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!)
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.
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!”
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.
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.