crew fees, catering, fuel. Basically to pay stuff that needs paying. We don’t need cash for camera, lights and grips as we own our equipment, and we’re also not getting paid (Mickey and myself) but all the rest of the crew needs to be paid, fed and transported, and that requires hard cash. For sure we will also have to use our own cash, but we simply don’t have enough. In Mozambique there are no film subsidies any more.
Film Courage: How much are you planning to raise via crowdfunding? How much of your money or investor money are you bringing to the film? How did you calculate what the budget was going to be?
Pipas: Well, this is a tricky question. As would like to raise as much as possible. The minimum we need to be able to shoot, and not counting post production, would be$100,000 USD. That would cover expenses for a 4 week shoot. That would pay crew, cast, locations, catering, transport and fuel. But we would prefer to be able to shoot for 5 or 6 weeks. It would give us more time to shoot each sequence better. So ideally we would need an extra $50,000 USD. At the moment, it costs us about $5,000 USD a day to shoot, and we trying to plan for 5 day weeks, as this gives every one a 2 day break, which we feel is very important for the crew and cast, and ourselves to rest and gain energy for each week of shooting. For post production, we will need cash for later, when we have a cut finished, because we will edit in our own edit suite. But we will need to do sound mixes, music rights, color correction and ultimately advertising and spreading the movie. We still haven’t finalized this process and budget.
Film Courage: How many crowdfunding campaigns had you studied or donated to before launching the Indiegogo for RESGATE?
Pipas: We did a crowdfunding campaign for a good friend of ours, a rap artist that had a brain tumor, and it did amazingly well, in 2 weeks we were able to get the funds for his brain operation. It was incredible how fast that campaign went. We do understand that it was a different kind of campaign, it was to save the life of a friend, but it did teach us many things about fundraising. We have also watched many hours of videos from other successful campaigns and read about fundraising on the net. We have a very good friend of ours, Maura, helping us on this campaign, and she is great. We could not have done this without her.
Pipas: Yes, this is my first feature length film both as co-producer/DOP. But I have done 6 short movies as co-producer/DOP/Editor and one more as director/producer/DOP/Editor, and one as just the DOP. So, it is time to jump into a feature film.
Film Courage: For your new movie RESGATE, did you come up with a film budget first (based on your resources available) before coming up with idea?
Pipas: The idea came first, the budget only came after the idea.
Film Courage: How thriving is the film community in Maputo? Why is it a beautiful place to shoot?
Pipas: Maputo has tiny film community. I think I know every one that works in film here. But people love movies, like all over the world, and people are thirsty for a Mozambican movie. It is beautiful to shoot here. Well in my view, everywhere is beautiful to shoot. As long as the story is interesting, then I (as DOP) will find interesting frames wherever I am. I think Maputo is as good to shoot as any other city in the world. Each has its features. You just have to find them and know how to shoot them.
Film Courage: What camera do you plan to use for the production? Any lens adapters/filters you especially like?
Pipas: I am going to shoot with my beloved Red Weapon Magnesium camera, because I own it, and it gives me really pretty pictures. I will be shooting mainly with a set of Xeen lenses I bought from Duclos Lenses in Los Angeles. I have the 14, 24, 35, 50, 85 and soon the 135 mm lenses. I also have the Red set of primes, which I will most probably use the 100 mm and the 300 mm.
Film Courage: Have you begun location scouting? What are some of the locations you will need for the production?
Pipas: Yes, not only have we begun, we have scouted and chosen all our locations for RESGATE. We know exactly where we’re going to shoot. Some of the photos in this Q&A are of our beautiful locations.
Film Courage: What cinematic techniques do you envision for RESGATE?
Pipas: Well, this film we will actually use many techniques. Each sequence will in itself call for a different technique. For example, for the action sequences I will mostly use my Serene and Gravity one, which give me a very steady hand held feeling, but sometimes, especially inside cars and tight spaces, I will have to go to hand held. Then for other sequences, like long and slow dialogue sequences, I will use a dolly and tracks. It will be a mix. We don’t have a steadiecam, but the Serene and Gravity one gives us that kind of feel. For some sequences for sure I will shoot from a tripod on long lenses.
“…Digital has kind of made everyone with a good cell phone a photographer. But it is not the camera that makes a good photograph. It’s the eye and brain behind the viewfinder.”
Pipas Forjaz, Co-Producer/DP for RESGATE
Film Courage: Now that digital filmmaking and/or photography can make so many amateur artists look like they’ve studied for years, do you feel some of the great historical photographers would have stood out in this current landscape (anyone from Richard Avedon, Francesco Scavullo, Annie Leibovitz, Diane Arbus, etc.)?
Pipas: Yes, digital has kind of made everyone with a good cell phone a photographer. But it is not the camera that makes a good photograph. It is the eye and brain behind the viewfinder. So, all those great photographers you mention, I thin would still be great, no matter what camera they use. It is their eye that really counts and not the camera they are using. My mum took beautiful photographs and all se used were 2 old Nikon F’s one with 50 mm and the other with a 105 mm lens. It is what she saw and how she took the photo that counts.
Film Courage: What are the 10 documentaries you are working on for John Hopkins University? How did you get involved with the institution?
Pipas: Those were about many different aspects of the work that John Hopkins University does in Mozambique. They actually were not exactly documentaries, but kind of case studies that then served as examples to show the populations how certain behaviors affect lives. I’m not sure how they found me? One day, about 7 or 8 years ago, they called me, and asked if I was interested in working with them, and knowing what a great institution they are, I did not hesitate. I have worked with them on many projects since then.
Film Courage: What’s next for you after RESGATE?
Pipas: Well, the plan is to make the next feature film, that Mickey still has to write.
Born to a filmmaker and photographer mother and an architect father, Pipas Forjaz grew up in Swaziland. A young boy, he met Jean Luc Godard, who was in Mozambique teaching a course on Film and Television. Albeit at a young age, Forjaz knew right then that he wanted to make films.
He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Film & Video in 1995. In the past 20 years he has worked as a producer, cameraman, editor and director, mostly in Mozambique. In 1994 he produced his first film “Mississe”. In 2009 and with Mickey Fonseca he produced the short film “Mahla,” a dramatic narrative about a young woman who is abused by her tormented domestic partner.
And so Mahla Filmes was born, located in Maputo, and other shorts films followed, proving that a dream can transform something way bigger.
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