In line with TheCosplayChronicles’s collaboration with Cosplay:The Series, TCC will be bringing you a set of exclusive interviews with the cast and crew of CTS. This time, we’ll be focusing on the one man that made this web series work, Producer and Director Bonni Rambatan. Check out the other interviews here!
TCC: How did the idea start?
Oh, it was an accumulation of so many things, I suppose. First, I’ve always wanted to do a web series that allows me to do wild creative explorations, so there’s that. Then, I’ve always had this anger at how mainstream media always portrays cosplayers and con-goers as immature freaks, and “costuming” as a hobby one should be ashamed of and left to the losers. Fighting that is probably the ethical call on my part.
The final “I have to do this!” moment came when I got to know the cosplayers more personally through this social research I was helping a friend with. I found that cosplayers are the most dedicated, open, and accepting people there is, and it’s very ironic how they are so often ridiculed. It touched me.
Cosplay is not at all a hobby for rich people that buy really expensive costumes for childish reasons as one may have been too often led to believe: it’s a hobby for those willing to learn sewing, property making, make-up, photography, stage performance, sound mixing, the whole bunch, and be brave enough to withstand harsh words often from people that are otherwise close to them, such as parents or friends or the school. It takes certain kinds of people to do that.
So in my mind one day it all clicked. I wanted to make a web series about cosplay that is both critical and heartfelt, but also funny, ridiculous and anime-esque. COSPLAY: The Series was born.
TCC: How long did it take for you to finalize the storyline?
Several months, especially because during the entire time I have never met most of the cosplayers involved in the project! I live in a different town, so much of the coordination needed to be done online. I had the concept and the script, but 90% of the finalizations probably happened in some 10% of the final pre-production time.
An interesting thing about finalizing storylines for filmmakers with no budget is to start not with a detailed storyline but with what you got at hand currently. If there’s money, it’s easy: you write and you use the money to buy stuff and rent places and equipment you need to build what’s on the script. A lot of our work goes the other way: look at all the sets and costumes you can use and try your best to string together a coherent story that fits your concept using those things, so that you don’t spend money you don’t have. It’s very MacGyver-esque in a way: it requires you to improvise on the field, and fast.
TCC: What was your original concept and how different is it from the end result?
The original CTS had 22 episodes, and it was very much like Glee in ways that the group’s aim was to win in cosplay competitions at events and stuff. That’s why you see all those characters: in the original story, almost every character has a story. Annisa even develops an (unsuccessful) romance with a popular basketball star of the school, we show Ayu doing Korean dances on top of her cosplay activities, Arya gets busted by his girlfriends, etc. But of course resources weren’t enough, so we had to edit out a good portion of the story. You know, dream big, but keep your feet on the ground.
The story originally dealt with heavier issues and more critical, witty takes on culture, but everyone thought it made the series too serious so I decided to omit those. The main overarching plot about a country-specific-themed OC cosplay stays, but only because it paves the way for a Season 2 (“What happened to the project proposed to Mrs. Kartini?”), with most of the cultural identity weight pushed below surface. I think it’s better that way anyway, so more people will be able to enjoy it.
The concept of The Organization plot twist came later, because I thought the story became too realistic and common, not anime enough. People also commented that they wanted to see action and CGI in a film with such good costumes, so we killed two birds with one stone with the introduction of the Nina character and her relationship with Headmistress Kartini. We thought we could do a lot with it, something to explore in the next seasons. To be honest, the inspiration of this twist came when I was observing the set during pre-production and noticed it offers a wide variety of mysterious-looking places when shot at the right angle with the correct lighting!
The decision to keep most of the characters even though their story has been edited out was primarily because I really like them, and I still hope to tell their stories one day, maybe in sequels, specials, or adaptations. You never know!
TCC: Tell us a little about your professional background!
This is an interesting one, because I come from neither a film nor a cosplay background. I’m actually a critic – I hate to use that word, but yes, I publish papers and travel around the world to do public lectures on media and culture so that’s what people end up calling me. I’m also a freelance artist, but to my peers I’m less known for that.
To be fair, I have directed animation videos, made comics, and judged films before, and I also have several years of experience in the web content industry, so the web series was kind of a logical next step in artistic exploration for me. Still though, the series was the first thing I actually wrote, directed, and produced primarily by myself. I feel pretty good about it, and I feel very thankful to have such great cast and crewmembers who put so much trust in me.
TCC: Was getting the equipment for this series difficult? How did you managed?
What equipment? *laughs* You mentioned about the sheer lack of professional lighting and sound on our series on your first post about us, didn’t you? *laughs*
We had a Canon 550D, and that’s it, the only thing we started with. Of course we also needed lights badly so we hacked together nine common light bulbs and a dimmer in a couple of hours and used that. For outdoor night scenes, we rely on lights from motorbikes and cars. It’s that level of D.I.Y.
Our post-production studio AIU lent us this good microphone, but since our sound director Cahyo Baskoro couldn’t stay with us throughout production process we didn’t know how to use it properly, so we ended up with terrible audio that made Cahyo scream in horror when we showed him the results. Turns out it was the cable.
If we knew we were going to get this much love and attention from all our fans and viewers we would have put in more investment... Which we are doing on our second season, and we are looking very forward to it. And no, it’s still not that hard because we just buy and hack things instead of renting anything. When you work with cosplayers and hackers and D.I.Y. guys you get very good at being cheap. *laughs*
TCC: Introduce your filming equipment & Post processing equipment's with us!
Hmm, let’s see... Q-Cosushinkai Project is vast and diverse, so first of all there’s The Rozis Photography who invested the camera and all the lenses to be used, AIU Studio who invested music and sound engineering, and myself with the design and editing workstation. Here are some of the pictures.
We also have our own set at Cihanjuang, courtesy of associate producer Ausi Sekarismi (who also played Bando in the series). 90% of the filming was done here, and we had rooms for everyone to sleep in on the top floor, so it made work tons easier for us since we didn’t have to go to ten different places to finish the season.
TCC: I asked the actors and now I ask you. How far do you think Cosplay: The Series would go?
Honestly, I have no idea. Everyone is optimistic and I’m pretty sure a couple of people will want to kill me because I’m not screaming about how I think it will become the next greatest thing and all that. But hope is not a strategy.
What is a strategy is listening to our fans and what they want and keep doing our best to make better films. As long as we do that, I believe it can go pretty far. I do have plenty of plans and dreams for it in the future, that’s for sure.
TCC: Do you consider the series a success?
Oh, totally! We garnered thousands of fans and viewers in such a short time, and they bothered to actually interact with us and support us. I mean, of course it’s nothing compared to all the big viral stuff out there, but as much as I’d like to gain more numbers I also know it’s not just about numbers.
To this day I still have people telling me how much CTS has made them stronger, made them decide to keep cosplaying, or want to start cosplaying, and made my actors’ friends and families see their hobby in a more positive light, and so on. Being able to touch the hearts of people like that—that is true success for me. I hope to be able to keep doing that with my stories.
TCC: What are your future plans for the series?
I want to expand the franchise. CTS has always been about doing things differently, about creating unique dramas you are not likely to find in mainstream media and presenting them in a unique way. I want to add more to the story, give it more weight without losing its edge and humor.
In Season 2 you will find a lot more action, and a lot of CGI work, and the required plot twists to justify them. The series has been great so far, but unless you are an otaku you aren’t very likely to get the jokes or in fact the story. It’s a little too enclosed now. We want to change that.
I also want to explore more mediums, work together with more talents. Manga, anime, visual novel, iPhone application, you name it. This may come as a surprise to some people, but e-mailing us and saying “Hey, I can do (translations/reviews/artworks/music), can I use that talent to work with CTS?” usually works, and that’s how we’ve been growing. We have even found talents through our Facebook wall. As the number of fans grow we really want to hear more of that and open up doors to working anyone in the world. I should say if you’re reading this right now and want to give a shot at working with us in a way, don’t hesitate to leave something on our wall or inbox!
TCC: Any tips or advice for aspiring film makers?
Know what you want! That’s the most important thing. Most filmmakers (or artists, or writers, or anyone for that matter) just want to do stuff because it seems like a cool thing to do. It’s like writing a blog: you can either write about your boring daily activities and get two subscribers, or build a brand and get a thousand. Make an impact: give people a reason to watch your film, or better, look for it.
Also, make sure you know how to get there. It’s not enough to know what you want if what you want requires you to win the lottery to fund it. You’ll just never get it done. Try improvisation skills instead, whether strategically placing your scenes at a traffic jam at night to get free lighting or reacting to a good spot by improvising your script to incorporate it in place of that other impossible setting. You won’t produce a perfect film, but if you go indie it’s your best bet.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be wildly creative, and always foster a can-do attitude in all your cast and crews. It’s a priceless atmosphere, the magic touch. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all those laughter in the process!
I’m sure this interview shed some light into the making of this very enjoyable series and I hope you gained some new insights! If you’re craving for, watch the interview of Bonni Rambatan, lead actress Zikrie Ruford, and conceptual artist Ardhya Budiman on National TV!