Part 8 R E D

The Ensemble

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The storyteller doesn’t work without an audience. This was for me the most fun to write and the most interesting part of the movie RED.  The audience.  Milton’s audience in the film would be composed of a small and tight group of people working in the central market who would go to a corner every day for a break from work and would listen to Milton tell them stories.

I’m so happy working with these people. Their scenes are the most fun to watch in the film and it is for me the best and closest rendition in the script. I wish I had more time to cover and feature each one. And to be honest, we didn’t do much. We got such great actors that all we had to do was explain the mechanics and each of  their characters and they just did their thing and we filmed them. Amazing ensemble work!

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I think this is the foundation of the movie RED. And I’m glad we casted a very strong foundation.

 

Part 7 R E D

The VILLAIN

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JM  Rodriguez plays ART.  Art is the other storyteller. He is simply put, the villain in the story. And JM played it even better than how the role was written on paper and how I imagined it. Needless to say that Art is someone to watch out for in this film. JM plays it so effortlessly, it’s unnerving.  You will love him and you will hate him in this film. Best casting choice we made hands-down.

I’ve known JM since we were kids.  We went to the same school in Bacolod, we were one batch apart I think. I was older. And I’ve always known him as a singer and super duper nice person.  Our mom’s were best of friends so were practically connected already.  So for me, it was really nice shooting Red with JM.  It’s always a pleasant break to talk in Ilonggo on the set and explain the scene and the character in your own dialect. I’ve lived in Manila more than half of my life but still, speaking in Ilonggo is liberating especially on the set. And when I would explain the film, JM gets it right away because he knows Bacolod, he knows Negros, he knows the people I reference characters from.

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He only had 2 days of shoot but boy did we abuse the kindness of JM. He would get to the set at 6am and we would release him around 4am and he would be in good spirits the whole time. That to me is amazing.  What a pro!

We all loved JM…love, love, loved him!  Thank you for giving us Art.

Part 6 R E D

History: gossip well told. ~Elbert Hubbard

It always fascinated me that in our country, much of history is told through great storytelling, and not through real hard core facts.  If we go back to the last 3 decades, the most significant parts of our history have been told by media, documentary filmmakers, writers and the best storytellers.  How many of us really know the story of the Marcos era?  Where did we base our version of the story?  Do we even remember where we heard it from?  The Ninoy Aquino assassination.  Nobody until now really knows the real story there.  I’ve always believed that unless you were there when something happened, you will never know the real story. In the end, the best storyteller wins and his version will stand and will stay on.  It becomes “HIS story”.

And we all love this process.  We are part of the approval of history.  We approve it based on our expert opinion—of what seems plausible to us.  Or what version did we like.  The relationship of the storyteller and the audience becomes symbiotic.  Storytellers are there because we want them to tell us stories, every day. We enjoy it. We approve it. And we encourage them.

Ever heard the saying “story is king?”   Yep. Guilty.  I love watching and listening to stories and good storytellers.  And I also love telling stories.

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The whole story of Red would be told by a storyteller within the film. His name is Milton and we follow his story, his narrative.  And this made casting the storyteller one of the biggest and major decisions in the film. He was going to be our voice and an extension of the director, the actors and just the whole film… was going to be in his hands.

In the beginning, I chose Joel Torre.  He was the great Ilonggo actor.  I doubt there is any actor who hails from Negros bigger than him now.  The moment I got in Cinemaone, I called him and he turned it down due to health reasons.  I couldn’t find a replacement. And I think it wasn’t because there weren’t any good actors out there, because there are a lot.  I just couldn’t let go of Joel playing Milton in my head. So I could never cast someone in his age bracket. I was always looking for Joel so we sort of went round and round with casting Milton.

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After a while, I decided wait a minute, maybe a younger actor would be interesting—more energy and vulnerability.  And I wanted one with comic timing.  There was this one actor that I’ve had on my mind for a while already.  I didn’t like him in his starring role, the first film I’d seen him on. I can’t get why but I just didn’t. So back then, I had brushed him off as an actor already.  And then I would see him in another film where he played a gay role, and another 2 or 3 short films and he was really really good that I said to myself, I want to work with this guy.

Long story short, he wasn’t our first choice, but Nico Antonio was the one I fought for the most.  Did he deliver the goods so-to-speak?  I’ll be biased saying that he did so you be the judge.

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Part 5 R E D

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Red is not about the color as it is the past tense of the word read.  That is the only reason I stuck with the title even if so many other foreign films have used this title.  Red is about words.  Red is about how people read context of stories told to them and how they act according to what was told to them. That is my fascination with this story and why Red is written as such.

There are a lot of talking and words on this film.  Ha! Good luck viewers.

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Is it based on a true story?  Yes and no.  A lot of the events in the film are based on real events that I’ve known growing up—some happened to my friends, some to people I know, some to myself.   They’re not all connected as in the film Red, that part is fiction.  But the characters are written based on real people I know.  Some of the names of people I’ve kept just as tribute to my friends, people who’s names I just found interesting enough to be on film.

How much of Red is real and how much is fiction?  Gossip is real.  If you find someone who’s never been a victim of gossip, they are the luckiest people on this planet.

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I’m certain you’re all saying to yourself, “oh no, another art film”. Well, we set out to do just the opposite.  This is not an art film, (no offense to art films).   We actually set the bar at entertaining people with this film.  And I sure hope we achieve it.

Part 4 R E D

 

M e r c e d e s  C a b r a l  (Mai)

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The character of Mai was tricky because it is such a small role (in terms of exposure) yet it has a really big impact in the main character and the movie.   It’s a love story but you almost never see them together.  It’s a very limiting but demanding role—sort of…create the biggest impact in just a few scenes. That was the role of Mai.  And Mercedes Cabral was a very easy choice to make.  They say that if you introduce someone in a lengthy fashion, it means they are nobody important.  Mercedes is someone who’s body of work spells it out for you.  I think we’re lucky to have her on board, period.    And she is such a trooper!

Oh, and one more thing—everyone talks about the power of Nora Aunor’s eyes.  I’ve never seen it in person.  But I’ve seen Mercedes’.  And I think I know what everyone means.

Part 3 R E D

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In between all of this, Echo (Jericho Rosales) came in to be the Red in my head.  I had worked with him on the film Santa Santita, Baler and only last year, on Viva Film’s ABNKKBSNPLAko?!  So we fairly knew each other and on the professional side. But his best friend Buji was someone I was closer.  Buji is the guy who taught me how to surf in the ocean and he guided me in the surfing world. And later on, we would go on and start on a surfing documentary film co-prodiced by Coast Thru Life, a company co-owned by Echo.

When Red got in, one of the first people I called was Buji. I needed to get the script to Echo and it was tricky because Echo had just gotten married and had a crazy busy schedule so you don’t just get to send a script to him and expect him to read it, you need a way in.  In hindsight, I doubt if we’d ever get to Echo had we not have known Buji. At least that’s what I think.  (So thanks Buji!)

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Later on, our schedules would never synch for creative-coffee meet-up so we decided to just talk on the phone. I was in front of Flotsam Jetsam hostel in La Union and Echo had plenty of questions about the story and how we were going to do it but he generally liked the project. But he never connected that I was Jay the AD in Santa and Jay the Cinematographer that trained under Lee Meily on the films where we had met, as I learned later on.  He just said, “I’m in” and we had our Red.

I still remember the phone call middle of the night. Lilit Reyes called and asked me this question in Tagalog – Is it ok if you choose another title for your film? He later explained why and I agreed to go back to my old title Red, it made a lot of sense.  But that question. He never actually said we’d gotten in Cinemaone Originals, it was sort of implied. It was one of those weird and strange phone calls you get that changes your life and you never forget because you had been waiting for 6 years to do another film and this meant you were going to do one.  But later on in the process of putting your film together, casting would prove to be the one big hurdle that sort of defines what film you’re going to make.

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I still remember that feeling when Echo said yes.  I called my girlfriend Maita right away and said “Finally, we have a movie, Echo said yes!”

(part 2) The story of RED. My most personal film.

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Red is the first film I’m doing that I wrote myself.  But after writing it for 5 years, we brought it a professional writer, Dwight Gaston.  Red was written in English and was to be shot in Ilonggo.  But by the time Dwight came in, it was clear that I had wanted Echo to play Red, Mercedes Cabral to play Mai, Mylene Dizon as Bianca and JM Rodriguez to play Art. Those were cast members I was certain of.   So Dwight already wrote it in Tagalog.  When I approached Dwight, I gave him blanket freedom to do with it as he pleased… if he wanted to take out scenes I wrote, he could.  He had total freedom.

Of-course, in fairness to Dwight, so many other rewrites were made to the 192-sequence script. Most of it was to scale it down because it was just too long, too expensive. And then we scaled down some more during the shoot.  A very painful but sadly a very necessary process in indie filmmaking.

My last narrative film was in back in 2008 (Namets).  I’ve worked as a Cinematographer for a number of films since then. And they were great experiences. I learned from every film I was a part of.  And so I missed directing a narrative film. It is fun and exciting to create scenes born out of words written down on a piece of paper. Collaborating with people is the best part. You come in with an idea and some descriptions of how you will execute that idea and your team just makes it better and more complete. There’s always magic there and I find that to be such a trip.

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The story of RED. My most personal film. (part 1)

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Back in 2009, I spent the New Year’s writing. For a week I stayed inside my room and wrote a script of 140 pages by hand. It was my way of saying fuck you to people who have tried to destroy me and my reputation.  I wrote and wrote and wrote…about real people, mostly real events from my life, picked up stuff from here and there. I knew what I felt and what I wanted to say and the rest was fiction.  And that was such great therapy.   Needless to say, I didn’t write Red as a movie I wanted to shoot.  I was just so angry and I needed to write something.

A year later, I stumbled upon Red and was saw some things I wanted to fix in the script so I did.  The story felt right even the year later. I still liked it. Every year for 5 years, I went back to it for a full week, sat down and did serious rewrites. On the 3rd year, I changed the title to Radyo Drama.  I passed it in Cinemaone Originals. It didn’t get in the final 10.  Later, someone back out or something and they called me to field Radyo Drama and I asked for a day to think about it.  I was about to fly to Cebu the next day for the opening of the first Cebu International Documentary Film Festival. My documentary film Pureza would be the opening film.  I spent the day calling every friend in the industry asking if they were available for an October shoot. At that time, Radyo Drama was going to be shot in Ilonggo, all in Bacolod.

That night in Cebu, a dear friend Joanna Arong picked me up and brought me to a shoot before heading out for drinks. It was a Cinemaone Originals shoot and there I was watching one of the finalists shooting already.  That night I backed out of the race because we knew we couldn’t shoot the movie in Bacolod in October because it was Masskara month. You couldn’t get anyone during Masskara—they’re all busy working.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done—saying no to P1M to do your film.  But that night also, when we went out, I met Mercedes Cabral for the first time. And we talked about surfing and movies.  I remember texting her the following day telling her “I hope to work with you in the near future.”  Two years later we would be shooting RED together.

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Summer is coming. And this is how much I love the sun.

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Norte…a surf documentary in the making.

Another dream project for this year, Norte is Coast Thru Life’s brand image and owner Buji Libarnes’s creation and film and we’ve been lucky to be invited to help produce and shoot it.  It’s a dream for me because I love surfing and I love documentaries.  And this is a fushion of two of the things I love to do.

It’ll be shot the whole of 2014 slated for early 2015, it’ll be a full feature documentary focusing on three classical single fin longboard surfers going around North of Manila and looking for the best surf spots.

It will be a collaboration of Coast Thru Life and Seventh Films.

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