I have a theory.

I believe every person in the Philippines has seen an episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya. That’s why every one of us, #lakingMMK!

Hehe, so maybe I exaggerate. Siguro one out of every two people of the population with a television set? 😉

Anyways, Merry Christmas, MMK!!!  Every single episode I direct since that first story in 2011 (Make-up starring Carl John Barrameda, Carl John Barrameda, Maliksi Morales and Maliksi Morales) always make me feel honored to be trusted with the responsibility of bringing to life the stories of our letter senders.

But aside from these generous everyday people brave enough to write “Dear Charo..,” the true gems of this almost 24-year old show are the staff and crew and actors who continue to uphold the legacy that makes MMK the popular archive of the contemporary Filipino life.

For the rare chance of being made a part of that, and for the wonderful company of my colleagues who not only grew up with but also grew old in the show (#tandangMMK), THANK YOUUUU!!! (Ang babait ninyo!)

You make me grateful and proud that I am also #lakingMMK 😀

 

IMG_6041Photo by @annguimbangunan (MMK Hatid-Sundo 2014 December 17)

My super belated post. Not sure if this really is the Top TEN films that made a mark on me, but without thinking too long, this is the ten that came up. When posting the “Top 10 movies that stuck with you” was all the rage, I didn’t have to think long for my Top 3. It was immediately decided. Got too busy to busy to post mine and only got reminded again now that Jurassic World’s trailer is out (wow!).

1) My Best Friend’s Wedding
2) Aladdin
3) Jurassic Park
4) The Usual Suspects
5) Cutting Edge
6) The End of the Affair
7) Aswang
8) The History Boys
9) Shake, Rattle & Roll II
10) Dancer in the Dark

It’s obvious that most of these films came out when I was a kid or in High School – so they really stuck with me, obviously.

One notable movie also stuck with me, but for the wrong reasons. My best friend in grade school, Amado and I snuck out of Zobel during school hours to go to ATC (Alabang Twin Cinema pa, I think). It was an “unofficial” cut cause it was actually Fair week in Zobel, so we didn’t really have classes that day, but I still felt like such a rebel riding the jeep out of AAV to watch a movie during school hours cause it was my first time to leave school premises alone.

We had extra money, so we decided to watch a movie. We saw “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” which I enjoyed immensely. But it was more memorable cause halfway through the movie, a grown up man sat two seats away to my left and started pleasuring himself… TO RICK MORANIS LOOKING FOR HIS SHRUNKEN KIDS, WTF?!? I was too scared to acknowledge him or tell Amado about it, so I tried my best to ignore him and focused on Rick Moranis’ extreme close ups until the stranger probably got so offended no on was paying him attention and eventually left.

Round up (with spoilers!):
1) My Best Friend’s Wedding – I’m a Julia Roberts fan… still am. Notting Hill is a close 11. Best romcom anti-heroine ever. Possibly her most charming film… I will always stop to watch this movie through when I catch it on TV.

My Best Friend's Wedding - The moment passes you by

 

2) I memorized the Aladdin soundtrack weeks before the movie even came out. It was the same for Beauty and The Beast. But I didn’t fantasize being Beast, or Belle, or Gaston, like I did with Aladdin. It worth noting that among the slew of Disney hits, this was the one that featured a male HUMAN lead (so no, it still trumps Lion King). Kaya siguro it resonated a lot with me. I still feel slightly pasaway when I watch Aladdin. Sarap remembering how I dreamed that I, too, was a diamond in the rough. (Big bonus watching Lea Salonga perform it on television in the Oscars)

Aladdin

 

3) Jurassic Park defines the Cinema Experience for me. Watching it was MAGIC, and how wonderful it was. I was in AWE of the dinosaurs. I was totally with the characters jumping from my seat, getting scared witless, and in total relief when they finally got on that chopper in the end (and intrigued what it could mean when I saw those pterodactyls flying alongside). I saw it four (or five times ata) in the cinema. I was in High School then, so you know that meant much (gastos!). I bought the cassette tape soundtrack even and until now, I still have the main theme memorized – tanana-na-na… tanana-na-na… (which is the same strains used in the Jurassic World trailer, in case you didn’t know). It wasn’t ET or Jaws or Indiana Jones that made me a fan of Spielberg. It was this movie.

Jurassic Park

4) Keyser Soze! I saw The Usual Suspects either with Search In or LSYC friends back in High School… but I certainly remember it was the second to the last or the LFS in ATC. This movie stands out as the one that first made me aware of brilliant Plot Twists as a potent narrative device. How great twists can be when done right. This is also the first time that an actor made a mark on me for his performance so much that I took note of his name – Kevin Spacey, who was unknown to me until then.

The Usual Suspects

 

5) I believe Cutting Edge is the first movie that I saw on my own. I didn’t know anything about it when I decided to buy a ticket to its screening. I was waiting for my Tita to pick me up and had more than two hours to spare, so I watched. I was drawn to it cause of Moira Kelly’s profile on the poster (gorgeously staring at DB Sweeney on the right of the poster). I may have been in Grade 6. And wow, how I fell in love (though I doubt I knew how that truly felt back then). I believe it was the first time I felt kilig, and kilig from a movie. Ang cute ni Moira Kelly! She came to my consciousness ahead of Winona Ryder and always believed Winona looked like her, and not the other way around. That scene when she decided she will do the pamchenko routine in the end – during the routine itself!!! – because she’s learned to trust DB’s character na – classic! Toe pick!

Cutting Edge

The End of the Affair6) The End of the Affair was… wow, bigat, heart-wrenching. It was a profound experience watching this back when I was in college. Betrayal story times two. And how brilliant is it to turn an affair on its head by making the lover act like the possessive partner, and to have God as the third party? One of my most favourite films of all time. And again, that movie that made me take note of an actor and her performance. This time, the great Julianne Moore. Remember that scene when she was on her knees, praying after the bomb dropped, and SOON AS she whispered her desperate bargain to God, Ralph Fiennes calls out from behind her. The camera tracks to the right and reveals Ralph, alive. GOOSEBUMPS! every. f*cking. time.

 

7) AswangI loved horror and fantasy Pinoy films when I was a kid. Aswang had the best ensemble you can ever gather in a Pinoy horror film – Janice de Belen, Manilyn Reynes, Aiza Seguerra, Berting Labra, Joey Marquez, Mary Walter, and of course, Lilia Cuntapay. Because of this film, I fantasized about aswang adventures when visiting new places (here, it was a town called Talisay). How the movie started with a straight up murder-massacre but eventually evolve into a small town horror story is genius – complete with Tiktiks, Shape Shifters, Manananggal… as well as tips on how to prevent an aswang from getting back to her house before sunrise. Obviously, the only effective way to kill it, duh! The Peque-Lore(-Don Escudero) team at their very best!

 

The History Boys8) The History Boys perfectly illustrates the straightforward emotional complexity that theatre manages to capture despite the constraints it suffers compared to film. Which is possibly why the emotions are intensely magnified when it was effectively translated to film (and successful effectiveness is not always assured). I’ve always believed film to be the more comfortable medium for such stories. While most of my contemporaries would cite “Dead Poets Society” (which I also loved) as their definitive teenage coming of age story, I was always more partial to The History Boys. There was a subtle element of darkness to to the story and the character relationships seemed more dangerously real. Take note na rin that this coming of age film came out when I was in my mid-twenties na. Late bloomer ako, hehe…

 

9) Shake, Rattle & Roll II is a feast. The best trilogy in Pinoy Cinema, I think. The mix of the stories are perfect, as well as its casting (again with Janice de Belen and Manilyn Reynes, but this time with Carmina Villaroel, Eric Quizon, Joey Marquez, Vangie Labalan, Ana Roces, Richard Gomez and Rez Cortez). I have so much more to say about how I love it, but this trailer is just so perfect I’d let it do the talking. (Don’t you just love it when trailers that show all the best bits, but the movie’s so great that you don’t mind anymore?)

 

Dancer in the Dark10) When I first saw Dancer in the Dark, it was heartbreaking. I thought it would be hard to watch it again. I’ve only seen it less than 5 times even though I have the DVD. But I remember much of it vividly. The first time I got so impressed by Lars Von Trier. One of the films that proved to me how truly powerful films can be, and the vast potential it has in telling stories. Again, what I said about performances. This time, Bjork! Who’d’ve thunk? I’m thinking about watching it again now, and already my heart is breaking remembering Bjork’s performance and that tragic ending.

 

How lucky am I to be working in this industry I belong to? For the precious opportunity to make the same mark on other people with the films or episodes I write or direct 🙂

http://theoatmeal.com

 

A friend of mine posted a link to this amusing cartoon from Oatmeal.com, with a message relating it to the passage of the Cybercrime Law. When my friend mentioned that the Cybercrime Law “does not serve the interest of the people, but serves to protect the interest of the big companies who own copyrights to artists’ works,” it somehow felt wrong to me. He said that the Cybercrime Law was not “protecting the artist’s intellectual property by being ‘anti-piracy.'” I was against the Cybercrime Act’s passage too, but something about his statement felt incongruous with my sentiments, so I clicked on the link to see the website.

The cartoon basically says big music publishers’ (like EMI) control and share of the revenues from sales have greatly diminished over the years, relinquishing more of it over to the musicians. It proceeds to say that we should push for a more direct interaction between the consumers and the musicians, where every cent we spend buying music goes to the artist. I agreed, specially on the last point, but it also pushed me to distill my stand on the Cybercrime Law.

Because of the current online landscape, I thought, aren’t musicians already capacitated to make the self-preserving choice to make their music directly accessible (allowing them to dictate their own terms for remuneration, keeping for themselves the entire “retail” price)? Di ba parang, was it Radiohead who tried this? This is a real question by the way. An impression of how it is now, as opposed to an informed insight into the workings of the music industry.

My point being, piracy happens because the musicians sign off the rights to the music publishers, giving the publishers the rights which they invoke against unpaid sharing/downloads. Simply put, if they didn’t sign off these rights, there wouldn’t be ‘piracy’ to begin with. Part of what they sign up for when they sell the rights to their music is the benefit of advertising and promotion, which is what forces them to this (often) oppressive setup. Much as I agree that getting 23¢ out of an 18$ retail price in exchange for publicity & promotion seems grossly unfair, it doesn’t follow that piracy in itself is justified.

I guess what I’m ultimately driving at is… I don’t see this Oatmeal editorial as anti-piracy exactly. And I while I also am against the passing of the current draft of the Cybercrime Law, I don’t believe that its protection of copyright infringement is among its biggest flaws.

Sadly kase, music, in these terms, is not all art but also commerce. It shouldn’t stop us from lobbying for increased royalties for the true artists, but we should be careful not to become unwitting accomplices of copyright infringement. The setup alluded to by the cartoon should rightly draw attention to the unjust capitalist bullying that happens between big Music Publishers and hard-working artists. Or in parallel cases, between Film Distributors and actors/writers/producers. (Oddly enough, this is coming from someone who doesn’t own the copyright to his scripts!)

I welcome what torrents and filesharing have done in making music and films easily accessible, but I’m not going to say that getting them for free was something I had a right to.

Ako personally, in the case of my self-produced short films, I made them without any intention of making money out of them, so I make them available on my website. If someone made it available through torrents, I wouldn’t mind it being shared by everyone, so more people can watch it. Kaya nga I didn’t go shopping for producers, offering its copyright in exchange for funding. I made it without any intention of getting back the money that I spent shooting and editing and shopping for the food that acted as compensation for those who worked pro-bono (or in some instances, the hugely discounted talent fees I paid my actors). So yes, please, go on and share it all you want – for free, too!

But when friends find out that I wrote or directed a certain movie for a film company and ask if I can give them a torrent, it’s not entirely flattering. Kase a part of me wants them to pay for the movie as they watch it in the cinema or buy the DVD, cause sad to say, while I also consider it my art, it is also how I make a living. In a way, especially for those who are not fans of Pinoy films, what they seem to say is, “You’re my friend so I’ll watch your film, but I don’t appreciate your work enough to pay for it” – unlike how they might, say, brave the long lines at the cinemas on the first day of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

In a way kase, patronage of music and films, and other forms of entertainment and art, is in huge part measured by sales, and my currency as a commercial scriptwriter or director is partly based on the public patronage of my work. This is how I’m able to demand a reasonable compensation for my art.

So again, while I am against the current draft of the Cybercrime Law, I hope the protection it gives against copyright infringement survives. Strike down the parts that constitute double convictions resulting from the distinction between libel and online libel; the violation on equal protection rights of those considered as Information and Communication Technolgy (ICT) users; the relaxation of the Constitutional requirements for surveillance thus violating rights to privacy of communication; and most importantly, the “takedown provision” that empower the DOJ to be the one-stop shop on all online matters, minus the requirement of a fair trial or conviction. But that of copyright infringement, let’s be careful about that.

It really all boils down to… sana next time, support me by watching my films in the movie house 😉

#reviseCybercrimeLaw

#pleasewatchmyfilmsintheCinemas

My “TV Debut”
(Trailer)

DIRECTOR
Starring Assunta de Rossi, Wowie de Guzman, Kristel Fulgar, Aldred Gatchalian
ABS-CBN – Maalaala Mo Kaya / HD / approx. 60 mins / Television Anthology Episode

25 June 2011

On this week’s Flashback Fridays is a photo from Won’t Last A Day Without You‘s mascot scene.

Ah yes… the mascot scene.

This was part of the montage where, after Andrew threatens to report George to the KBP, George is forced to help Andrew get back with Melissa. The purpose of which is to provide the com part of the Rom-Com, and narratively, to drive home the point of how Andrew, despite his charms, is blatantly clueless about what it is like to romance a woman. His girlfriend, no less!

The moment I read this sequence on the script revision, I was really disappointed. If I were being completely honest, I just felt that this kind of scene was tired and cliché. That we were going to make a character don a costume was not all bad, per se. In the same way that a leading lady hopping on to the male consort, piggy back style, is not all bad. That, or a character running after his love interest as he or she leaves aboard a departing bus.

Such a scene, like “the mascot scene”, is most certainly not bad in itself. In fact, they’re usually really effective in delivering the comedy and romance that audiences not only expect, but crave for in the genre.

What made it bad, and what disappointed me about it is how, when taken in the context of the past films made by Star Cinema, it just came off as, like I said, tired. Old. Rehashed. Thus, clichéd. In the same way that those Korean scenes are tired and clichéd.

The first time I remember seeing “the mascot scene” was in Direk Joyce Bernal’s Til There Was You, when Judy Ann’s character put on a costume for a children’s party. Part of the many odd jobs she took on to make ends meet. It was certainly hilarious, and surprising, and even poignant! Well done, surely.

The next time I saw it, it was a little closer to home. In the penultimate sequence of Direk Cathy Garcia’s You Are the One, Sam Milby’s Will Derby drove through the Manila traffic in a desperate attempt to stop Toni Gonzaga’s Sally Malasmas. Simultaneously, he wondered how to get her to forgive him after he practically pushed her away. He drove by a lechon stall (rotisserie) and a bulb lit up. As the film closed, we saw Will dresse in a pink (like the one below) pig (although below’s is a bear) costume, asking Sally to forgive him, and hoping to convince her by virtue of his “pagpapakababoy” right then.

A third time I remember seeing “the mascot scene” was in Direk Ruel Bayani’s Paano Na Kaya? Yet again, a little bit close to WLADWY as it also starred Gerald Anderson. Thankfully, it wasn’t him who was wearing the costume, but the lovely Kim Chiu.

So yeah, I was well aware of how many times Star Cinema has resorted to this. Making it worse is the fact that it was used in one of my films (though I wash my hands off it. I didn’t write the mascot scene in You Are The One, and wouldn’t have allowed it printed on any paper if I had a say in it), and that it was used in another film where one of my lead stars was a part of.

It was disappointing because this was precisely why critics tended to feel like mainstream cinema is lazy and a sell out, and times like that, I shared that sentiment. I, too, agreed that there must have been another way to make the audiences feel kilig, without resorting to the same old recycled sequences. As a writer, I’ve always challenged myself that way. It’s hard enough to churn out love stories or romantic comedies with a fresh perspective or a new message to impart. We don’t help our case when we do it with the same, familiar gestures. As writers & filmmakers, we have to take it upon ourselves to innovate the genre.

Unfortunately, being the new director that I was, I was sort of bullied into shooting the scene anyway. I guess I didn’t have the confidence to demand a rewrite (and not when we were already behind schedule) when all of the bosses have unanimously agreed that this “mascot scene” was necessary and perfect the way it was. It just proves how challenging and frustrating it is to work in mainstream cinema sometimes.

In the end, I did my best to keep the scene without making it look and feel tired. Thankfully, there was enough in the written script to use so the scene remained relevant and not merely functional. I tried to make myself like the scene, tried to enjoy it myself, so the audiences would also find appreciation for the scene’s reinvention or re-imagining. Whether through the blocking, the element of surprise, the farcical mounting and its awkward resolution, I blindly hoped for success.

Truth be told, this turned out to be one of the most fun scenes we shot. Sarah was really game in putting on the costume. Lots of credit to her because that damn thing really smelled! We were laughing all day while we were doing that sequence. The awkwardness of making prim and conservative Sa walk around with this ginormous, heavy costume created a light atmosphere. She couldn’t help her giggles as she kept getting off balance. It was so infectious that even Ge couldn’t help but goof around while she was in it. In fact, the final cut of this scene that made it to the movie, where Sarah almost fell over as Gerald rushed and dragged her towards the ladder was as real as it could ever be.

In the end, I think we did succeed. The levity of the moment seeped through and I’ve had many people tell me it’s one of their most remembered and enjoyed scene in the movie.

So anyways, below is a BTS photo of us shooting my mascot scene. Sa was already wearing the Carebear costume while I gave her & Ge final instructions before taking the shot.

If anything, at least I got to do my own version of this “classic” Pinoy rom-com eksena… “the Mascot Scene” 🙂

It was supposed to be “Flashback Wednesdays” when I first thought about instigating this ‘project’ for my #philminginthePhilippines blog two days ago. I’ve tweeted it already when a friend pointed out that it’d be better sounding if it were “Flashback Fridays”. I can’t believe I missed that one! Yeah, of course it’s better alliterative that way!

So it’s now “Flashback Fridays”. Since I’ve always liked taking tons of pictures of everything I do (I probably got that from my mom who still does it, to this day), I decided to reminisce on past productions I worked on by tweeting behind-the-scenes photos, stills or even videos.

My maiden Flashback Friday photo comes from my first ever publicity photo shoot as a director on my biggest project to date, Won’t Last A Day Without You. Here’s the dish about this picture.

T’was about a month or so before our playdate. We were rushing the remaining sequences in the radio booth, our main location. To get their job done with little interruption, promo went to our location at the Semicon building along Marcos Highway to shoot the publicity photos for use in the poster and other PR purposes. I previously saw the promo’s peg for the poster and found it cute.

I didn’t think there would be any issue about it until I heard my staff and some people from promo talking about their anxiety about possible objections coming from Mommy D, Sa’s mom. I found out that in the past, Mommy D had been reputed to be super conservative. Since this photo required Ge to pose like he was stealing a kiss from Sa, a hair line away from touching skin, they all expected Mommy D to automatically disallow it.

Surprisingly, they got that shot without any objection. The promo people emerged from the shoot with wide smiles saying even they were surprised that Ge’s face came as close as it did to Sa’s. It’s the photo that eventually made it to the poster. I’m quite happy as it was distinctive and original, at least as far as I know (kudos to Sir Roxy, Mico & the entire team!). And even though Mommy D took me to one side at one point to confide and sumbong her displeasure over the photo shoot sched being sprung on them on short notice, preventing them time from getting a preferred stylist, make up artist and better costumes, in the end, it was a very good day.

Even for me, who was never that comfortable having my picture taken while other people watched. I had fun, despite the awkwardness, nervousness and humiliatingly frigid expressions. Who could blame me when I’s beside this effortlessly charming lass and towering hunk!?! No disrespect to my colleagues, but I really felt like a PA beside Sarah & Gerald, ika nga 🙂 The photographer and promo people teased me for giving them the same smile and pose in all the pictures, while Sa & Ge, being the veterans that they were, managed to have fun and play around. The chemistry was palpable even then. The chemistry was always there. It was nice to see them just be at ease and fool around with each other, like real genuine friends. I found it in me to enjoy it eventually. Their energy and ebullience was infectious. Prior to me joining them, the two even managed to ‘interview’ me for the Sasa & Gege show.

Enjoy our first ever #FlashbackFriday photo. One of WLADWY photos that never made it out – Ge fooling around, at Sa’s & my expense!

Working in film and television here in the Philippines, or perhaps in the particular network and film company I belong to, it is not uncommon to hear about people talk about the most important thing one needs to get by. Some would say it’s hard work. I’ve heard others say it’s pakisama (good personal relations). Some even say it’s all ‘chika‘ (the appearance of good personal relations). I’ve come to realize that for me, that thing is respect.

I take it further to conclude that it is ‘respect’ you need as currency to succeed and survive with your wits about you. The best way for you to secure the space and opportunity to express your creativity is to be respectful every time, and in every way. Respect is where all all virtues spring, in my mind.

If you respect your own artistry, you strive for excellence, to be the best in the role you play. You are critical not only of your colleagues but most importantly, of yourself. You improve, you innovate.

If you respect the craft, you are diligent and prepared. You look back at the history of this industry, learn from it, and seek to elevate its standards.

If you respect your co-workers, you are efficient, punctual and professional. You collaborate with your colleagues. You show humility when they know better, embrace their criticisms, and take their suggestions even at the expense of your ego. You acknowledge their earnestness and good work.

If you respect your employers, you are generous and accommodating of their insights. You make productive use of your time at work and align your creativity with their vision. You embrace their criticisms and dig through it so it helps you and your work get better.

And if after you are given all possible excuses to dispense with it you still manage to hang on to that respect, then that’s when you earn integrity.

It was only very recently that I came to fully realize how paramount this virtue is for me.

Last Sunday, after a very long day in production that started with a pull out at 3AM the day before, we were down to our last sequence for the day. The sun had begun cresting. The lighting and art department had started setting up the next location. My AD and I were already blocking the scene. One of the actors was already on stand by, ridding himself of sleep since his last sequence was taken at 3PM the day before.

Then, my executive producer and our associate producer came to me saying that one of our lead actors was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t picking up his phone either. After various attempts, which included our AP making calls to both the actor’s manager and father (!), they finally got in touch with him and found out that he was already halfway back to Manila. We were on location in a province.

To be honest, I was sort of relieved that we got to pack up a bit earlier. I was bummed that we were going to drop one sequence (I hate it when we don’t get all the work done), but I was exhausted, and an early reprieve was certainly welcome.

What I really felt bad about at the time was making the other actor wait 15 hours for nothing. Because I was afraid he would feel like we didn’t respect him enough simply because he wasn’t as big an actor as the other one – he who had gone missing. The actor knew it wasn’t the production’s fault, but I took responsibility for that. Worse, I found out that this other actor (the one who waited) had a flight to Cebu that he had to cancel because we had scheduled his remaining sequence last. There was nothing else left to do but apologize for the inconvenience and promise that we’ll make it up by trying our best to finish early the next shooting day.

It was only in hindsight that I felt the full impact of that situation. I’m proud to say I always roll with the punches and manage quite well under the worst circumstances. I realized how disrespectful it was to the entire team – the actors, staff and crew. And it was then that I felt really offended.

The second shooting day came. The producers talked to AWOL actor and he went out of his way to speak to me. He apologized and said that he knew it was completely inexcusable and that it was totally wrong of him to have gone without anybody’s leave. I really wasn’t bothered much by it anymore cause there was just so much work to be done and it was simply my nature to focus on the job at hand.

Furthermore, I never really liked creating or nurturing tension on the set. If I allowed myself to wallow in the disappointment and elected to act aloof and distant from my actor, it would’ve only gotten in the way of our communication, consequently affecting both our work. How was I to effectively relay to him my vision and elicit the perfomance I wanted if I was more preoccupied with making him feel guilty or remorseful for what he had done? Not that he didn’t deserve it. In fact, he needed to know and feel how offended I was. But in a film set, it is imperative that you work as a team, be united in vision. Otherwise, the entire process breaks down and you end up producing a material with confused core.

When asked for the reason why he did what he did, AWOL actor told the other staff that it was because he felt sick and couldn’t carry on any further. I was told he did express that to them during production. He even asked his driver to inquire how many sequences were left before that last sequence for the day that included him (we were down to our last three). Then he apparently left to get some breakfast. He told told some other drivers, I think, but fell short of actually telling any one of the staff that he was leaving for good.

That second day went by smoothly and with very few hiccups to speak of. The atmosphere was fun despite being a very emotional episode. I was very happy with all of my actors’ performances, most especially AWOL actors’. We even managed to wrap by 5.40AM when we had aimed for 6AM, and with a lengthy rain delay at that.

Yesterday, a day after wrapping production, I called the actor’s manager to express my disappointment. For the record, that actor did apologize to me, and I have forgiven him. I actually enjoyed working with him and was impressed by his talent and over-all attitude while on the set. He’s a very jolly and amiable person and I really wouldn’t mind working with him again. Whether it was him making up for his transgression, I never knew for sure, but the producers attest to his talent, good reputation, and work ethic – at least prior to that turn of events during the first day.

But I still had to express how deeply offended I was because of what he did. Precisely because this actor wasn’t known to be anything like that. In fact, he was liked by the people in the show. That only lead me to conjure all sorts of reasons why he’d do that in my set. I took it personally. I told the manager, I don’t know if it was because he didn’t know me, or because I was younger than his previous directors that he thought he could get away with it with me.

Whatever it was, I just hope he realizes the consequence of those actions. Not so much for what I thought – I can get over that and I’d like to think that I’m professional enough to work with him again if I had to, without using this as reason for making things difficult for him the next time. I think I’ve proven that during the second day.

Even more important, I hope he realizes the impression he creates on other people. All it takes is one simple, seemingly negligible act of disrespect like this to unravel all those years of hard work and good reputation. I was telling the manager about how even the much senior actors who had been released and was making their way home already that day heard about what happened. Even they were asking the staff if they managed to get hold of AWOL actor. I’ve never been treated that way by any of my actors, and I’ve worked with veteran senior actors as well as younger superstars. None of them ever used my youth as excuse to undermine my authority.

Honestly, it’s not easy to show respect in a stressful and hectic job like ours. That’s why I made an effort to relay all this. Because it hit me that it’s most painful when after all that you do to try and be respectful of others, you still end up getting disrespected like that. There are a million personal stories I can recount about disrespect in our line of work, which is why I feel I have to be most conscious about my own conduct. I must never let the mien of my co-workers and the state of affairs in this industry be an excuse. That’s why like I said, I’ve chosen to move past that and forgive that actor. I chose to not allow this one instance to define his character.

That’s how I’ve come to realize that aside from respect, I must strive for compassion – which is surely much harder to exercise than the former. I am sure time will inevitably come when I will lose control and offend someone in this industry, as this actor had done to me. When that happens, I can only hope that my colleagues will choose to look back and have faith on all my good days when I treated them with the kind of respect we all deserve.

I spent about three crucial, unforgettable life-changing years in London as a result of my decision to take up my Masters there back in 2008. There’s never a day I don’t remember how fun it was, never a day I don’t wonder how my friends are doing.

Even now, I still find myself wondering whether I should just pack up and return there and make good use of my work visa to relive my adventures as a Pinoy student in London. Of course, with the goal of replacing ‘student’ with ‘professional filmmaker’.

I don’t regret being here in Manila. I just can’t help these thoughts whenever there’s a lull at work — times like this. Back in London, there was literally no lull. Life there was much faster, busier, and in many ways, harder. Especially when you’re a foreign student like I was. With everything there being so expensive and… well, foreign… I had to dispense with many of the comforts I am used to here back home. From big things like living in a home that did not require my paying rent, to simple things like having my own car or driver or not having to worry about making up my own bed. Routinary things like commuting, doing the laundry, and having sandwiches for lunch to save on the expense and not because you’re on a strict diet, suddenly get replete with profundity. Yet it’s precisely because of all that that London has grown that close to my heart.

But more than the City itself, the weather, the people, the accent, the lifestyle, the culture, and the thrill of living in a historic but modern capital like London, it is the experience of actually making films there that I miss the most. That, and the friends I made while at LFS.

My Term 4 Unit in the set that George built, Mike lit and I shot.
The entire staff and crew on Wrap Day. I was camera operator that term.
A couple of hours after the previous photo. Somewhere in China Town. Or Soho. The alcohol made me forget.

I’m waxing nostalgic cause I stumbled upon this video while browsing through my alma mater’s website.

This was shot back in December 2012. I didn’t know they’d put it up already. It was a day or two before our graduation ceremony. Some of the alumni were invited back to the school to record testimonials of their experiences while studying at the London Film School. It reminded me of what a blast it was to be a student in London. Wait. Make that, a student making films in London. I really doubt it could get any more fun than that.

I remember writing in the Kwentong Peyups article I contributed to the University of the Philippines’ centennial celebration how I was conscious of representing the Philippines while I was at LFS. It was what pushed me to be at my best.

Oddly, even though I am now back to being a Pinoy filmmaker in the Philippines, one among so many others, I feel like I still carry with me a lot of what I said in that video. Even if I’m no longer a foreigner in the UK, the reversion to being back home revived some of the experiences and emotions I felt while I was in London. That awkward feeling of being an outsider at the beginning. The drive to earn my peers’ respect and earn my place through merit and hard work. Though I’m back to all things familiar, I’m reminded all the more of the values I learned while at LFS. Values of discipline, humility and openness. Perhaps because being a screenwriter making his way to directing mirrored the struggles of an Asian student in a big, western city.

My time in London reminds me of the precious opportunity I was given to represent my country. To build the image of a Pinoy filmmaker in London. Now that I’m back, I’m given an opportunity to represent LFS in Manila.

This week, I shot my second MMK episode to air within one month. A great opportunity that rarely comes from the show for someone who hasn’t even officially signed on for them yet. I say that not with arrogance but with the humility and gratitude for being so privileged.

When we first met for this, it wasn’t even scheduled for airing yet at the time. A couple of creative meetings after (I should remember to blog about the MMK process), we got all set up for the shoot. I was preoccupied with a scriptwriting workshop (which I must again remember to write about!) that I hadn’t notice I haven’t received any confirmation of details regarding the upcoming shoot. The day before the originally scheduled first shooting day, a Wednesday morning, we had another ocular trip. It was only then that I was told we can’t finish the preps on time and that we’ll have to postpone it for Saturday or the following Monday. Because my workshop was going to end that Saturday, I told them Monday was better for me. They agreed to work around my schedule, but with a surprise reminder that we will be airing the following Saturday. Three days after our second day.

That week has come. We just wrapped our second day of shooting at 6 this morning, Thursday. I’m scheduled to edit the episode later tonight. We’re so rushed that our teaser, which aired last Saturday, didn’t have any clip from the actual episode (I haven’t seen it until now). To help speed up the process, I asked production to send me the pre-edit of our first day materials.

It’s the most pressure I’ve ever felt while shooting for MMK. Even more than I felt while shooting my first ever episode (“Make-Up“). I think this is borne out of the little amount of time we had for preparation, and I’ve always believed that half of a film (or episode) is done before the actual production.

Among the challenges included not having seen the main location, where in we were to tape ten sequences. I had to think of my shots on the set. And because it was our last location, I was really exhausted by then, physically and mentally.

One problem that I never encountered in my past TV shoots which became a source of a lot of stress was getting so much behind schedule that I lost daylight for one of the key locations. It was that main location, the main character’s house. And as I mentioned, because it was our last, it left me no more room to make it up.

As a consequence, many of the scenes that were exterior had to be relocated inside. Some that had to be exterior, I had to cheat and shoot night for day. We didn’t have enough equipment to pull off a successful cheat. We tried, but we could only do so much because the location was in the countryside where the surrounding view consisted mostly of open space.

My opening sequence was also sacrificed. It was intended to establish not only the characters’ space but also the underlying milieu that bore impact on the main character’s journey. Because of delays, I lost all opportunity to get a wide shot of it, whether night or day.

I struggled to maintain continuity in the main location and the succeeding sequences that had been shot in other locations during the day.

I can’t say that we successfully solved our problems during production. At least not against my usual standards. But we certainly did our best and I’m still hoping it comes together well. I’d hate to fail in giving justice to such a wonderful story, and such wonderful performances from my actors!

It just goes to show how demanding television is as a medium, what with its demand to air materials. It’s not really over yet, nor is it time to think the worst is past. I haven’t seen all of the materials yet, but I’m feeling really good about it despite all those challenges. Makes me look forward to see how well we rose to the challenge – and hopefully, I learn enough from this to get better in dealing with the same problems in the future.

Do watch out for MMK on ABS-CBN. Airing this Saturday, February 25, 1930PM!

When I came back in 2010 to semi-permanently re-settle in Manila after a couple of years in London, I set up a new blog to chronicle the progress of my graduation film, Tuksó.

It had two main purposes. I wanted to start the habit of writing about my my profession, and I wanted to build material for my graduation journal – the final requirement for my MA in Filmmaking.

That went quite well for a while. Despite the rigors of writing, directing and producing a 35mm all at the same time, for the first time, I managed to write some insightful posts (to my mind at least).

I only looped in a handful of friends to the existence of the blog. Mostly my friends from school and some others in the Philippines who cared to know how my project was doing. Come journal time, it served me well and became the salvation of my crammed final paper which I wrote in the span of two days amid partying in London. When I got my final evaluation a month after, it was confirmed that I was to graduate with Distinction.

Now, I’m back in the Philippines for good. I have been for a year now in fact but it seems like I’m only embracing it now.

My 2011 was all devoted to reestablishing myself in the local film and television landscape. My last engagement was back in 2008, when my A Very Special Love screenplay was produced for the big screen. After that, I had a minor exposure in the 21st Gawad CCP (Independent Film & Video Festival) when my short documentary, The Filipino Student’s Guide on How To Be Invisible in London, won the 3rd Prize.

Other than that, it was all about sending resumés and getting the attention of my former bosses in Star Cinema.

It worked out for me. I got my first ever project for the ABS-CBN News Channel – a two-part documentary called The Business of Energy that looked at successful sustainable practices in different sectors of the society. I also got a ‘script doctoring’ stint for Star Cinema, resulting in my latest screenplay credit, My Cactus Heart.

Most importantly, these efforts yielded my directing break.

I was given the opportunity to direct an episode for MMK, or Maalaala Mo Kaya, the longest-running drama anthology in Asia for the biggest television company, my home network, ABS-CBN. It was my first time to direct a drama for television, a chance made even more special by the fact that it was for this titan of a show which I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid. Despite the jitters you’d expect from this gargantuan break, that episode entitled Make-Up, about twin brothers who had a falling out because one was gay, topped the weekend ratings that week and led to an even bigger break.

After the Creative Head and Managing Director of Star Cinema watched that MMK episode, I was called in for a meeting. At the time, they’ve already approached me for the renewal of my writing contract. They also wanted my real return to writing via the third of the Laida-Miggy film franchise that I had started in ’08. We had started meeting on it, in fact. A huge project indeed.

But that meeting turned out to be for an even bigger project, personally at least.

In that meeting with Inang, she offered my first feature film directing project.

It was a mere nine days since my MMK episode’s airing (amid preparations for another MMK episode that eventually featured Direk Laurice Guillen and was entitled Tumba-Tumba). It was a Monday. The following days, I frantically attended preprod meetings to finalize the script. On Friday of that same week, I met my lead actress for the first time for her look test.

Six days after, it was a meeting with both my leads-to-be for the story conference.

And finally, two weeks after my meeting with Inang on August 8, with only two script drafts, we broke production.

Three quick short months after, amid hordes of fans and audience’s screams, I was walking down the red carpet beside Sarah Geronimo & Gerald Anderson for the premiere of Won’t Last A Day Without You.

The next day, the film opened in over 120 cinemas over the Philippines, earning PhP20 million on its first day.

***

That summed up my 2011 – certainly a year of many, many, many firsts. And as my dearest friends know, I’m one of the most sentimental people ever. And for someone as self-indulgent and emotional as me, firsts are most important. Tangentially, it contributes to the drive to make myself better, and to reinvent. I’m sure to make milestones out of molehills, and it excites me to no end to embark on another year of filmmaking, if only to see what new firsts will be coming my way.

In light of that, I wanted to make a commitment to remember and be grateful for these anticipated milestones I expect to come my way, if I may be bold and presumptuous. I wanted to relaunch my blog to be a… well, a log of all my experiences working in the film industry. I want it to chiefly be a record of all my feats and failures, a repository of my thoughts and sentiments on what it is like to work in this field I’ve chosen.

As I’m about to embark on another film project, and because I just recently signed up for a screenwriting workshop, and because I’m also working on another episode in MMK (for which I’m about to sign up as one of its regular directors), it feels like the best time to make this renewed commitment to blogging. It may be a little late to be posting an opening blog two months after the year’s commencement, but I wanted to make sure that it mattered when I did.

What finally pushed me, I think, is this new-found confidence and feeling of finally finding rooting in this industry. It took a while before I got here, but I’m here now.

So do watch out for more posts in this space as I try to make it an online journal of what it is like to be a filmmaker in the Philippines.

Here’s to the year that I expect 2012 will become.

Cheers!

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!

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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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.

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