The director of The Third Party, the newest Star Cinema offering starring Angel Locsin, Sam Milby, and Zanjoe Marudo, has agreed to do a sit-down with yours truly to talk about filmmaking in the Philippines.
The cynicism in Jason Paul Laxamana’s films, scathing as they may, are far too doting and charismatic to not command attention. His film Mercury Is Mine, released just a few months ago at the 2016 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, is a relentless whirl of crazy, whipping quite an aerated, almost always humorous view at a post-colonial Philippines. His films prior pre-Mercury—Magkakabaung, a drama that pivots around a father whose daughter fatally takes a wrong medicine for fever; and Babagwa, a blackly humorous look at the world of cybercrime—touch on serious subjects, to be sure, but are always peppered with circumstance that pendulums from hilarious to tragic and then back.
Laxamana also creates films under the banners of studio film outfits, the latest being a romantic dramedy about former lovers who reacquaint in a most awkward fashion: Andi is clearly hung up on her ex, Max, whom she later discovers is cooping up with a dashing pediatric oncologist named Christian. The characters are portrayed by Angel Locsin, Sam Milby, and Zanjoe Marudo, respectively. Take a look at the trailer:
It’s an unusual premise, to be sure, at least for Star Cinema, who is in a unique position to get it right this time, and, for once, represent gay culture not as the cartoonishly flamboyant, macho-thirsty, tiptoeing goofs that studios have passed off as an accurate representation. I figured it is a great time to do a sit-down with Jason, take advantage of the opportunity to also talk about filmmaking in the Philippines.
Quick aside: This interview is edited for clarity and flow.
Hey, Jason. Thanks so much for doing this interview with me.
Hey. Thanks for having me.
Okay. Let me just jump into it. A great sample of our readers are aspiring filmmakers; I’m certain what we’ll come up on this post will be of great value to them. First off, would you care to share us how you started in the industry?
My course in U.P. Diliman was Broadcast Communication, so I got interested in mass communication in general, especially video production. At some point, I went AWOL to seek practical wisdom, so I emailed various directors, describing my situation and asking if I could come observe or work on their sets.
The two who responded were directors Jeffrey Jeturian and Maryo J. Delos Reyes. Direk Jeff invited me over his MMK set, where I served as a P.A. Direk Maryo, who’s an alumnus of my org in UP, summoned me into his office and offered me assistant jobs in his events. Eventually, when he was offered to do A Love Story for Star Cinema, he let me tag along as a script continuity supervisor.
At some point, I decided to write my own scripts and make my own films (shorts). I submitted to different film competitions including Cinemalaya but was always a failure. I kept trying and trying until in 2010, I became a finalist at Cinema One Originals Film Festival with my entry Astro Mayabang, my first feature.
And now you’ve finished a film top billed by three big names. How was it working with them?
Aside from it being business as usual, it was pretty light and fun. I was starstruck at first; Angel, Sam, and Zanjoe were personalities I just saw on TV back when I was younger. I used to be an avid viewer of the television click “Click”, where Angel was part of the cast. I was just in high school then. And, of course, “Mulawin“.
The Third Party is a bit unorthodox for Star Cinema. It’s the first studio film since Olivia Lamasan’s In Your Eyes (2009) to eschew physical stereotypes of gay men. Is this a mere eccentric choice for Star or do you think it’s establishing a new trajectory for the film outfit?
I think Star Cinema acknowledges the fact that Filipino audiences are evolving quickly. Content—a lot of them, stories—is more available than ever, thanks to the Internet. If Star Cinema is unable to stand out from this flood of content, its market shrinks. So while it continues to retain its formula for box office success for most of its projects, it sort of experiments on edgier themes and explores relatively alternative stories to develop and widen its market.
Having worked on both studio and independent productions, what makes one a better working environment for the filmmaker than the other? Can you help us understand the distinctions between the processes of a micro-budget indie and a bigger studio film? Maybe one can learn from the other.
I like the creative freedom a filmmaker enjoys in independent productions, but I am getting exhausted by their lack of resources and convenience. In studio productions, it’s challenging to find artistic inspiration when there are a lot of corporate people who intervene with your vision; at the end of the day, you are pushed to see yourself as an employee of a corporation instead of as an artist—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about adjusting expectations.
I’m amused with how studio productions value the reception of the majority of the audience, which I think indie filmmakers can learn from in order to widen their reach. Of course, it’s more convenient in studio productions because there’s usually a bigger budget that allows the filmmaker to have better equipment, more personnel and more days for principal photography. These perks allow the filmmaker to realize his vision more.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on labor hours in the Philippines. This has, of course, been brought to everyone’s attention after Francis Pasion’s untimely death. Have you, personally, seen any improvement at all with how things are ran?
Productions are trying, especially some televisions shows on ABS-CBN, but it’s still not strictly enforced. When deadlines are approaching, shoots revert to the “pa-morningan” culture, and no one would dare protest out of fear of losing employment or being perceived uncooperative. Until there are strict implementation and enforcement from either the government or the corporation itself, I don’t think the labor hour limit will be religiously practiced. DOLE issued a directive, but who’s monitoring? Who’s enforcing the rule? What’s the process in case there are violations?
I’m right there with you, man. What else do you think filmmakers, film production outfits, and institutions can do to make this better for everybody?
A total overhaul of the process of filmmaking. Fewer labor hours per day—but with the same budget—will result in more basic output. Hence, production outfits will need to double their budgets to produce the same quality of work as in the time when there was no working hour limit. Grant-giving film festivals will either have to increase their grants or lessen their expectations on the grandness of the filmmakers’ output. Fewer labor hours per day could also mean that production will take more time than usual, so production calendars need to be adjusted as well. It’s really a total overhaul. And honestly, I’m skeptical the change would come from the industry because it’s so used to the habit, so I’m relying on the government to require the change, complete with penalties and all.
Apart from your busy work as a film director, you also help a regional filmmaking guild called Kacimov, which I think helps a good deal, especially after meeting some of the filmmakers who are a part of the group like Petersen Vargas and Carlo Catu. Would you like to share a few words to those who are thinking of starting their own regional filmmaking group?
Support instead of use one another. Competition is fine as long it’s healthy and built on the desire to develop their respective region’s cinema. I’ll talk about this more on October 20 in one of QCinema International Film Festival’s forums.
We’re going to look out for that, of course. Now, you’ve been at this for years now. I’d love to know: if someone asks you for filmmaking advice, what, drawing out from your own experience as a filmmaker, would you tell him/her.
Film is a medium of communication. Be a good communicator if you want people to pay attention to you. Because without an audience, a film is just light projected on a screen.
Warmest thanks to Jason who squeezed us in his schedule to answer our questions. His new film, The Third Party, is out (no pun intended! *wink) October 12, in cinemas nationwide. Follow Jason on Twitter @jplaxamana.