Monday, March 24, 2008
It was all by a fortunate chance.
Not even in my wildest dream have I imagined myself as a movie director.
I am basically a very shy guy, something I suspect is rooted in my being orphaned at a very tender age. The fact is I can hardly remember how my parents looked like. We were so young, my brother Lorenzo and I, when our parents died one after the other that I hardly remember any moment with them. And to grow up living with grandparents, with aunts and uncles with their own children, I guess it’s natural for you to grow up feeling a second class child in house I cannot call my own, my home.
So how could an inveterate shy guy like me ever dream being a movie director, giving instructions, direction to celebrities? Having my personal whims carried out to the latter?
It was during Martial Law and all passports were rendered invalid. So there was no way for me to pursue the opportunities in the States where I have been to a couple of years back..
To top it all, I had a falling out with our komiks editor and proud little me won’t have anything more to do with the illustrated magazine. I tried to publish my own komiks with a partner who owned a baby offset machine along Soler street and one of my illustrators then was Flor Dery who is now very successful somewhere in the States.
But that didn’t last either. I had a misunderstanding with my partner and we split. Without anything to spend my time with, I started to “parked” myself at a sari-sari store at Calero street, at the back of the offices of Liwayway publication where I was hoping to have some stories approved.
That was where Franz Bejec, another comics illustrator and who also did movie posters and who lived nearby, asked me if I know how to write screenplay as there was a small time movie producer looking for script to produce..
Being a voracious reader, some of the many books I have read were screenplays from England which I bought at Philippine Education Company where you can order books not available locally. So I was quite familiar with script construction.
And having been a komiks scriptwriter for years already, I was confident I could come out with a local version of a script for local movies.
So Franz took me to the office of the small-time producer at Garcia building along Rizal avenue. The producers asked me to submit a concept for a karate movie which was then in vogue with Wang Yu and Bruce Lee dominating the local cinema. The movie would be for Ramon Zamora, the Pinoy Bruce Lee clone.
Two problems quickly cropped up. Having been so used to American movies since childhood we sort of ignored the local movies which were mostly carbon-copies of foreign movies if not downright tearjerkers or corny comedy. (If I only knew then what fate had stored for me!) And although there was a lot of noise regarding karate movies I never had the inclination to spend two hours in the dark and watch those kung-fu masters execute outrageously fantastic fight stunts.
But then I had to have something to support myself with. So from the office of the producers I went straight to the nearby Recto avenue where the row of movie houses were exclusively showing Sino karate movies.
I spent the rest of the day watching three karate movies one after the other and by the time I went home to our house at Polo, Bulacan I was up to my neck with karate stunts.
I slept with all those karate gimmicks playing in my mind. And as usual I woke up in the wee hours and started pounding on the typewriter, writing a concept of a local karate movie. With all those pocket books and other stuffs I had tortured my eyes with; I had no problem coming up with a plot for “The Return of the Dragon.”
The next afternoon, Franz Bejec once again accompanied me to the office of Ka Pepe Magno and Ka Peping Ortega, small time movie producers. They could not believe that I have already finished a storyline for their projected movie.
I had to explain that to survive as a komiks scriptwriter you have to come up with at least two stories a day so that if one is rejected by those almighty editors, you still have a story to collect payment for. Each story for the komiks can be expanded to a movie concept/plot..
Later on, I learned that when the producers sent my concept to Celso Ad. Castillo somewhere in Laguna where he was shooting with Alona Alegre, he immediate liked it.
THAT’S ME ENJOYING A CUP OF BARAKO COFFEE WITH CELSO AD. CASTILLO, THE HALF-NAKED GUY, WITH HIS SON CHRIS, POCH BAUTISTA, THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, SOS STUNTMAN SANCHO TESALONA AND JOHNNY RAMIREZ, WHO BECAME MY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR AT A LOCATION SHOOTING IN SAN JUAN, LA UNION.
While waiting for Celso to report for his next assignment, I started researching on Chinese karate movies. From Chungkee, the Chinese mestizo owner of the sari-sari store at Calero street where we used to spent the whole day doing nothing, I learned that the Chinese term for dragon is “pai lung.” Chungkee, who was surprised that being 75% Chinese, I do not know how to speak their lingo, gave me more tips on the Chinese martial arts. I had to explain to him that I grew up mostly with the 25% Pinoy side.
When Celso finally came down from the province and met with me he asked me to proceed with the sequence treatment of the concept. I asked him if I could use a pen-name but he told me to use Mike Relon Makiling which was quite known in the komiks market.
When shooting started, Celso asked me to go with him in location shoot although the screenplay was already finished and approved by him. I readily agreed though there was no additional compensation involved and started to learn how a screenplay is made into a movie.
I also realized that komiks-scriptwriting is a good training ground for those who aspire to write for the movies and television. Writing those frames with illustration guide is a stepping stone to writing screenplay. I cannot overemphasize the importance of komiks scripting in writing screenplays.
Those of you, who are in this racket, don’t ever be ashamed of being just a komiks writer. It is really a stepping stone to being a screenplay writer.
“The Return of the Dragon” with Ramon Zamora, Lotis Key and Laila Hermosa in the lead was my baptism in the movies. It proved to be a blockbuster at the box-office and sort of established Mike Relon Makiling as a screen playwright.
I was lucky to have Celso Ad. Castillo as the director of my first screenplay. He was then one of the most respected and bankable movie directors in the country. He was also one of few local directors who impressed me when I was still snobbish of the local productions.
After the success of “The Return of the Dragon” I learned that in the movies you are only as good as your last picture.