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7 Award-Winning Indie Directors Get Real About Gaining Success Off Cam

The truth is, you won't find it with the first take
by Justine Punzalan | Oct 10, 2018
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The Philippine film industry is evolving, thanks to the rise of movies with complex scripts and impressive cinematography. Through game-changing directors like Erik MattiJerrold Tarog, and Dan Villegas, the Filipino audience is gradually getting a taste of what our homegrown talents are capable of creating.

This progression is also caused by the constant increase in Filipino indie films produced yearly. For 2018, a total of 321 titles were submitted to Cinemalaya, QCinema, and Cinema Rehiyon film festivals alone. It can be regarded as remarkable, considering that producing these art films is no easy task—especially for directors.

FHM focuses the spotlight on seven award-winning indie directors who, despite the challenges, still keep their cameras rolling. Learn tips on how to survive life on set and see how one’s passion has the power to uplift a nation.

Alvin Yapan, 41

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Total of nine wins, including his latest, 2016 World Premieres Film Festival Best Picture for EDSA

What was the first big break of your career?

My first short film, Rolyo (2007) won Best Short Film in Cinemalaya and Gawad Urian for that year. Thanks to my family and friends, I was able to pull it off despite having a minimal budget.

Can you tell us more about your film Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe, which won the Golden Award for Digital Film at the Cairo International Film Festival?

I was given this opportunity as a grant from the Cinemalaya Foundation. Having no formal education in filmmaking, I took it as a crash course in filmmaking. I had to learn the ropes of cinematography, sound engineering, production design, and editing while I was co-producing, writing and directing the film. I realized that filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. And if you don’t give it your all, you won’t survive. Also, story is always the key to a good film.

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How did each local and international win (8) and nomination (28) help you as a director?

My motto is to be your best self with every film you make. My past films would always challenge me to do better on the next.

How do you cope with the challenges that Pinoy indie directors usually go through?

Survival is always the challenge for independent directors. We are often bugged by the question, “Where will I get funds?” But I think that there’s also beauty in it. Once you lose this struggle, you also lose your vision as a director. So, how do I cope with it? I embrace it. As long as there’s a producer willing to risk their money on me, I will continue making films.

Cite three traits aspiring directors should have in order to sustain a career in this field.

Perseverance because nothing happens overnight. Guts because filmmaking is art before it is business. And in art, one should have the guts to explore the untried, the new, and the unpopular. Last but not least, love. You should really love film if you want to turn it into a career.

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Thop Nazareno, 32

Kiko Boksingero, 2018 YCC Award Best First Feature & 2018 Urduja Film Festival Movie of the Year

Can you describe the filmmaking process for Kiko Boksingero?

It was a struggle because I lacked funds and I almost gave up. But I knew I had to move forward. I went on by asking for help from family and friends. I chose to team up with people who were easy to work with. I learned that the key is to keep on believing in yourself, your material, and your vision.

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How do you cope with the challenges that Pinoy indie directors usually go through?

Funding and distribution are constant challenges for us. It’s hard to find resources and where to screen our films because there’s this notion that independent films are niche. I cope with it by finding other means in having it aired. Like for Kiko, we will also show it in schools.

What does alternative cinema contribute to the country?

It provides us with a better identity in this world, just like what happened when Kiko was shown in the Cleveland International Film Festival. The audience was surprised by how well we could craft a film. They were also amazed by the beauty of the film’s setting, which is Baguio. It made them want to visit our country.

What do you love most about your job?

I have the power to inspire people, even the ones far beyond my reach. It’s fulfilling to have my ideas turned into films—films that have our audience leaving the cinema with added value for life.

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Any career advice for those who want to pursue filmmaking?

Start off only if you have a solid reason to. If it’s fame and money that you’re after, then I suggest you take another path. Filmmaking is not glamorous and never easy. It’s a long learning process. And only an enduring passion could keep you running until the end.

Joseph Abello, 27

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What Home Feels LikeTOFARM Film Festival 2017 Best Director, Best Story, and Best Screenplay

How was creating What Homes Feels Like like?

We were in Bicol for 11 days, shooting almost every day. I thought it was impossible to finish it, but with a superb cast and crew, we managed to. I got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder afterward, though. There were times I’d wake up in the middle of sleep, shouting “cut!”

What is your CinemaOne Originals Film Festival entry this year Double Twisting Double Back about?

It gives us an inside look at the world of adult male gymnastics in the Philippines through the eyes of a messed up character. It will be in cinemas from October 14 to 23. And the film was adapted into a novel, which can be purchased in select bookstores.

Which of your films do you like best and why?

Double is the one that gave me a roller coaster ride. Sometimes there’s more drama on set than on the script!

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How do you cope with the challenges that Pinoy indie directors usually go through?

One, when we write a script, there’s no assurance that it will be turned into a film. Most indie directors just take the gamble of writing something, hoping a festival or producer will pick it up. Another challenge is the budget. For Home and Double, I never got paid. I know how tight our budgets are, that I chose to exchange my talent fee for something that would improve the film. I cope with all these by just trusting the process. I know that hard work always pays off.

What does alternative cinema contribute to the country?

Alternative films are really important. The works of Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza are lauded abroad and give us Filipinos something to be proud of. We can improve this industry by growing as an audience and with filmmakers pushing the boundaries of storytelling. On top of all these, though, I think change can truly start when Filipinos start to support and watch more local films.

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Any career advice for those who want to pursue filmmaking?

Start with writing. Master storytelling. Impress people with your script. Only then will producers have the confidence in giving you a directorial job.

Carlo Catu, 24

Three wins, including Balanghai Trophy 2018 Best Film for Kung Paano Hinintay Ang Dapithapon

Your film Ari: My Life with a King won awards from Gawad Urian and four film fests abroad when you were just 22. How was the experience?

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Overwhelming. Suddenly, everyone is proud of me. But at the end of the day, it taught me that winning awards is a fleeting experience. What really matters is that you enjoy what you do and you stay kind, honest, humble and hardworking.

Were you able to apply these lessons to Kung Paano Hinintay Ang Dapithapon?

Yes, since it is a film about love, kindness, and learning how to appreciate life. I learned that things are always a matter of perspective. Like what our film says, we should learn how to keep calm, listen, love and appreciate the things we have.

Cite three traits aspiring directors should have in order to sustain a career in this field.

This I learned from my life mentor, Michelle Aguilar-Ong: honesty, humility, and hard work. You must never forget these 3 H’s because beauty and talent may get you to your dreams, but only the right attitude would keep you there.

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Hubert Tibi, 42

1957TOFARM Film Festival 2018 Best Story, 2nd Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor; Parang Pelikula, Balanghai Trophy 2006 Best Screenplay

What lessons did you learn from making 1957?

It takes time to master the craft. We were just given two and a half months to finish the film, so it trained me to decide fast and stay focused on the project. It also taught me to be open enough to listen to other directors.

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If you were to bust a myth about Philippine indie films, what would it be?

Indie films daw are badly recorded, pa-deep, and low budget. This has just been an excuse for some. For me, indie films should be created well, especially since directors and writers are given freedom in creating them. And this is also one of the reasons why I want to produce films that are good in terms of story and production.

Any career advice for those who want to pursue filmmaking?

Mind the details. If something’s wrong, no matter how small, fix it right away. Delete anything that can make your project look bad. There’s always time to reset what you feel doesn’t work. Create a unique style that can help you tell your story clearly. Be nice to people, too. They’re the ones who will lead you to your break in the industry.

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Aedrian Araojo, 25

Hondo, 2016 QCShorts Competition Best Picture

Which of your works do you like best and why?

My favorite is my short film, Si El Curiodad Mata con el Gato (When Curiosity Killed the Cat). The film’s message is just simple: practice what you preach. I like it because it really reflected my voice and style as a filmmaker. As for Hondo, I learned that creating films is fun and liberating, but you also need to be responsible for the message you convey to your audience.

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What does alternative cinema contribute to the country?

Philippine Alternative Cinema stands as a strong medium in building our society. It provides the Filipino people a clearer view of what kind of lives we are living. We can further improve it by using films to propagate positivity and uplift our nation.

Any career advice for all those who want to pursue filmmaking?

Be a dreamer. Be confident, but always open to new things. If you really want to pursue filmmaking, do it and give it your all.

Brian Spencer Reyes, 23

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SLN2018 Cinemalaya Best Vertical Short; Anong Nangyari Kay Nicanor Dante?2017 Metro Manila Film Festival Best Short Film

Which of your works do you like best and why?

I would always choose my very first film: Juli. It was, to be honest, embarrassing. It was just laughable—the acting, cinematography, and editing. Still, I am proud of it because it got me interested in filmmaking. It is a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve still got to go.

How do you cope with the challenges that Pinoy indie directors usually go through?

Besides finding enough funds, the director should be in good terms with the producer starting Day 1. The producer literally produces the film and the needs to make it. Another challenge is the distribution. There’s always this big question of where to show your film. Cinema-owners are businessmen and as in every industry, decisions are made based on whatever would generate more income.

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What makes all the hardships worth it?

The audience. There’s always an audience for something. There is always someone willing to hear your story.

Cite three traits aspiring directors should have in order to sustain a career in this field.

Hunger, compassion, and open-mindedness. You have to have that hunger to succeed. Compassion because the industry is a small world. A tiny act of kindness can go a long way. Lastly, you have to be open-minded because you will need investors who will expect a return on investment. Compromise isn’t a bad thing if it means getting your film made.

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