Conversations with a Film Director

When my friend told me he knew the director of #Y, the Cinemalaya film I watched and found controversial, he offered to introduce me to the director, Gino Santos so I can interview him for my blog. Of course I said yes but I didn’t really expect actually meeting him. When my friend told me that Gino agreed, I was pleasantly surprised but still remained skeptical that we could actually set a schedule to meet. I texted Gino, not really expecting a reply but was yet again pleasantly surprised when he replied and warmly at that. When Gino and I finally met, I was beyond ecstatic for how many times do you actually meet a director – and a cute one at that?

And so, on a workday, I took a leave of absence and travelled to the posh South aka Alabang to meet Gino Santos, the young director of two controversial, Gen Y films – The Animals and #Y.

My first impression when I saw him, all alone sitting in Bizu was – “omg! He’s cute!” And yet, I can’t shake the disturbed feeling I had ever since I saw his film which claimed to portray the issues of today’s youth. Being part of the generation he portrays in his films, I was at a loss whether I do agree with him on his views or not. At one point, I viewed him as this conyo and privileged kid who knew nothing better than the issues surrounding his kind – and not really the greater whole of today’s Gen Y.

And yet, as blinded and naïve as I was with the film (as what my personal catharsis series revealed), I was just as naïve with my initial impression of Gino. During our conversation, I saw him as being more in touch with the reality of Gen Y than I ever will be. I saw him having this profound understanding of the deep issues surrounding today’s youth.

I will not write an entry with a Q&A format of how our conversation transpired. It was not my intention to write a typical interview article just as our meeting was not your typical interview session. I went to the meeting not expecting anything yet I went away having gained a lot. I gained a sense of perspective about the issues plaguing my generation; I gained the courage to be honest about my own issues and how I have managed to deal with them; I gained knowledge on the world of filmmaking – something my diverse mind relished; and I gained a new acquaintance – someone nice, humble and clearly on his way to greatness.

A New Perspective

The very first question I asked Gino after I apologized for being dramatically late (I “lost” my way going to Alabang), was if what he portrayed was really the reality of today’s youth. Essentially, I was asking him if Gen Y can really be characterized by suicidal tendencies, rowdy parties, carefree sexual conquests and a generally I-don’t-give-a-damn kind of life. I asked him for the inspiration to his film. 

Apparently, where he studied (U-belt area), jumping off a building was a common scene. I guess if being brutalized by frats during hazing was commonplace in UP, committing suicide was commonplace in DLSU-area. He pointed out that those who committed suicide – you can’t really imagine they would do it or know the reason behind. They just did it. Gino also shared that personally he was fascinated by the people who died during their birthdays and thought it would be a good touch to the story. 

Being part of the privilege crowd, he portrayed the reality he saw everyday – of rich kids who were sons and daughters of who’s who and who apparently had their whole life in place but are actually empty inside. It’s even worse for them because any scandalous act they do, such as jumping off buildings, are hushed in the news all for the sake of family reputation. 

Whenever I hear of an indie film, I immediately think that it tackles issues of the marginalized and underprivileged sector of society. I never imagined that an indie film would actually feature the rich kids and their issues. I mean, aren’t their issues a bit to shallow for the most of us who have to toil more through life? Imagine, the character Lia was having issues in wearing Forever 21 dresses all the time and not being able to wear Chanel, Prada and whatever designer dresses that her friend has. Clearly, a wtf moment right? 

But speaking to this obviously rich, but humble, director, I saw that, “hey, why not really show a story about them? They are humans too, after all.” In fact, Gino said that by examining the lives of these people you can have a pretty good idea of what the future leadership of our country will be. Let’s face it, these well-endowed kids are the sons and daughters of politicians and many other wealthy and powerful families in the country. Clearly, they are the successors of their parents and seeing as how their parents virtually run the country, then someday, they will be the ones running our country. 

We like to think that in the spirit of democracy it’s the masses who run the country but in reality, it’s the few elite and powerful who does. And the kids featured in #Y – those are the issues of our country’s future elite and powerful.

Gino boldly decided to break stereotypes and create a glossy film about rich kids – a far cry from other contemporaries. As he said in a magazine interview, he longs for the day when films would cease to be labelled as indie or mainstream and hence stereotypes would be broken. 

All in all, I saw that rich kids do have their issues as well. And though seemingly shallow to most of us, once you get past that, you see that their issues are actually issues we all face. Issues on self-awareness, acceptance to society, peer pressure, depression, and a sense of self-worth are universal issues encountered by Gen Y regardless of social status.

The Courage To Be Bold

Leading a generally positive life, I never knew that there are issues lurking deep within my soul. Watching #Y made me in touch with these issues and allowed me to finally face them head on by writing about them. Hence, my personal catharsis series. This is where I expounded on the issues I’ve identified in the film where I related the most. It’s also where I’ve narrated how I managed to deal with such issues in the hopes that others might derive comfort that they are not alone in their struggles and that there is hope. Suicide is not the answer no matter how tempting it may be.

The Film Making Process

Apart from discussing his film, I also ventured forth to ask about the technicalities of making a film. I have always been fascinated by films. I find it amazing how the different shot angles all come together to tell a story that moves people. One of the great perks I love about being a marketer is being involved in TVCs; although not film, it is the closest I can get.

And so, meeting a film director, I asked him how the film process went. I asked about the reality of the film making industry and how easy or hard it is to be in one. He was very kind and patient to explain the process to me. To state that it all begins with a story and that you eventually bring that story to life with a great writer. A film director’s best friend is a great screen writer. Good thing Gino has found that in Jeff Stelton. Together, they are able to create films that touch lives. 

Casting is also important. Gino already has an image in his mind of how the actor should be like and when he finds that person, usually, after several conversations with him or her, he casts the person. Of course, he still asks them to read for the role yet most of the time the stage is set. He also said that so long as you cast beautiful people, you can’t go wrong. 

For #Y, he cast all beautiful people to begin with and so he knew that their ensemble would work. And he was right for the cast won a Special Citation for Best Ensemble. Of course, there’s the occasional really beautiful person who can’t really act and when that happens, it’s just time to let go. 

A note on casting: He wants that person to be a professional at all times. It’s a headache working with primadonnas who always wants their best angle to show on screen. That’s why when you get beautiful people, even if you make them ugly and let them just naturally carry on with ugly facial expressions, they will still end of naturally beautiful. 

Another major factor in making a film is budget. Since making a full length film is no joke, they usually have to seek for producers who will help them finance the film. Merely relying on grants is not enough since they are usually way below the actual budget you need to produce a decent film.  It’s a sad thing when you have a great story and yet there’s no one who wants to produce it for you. 

And yet film making is Gino’s passion. Coming from a family of businessmen, he’s glad that his parents allowed him to pursue his passion and in fact wholeheartedly support him in doing so. His mom even watches all Cinemalaya entries just to see what he’s up against. (Do directors also have backstage moms?)

I also learned that a full length film, even one as simple as #Y, takes almost a year to complete. From the time a story is hatched in the director’s brain to the time a writer writes the screenplay to the point where actors and actresses are casts – you can expect almost half a year to get this done. Shooting a film in itself can be as quick as a week – if you shoot non-stop for almost 24/7! – and the editing bit can be done in a month’s time. It is really the pre-shoot that takes considerable time.

And then there is the angst of every film maker – when the film he worked on for months on end suddenly ends up in Pirate Bay. I’m guilty of downloading films – I confess to that but I also recognize the plight of young film makers who stand to gain close to nothing from films they shed blood and sweat to create. And so in respect, I won’t stoop to as low as patronizing piracy of their works.

So it was clearly a shock when Cinemalaya films were uploaded to YouTube and part of these was GIno’s The Animals. It was Cinemalaya who uploaded the films but they later claimed it was an unauthorized upload by one of their staffs. Gino was enraged that just when he was about to gain the rights to distribute his film, such a thing as this happened. Indie film makers create film for the art of film making, not for the money they can glean from it. Yet it wouldn’t hurt if they can earn something from their hard work right? So putting up the film in a public domain where anyone could easily download it was just tactless and anyone who downloaded it – and God forbid distributed it for profit (or even for free) – should be stoned to death! Just kidding. I sure hope that if anyone is guilty of the aforementioned crime, their conscience speak to them and they show some respect to the aggrieved film makers. 

A New Acquaintance

Friends would be too big a word. Though I would love to have a friend who’s a director, I think that’s being too presumptuous. Acquaintance would be a better term for we do have a common friend and he is indeed friendly. 

Though not normally part of my bucket list, I would write it down none the less in my 100 Things To Do Before I Die. As I told myself when I was debating if I should skip work and travel all the way to Alabang to meet this guy: How many times am I going to meet a director? Answer is – probably several other times given my line of work. But then to meet a young, budding director with such a deep insight on the issues of his generation? Probably, never. So I grabbed the chance, braved the odds and was glad I did. 

Gino was far from who I expected him to be. Sitting in Bizu, enjoying a cup of tea and dressed casually, he is a picture of a young carefree guy seemingly innocent to the realities of this world. Yet talking to him, you can see how well he has observed life as it happens around him and others and how he has this passion to tell their stories. 

When asked if his future films would be similar to The Animals and #Y, he answers that probably he’ll grow up with his films. Beginning with a film centered on high school students to that centered on college kids, he’d probably do one next featuring yuppies. Still he wishes to explore horror films and has managed to tick off making a romcom film. He doesn’t want to be the type you can nail to a specific genre. 

Well, whatever film he decides to do next, be it for the next Cinemalaya festival or not, we can expect it will be one done with passion. For he is a guy who learns from his mistakes (he devoted considerable resources making sure the technical errors of The Animals are non-existent in #Y) and seeks perfection and excellence in his craft.

Indeed, I am proud to have met such a down-to-earth, full of potential and budding director. Should our paths cross again in the future, I would be honored.

I know. I should have taken solo shots of him but it didn't cross my mind until it was too late.
I know. I should have taken solo shots of him but it didn’t cross my mind until it was too late.

Author: elleica

Jesus Lover. Writer. Blogger. Biologist turned marketer. Child of Learning. Thrill Seeker. I long for my next adventure.

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