The initial selection of the FAP was based on the ‘A’ Rating that the MTRCB has given to these films. However, the FAP will still be considering films to be released this August and September with ‘A’ ratings.
Hit the jump to find out how Ramon De Veyra and Marie Jamora crafted Ang Nawawala.
-SPOILERS AND COLORFUL LANGUAGE AHEAD-
You’ve been warned.
This interview took place at the Ang Nawawala presscon, before the regular Cinemalaya screenings started. I had already seen a cut of the film then.
How much of the original idea made it into the final film; what changed during the course of the 9 years?
In the college script, it was called Disorder and it was 3 stories about 3 different disorders and this was the 3rd story. It was about twins, and they were much older, they were in their twenties. One had Tourette’s and the other didn’t speak. When the one with Tourette’s died and the mom finds them and she confuses them, the one who didn’t speak died and the one with Tourette’s stopped speaking just to appease the mother. I’ve always loved the idea of just the panic of getting it mixed up, even though with identical twins when you get to know them you know the difference. In the chaos, in the 30 seconds when you don’t know- I’ve always loved that. That’s always been there – the mom and that. Another thing was the script was much more violent. 90’s na 90’s e. He doesn’t speak but he had a hard time so he cut off his own tongue. When Ramon [De Veyra] heard it he said ‘I like that better!’ But it’s so 90’s, it’s over the top. When I brought it to film school, they became much younger they became middle school and the love angle came in with the girl. Same things, and I set it in a school na IS, sort of like you can’t tell where the place is. The comments in film school were ‘You know what, you should set it in your own city’ so I said ‘You’re right!’ and so I did. And in the years in between I kept on writing scenes, keeping dialogue and stuff like that. I liked the idea of first love and losing your virginity and that’s when it [their ages] went a little bit up back to 20. Then Ramon [De Veyra] came along and fixed it.
How did you build the characters?
With regards to the writing of it, Ramon [De Veyra] did about 70% of Gibson/ Jaime and I did 30% of it. After we did those drafts, the earliest thing we did was a cast read through. I needed the lines to be as natural as possible, I told them they need to change the words to make them theirs talaga. We actually taped the read through, wrote it down and transcribed it. Then I talked to Dom [Roco] about his relationship with his brother, ‘I don’t have a twin so I need you to bring a little of yourself and your relationship with your brother into this.’ We went so far as to re-write some scenes together, so some of the stuff you hear on film is really their words. Acting and being natural is the most important thing for me.
Performance-wise through the film, there’s a certain tone you want to maintain. A lot of performances were subtle and subdued. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
Yes. I believe that that’s how people are. When people are being emotional the more you don’t see them being emotional. Aside from being great on the set and working on the set, you also sculpt performances in the editing room you choose the moments you like. I always try to bring actors down, for example Jenny [Jamora] comes from theatre and Marc Abaya is Marc Abaya. I always say ‘Less!’ I hate doing this, but sometimes you have to revert to this- ‘If you’re doing a 10 right now could you do a negative 2?’ It’s a conscious effort.
Do you like directing actors?
I kinda love it. It’s difficult but I’m grateful Film school equipped me with the language to be able to pinpoint what you want with that performance so you can label what they’re doing that you like and recall it back, and if they’re doing something you don’t like you can recall and tell them without insulting them. You don’t say ‘I don’t like that,’ or you don’t say ‘I need you to cry, be sad,’ none of that.
Our first shooting day was during Meiday and it was the most time bomb type situation-we couldn’t move that date and we couldn’t move what we were shooting. We shot the breakup scene the first thing in the day. Honestly speaking they were green. They hadn’t completely grasped their characters yet it was getting there but if I had my way I would have shot that late, like one of the last things. How we actually arranged the shooting schedule I would ask, ‘I want the sex scene down- I need to shoot the ending on the last day.’ I would make requests for the AD to move things down for performance because I knew that if Dom [Roco] lived with the character much longer he would give that much better.
With the breakup scene I watched it and it wasn’t the way it should’ve been in my mind. Dom[Roco] brought something to the character on the first day which was the character but not yet, it was maybe like 50% there. I met with him again, we talked about the breakup again and we needed to rehearse it again and we had to rewrite it again. I shared with him a document which I hadn’t shared with most other people which was the character bio for Gibson which I wrote while I was writing the script about the character, about what he likes, what his room looked like, his mannerisms, his posture and everything. I asked him, ‘Would that help you if I shared it with you?’ and he said yes and I e-mailed it to him. The next day when he went back onto the set, like 3 seconds before we said action he went like this [gestures a sigh] and like that [mimicks posture] and then in front of my eyes he became the character, which I didn’t see on the first day. And then my heart leapt and I saw the character and that was it.
Watching the film, you really get the sense that there was control in every aspect of the production. How’d your process go?
You don’t wait this long and do anything half-assed and also spend your life savings [in the process]. Each general of the film, styling, PD, cam dep we had extensive meetings, PowerPoint presentations, debates of like…Okay, with Trinka [Lat], I gave her these many books with little post its saying’ I like this’ and’ I like this’ and within those books she picked and chose what she liked. With Mara [Reyes], she’s a busy woman, so I made a huge document for her and said,’ These are the films I love- let’s make something like this.’ These are the characters and these are the looks I think of with each character even down to hair. She looks at all that and she makes it better.
With Kai [Leung] that’s something different, because as much as possible I was hands off with him. I was wrestling with getting the DOP and I said to Quark [Henares], ‘Should I get a local DOP and promote local cinematography or should I get Kai?’ He was like ‘Get Kai, because he’ll shoot it differently.’ Because with that, instead of telling the cinematographer the same process of ‘This is how I want it to look,’ I brought him to all the places. ‘Let’s watch a couple of gigs together- let’s go to this Korean Spa together and experience all this stuff together and the way you see it, just shoot it like that because I don’t want to look like anything else that I’ve seen.’ To the point that when we were color grading it I was like ‘Kai you need to send us your grading stuff because I don’t know how to grade your footage! I don’t know what you were thinking, man!’
The most important process I think with Kai which I hadn’t gotten from any other cinematographer here is that we had no time for story boards, is that we would sit down with Harold [Soon] our assistant Director the night before each shoot talk about every scene we were doing and map it out shot for shot and debate. ‘No it has to be a close up because like this! ‘No it has to be this camera movement because!’ And everything has a reason and it’s how we talk in film school and that I never got with anyone else. Shot size and movement- that’s my input but in terms of how he wants to light it I was like ‘It’s up to you.’
What was also amazing was Kai and Trinka had a conversation and they talked about their visions for the film. What was really cool was that Kai usually doesn’t get along with production designers and Trinka doesn’t get along with cinematographers and they got along! They both told me separately that ‘Kai’s the best cinematographer I worked with!’ and ‘Trinka’s the best production deigner that I worked with!’ That was beautiful seeing that happen.
Let’s move on to marketing. I really have to ask this because for my money, out of everything, the film has had the most noise online. How did you approach it?
Honestly speaking, it was quite late in the game when we started thinking about it. There was a catalyst that was an eye-opener, I’m not going to get into the details, but it was an eye-opener that made me suddenly go ‘Fuck, we haven’t thought about it.’ We were debating whether to rely on somebody to do it or do it ourselves and that’s where I have to credit all the producers and the team. All the producers on that side- Bernard [Dacanay], Trinka [Lat], Daphne [Chiu], John Sy and Ramon even though Ramon’s not formally a producer, but he’s been hand in hand in the process every step of the way. We met together and said ‘Ok how are we going to market this film?’ Then everybody put their ideas down, put them on our wall and we’ve been hitting each idea ourselves.
Trinka’s in charge of execution but it’s that group effort of the producers. With their experience collectively with indie films, they know how indie films die after the festival, and we said ‘We don’t want that to happen to us. How do we make that not happen to us?’ When we started brainstorming about how to market the film Ramon had the idea of character posters, so we did that. Then we started approaching for the collaborations. Then regarding the music videos and [other] promotionals that was all early. Then with something like [the promotions] for Fete de la Musique, we were doing an interview with Ren Aguila and he offhandedly mentioned it and I said ‘Dude you’re fucking right’, made a phone call and made it happen. It’s really sometimes on the fly but it’s about commitment and about executing it. We have a really great time and collaborators. Even the people who are approaching us and saying ‘What do you need? You need a poster? I’ll help you out’ and that’s really that.
What’s really great and a point of pride for me is that people have been complementing us on the marketing and saying, ‘Who’s doing the marketing?’ And I say it’s the team. It’s just about how the producers care about the film not about just delivering the film na pass your papers ito yung pelikula but it’s about ‘You know what? Honestly we want people to see it-how are we going to get people to see this film?’
Some reactions to the teaser have been labelling it a ’Hipster Film.’ Do you wanna dispel that image? Because in the venn diagram scheme of things, a lot of things intersect to make it deserve that label.
The teaser is the way it is because of the time. I’m sorry, I can’t tell people what the story is in 30 seconds so I’ll just pack it full of images and then save it for the trailer. I’m not worried because we launched the trailer the trailer just now after the presscon, I just want people to see what the film is really about and if they still say its hipster it’s out of my hands. It’s really a matter of interpretation; I hope we don’t turn people off because of it. For me, I do think that this theatrical trailer has the identity of the film, the pacing of the film and the mood. And I hope that the initial reaction and first impressions will more for change. Mikey [Amistoso] said something poignant: ‘Marie your teaser is nakakasindak and kick-ass but your film is not like that,’ and he goes ‘Your film is quiet and beautiful.’ I’m not saying it is- that’s what Mikey said- and It’s really a conscious effort to make the the trailer the correct identification for the film so that when you watch it, the audience will think ‘Ok, I’ll watch it!’ or ‘Okay this film is not for me.’ Of course I just want as many people to watch as possible and then diss it afterwards [laughs].
How does it feel having the film in the can finally?
I’ve never had this feeling before; it’s a feeling of satisfaction contentment and happiness. It’s something you didn’t realize that was what you wanted to do. Doing it I realized that this is actually what I just wanted to do. It’s unquestionable and it feels amazing because of the feat of finishing it. I have another one in mind- I’ll just get some sleep and keep this thing going And find a way to make this my living, currently I hadn’t been doing anything for a year and a half. No money coming in for a year and a half. I had to find a way to make money come in but do this. Make films-because this is what I want to do pala. Forever.
Any final thoughts on the whole shebang?
I hope people won’t be disappointed -especially my friends. And for my producers…what happened is …everyone did it for a song so what I had to offer was a percentage. So hopefully people watch it so that people get something back. And I hope we get to travelthe world with it but as we travel the world I kinda want towrite the next one. It’s not going to be the same shit, it’s going to be completely different. I don’t know man…For me, because of this I can’t wait to see yours, I can’t wait to see Chris’s [Costello], I can’t wait to see King’s [Palisoc], you know what I’m saying? Like all our friends who are literally on the verge and just have to take the plunge or that leap. This is it. This is actually what we’ve all wanted to do, and I just didn’t know it until I did it. And it just made me complete as a person. Ayun.
Congratulations and thank you so much!
-At this point I switched over to Ramon.-
At what point during the nine year process and germination of the script did you jump in?
I never jumped in- she just asked me to write it New Year’s last year.
How long did that take?
What’s this year, 2012? [laughs] So New Year’s of 2011, because we spent New Year’s at Marie’s place, she just asked me could you help me write my movie so I said yeah because that’s what friends do when someone asks if they could use your help for a movie. And then she showed me what she had-what she had was a couple of the characters and certain situations like there are twins, one’s dead and the other isn’t speaking. Ganoon. And she had the last scene of someone videotaping their mom. She had that. But they were chunks missing story-wise. It’s like having an alphabet na she had A she had Z, she had B she had M but she didn’t have the other in between stuff like why did this happen? My job was to like,‘Ok how do you make this end scene this fulfilling or dramatic or rewarding as possible?’ So you set it up- Na Dapat it took a while to get there. So you set up rift with the mom-not really a strong fighting-type rift but just a distance because of the death. Yeah-how you connect certain scenes. She had certain shots she wanted to do but not necessarily the scene in which to do them. So we’d come up with a scene and we’d figure okay why is that scene there. Just trying to maximize the payoff in a sense-not naman with plot twists na ‘Holy-!’ It’s more effecting if it was difficult to get there. Building up the scenarios the difficulties, who doesn’t like who, whatever.
Did you have debates during the process?
Yeah, every now and then. There’s nothing super specific. We plotted the whole thing during several meetings and then we divided the scenes according to what she wanted to write and what she’d been dying to write for years and years and years. And then the rest was mine. We’d write scenes separately meet again discuss them, read them out loud then discuss them-so there.
How was it like working with friends on a feature again since Lyle Sacris’ First Time?
I’ve always worked naman with friends whether it was a major TV studio or my time with Viva-it was always with friends so it’s always been good.
Does it affect the process?
With Marie it does because I can bully Marie. And it was okay to-you could bully Lyle [Sacris] because he’s not a writer. He’d say [imitating Lyle] ‘I want a plot twist here,’ and I’m like ’Why? There’s nothing there! You had to set up a plot twist to put a plot twist. If you suddenly spring a twist that’s not a plot twist it’s just a deus ex machina!’ At least with Marie if she says something I don’t like I’m like, ‘fuck that.’ [laughs]
But I’m sensitive naman to some of the images and scenes she’d wanted to do since she was but a wee college grad.
So how long did all of that take?
Fucking months. One or two months of meetings yung plotting. We’d meet maybe twice a week? Then we’d plot-every scene was on an index card. Literally the whole living room was covered with index cards just so I could see visually the flow of the film and you could divide it into okay, ‘What’s act 1? What’s act 2? what’s act 3?’ And then we also color- coded the cards like which takes place at gigs, which are family stuff. Then we divided it according to days of the holidays just to have a tighter idea of the structure. Then what happens is that you get rid of redundant scenes or you try and merge some characters who are actually just serving the same purpose.
Then the script-shit, I’m bad with dates, but we had to finish much earlier than Cinemalaya’s actual deadline. Actually Cinemalaya needed just the detailed sequence breakdown but we needed to finish the script because grant giving bodies we were applying to required a full script. The first draft was bloated but luckily it got in to Cinemalya and then NCAA also.
What about re-writes? Like on set, or when you have to adjust for the actors?
It’s dependent on the actor in my opinion. I’d be more hesitant to change the line if I didn’t like the actors. I have had experiences with working people who were ‘artistas’ and not actors where they don’t want to say the lines because they can’t say the lines-they don’t know how to say the lines not because they think it’s this and that. Maybe it’s not so obvious but none of the lines are arbitrary-we spend time coming up with the dialogue, lalo na a film like this na what’s unsaid is actually just as important as what is said.
In the case of the [Roco] twins they just were really more comfortable speaking in tagalog even though most of their dialogue based on the family and based on the social class the family was in was mostly English. We spoke to them and met with them and talked about it and ‘Ok, what would you guys say?’ And then we tried to check if that was consistent with the character-although some of the English lines made it in.
Basta lines change my job on set is to make sure it doesn’t contradict other scenes as a whole para consistent yung tone- if it’s something the character would say, if it doesn’t affect other scenes.
Any final thoughts walking away from the script?
Walking away from the script? Huh. I don’t know. I’m stunned na when I saw the shooting draft, I think it was like draft twelve, I was like ’How the fuck did we get to draft 12?’ I don’t think I’ve gone past three for anything I’ve ever written-even for school. Tangina diba? ‘tas draft 12. Which means each draft is not just changing lines of dialogue but like moving scenes. Some scenes that came later were moved up, there were more getting to know you scenes that we collapsed into one gig nalang. Because the whole getting to know you falling love stuff happens over a bunch of concerts-as they did in Marie’s actual romantic life. So much of the film kase is based on the experiences of Marie or things she wanted to happen except that she changed the gender to a boy.
[laughter from the people in the room]
And now he is selectively mute instead of being a drummer, things like that. There’s things that they do share like the love of editing and vinyl records, music-and filming their mothers saying ‘It’s me! Here I am, this is what I do!’ Thesis statement. Highlighter. Underline. Apple B, Apple U, Apple I.
Thanks for your time!
You’re welcome Lagarista. May I say what a fine website and a handsome editor.
Years ago, the mother of our family driver passed away at the ripe old age of ninety.
His mother died on the other side of the Pacific, on the alien shores of California. Unfortunately for him, he had no means of bringing her body home.
Our driver, being a man of simple stature, had neither the resources nor the know-how to give his mother a proper burial here in the Philippines. The amount required to bring her home would eventually total over hundreds of thousands of pesos, and it was only a matter of time before our driver approached my father for help.
But my father was against bringing his mother home. For my father, it was a waste of money our driver didn’t have. It was money that was better spent elsewhere, like our driver’s four children, and his growing number of grandchildren.
Our driver, however, was adamant.
When my father eventually asked why it was so important for him to bring home his mother’s body, he simply answered, “Kailangan ko lang siya makita.”
There is an unquestionable impracticality to my driver’s grieving, one that he neither questioned nor recognized. But it is exactly this kind of grieving that Loy Arcenas’ latest film concerns itself with.
Requieme! is a dark comedy that pokes fun at the Filipino’s need for closure. How, in some sordid and misplaced sense of duty, we tend to lionize the dead and take our living for granted.
It is a comedy of errors, with a number of punchlines on the deceased.
But as the story slowly unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that Requieme! has a lot to say, not only about how we bury our dead, but why we even bother to in the first place.
Requieme! follows the stories of Swanie (Shamaine Buencamino) and Joanna (Anthony Falcon); two seemingly distinct individuals with strikingly similar goals: both want to bring home the bodies of their grateful dead.
Swanie is a distinguished barangay captain with escalating political ambitions. When it’s discovered that the ominous death of a distant relative could be a great way of stealing the political limelight, Swanie takes the opportunity to host the burial herself.
Unfortunately, with the body abroad and no family to collect it, Swanie realizes that her ticket to political fame is one with a higher price than had she bargained for.
Joanna, on the other hand, is a transgender who wants nothing more than breasts big enough to suffocate her boyfriend. But when an old cobbler from her neighborhood passes away, she takes it upon herself to make sure that he gets a decent burial. Unfortunately, every peso she spends, is another peso away from her mammarian dream.
As Joanna’s frustration mounts, and her bank account dwindles, Joanna snaps at a seemingly resistant funeral home employee.
Joanna demands to know what the problem is, and barks, “Bangkay na yan diba?”
But therein lies the irony of Joanna’s remark. It seems that people are just as problematic in death, as they are in life.
Despite that, Requieme! finds much to laugh about in the company of death. And though the film is very much about the process of grieving, it is also about the process (or impossibility) of reconnection.
As Swanie struggles to find a way to bring her deceased nephew home, she digs up her family’s long and confusing genealogy. And what begins as a play for political position; ends in a realization that – even in death – family is all you have in this life.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from a setup far too long for its own good. Exposition is unloaded by the truck load, and though Arcenas tries desperately to keep the exposition light and engaging, earlier scenes are weighed down by the film’s sheer amount of information.
But as soon as the film picks up, Arcenas manages to fashion a world surrounded by death and filled with laughter.
At first, I had mistaken Requieme! to be a satire on Filipino grief and the impracticality of closure.
But by the end of the film, I had realized that I had gotten it wrong. There was nothing impractical about grief, and no cost too high for closure.
Our family driver eventually brought the body of his mother home. And since then, I have always wondered if the trouble had ever been worth the cost.
But it wasn’t until Requieme! that I was given a funny, moving and irrefutable answer.
And, of course, the answer was yes.
PARA SA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Death is hardly ever a laughing matter, but Requieme! manages to make light of tragedy with a good, healthy dose of Filipino comedy – one that is as heartfelt as it is funny.