Tuesday, April 1, 2008



Having entered the movies accidentally, I came to learn that you are only as good as your last picture. And being “good” only means that your last picture made money at the box office. The quality of the movie comes only second. What matters most is making money at the box office, lots of it! This is true from the lead stars down to the scriptwriter. Woe to anyone associated with a flop. You would be branded “malas,” “may balat sa puwit,” and so on.

But before I proceed, allow me to give way to my purpose of writing this blog, which is to have my experiences in movie-making be a guide to those who would aspire to enter this chaotic and insane world.

Please take note that if I haven’t be a voracious reader since childhood and came to know a bit of everything there is to know, I would not have succeeded as a movie screen playwright. To be an effective writer you have to be a wide reader. What I consider “wide” is everything from philosophy to pornography. You read everything that comes your way, even fish-wrappers.

I dare maintain that even if you earn a Ph.D. in writing if you’re not fond of written words, you can’t call yourself a “writer,” whatever that means.

Having said that, let’s proceed to our topic.

To most movie producers, I realized, quality comes only second or third, even. What’s most important is MONEY! Which is not surprising since all movie producers are businessmen. They entered the movie industry to make money not THE Filipino movie.

No doubt there were those who produced movies to come up finally with THE Filipino movie. But most of them failed at the box office and folded up bankrupt. This is most unfortunate, really.

Of course there were big productions for which huge budget were allocated. Big stars, high caliber production staff, expensive locations, etc. But still the main target is the box office with quality coming only as second choice. Some of them did succeed at the tills and were considered “classic” whatever that means. But some of them failed to recover even the investment.

Even while still shooting “The Dragon…” Celso discussed with me a project for Rosas Production of Susan Roces. He had a title, “Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara.” and asked me to come up with a concept for his title.

As soon as we wrapped up shooting “The Dragon…” I went back to my typewriter and came up with a concept for “Patayin…” which Celso forwarded to Susan.

We were in the post production phase of “The Dragon…” at LVN studios when we were invited by Susan to Hacienda Luisita where Fernando Poe, Jr. was shooting a movie to discuss “Patayin…”

And so one night, with Tsing Tong Tsai as our driver, Celso and I traveled to Hacienda Luisita of the Cojuancos. We missed Susan Roces by several hours but I got to meet the Salvador brothers, Ramon and Philip, who treated me kindly as if I wasn’t a newcomer in the movies. That made an impression on me Both of them were still in the production staff of the FPJ Production with Philip still playing minor roles in FPJ movies.

We were served dinner and I remember to this day how the Salvador brothers advised me not to be shy. “Pakapalan sa pelikula, Mike, kaya wag kang mahihiya! Di uso dito ang hiya-hiya. Lalo na sa tsibugan, magugutom ka! Relaks ka lang.”

After dinner Celso decided to proceed to Baguio where we arrived around midnight and spent the night in a hotel.

Early the next morning we left the hotel and proceeded to La Trinidad valley where the Poe’s had their vacation house.

Susan was at the market when we arrived. It was Ronnie who met us and forthwith told me that he had read the concept I’ve written for “Patayin…” and liked it. He was eager to read the sequence treatment and asked me several questions on how the story would be resolved.

By the way, when you write a concept, don’t reveal all that’s going to happen, especially the ending. There are unscrupulous people who would steal your idea. I have been a victim quite a few times. Reveal everything that you have cooked up when you’re already sure that you’re dealing with the “right” person.

It was also then that I met with Serge Lobo, FPJ resident cameraman and elder brother of Ben who was to become my cameraman for around 80 movies until he died unexpectedly. I felt I've lost not only a friend but a right hand. May his soul now rest in peace. I missed you, Pareng Ben!

And Rudy Meyer who was always carrying the little adopted daughter of Ronnie and Susan. Rudy was later to become a commissioner of PAGCOR during the tenure of Erap as president.

When she arrived from the market, Susan greeted me warmly and made me feel at home although I was very shy to be in the presence of the celebrated couple. While cooking, she discussed with me the concept and asked several questions, including my background as a writer. She was surprised to learn that “Patayin…” would be only my second screenplay. I told her of my experience as a komiks scriptwriter and she seemed not surprised at all.

That night, Fernando Poe, Jr. received an award as Best Actor at the Baguio Film Festival.Serge also received an award for Best Cinematography. The next day, we went back to Manila and I went home to Polo, Bulacan and started writing the sequence treatment for “Patayin…” When I presented the treatment to Celso. He had some comment which I quickly incorporated in the S.T. and which he forwarded to Susan and Ronnie. Days later, I received instructions to proceed with the screenplay proper without any comment from anybody.

We were in pre-production phase of “Patayin…” when “The Return of the Dragon…” was shown at the theaters and proved to be the highest grossing movie for Ramon Zamora. Celso and I went theater-hopping and enjoyed the sight of the SRO crowd in all the movie houses.

Thus, I started my second movie with Celso with newfound confidence.

Working with Susan Roces, Rossana Ortiz, Dante Rivero and Beth Manlongat made me feel at home in movie-making. My dreams of making good in the States further receded into the background. I was enjoying myself in the movies.

Normand Daza was Celso's assistant director for "Pataying..." Many years later, he went back home to the Phiippines from the States to die from kidney ailment. I remember consoling him and encouraging him in his illness early mornings until he finally told me via text messages that he had enough and would like to rest. I continued to send text messages to him but received no answer until I was informed that he had died, leaving his wife and children in the States. Sad...

Again, I watched Celso translated my screenplay into a motion picture. This was when I learned I was hypertensive when a doctor sent to the set by Uncle Nes, an uncle of Susan Roces, and who was an insurance agent, to subject me to medical check-up for possible coverage. Later, Uncle Nes told me that I still could avail of life insurance but under certain condition. That gave me an excuse to beg off. I was really wary of being insured in the first place.

Celso and I became close to each other and there were nights when he would ask me to spend and overnight at his house in Moonwalk subdivision in Paranaque where we would talk about movie projects.

It was during one of those nights when Celso told me of a project he had in mind about a sexy woman who goes around a fishing village wearing thin clothes clinging to her voluptuous body with sea water. Celso already has a title for the project – “Ang Pnakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa.” With the newly crowned Miss Universe Gloria Diaz in the title role. I remember a movie of Charito Solis with almost the same title. He told me to ignore it and insisted on his title for the project.

A movie of Sophia Loren, “Boy on the Dophin,” came to my mind. In the movie, Sophia Loren goes around with wet clothes clinging to her body. Celso liked the idea and I started conceiving on the project.

But another movie assignment came Celso’s way and he asked me to set aside “Pinakamaganda…” for a while and concentrate instead on ”The Brown Gypsy” with Elizabeth Oropesa in the title role.

I remember reading about the mummies in the Mountain Province and broached the idea of basing his project on them. Celso approved it and I came up with a concept for “The Brown Gypsy.”
When “The Brown Gypsy” was ready to shoot, Celso decided to go on location-hunt in the Mountain Province where the mummies were. The producer rented an air-conditioned van and we traveled to the remote corners of the Benguet province with Elizabeth Oropesa and her mother Mrs. Freeman in tow.

It was quite an experience for me to see those centuries-old tattooed mummies and had more ideas for the final screenplay.

We finally ended up in Ifugao were we were billeted in a lodging house. We tried to cross the Chico River to visit a place where they said that the folks were still so primitive that the women go about bare breasted.

Chico River was raging then because of a storm and we failed to cross it.

Before going back to the lodging house, Gener Sulit and I picked up a hand-woven cloth that I had a weaver made, intending to sent it to Ruth in San Rafael, California, for sample in our projected business of selling Philippine handicrafts in the States And there in Ifugao that I almost landed in jail for jay-walking. Imagine! There were hardly any vehicle around and I got tagged for jay-walking. Gener had a good laugh at me. Fortunately, the local cop let me go with a warning that even in the remote Ifugao they have traffic rules that must be followed.

Back at the lodging house, I found Celso in bad mood for our failure to get to that island of half-naked women. At dinner time, we had a bitter misunderstanding that almost ended in violence. Thanks to Gener Sulit and our government adviser, Hadji Urao, nothing untoward happened. But still I decided I had enough of the temperamental Celso.

When we went back to Baguio city we received news that despite a storm raging in Manila, ”Patayin Mo Sa Sindak si Barbara” was a huge success at the box office with movie-goers going to the theaters wading in flood waters. Despite this I decided to immediately proceed back to Manila. But I soon found out that the storm had submerged the Candaba valley, effectively stranding us in the Pines City.

I decided to take a plane back to Manila but Mrs. Freeman was also eager to leave Baguio and found that their available cash was short so I had to lend her fifty pesos and which rendered me unable to buy my own plane ticket. I had to stay a couple of days more in Baguio before we could travel back to the city, passing by Candaba still half submerged in flood water.

Back in Manila, Celso sent word for me to report for work but I refused. He abandoned “The Brown Gypsy” and instead proceeded to shoot “Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop Sa Balat ng Lupa” with a new set of scriptwriters.

Having been connected with two blockbuster movies, I soon found out that there other directors and producers who would have my services.
Thus, I got to work with Danny Zialcita and Pepe Wenceslao as my new directors. Thanks to Celso, the two movies that I made with him made me quite known around and proved to myself that indeed you’re “good” as your last picture. And all these despite the fact I did not get full credit for the screenplays of “The Dragon…” and “Patayin…” This is one thing you should be prepared for when you enter showbiz – there are people who are fond of sharing credits, especially if the movie has potential of being a success at the box-office. All you should do is to do your best in your work. Nobody but nobody can take away that credit from you for being really worth your salt as a screen playwright.

Let’s tackle my experience working with other directors in the next posting. Till then.