(Trailer)

DIRECTOR
Starring Laurice Guillen, Charee Pineda, Janus del Prado
ABS-CBN – Maalaala Mo Kaya / HD / approx. 60 mins / Television Anthology Episode
10 September 2011

Yesterday, there was a forecast of a coming typhoon. So I was told.

But our first day of shooting was blessed with a very lenient weather, despite that. There was a threat by way of a drizzle (which felt like globules preluding a heavy downpour), but that inclement weather never did come. Sure it was humid and the air was still, but I couldn’t really ask for a better first day of shoot.

We had an early call at 2PM and was at the set by 3.30PM. It was quite slow for a a shooting day, but the atmosphere was considerably light and was not at all stressful. I was less nervous yesterday than I was on my first day at MMK, shooting my first television project. My first 35mm shoot for my short, Tuksó, was both tiring and stressful.

In huge contrast, yesterday just sped by. I was less concerned about my ego and the ego of my colleagues, which is such a huge burden off anyone on his first day. Thanks to very supportive unit departments and supportive crew, I really felt at ease during the entire shoot. Perhaps there were moments when I was too conscious of how slow we were, but that was all certainly all self-imposed. It was also great to hang out and ‘reunite,’ so to speak, with Direk Cathy’s erstwhile resident DP, Noel Teehankee, who did his first mainstream photography job with You Got Me! and carried on photographing the rest of Direk Cathy’s hits.

Maybe it also helped that our first location was our actress’ actual home.

We closed one sequence with 1000ft, shooting for almost 10 hours. A little slow, yes, but not bad at all. Especially since during the days leading to the break of our production, all I kept hearing were horror stories of how many other productions threw away their first day footage. Knock on wood, but I can confidently say that there’ll be no waste or tapon in the stuff we shot yesterday. Besides, while I haven’t completely gelled with the crew yet, there were no altercations and bickering on set. Chill lang talaga, which is how I like my set. Fun! Cause that’s how movie-making out to be, yeah?

That prayer at the start of the day really worked. Let’s cross our fingers for the coming weeks, especially today, when I shoot our lead actress for the first time 🙂

Only in the Philippines.

Or maybe, also in China and other Oriental societies.

No wonder Star Cinema made an entire movie out of it.

Today, we break for the production of Sarah Geronimo and Gerald Anderson’s new movie. As of yesterday, there’s only a fourth of the sequence treatment, and five sequences fully scripted.

Last Saturday, we had a creative meeting with the head of the Creative Department to ‘fix’ the then-existing full sequence treatment. In that discussion, we ended up changing the plot and readjusting characterizations of the two lead characters.

Immediately after, we had a production meeting where we were to finalize details of the first day of shoot three days after. When we were meeting that Saturday, I was pointing out that if it truly was necessary to shoot on Tuesday (today), I’d be more than willing to adapt and roll with the punches. But I couldn’t help but point out how ludicrous it was to do so when only one of the lead actors was available, none of the supporting characters had been cast, the main set hadn’t been built, there were two friggin’ days left to prepare, AND NO SCRIPT YET!!!!

The reason for all the rush is because in our company, we can only start filming on certain days. Why? Because of Feng Shui. The Feng Shui on the first day of your production supposedly determines the success of the rest of the shoot and the box office performance. And of course, there’s no arguing with that. Never mind that the production isn’t ready, and we already have a play date on October. We can’t mess up with Feng Shui, so naturally, I’ve no choice but to concede.

I asked if it were possible to shoot without the lead actors on the first day of shoot. I thought, well, it’s still possible anyway. Since I already started helping out with the writing of the film so we can run things along and speed up the preparation, I was confident that I will be keeping the first three sequences that I’ve co-written with the original writer.

But no, we never shoot the first day without the lead characters, they said.

Alright then.

Their solution was to have the scriptwriter submit whatever she can finish by Sunday evening. The creative team will meet the following day and agree on what sequences can be shot for Tuesday.

When we met yesterday, Monday, everyone was happy with the first few sequences and agreed that we can shoot one particular sequence that had the lead actress in it and three main supporting characters. These support characters could be confidently cast within the day since  I have already pr-eapproved the short list and go-sees had been scheduled already. Although the biggest support character in the film who was also needed in that identified sequence for the first day of shoot had not been cast, we already devised a contingency so that filming can still proceed.

Go-see went well and we were able to cast two support characters.

And then I get told that the lead actress had a cut-off time of 4 in the afternoon. We were scheduled to grind in the evening as all the scenes were night effects. And by the way… early yesterday, I was told that the DP had resigned.

That first day of shoot has come. Today, we break the production of my first full length, 35mm film.

Thankfully, all those problems were resolved.

After scrambling to decide on what sequence to shoot, they went with my original idea of shooting the first sequence that had a cameo appearance of a recognizable young actress, but didn’t have any of the two leads. Thankfully, cameo actress I liked was green-lighted by the Managing Director, and she was also available for today’s shoot.

They found a DP to substitute for the originally commissioned DP. Someone I haven’t worked with but with whom I was quite familiar.

Locations were locked last night. It even turned out that our cameo actress owned the town house that we were shooting at – as luck would have it. Permission was granted instantaneously.

Just now, I received photos of the car to be used for tonight’s sequences. I had some comments and production manager will work on it, but otherwise, we already have a good back up.

So, all is set. This is it! I guess Feng Shui really works 🙂

PS – Running late. Off to attend to the look test of the male lead in a few. Lunch, shower and clothes in 30 minutes!

This is probably the biggest most important entry I’ll be posting on this blog. So far at least. Even now, I’m reluctant to say anything about it cause I’m superstitious and would really hate to jinx it. But because no one else knows outside the work place (except for three other people – my mom, Tita Gina and my close friend who’s doing another project for me), I decided writing about it would open the floodgates and ease off some of my excitement. Besides, I haven’t written anything on this blog for ages. I’m pretty sure no one reads this blog consistently anymore. But anyway, here it is:

Ladies and gentlemen… I will be directing my first feature film within this month of August.

And this is how the story goes…

After a pretty successful stint directing for Maalaala Mo Kaya or MMK, which is a drama anthology for ABS-CBN (a leading television network in the Philippines), I was in high spirits. It was a challenging first project that paid off handsomely with high ratings (which reminds me that I should write about that soon).

At the time I was also having talks for the third installment of Star Cinema’s Laida-Miggy franchise (of which I can proudly claim to be the progenitor). The company’s head for creatives approached me to ask if I’d be willing to apprentice to the director during its filming as well as write its screenplay. I was ecstatic to be back working on a project that was dear to me so I immediately said yes. Back then, they had slated it for a November play date, which meant shooting was to start in a few weeks.

Shooting for MMK took up much of my time that I had to put off the writing of the screenplay for that. When I eventually got in touch with the creative manager to ask for an extension, I was told that the project was to be pushed to next year’s Valentine play date.

I welcomed that development since I was very much caught up with the television experience with MMK. After our episode aired on July 30 though, I was back to doing nothing. Much as I welcomed the respite, I was restless and wanted to carry on working. Knowing that the Laida-Miggy threequel had been pushed back, I was curious about my apprenticeship. I was actually more excited about that than the screenplay. If my apprenticeship were locked with that project, then I’ll have to wait a bit longer before my apprenticeship begins, since filming will surely start only in the last quarter of the year.

Anxious to keep my momentum going, I asked the creative manager on the status of the John Lloyd-Sarah project. I figured, if I did have some lull time before the apprenticeship, then I might as well get on with my long-postponed trip to London and NYC. Of course, I was still hoping that instead of waiting for the threequel, they would instead deploy me sooner on a different project. The creative manager quickly consulted with the creatives head and asked that I give them until the following week to discuss the plan for me.

Come Monday the following week, I was back at Star Cinema waiting for my boss. When she finally came, she told me that there was indeed a plan, and she asked if I’d be willing to direct the Sarah and Gerald in their second film together. I casually said yes. She clarified that this was an urgent project that they were hoping to shoot within the month, for a definite play date within the year.

It was only then that I started feeling the lump on my head after being aggressively hit with the news. I was being offered to direct.

Now.
In a few days.
For release this year.

And then my boss started detailing their offer for an exclusive contract.

I quickly gathered my composure and shared my thoughts on those, airing my concerns and soon arriving at possibly mutually beneficial terms for both me and Star Cinema…

So there it is.

I’m claiming it but I’m not counting chicks either.

This might really be it. It’s my turn to direct, and I’m. All. Ready.

Sabi ko nga, “Me already.” Ako na!

(Entire Episode)

DIRECTOR
Starring Ethel Pantino, Skyzx Labastilla
AksyonTV, TV5 – Ako Mismo / HD / 43 mins 41 secs / Television Anthology Episode
30 July 2011

(Trailer)

DIRECTOR
Starring Carl John Barrameda, Maliksi Morales
ABS-CBN – Maalaala Mo Kaya / HD / approx. 60 mins / Television Anthology Episode
30 July 2011

 

 

 

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When I was in college, my friends and I had very little time to watch TV. We were too busy having fun. When we did, it was usually from my VCR recordings of shows like Felicity, Ally McBeal and Friends. We were series junkies even before DVD season releases and Tivo were fashionable. But these shows we watched were all US-produced. We weren’t fans of local TV.

Back then, I wasn’t a big fan of local cinema either. The few times that we did go out to watch a Filipino film was after a considerable amount of positive word-of-mouth, and only then. (On one occasion, it was for a flash of nostalgia – when we watched Gimik The Reunion, hehe…)

As such, I never really took it against my friends when they tell me they don’t watch local films after my telling them about how I worked as a screenwriter for Star Cinema. Star Cinema may be the biggest, most profitable film production company in the country, but that held little weight to most of my friends who grew up watching Small Wonder, Beverly Hills 90210 and Doogie Howser, M.D. and watched movies like The Breakfast Club, Home Alone and Cutting Edge. In fact, I’d even say that I was mostly anxious about letting them know that I wrote Pinoy romantic comedies.

Despite that prejudice against local entertainment, one local show that always did impress me was Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK). It was a weekly anthology that featured real-life stories from “letter senders,” most of which were sob-fests depicting domestic drama and human tragedies. Each episode’s title is an object. A reference to a symbolic element in the story, usually a metaphor to its theme. I’ve heard that when the idea for this show was first pitched in a conference room 19 years ago, Ma’am Charo Santos (Madam President, CSC, ABS-CBN top honcho at the moment) picked up a paper clip from the table and went on to say something along the lines of, “Each object has story. Like this paper clip…” (The very first episode was titled, “Rubber Shoes” starring Romnick Sarmienta.)

I like MMK it because it is effective. I love it because it is supposedly real. (There’s been an undying impression and lingering doubt from some people as regards the authenticity of the stories. Once and for all, save for artistic license and a handful of research lapses, let it be said that yes, the stories and characters are all real.) It is the extra-ordinariness of the characters and stories that make it stand out for me. And when those are real, the emotions they evoke are real.

Ten years after graduating from college, I was given the opportunity to direct an episode for this legendary show. Needless to say, this is a milestone for me. It is to be my first ever directing project to be aired on Philippine free TV. And it is for no less than this 18-year old monumental show – the longest running Philippine drama anthology. If I never get to direct for this show or for television in general (knock on wood!), I’d still be forever part of this institution.

This Saturday, July 30, 7.30PM, Maalaala Mo Kaya. Starring Carl John Barrameda, Maliksi Morales, Jake Roxas, Aleck Bovick, Regine Angeles. Written by Benson Logronio, and directed by Raz de la Torre.

(Trailer)

 

 

 

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After being “out of (professional) commission” for so long, and almost a full year since we wrapped the production of my first 35mm film, yesterday, 5PM at the 9501 (14th Floor of ELJ Communications Center) we had the VIP Premiere of our 2-part documentary, “The Business of Energy” – a joint advocacy project of the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

While other projects have come my way since my last script was produced and screened in the cinemas, this is my first big professional project after finishing my MA at the LFS.

This project is a first on so many levels. It’s my first time working on television, my first time to air on cable TV, my first time to work as executive producer and headwriter for news & current affairs. I was learning on the job, but I got through all of it thanks to my more experienced friends who have been working in the TV industry for years now who generously shared their nuggets of wisdom and trade secrets.

If I may say so myself, it’s an enlightening documentary on how we can all take part in the campaign for Sustainable Energy and the mitigation of Climate Change. Specifically, it looks at the “Philippines’ efforts… by looking into ventures in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Here it is. I’m proud to present…


Executive Producer & Headwriter – Raz De La Torre
Associate Producers – Patrick Pascual & Rely De Guzman
Writers / Producers – Jekki Pascual & BJ Ramos

Tonight on the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC):
“THE BUSINESS OF ENERGY”

A 2-part documentary on the campaign for sustainable energy and climate change. An advocacy project of the ANC and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Narrated by Guillermo Luz of the Ayala Foundation.

•Part 1: SWITCH – Wed, June 22, 10.30PM
•Part 2: SOURCE – Thu, June 23, 10.30PM

Back-to-back replays:
•Sat, June 25, 2PM
•Sun, June 26, 6PM

 

 

 

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(Trailer)

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, HEADWRITER, DIRECTOR
Two-part Documentary
ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) / HD / approx. 27 mins each episode / Television Documentary
22 & 23 June 2011

 

 

 

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(Behind The Scenes)

DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, WRITER, EDITOR (uncredited)
Starring Ethel Pantino, Joem Bascon, Maricar de Mesa, John Manalo
Istorya, London Film School (LFS) / 35mm colour / 40 mins / Short Narrative
August 2010

 

 

 

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I just told my boss that I never fancied myself a writer. Not in high school, not in college, not even when I was already in Star Cinema, training to be one. When I dropped out of Law School, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t be happy making my life revolve around laws and cases, and that I wanted to make films.

I applied to Star Cinema because a few months before I dropped out of UP Law, I received an email from the UP Film Center egroups announcing an opening for its Concept Development Group (CDG). I didn’t know what the job entailed. Like I said, all I knew was I wanted to be in the film industry. I jumped at the first opportunity that came my way. It didn’t even matter to me that it was Star. I wasn’t conscious of which production outfit did which film, or which of them was the best. An opportunity was being dangled like a carrot on a stick, and like a horse, I galloped onwards. Almost blindly, one could say.

After inquiring about the opening, I sent them my resume. I was asked to come in for an interview, but since it was the midterm season in Law then, my schedule was exaggeratedly hectic and I ended up missing my appointment. I didn’t even call in to tell them I wasn’t coming anymore.

A few months after, I was beside myself with regret, remembering that missed opportunity and hoping I had at least called them to explain why I couldn’t come. I feared if I tried applying again, they’ll remember my rude non-appearance and instantly reject me. I shared this to Lea, a friend of mine. When she heard the name of the person who sent the email to the UPFC egroups, she said the girl was her friend. It felt to me like divine intervention, and asked Lea to call the girl to ask if Star was still looking for CDG members. A few minutes after, Guia Gonzales of Star Cinema Creative Department called me on my mobile and asked me if I was still interested. Naturally, I said yes. An interview with the Star’s Creative Manager was scheduled. I was requested to bring a sample storyline. A few weeks after, I was hired.

That was two years and four months ago. And here I am, still in Star Cinema, still training to be a writer. Still clueless as ever. When I got accepted, I didn’t even know the first thing about screenwriting. They told me that as a CDG member, I’d be expected to develop storylines that will be submitted to the management for evaluation. If it were deemed good enough, they were to produce it. In exchange, I’d be compensated on a monthly basis. It was the best deal an aspiring screenwriter could ask for in the Philippines. Star Cinema had the best studio system in the industry, and the setup they offered sure beats having to hone your skill independently, on a freelance basis, without any assurance of a commercial film company investing on any of the scripts you might eventually finish. What Star offered was training, connections, experience, and to a certain degree, security. The deal had its downside. I was well aware of that, and that gave me enough comfort. I thought, knowing what I was getting into would be enough to shield me from possible frustrations of having corporate people dictate what kinds of stories you should develop.

Needless to say, it was harder than I thought.

For the record, none of the projects I was involved with has been published (produced, that is). I’ve helped in quite a few story and script developments, but most of those have been shelved or dropped. There’s one script that I helped co-write and is now in the process of being shot, but somewhere along the script’s development, a script doctor was called in and all that was left in our original work is the story. All the lines that I wrote have been ‘revised.’

That is perhaps the reason why I’ve always been frustrated when asked about my job. My career. It’s because nothing seems to be happening.

So imagine the euphoria I felt when I was told that I’d be working on my first solo-writing project. It’s officially part of the training, and it didn’t really mean I was necessarily ready for the task, but it was in effect saying they’re finally risking it, and I’m the lucky one on whom they’ve decided to bestow the honor.

It was for what turned out to be a fast-track project, which in Star Cinema means double the pressure in half the time. I was to develop both the story and the script within two months following the storyline’s approval. Most veteran screenwriters are probably given at least a month to write a script, but with all the things that we needed to accomplish (including storyline revisions, sequence treatment submission and revisions, research, and creative meetings to discuss feedback from the power wielders), I was to be given only given two weeks to write the first draft of the script.

A few days after my submission, I got a call from our creative director. She said that we needed to meet soon because there were a lot of concerns regarding my first draft. It sounded like it was less than satisfactory, and that it would entail a lot of work to have it ready in time for the target grind date (start of film production).

After going through what they perceived were the problems in the script, she told me they’re bringing in reinforcements to work on the second draft of the script. Two of my colleagues are now working on it, and they are to submit their draft tomorrow. And by the sound of it, aside from the story, none of my first draft can or will be salvaged. I am to come back in on the third draft.

I remember a few summers ago, when my friends and I were on vacation in Puerto Galera. We were swimming in the beach as the sun was setting. The waves were particularly wilder and stronger at that time. We were all enjoying, playing with the gigantic waves, which at times rose higher than the tallest guy in our group. One by one they retreated back to the beach, until I was the only one left playing with the crashing waves. I was still having fun. Suddenly, a wave crashed over me, its crest falling intentionally at the back of my head, pushing me earthbound, pressing my face on the sandy ground and dragging me all the way to the shore. I couldn’t breathe for what felt like an hour. When I got back up, gasping for air, I felt betrayed and embarrassed beyond words (my friends didn’t seem to notice).

The feeling is not much different from what I felt last week, when I was told about the plan of action regarding the script I’ve been developing. Like when a rug had been pulled from under your feet, I felt betrayed and embarrassed. Luckily, my boss is very nurturing and encouraging that she allows me to vent my frustrations (even if unsolicited). After owning up to my shortcomings, I told her I’ve been feeling stifled by this writing experience. I felt like I’m made to learn the lessons belatedly, instead of being prepared for it. It didn’t help that we were being rushed to meet the target grind date (which by the way is supposed to be next week, May 2). My exact words: “It’s like the situation is made ripe for me to foul up. Then naturally I do. And then that’s when I’m taught and told how I should’ve done it, or how Star would’ve preferred it.”

I’m still feeling disoriented by these setbacks, but I’m trying my darndest best to take things constructively. It was then that I confessed to my boss, the creative director, more than two years since they hired me to become a writer, that I never fancied myself as one.

I don’t how much training one needs to be a writer. What I fear is that it might be something that cannot be taught. I’m feeling the pangs of frustration sink in, afraid there’s no amount of training that can solve the problems they find in my script. Afraid that the only thing waiting to be realized is that screeenwriting isn’t for me after all.