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The Heart of the Matter

Titilaok Feb 02,2013 0 Comments

Words by: Rosario “Chats” Santiago

Joey Reyes, a multi-awarded screenwriter and director

From the days of LVN, Sampaguita, and other film studios of that time, romance has been the go-to genre of choice for both moviegoers and producers. Love teams like those of Rogelio Dela Rosa and Carmen Rosales, Luis Gonzales and Gloria Romero, Nestor De Villa and Nida Blanca had such onscreen chemistry that fans swooned over their make-believe courtships and couplings, and made their films regular ‘tabo sa takilya.’ As we were to learn during our one-on-one with multi-awarded director, Jose Javier “Joey” Reyes, that intangible pull which successful pairings can command is one of the most reliable measures for crafting and delivering a romantic flick that kills (at the box office, and in popularity). But with romance not simply a Valentine industry for filmmakers, we ask, what will it take to keep the love alive?

It’s a little past 11am as direk Joey Reyes saunters into his office in the heart of Quezon City, dressed casually in a predominantly black sporty ensemble, wearing his most attractive accessory – a wide, warm, and welcoming smile that instantly puts one at ease. He makes a beeline for his inner office at the end of the larger one, and after a few seconds, comes right back and directs us to a pair of seats in front of a long work table. After explaining that our tête-à-tête was for the Love Month issue of Talk Talk Tilaok, we dive straight into the heart of the matter.

TTT: Why do you think Filipinos are so fond of romance movies and love stories in movies?
JJR: It’s not something which is uniquely Filipino. I think it is something which is very, very universal. I think what makes the Filipino unique is the kind of love stories that they go for. I think this predilection for romance is something which cuts across all cultures. I think all cultures have love stories, and all cultures treasure love stories – specifically popular culture, but Filipinos love a specific kind of love story, and this is usually involving an underdog. It always has to involve an underdog. I think this can be best personified by all the Sarah Geronimo movies that we have right now. I think Star Cinema has made its mint, has made its branding precisely because of romantic comedies, because these are the ones that really sell. Lately during the Metro Manila Film Festival, they made a killing with One More Try, which is again a love story, which again involves an underdog. But on the usual fare, every year, usually naman ang drama nila is on comedies. The ratio of romantic comedies over dramatic romances would be let’s say, three or four is to one. We love an underdog, specifically a female underdog.

TTT: You mentioned that the ratio seems to be that there are three to four romantic comedies as opposed to tearjerkers. Is there any other kind of romantic story or love story that maybe hasn’t been tapped too much that you would like to see more on the big screen?
JJR: Well, to begin with, the ratio of three is to one is understandable because every day on TV, you get drama. You get telenovelas. So, when you go to the big screen, you want something different because there are no more comedies on television. I think that this is very well attested that the people, who can still afford to watch movies, want to be simply entertained. For them, it is not a significant human experience to go watch a movie. They pay 150-200 bucks per ticket in order to be entertained. As far as movie-going is concerned – and I’m speaking about the Philippines – sad to say, there is nothing intellectual about it. I made a blog about this before, saying that it is wrong to say that it is the masa who has de-intellectualized movies. It’s actually the middle class. It is actually the middle class, because we are the ones who are able to afford movies. Is there anything else that we can do? There are a lot, but it will not sell. It will not sell mainly because even our alleged intelligentsia will not buy it anymore. They go watch a movie in order to escape and to feel good. And in order to feel good, they equate it with something which is relatively common, done to death, and inane. We don’t want to try anything new because we don’t want to risk the 200 pesos that we are paying, for a dud. So we have more of the same all the time. But are there other forms? Oh yeah, ang dami. Ang dami-daming klaseng love stories which can still be done, but I do not think the major studios namely right now, Star and Viva, would dare risk at it, di ba? And again, I would revert back to what has transpired in the recent Metro Manila Film Fest that what we have is basically more of the same. You give them something new like Thy Womb and they’re not gonna watch it. And we knew from the start, Thy Womb will not make it, because of a foreign audience. So that’s the sad reality of it, and that is why – I’m speaking for myself – I have relatively stepped back. I don’t wanna do movies muna because it’s just going to be more of the same. Right now, one of the most talked about and most touted films of the year is Amour, it’s about two old people, of which the woman is suffering from Alzheimer; beautiful love story, but here, who’d watch it?

Bwakaw, which is a beautiful work of Jun Lana, was such a hit in Cinemalaya, but was such a flop on its commercial run. See? It just goes to show. Bwakaw was highly praised all over the world, wherever it was shown, but it is sad that the Filipino would be the last to appreciate it. You know, there’s nothing wrong with a love story. I would love to do a love story which would cut, you know, which would be appreciated worldwide, and the Filipino’s capable of that, but we’re just so stuck with doing more of the same.

TTT: Among your own personal works of romance and love on the big screen, do you have any favorites and why?
JJR: I started this whole thing with May Minamahal. Remember in May Minamahal, which is what – 1993, I hit on something, which is relatively new, and it started the whole rom-com thingie, hindi ba? And then lately, I went back to it with Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo and Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo. But that was just tweaking what I’ve already done in 1993, which is why it’s really disheartening that I should be expected to do something that I have been doing since 1993, hindi ba? I mean, it is no longer fulfilling. I was watching an episode of “Actor’s Studio,” which Alec Baldwin was in. You just don’t question every work that comes along the way. A plumber doesn’t enter a kitchen and then asks why he has to change a pipe. You just do it to earn money. And there are certain things that you do just for the sake of money. But when you reach my age and having done what, 66 movies, you just need something a little bit more, hindi ba? You need a little bit more. It’s not a question of just having a career, but giving meaning to that career. And right now, I think my favorites are the benchmarks which I have done along the way, which is May Minamahal, then the most recent one is Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo, and in between there is Live Show. In other words, I’ve dropped all these bombs along the way, which suggests a certain degree of variety, but I really, really love to do movies on human relationships. My most recent one, which is not a love story – well it is a love story about friendship – which is ang Mga Mumunting Lihim, was something which people did not expect me to do, because I know that that sort of material will not make it to the mainstream. You’re not gonna have Judy Ann Santos as a scheming kontrabida, right? But it is something which challenged all of us, and things like that do not exist anymore in commercial filmmaking.

TTT: Do you think that the Filipinos will ever tire of romance?
JJR: No, they won’t. Telenovelas and romantic movies are the national anesthesia. It makes life really bearable. When you invest 150-200 bucks for a ticket, you want to be anesthetized for two hours to escape reality.

TTT: So it’s really escapism?
JJR: Oh yeah! If you watch this documentary done by CinemaOne, ung Indie, Indie, Paano Ka Ginawa?, Olive Lamasan, who is the creative head of Star Cinema, mapped out their entire formula – ung how many hundreds of millions they will make – by just watching the movie and then measuring the amount of kilig it can create. So you know that movies are manufactured.

TTT: Is there really a formula?
JJR: There’s really a formula, a science to it. Now, how long it will last? God knows, because there IS a saturation point. And in the same manner that Star Cinema has branded itself as such, I mean, there will come a point in time in which there will be something new that will emerge. In the same manner that LVN, Sampaguita, Tagalog Ilang-Ilang, Lea, [and] Regal, Star Cinema will eventually have its own cycle. When that will happen? God knows, because the equations are different right now. What is really so different right now is that ABS-CBN and GMA are not merely TV networks. They’re multimedia corporations which literally control and brainwash popular culture. So in a country devoid of equity law, in a country which does not control media ownership, you can really precondition. Kaya makikita mo eh – the major studios have TV networks. You get two levels of reinforcement: daily and nightly from television, and as well as the big events like the Metro Manila Film Fest.

TTT: Apart from the formula that seems to sell – the romantic comedy – personally, what for you makes a good love story?
JJR: It has to be something new. There are so many angles to love, eh. There are so many angles to love because of so many factors that you put into the pot. Right now, I am writing – that’s the funny part – I’m writing two movies: one, I am writing for Star Cinema, and another I’m writing for an independent producer. And they’re two different things apart. You know, when you write for Star Cinema, you know what you’re going to do, or what you’re up against. But with the independent producer, I was fed a really, really, really different premise of a love story, which is a challenge to work on. It is a challenge to work in Star Cinema because it’s now a challenge to work within a formula, a beaten formula to try to make it look new, in the same manner that it is a challenge also to work on something which is so completely different.

TTT: So they’re both love stories but poles apart?
JJR: Yes. it’s very interesting in the same manner that I have an FDCP – the Film Development is doing the Master’s Festival and I wanna open my options as to what film I’m going to do for the Master’s Festival. I have a story in mind which I wanted to do, but then since I could not get the lead actor I wanted, I tweeted. Sabi ko, I’m looking for a new writer and I want a youth movie, but I don’t want a Sunday afternoon TV show. I want a cutting edge youth movie. And I was getting tweets from people who read it, because I wanna work with a young, new writer about it, and I said I want a love story which is so completely different and it’s not, you know… I don’t like the hampasan ng balon. I don’t like that sort of thing. That’s the challenge.

TTT: Is there an opening, a window for more innovative things in the indie scene?
JJR: Ah oo naman! In the indie scene there is, but it has a very limited audience. I think Brillante Mendoza spoke about it very well in saying that yeah, you have capacity crowds in the Cultural Center and in certain movie houses during Cinemalaya, but that is it. That’s it. Anything beyond that does not exist anymore. In other words, you can pack CCP for nine days or ten days for Cinemalaya, and certain movie houses with special screenings of Cinemalaya, and you know that that is the indie audience. But then, the only successful indie movie which was shown outside Cinemalaya was Babae sa Septic Tank. But it would still not compare to the kind of grosses that Praybet Benjamin and Sisterakas would earn. So, that is it. I’ve made a very clear distinction about it. There are such things as films, and there are such things as movies. Movies would be something like dirty ice cream, or the kind of ice cream you buy from the supermarket. Films are really high end gelatos. Movies are hamburgers. Films are really gourmet steaks. It makes a world of difference. It takes a certain degree of appetite to appreciate something as fine and as refined, and from something which is common, accessible, available, and therefore extremely sellable.

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