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.