October 3, 2009

Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy is a no budget film made by Hive Division, a collective of Italian students and young filmmakers. It’s a non-profit project, based on the videogame saga Metal Gear Solid, created by Hideo Kojima and published by Konami. Driven by our passion for cinema, new technologies and Hideo Kojima’s work, the aim of this project is to prove that a full-length sci-fi feature, of professional standards and with the minimum of resources, is still achievable by the hardiest amongst us. The total amount of money spent on this completely auto-produced film has been less than 10.000 Euros.


The roots of this project sink as deep and as far back in time as 2002, when Gianluca and I (both just out of high school) got around to playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the highly anticipated sequel to Snake’s debut on PlayStation. The game, which to this day I still consider the most ingenious of the series, had a terrific impact on our imagination, to the point of driving us into planning and working on an amateur film based upon it. We had nothing but enthusiasm and a cheap as chips camcorder to arm ourselves with. But it was never going to be a short, as short films tend to be a way of expressing the art whose amateur and independent origins don’t seem to impress anymore nowadays. It had to be a full length feature, and it was going to be called Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy.
But the road was paved with problems: the initially secured means were insufficient and the original scope was simply naive. The usual inexperience problems tainted the early footage, such as poor lighting and various inconsistencies spotted too late. Mistakes really, all of which were acceptable at the time, although in hindsight they turned out to quiet inexplicable. There were new technical opportunities for us to exploit in sight though, and as new people started enrolling, with them the will to try it again came back, the will to make it right. But a finish line for this process was never drawn and so it came to be that Shamrock Creations, the small team of people gathered around the project, ran out of motivation.

The film had simply long stopped being a fun pastime activity for us, and its quality was still not professional enough to be comparable with real cinema. It was an extremely tedious wannabe. There was the need for some clarity, a need that would transcend the nature of the project, especially so when considering the particular phase in the life of the team: the end of the school years, the need to give our lives a direction. At the state it was in, Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy had become too stressful a pastime to be considered as such by those who were seriously pushing their lives into other directions. At the same time, it wasn’t satisfying enough for those of us, like me, who during the course of the project had come to terms with the simple, undeniable truth that cinema was going to be a part of our lives forever. These people needed to achieve a product born of higher ambitions, if they wanted to transform their passion into a job. For these people, either consciously or not, Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy became a work stage. With time, it could even have become a pivotal show reel. But the tension between these two souls of the same project was now unconceivable, so much so that it threatened to shatter precious friendships for good.

In order to break this awkward stand off, Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy had to die. And so it did. In the autumn/winter of 2004, with the release of the very first trailer, all production on the project came to an end. The following year was dedicated to the salvaging and editing of the best footage produced, which came out in 2005, as Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy Prologue. 30 minutes or so to pay tribute to the hard, necessary and somewhat educational work that was put into the first years of production, as well as serving the purpose of a narrative link between the official Metal Gear Solid timeline and the spin-off resembled by our Philanthropy project. It would have been the diving board from which, eventually, we could have leaped forward.


Just before the launch of the Prologue, in October 2005, we had a three day meeting in Venice for those of us that saw this project as something more than a mere hobby. The wrapping up of the Prologue wiped the slate clean for us and we were free to take the next step. But despite the laid back attitude and the sheer joy of the moment, there was a general feeling that we were in for a grand occasion. We had two alternatives: a serene and conscious surrender, one that would have left everyone free to ‘redirect’ our time to studies and other occupations, or another, more ambitious project, upon which to build a creative team completely focused on breaking into the video and cinema industry. The choice, as with most clichés, fell on the latter.

A new plot, albeit stripped to its essential guide lines, had been ready for months: it evolved across a trilogy of three full-length features lasting 60-70 minutes each. The new team, now called Hive Division and counting up to forty plus people led by a core of a dozen key elements, was immediately put to work, with storyboards, computer graphics tests, the search for locations and everything else needed to achieve a complete pre-production. The process was slow and patient, it lasted an entire year, by the end of which everything that could have been prepared had been prepared. In October 2006 the actual shooting started, and kept going on (to the maximum pace allowed by the non-profit nature of the project) until all of 2007. At the time of reviewing the early footage, it became clear to everyone just how much we had pushed the “envelope”, not only technically but also from a director point of view, and how much more we could have improved before the end of the project. What we were still uncertain of though, were our post-production skills, something we eventually had to address as we came to face our first challenge: the making of a trailer to introduce the entire project. During two heated months, our 3D modelers, texturers and compositors had to give everything they had, and in the end they achieved something that completely changed our image for good. Coinciding with another Hive Division meeting, on the 7th of April 2007 we released what we decided to dub ‘next gen trailer’, hinting to the change of gear in the quality of our productions. The hype was encouraging: the attention from the media, the popularity amongst fan communities, and the number of views on YouTube rising above the half million mark. Even better, work opportunities and partnership invites from other talented filmmakers started coming the way of Hive Division.

We were in the shooting phase until the first months of 2008, when we faced a sudden stop due to an unforeseen event: the location were we had planned our last set of shootings has been demolished in advance. The missing scene, an action sequence of about seven minutes, was fundamental to the integrity and success of the whole movie and we decided not to release MGS Philanthropy until its completion. The search for a new location has been long and has put the whole team to a really hard test, but in the end we could find a very good solution, thanks to the kindness and helpfulness of the Venice Harbour Authority, that gave Hive Division the permission to use an old abandoned factory, perfect for the scene.
The shooting needed a total of six days to be completed and were finished in March, 2009. The post-production was then completed in August, 2009 while the final mixing of the movie by Hybrid Two was completed at the beginning of September.

The movie was finally released on the Net on September 27th, 2009 and is now available for free download!

Be Sociable, Share!