Thursday, April 21, 2011
I refuse to even think about it now. But, it happened again.
Last month, the sponsoring film arm of a major TV Network had called, advising me that the full-length screenplay I submitted had been shortlisted by the Nominating Committee. Because of this, a Sequence Treatment (equivalent to a chapter outline/plot breakdown) was needed for final jury purposes. That same night, I jumped on the keyboard and finished the Treatment within one seating of just a couple of hours. It was easier to deduce that from an already completed screenplay replete with dialogue.
As I pressed the SEND button on the email, the visual design of the film became even clearer to me: the rustic locations in land and sea, the docu-style camera mood and high-contrast tone of lighting, the pockets of action and dramatic pacing, the rhythm of suspense and romance, the mystery of the past era entwined in a paranormal experience of today. I was certain it was going to find its way to the silver screen.
Inspired by true stories, the film proposal entitled LUTANG (meaning, Afloat) is about the contemptuous killings of journalists who are on a crusade exposing the massive corruption in government that has allowed illegal mining and illegal logging by big business and multinational companies. In my country, and in the remotest of our virgin islands, there are over a hundred of these unsolved cases, and the film intends to be an important voice in unraveling the hidden mysteries.
To land a slot among the final 10 winning screenplays didn't only mean recognition for me as a bonafide screenwriter, who would then be capable of getting commissioned to write for local film houses. In addition to the long-term rewards, winning one coveted seat will earn me the prize money: a million pesos seed fund for actual production shoot!
A number of my colleagues had been as confident as myself. Having worked in television for many years, and on this film script for many months, I felt secure it had all the ingredients of a good screenplay worthy to be co-funded and produced by a huge cable channel here that has likened itself to HBO Originals.
I had tossed the script to my peers in the TV/film industry, and they have gone beyond praise, even suggesting character actors in the major roles, and offering locations and post-production facilities for editing and musical scoring --- certain as I was that this was going to be made.
Worse, as industry professionals, we all thought my credentials as an active practitioner and a few calls to network executives would have enough clout to influence the jury.
I was, we were wrong. The screenplay LUTANG (Afloat) failed to capture a slot in the final ten to be endowed with a production seed fund of one million pesos each.
Minutes after receiving the lethal email, I called the competition secretariat hoping to find some clues for my own learning as to why the screenplay was rejected, or who composed the jury, or did it rate even just as a runner-up in the final tally. Was my screenplay too heavy, were they looking for something more entertaining than enlightening? Did they prefer small personal stories rather than something that might spur some controversy of national interest and inspire some action from the youth? Did they want a simpler movie made for TV, and not a full-length picture that will help save the Palawan islands, or the Sierra Madre mountain ranges and the aboriginal tribes being driven away from their ancestral lands in order that foreign investments can pluck and yank the minerals underneath?
The program manager on the other line was deft in saying they couldn't divulge any more information than the list of winners contained in the email. She went on to say Thank You for participating and the standard line 'hope to see you next year'.
As I hanged up, all my hopes for the film shut down. I went over the script a few more times that day, and every day there after. And in each time, I felt I had done it its best: there was nothing more I could have done better character-wise, content-wise, story-wise.
A journalist friend of mine who has a huge interest on the subject of murdered journalists and broadcasters, once told me that TV professionals such as myself must refrain from entering open scriptwriting competitions for the sheer fact that like any other writing contest, works are judged subjectively by a jury that might be inept to the purposes of 'filmmaking with a mission' and can not therefore be measured on their entire merits.
Now in hindsight, I feel I should have listened to him.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Not a finale episode to bring to the fore a new season, or a re-formatted program, or a new set of characters. But it is THE Season’s End, one last episode with the teary-eyed star cast of 8-to 10-year olds saying goodbye to its loyal audience.
The production and post-prod staff bid each other farewell in an afterparty on the last day of taping. Many of them cried for losing a show that started out some five years ago with another title, then evolved into a faster-paced narrative, and then re-formatted years later to incorporate 3D environments and character animation.
The child stars and their parents hated the almighty Network for its abrupt and callous decision. But of course the network execs were quick to say that such business direction had been based on serious studies conducted by the research, marketing and programming departments which had been uneasy over the show’s single-digit ratings these last 5 weeks.
Many crew members, all those small heroes below the lighting gaffers --- the minimum wage-earners who carry camera equipment from one location to the next and risk their lives in halting traffic or cabling wires so the taping can go smoothly and who make the coffee and run errands for the Executive Producer, Associate Producer, Supervising Producer, Line Producer, Segment Producer and all kinds of other producer geniuses --- lost a steady income and beyond that, the comfort zone of a weekly work environment.
But as the Network Chief says: this is television in action, we gotta move on, we have to stay on top of competition, we have to constantly break our own ratings records, blah-blah… Anyway, he says, there will be new shows for the child stars, the staff and crew.
Meanwhile, my company, which creates the animation and 3D environments for the show, is perhaps suffering the most. It won’t be part of whatever new show the network has lined-up. As a result, a major source of income has just been lost.
In our workspace, both our senior & junior visual artists are sulking over the demise of the show. My partners are now worried, and are prompting me to find a replacement to finance our company overhead.
Everyone is critically affected with this season’s end. But, this is one ending I really LIKE.
It had happened before. The painful process of losing a show teaches one how to live a life in television.
Once upon a recent past, I had raised hell and cried for nights when the powers-that-be robbed me of a top-rating teen drama soap that aired daily on primetime television. Sixteen seasons to my credit, I had created, founded and directed that show which handled serious themes of young love, teen angst, familial conflicts and campus riots. It was top-ranking on the audience rating charts and on the commercial spots. They wanted it so badly for themselves --- the triumph of a successful series, the prestige, the monies --- so much that they had to deviously take it away from me and claimed it to be their own.
Back in the 90’s, when I was a beginning TV director, I introduced the concepts of electronic sets and digital imagery for a visually-driven quiz show for high school students. At stake were millions of pesos in college scholarships and the honor to be qualified in a standard-bearing national quiz show. It rated double-digit on a weekend timeslot, but was unpopular with the advertisers. After 6 years of telecast, the Network axed it. I defended and fought hard to keep it on the air. Backed with the signatures of 400 schools and universities nationwide, I begged the Network to allow us to run for the 7th consecutive year. After all, our show grand champions who got their million-peso scholarships were studying to be doctors and physicists and lawyers. I thought I could appeal to their compassionate hearts using the Network’s tagline In The Service of The Nation. But long before I understood the dichotomy of broadcast dynamics, I realized that that tagline did a good job for brand hype and network image-building but meant nothing more than lip service .
In the more recent years, I had done one or two seasons of various other TV shows, in four other TV networks. There was a culinary travelogue, a couple of dance exercise shows, and a sports show. TV shows would always come to an end with either of these reasons: the show poorly rated, or the producer had run out of money, or the advertisers fell short for lack of hype and star value, or in remote cases, the network grabbed the idea to claim and re-format it into their own.
And that’s the back story to why I have come to abhor all season-enders on television.
But NOT this children’s show’s Season’s End.
This time around, I am relieved to find an excuse to leave my partners, and the Company.
My hands had been full. Despite a life devoid of children of my own to care for, I’ve been loaded with (or actually, they have damped on me) more demands and expectations to make this Company grow, to nurture its CG & animation artists, to hunt and close production deals and post-prod contracts.
That could have all been just fine, if only my partners looked after some of the other needs too, and perhaps a little of mine as well.
The daily grind of studio operations and a working life that compromises Creativity to Costs had left me barely any time to look after my own wishes, my own desires, my own dreams.
A hundred boring details to make other people’s interests work, to meet network goals, to grow their businesses, to turn their dreams into realities as though they were my own, had consumed me.
In each time I felt exhausted, I would tell myself it’s fine, for a life well-lived at the end of the day saves my soul from feeling wasted.
But like many other things in a working life, everything that really matters to me took a backseat.
I used to say when the dream film comes, I’ll take my options. And each day, I lived for that.
But today at this Season’s End, I decide to take My Turn.
Counting 45 days up to the end of the year to wind up online projects and put the corporate set-up to a close, I am done here. With corporate chains unleashed, I will return to the back door to open new horizons for a free-lance life.
By then, and soon, I can watch more sunsets, walk the dogs and write.
Monday, September 20, 2010
So after the Saturday pictorials for a dance concert, I allowed the remainder of the weekend to take a quiet respite. With the Sunday sunset spilling through the bedroom window, I nestled comfortably on the net touching base with my FB friends. By the time the moonlight pierced through the window sills, I was still catching up with an online writing community. I hadn't spent time with myself in a while, so I was engrossed until a PC icon called attention to an incoming email.
The news broke out in layers. First were the lines saying praise and thanking me for the proposed film project I had sent. Then the assurances that nothing was lacking with my submissions, that this must not be taken negatively. Just that the proposal was not selected nor approved for funding.
The almighty Producer had just declined my dream film: a historical epic that would cross over to the present. It was my only hope to get my dream film off the ground. My only chance to regain recognition from industry peers who smirk at the idea of a difficult multi-layered film. My only contribution to helping awaken my country's youth to rise up for change and good governance.
I stood still. For a moment, an hour, I don't recall how long, for I tried hard not to cry.
Midnight came. What was I thinking? That some well-meaning foreign producer would care about bringing life to a historical period piece that no one in its own country would dare pick up? Despite many years of rejection, I kept my hopes up.
But somewhere there I knew I had to curtail my expectations. I had thought to myself what else could I be doing outside my working life if my dream film doesn't see the light. Maybe, I'll learn to write a book. Or produce another less demanding but crusading TV show. Or perhaps try a less ambitious film story.
Something substantive, not just anything. To look forward to and build my life on.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
In the aftermath of losing a daily television show over two years ago, I seriously started looking at what to write about for my first feature film. It had been a long dream coming, to write and direct a body of work for the big screen. After assisting film & TV directors, writing endless scripts and developing concepts and shows, and then spending another four years for a daily soap opera, I feel I have never been more ready for film than now.
It took longer than I expected to arrive at a subject matter I felt deeply for. My mind hovered over some family drama pieces, then I started putting together some form of adaptation from novels and pieces that inspired me. I even collaborated with a couple more writers to explore other possibilities. But none of what I wrote took shape, nothing of what I started writing could get finished. There was a huge block.
Writing ANDRES BONIFACIO was different. It flowed out of my heart. I was intrigued with the controversies, the double-edged betrayals, the parallelism of our Past with the Present. Some issues I have never explored before in my working life in television.
The film will cover the last thirteen days of his life, told in flashbacks unfolding one layer at a time. It will pay tribute to the forgotten heroes of an era gone by, as it attempts to inspire the next generation ANDRES BONIFACIO. It will challenge historians to write about what truly happened then, at the same time, make us understand why Pilipinos are unable to grow as a nation despite the abundance of talent and natural resources.
And like ANDRES BONIFACIO, I too am a victim of betrayal, I too clamor for a national leadership devoid of corruption and greed.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Ocean waves crumble, crawl and cede
repeating its cycle in restless motion.
My pen strokes fumble, mumble, tremble
rotating its themes in timeless cycles.
A first film in the writing,
A picture book in the making,
Long cherished dreams are no closer than before
as the routine of a working life
and the daunting tasks of providing for others
take first precedence over feeding my own.
Friday, January 29, 2010
OPENING MONTAGE as OBB. Circa 1895.
Behind a stack of handwoven fans made of indigenous materials, a young Andres Bonifacio, aged 9, circa 1860’s, at his poor family’s home, diligently studying…. DISSOLVES to Andres Bonifacio in his early 30’s writing for the Kalayaan.
Spread across his table is Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo.
Rack focus to reveal: Emilio Jacinto writing for the Kalayaan (Freedom).
Secret gatherings in secluded walkways, 3 to 5 Pilipinos laborers (manggagawa), holding copies of the Kalayaan.
In wooded areas, 6 or more Pilipino farmers (magsasaka at mga taga-bukid).
Silhouette shadows of Andres Bonifacio & Emilio Jacinto discussing and laying out strategies over a map for the content and distribution of Kalayaan.
Troadio Bonifacio and Francisco Castillo with Camilo Iban from Kapis (now Capiz) winning the loteria and buying the printing press.
In dark rooms or basements, copies of the Kalayaan are divided in batches for delivery. Dated January 1, 1896. (2 issues only, 1,000 copies & 2,000 copies)
The Supremo and his brothers Ciriaco and Procopio purchasing revolvers, bolos and the other weapons like bamboo spears…
The wealthy Messrs. Francisco and Valeriano del Castillo handing over supplies, seal & articles.
Emilio Jacinto, Aguedo del Rosario, and Alejandro Cipriano, and Marciano Santiago from Polo, Bulakan, working in the printing office, rushing the printing of the Kalayaan and the Kartilla, the rules of the Society and the aims of the Katipunan.
Katipunero Macario Sakay and other leaders study the distribution plan.
my Dream to write and direct a full-length feature film had surfaced.
Everything I have been doing since then whether for television or the live stage,
seems to be just a preparation ... no matter that the Dream remains distant, elusive in fact...
Will I die with it? As I have lived for it?
Why is it that important to me?
A sense of achievement? Or perhaps over-achievement?
A perennial need to communicate a message? Or, impart a value?
A soulful desire to leave behind a legacy?
Or, simply just to be able to live in my dream?
I seem to have looked everywhere and done everything for its cause...
(save for licking the hotshot producers' asses!)
But the Dream while appearing far and away from happening soon,
looms larger and closer than ever before.