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Jerrold Tarog and Dwein Baltazar reveal their honest thoughts on Philippine cinema

Jerrold Tarog and Dwein Baltazar reveal their honest thoughts on Philippine cinema
Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos for Scout x Globe

Philippine cinema has recently celebrated its 100th birthday. A lot has come and gone, but formula based films and passe themes have endured. This has inspired young moviegoers to gravitate towards stories that are unfamiliar. We have filmmakers like Dwein Baltazar and Jerrold Tarog to thank for that. FAMAS 2019 Best Director Dwein Baltazar, with award-winning films “Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus,” “Oda sa Wala” and more, has proven her brilliant grasp with unconventional storytelling about overlooked circumstances. On the other hand, Gawad Urian 2016 Best Director Jerrold Tarog has made the cinema our history classroom (and more), with films like “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.” 

In this conversation, Dwein and Jerrold talk about Philippine cinema’s evolution, tropes, and trying for the Oscars. Scout moderates this discussion as they ask questions to each other. Aside from that, the two filmmakers take a stand—for creative progress and the rights of storytellers who just want to move forward like them.

Can you tell us about yourselves and a little bit of your background in the film industry?

Dwein: Go Jerrold!
Jerrold: Cheers muna.
Dwein: Grabe, ngayon ko lang naaalala ‘yung prompt. So [I’m] making my questions only now or as we go along. Nakakaloka. (laughs)
Jerrold: Okay, background… I started as film composer in 2002? Then did my first full length in 2007, which was “Confessional.” Then afterwards, pahirap nang pahirap ‘yung mga pelikula. I don’t know why.
Dwein:  I started in the industry as a stylist for both film and TV. Tapos, 3 years ng pagiging stylist I needed to remind myself ba’t nga ba ko nando’n. So, bumalik ako sa pagsusulat at nagpasa sa mga grant giving. Ganu’n.

On Philippine cinema’s evolution

We’re already celebrating the 100th year of Philippine cinema. Given what we’re doing right now—the movies we make, the stories people pay to see—are we evolving? Or are we not? Are we making any progress, or do you think something is stopping us?

Jerrold: Susmaryosep.
Dwein: Grabe, thesis. Teka. (laughs)

Read more: Understanding Filipino youth culture through regional cinema

Dwein: Parang pakiramdam ko as storytellers/filmmakers, we are evolving. Ang tanong, kasama or kasabay ba natin/namin ang audience?
Jerrold: I think that is always a concern, kahit anong era. Because we’re “content providers” so mas ahead tayo, in the sense that we’re more aware of what’s out there and maybe we have a sense of where we’re going. Or where we want to go. But yes, the question is kung sasabay din ba ang audience. Medyo push and pull.
Dwein: True naman ito. I think, personally, wishful thinking ko siya. ‘Yung sana makasabay ang audience. At paano nga ba natin sila tutulungan “makasabay,” something like that. Para mas maging open sila sa bago, etc. etc.
Jerrold: The really smart ones will just be slightly ahead of the curve without being completely avant garde. Then it’s all a matter of timing and luck when it comes to releasing the film. But it will always be trial and error. If we’re talking about “new” stuff that will succeed. Tapos ‘pag nag-succeed, perahan time—sequels, similarly themed films. Tapos na ba ang “hugot” era, Dwein?


On the “hugot” era

Dwein: Jerrold, ang tagal ko nang tanong kung kailan ‘yan matatapos. (laughs) I thought it was gonna shift—I was hoping after “Ulan.” Baka naman. Pero ang tilt parang pa-genre ngayon.
Jerrold: (laughs) I made an observation ‘nung lumabas ang “[That Thing Called] Tadhana.” (Hi Tonette [Jadaone]!). That it’s going to be romcom 2.0. Ayun. So panahon na for romcom 3.0.
Dwein: Iba ‘yung ginawa ni Tonette talaga! Grabe siya. Nag-set siya ng something! Movement! Naks. Eh ano ang romcom 3.0, Jerrold?
Jerrold: ‘Di ko alam. Laos na rin ‘yung mga kabit kabit eh. (laughs) Although may nagsabi once na “Sana Dati” was pre-”hugot” “hugot” film. ‘Di ako nakisabay. Bwiset.
Dwein: Ahead of its time ka pala eh. (laughs)
Jerrold: Also, how do we define progress anyway, Jelou? Pahirapan muna kita.
Dwein: (laughs)


On their criteria of a “successful” film

Well (laughs), du’n din po papasok ‘yung susunod na question ko. What makes a “successful” film for you

Jerrold: Daya. Dwein, para sa ‘yo daw yan.

Adding to what I said, there are films deemed successful because it gets a full house. Meanwhile they are said to be successful because they tried something new, even though they didn’t get a lot of viewers

Dwein: Ang hirap nito. (laughs)
Jerrold: Successful is equal to box office.  I mean ‘yun ‘yung pinaka-obvious. Hiwalay sa usapang “quality” or “relevance.”
Dwein: Papunta na nga ako sa puntong ito. Kasi I feel lacking, dahil wala pa ‘kong box office. (laughs)


Oh, diyan na rin po siguro papasok ‘yung goal na sana makisabay ‘yung audience along with new stories and storytellers.
Jerrold:  But as to whether we’re evolving…I think so. I remember a time when action films and family drama films were the norm. Then unti-unting naging romcom 1.0. Then 2.0.
Dwein: Kung personal na sukatan kung naging successful ba ang pelikula. Iyung hindi ko iisipin ang box office o kung ano man. Kaya ko naman siyang masukat, kapag may isa akong taong nahahawakan, na-i-inspire, ganern. Cheesy.
Jerrold: Totoo naman.
Dwein: Feeling ko panalo na ako d’on! Pero kung standards via this industry, [hindi].
Jerrold: Although you can’t ignore that you owe your producers. Unless sarili mong pera or walang interest sa ROI ‘yung producer.
Dwein: ‘Yun na nga. Success is yes, box office eh. More than awards! Kasi at the end of the day, “industry” siya, money-making.

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On “revisionist” films

Going back to direk Jerrold’s insight on romcom 1.0 and romcom 2.0.  So basically when a new kind of storytelling comes up, it means progress, but the duplication and overkill of that new kind—because the new concept is “hyped” after its success—will lead to the downfall of cinema ulit? So it’s a cycle?

Jerrold: It’s always a cycle. You score big with one film, then come the sequels, then the revisionist films, tapos patay na siya. Although ang tagal mamatay ng Marvel po. Kahit madami nang revisionist films.
Dwein: Sorry, ano ‘yung “revisionist?” (laughs)
Jerrold: Basically ginagago niya ‘yung na-establish na norm. Parang sa Western, ‘yung mga Sergio Leone, Eastwood, Peckinpah. Or sa superhero films, ‘yung series na “The Boys.” Romcom 2.0 was revisionist, sa context ng established romcoms.
Dwein: Oh. So isa do’n si Tonette. Nang-shookt siya eh. (laughs)
Jerrold: Yup.
Dwein: Akala ko talaga “Ulan” ni direk Ay (Irene Villamor) will follow sa pagiging game-changer nito.
Jerrold: I think ganun din ‘yung ginawa ni Chris Martinez, regarding my historical films. When he released the third “Septic Tank,” although I didn’t see it. But then again, I don’t consider “Luna” and “Goyo” as the “norm.”


Siguro ‘yung nakita kong naging follow through after “Ulan” is the injection of self-love in romance movies? Na nagiging mas priority siya and hindi nag-re-revolve around sa relationships lang?

Jerrold: Probably, yes.
Dwein: I think ‘yung self-love, ay nando’n na rin naman before “Ulan.” Hmmm. Mas tumingkad at mas focused lang yata do’n ang “Ulan.”


On the kind of evolution they want 

Jerrold: Eh saan mo gustong pumunta ang evolution, Dwein?
Dwein:  Alam mo, hindi ko pa rin alam! Napag-usapan nga namin nina Bianca [Balbuena] na parang “reklamo” sa ‘tin ng international audience, wala raw mukha ang Philippine cinema.
Jerrold: Eh di mag-reklamo sila. (laughs)
Dwein: Hindi siya distinct.

Read more: Nick Deocampo tells us why it’s difficult to preserve Filipino films 

Jerrold: Either they have a good point or gusto nila madaling i-categorize ang Pinoy cinema so they’ll champion certain types of films only. Mas fresh ka sa festival circuit. I haven’t been really part of festivals lately.
Dwein: I think, nanggagaling sila sa mas madali or matingkad ang boses ng mga peliks from Korea, Japan etc. ‘Di ko alam though, kung ano rin ‘yung clear voice na hanap nila from us. Ang mukha natin sa festivals ay The Brilliante [Mendoza], [Lav] Diaz! Ganern. Nagkwento sa ‘min dati si Dan [Villegas] na nagulat ang international audience ‘nung malaman nilang ang bumubuhay sa industriya ay romcoms. Hindi nila alam na may gano’n tayo. (laughs)

“Ang palagi ko lang sinasabi ay sana mapunta sa more variety in local cinemas. Romcom, horror, historical, action, musical.”

Jerrold: Baka nga romcoms ang pinaka-original voice natin. (laughs) Sana no but…
Dwein: Actually. (laughs) Balik sa ‘yo ang tanong, kuya!
Jerrold: Ang palagi ko lang sinasabi ay sana mapunta sa more variety in local cinemas. Romcom, horror, historical, action, musical. I mean the films are there. Highly selective ang cinemas sa ipapalabas for obvious reasons.
Dwein: Tunay na kalaban din ‘yan. Cinemas.
Jerrold: And they’ll never let a film stay in cinemas for long out of a sense of moral obligation. It will always be about the money dahil business siya. So unless batas siya or something, things will stay this way.


On Filipino film cliches 

True. That’s why independent film houses should be more appreciated. Speaking of having one image in Philippine cinema, what are your thoughts on cliches or tropes in Filipino movies? Do you have “favorites” that you think still work, or at least tolerable?
Jerrold: Hindi ako magaling na observer niyan. Baka sina Miko Livelo, etc.
Dwein: Dami nating mambabatas na actors! Naghalal na nga tayo ng presidenteng aktor dati wala namang nagawa! Walang napasang batas para alagaan tayo. Hindi lang sa aspetong ‘yan pero napakarami!
Jerrold: May wine pa ako dito. Ang alam ko lang na cliche ay pagdating sa dialogue. ‘Yung mga “hay nako” at “alam mo” at “siya nga pala.”
Dwein: (laughs) ako rin dito nag-ci-cringe! Iyung “and’yan ka na pala,” kahit nakita mo na. “Anong ginagawa mo?/Kumain ka na ba?” (laughs)

Read more: How to make a short film, according to these directors 

(laughs) Ang awkward ng placement, you won’t really say them in person.

Jerrold: Meron pa. ‘Yung…”Ha? Ah…eh…” Sabay kamot ulo.
Dwein: Walang kaso sa ‘kin ‘yung tropes. Pwede ‘yun laruin eh. Minsan humahanga pa ko do’n sa nakakapagkwento freshly while making use of all the tropes! Hirap maging fresh na nasa kahon ha. (laughs)
Jerrold: Wala namang fresh talaga. We all recycle.

There are films I’ve watched recently that have cliches, pero maganda ‘yung pag-execute kaya hindi nakaka-umay. Maybe it does come down to the delivery of the material.
Jerrold: Ano ‘to?
Dwein: Sabi nga, lahat ng kwento, nai-kwento na, depende na lang sa kung paano mo ito ikukwento. Yes, ano ‘yung napanuod mo, Jelou?

I think I don’t want to name drop (laughs).

Dwein: True.
Jerrold: (laughs) Fine.
Dwein: Ako basta, ‘yung “Hello, Love, Goodbye.” Hahaha sobrang naaliw ako sa kanya at ang masterful ng writing/narrative shape. Naks. Kahit pa ilang beses mo nang napanuod yung gano’n eh.

Read more: In ‘Hello, Love, Goodbye,’ an OFW gets a chance to choose herself

On romcom 3.0

Sasabihin ko pa lang ‘yan, Direk. Medyo unconventional ‘yung daloy para sa ‘kin. Not too unique, but it didn’t sound like a broken record. Dahil nga rin siguro sa choice ng bida in the end. And maraming aspects ‘yung pumasok, kahit ‘yung privilege. Hindi siya entirely focusing on romance/relationships. 

Dwein: ‘Di ba?! Ang nitpick ko lang do’n ay ‘yung beats ng bawat eksena laging nasa 8-10! Ang taas! Walang hinga. Nakakapagod siya pa-minsan. (laughs)
Jerrold: ‘Yan na ba ‘yung romcom 3.0? Haha. ‘Di ko napanood. Sorry.
Dwein: Baka iyan na nga ang romcom 3.0. Although parang mas romance lang pala, wala naman masyadong com.
Jerrold: (laughs) ‘Di ko na alam ‘yan. Kaisa-isang love story ko na pelikula, anti-love story pa. So ganon na? Hanggang romcom 11.0 na tayo? Sabihin niyo. Mag-a-adjust ako. (laughs)
Dwein: (laughs) Hopeless romantics talaga yata mga Pinoy kaya romance lagi sa lahat ng dekada ang hanap.
Jerrold: I don’t know if this is a good thing. (laughs)
Dwein: Can be both good and bad.
Jerrold: In a way, kaya ko tinanggap din ‘yung “Darna.” Hindi siya bago sa context ng world cinema, pero sa local cinema, medyo…ish…kinda. So ‘yun. May insights ba tayo? May hope? (laughs) Parang…I don’t know.


On reaching the Oscars

Dwein: Makakarating ba tayo ng Oscars?
Jerrold: Bandang romcom 5.0 siguro.
Dwein: Syempre ‘di naman talaga tayo makaka-Oscars kasi wala tayong pera! (laughs)
Jerrold: Meron ‘yan. At some point, may isa sa atin na dream na makarating diyan at ititimpla talaga ‘yung pelikula para sa Oscars. ‘Di ko siya concern personally. For now. (laughs)
Dwein: Kahit makagawa tayo ng “pang-Oscars,” ibang laban ang rallying for it eh. Malaking pera siya.
Jerrold: Kasama na ‘yung paghahanap ng funding sa pagtitimpla.
Dwein: Parang mas oks umasa sa luck kesa sa support for funding. (laughs)
Jerrold: Daming gumagawa ng maganda sa film festivals, walang napapalabas sa sinehan. Or ‘di tumatagal dahil tinatanggal or wala din namang nanonood for various reasons.
Dwein: Dito ako pinakamalungkot. 


On their message to the storytellers and the audience

Malaking bagay din talaga ‘yung willingness ng audience to consume stuff they’re not familiar with.

Jerrold: Exactly. So you can’t just put the blame on cinemas. Hindi rin enough ‘yung consumers. Niche market pa rin ang indie. Except for the flukes.

So speaking of that, to wrap this up, if you can tell a short message to the Filipino audience, what would you guys want to tell?

Jerrold: Dwein…
Dwein: Tss. Teka. Ba’t ako lagi? (laughs)
Jerrold: Grabe siya.
Dwein: ‘Yung senior muna. (laughs)
Jerrold: Grabe. Teka. Okay…so…wala akong masasabi sa local audience because they will watch whatever they want and whatever they’re used to. Nothing I say will affect them. Mas nasa storytellers siguro ‘yung message ko, which is to try to keep finding that position where you’re slightly ahead of the curve without leaving the audience behind. And then keep pushing ever so slightly. I think that’s the only way the whole culture will evolve, hindi lang ‘yung audience. We’ve changed a lot over the past few decades definitely, but I think the dream is to have a local audience that’s completely supportive (meaning box office) of films of other genres, hindi lang romcom and horror. Pero nasa side ng storytellers ang trabaho, hindi sa audience. But also, malaking factor din ang support ng cinemas and distributors. So isang malaking tulungan ‘yan. Or isang effective na batas. Except we don’t have the kind of government right now that’s fully supportive of the arts, or who understands the value of cultural currency. Ayun. Pwede na ata ‘yan.Kaw naman.

“We’ve changed a lot over the past few decades definitely, but I think the dream is to have a local audience that’s completely supportive (meaning box office) of films of other genres, hindi lang romcom and horror. Pero nasa side ng storytellers ang trabaho, hindi sa audience.”

Dwein: Teka, kasi masyadong maganda ‘yung sinabi ni Jerrold. Hirap ng follow up. (laughs) Dahil wala siyang sinabi sa audience, subukan kong sa kanila may sabihin.
Jerrold: Pinauna mo ako eh. Maghihintay kami. Don’t worry.
Dwein: Sana ‘yung audience huwag mapagod maghanap? Maghanap kung ano talaga ang gusto nila, labas sa dikta ng lahat. Alam kong wishful thinking ito. Sobra. Pero meron at meron d’yan, restless, makulit, hindi basta papayag na iyun lang ang mapanuod. Sana sila, magpatuloy. Ta’s sana they’ll speak passionately about all these “new” films na mahahanap nila. Tapos maka-impluwensya sila kahit isa-dalawa! Ta’s magkasama na silang maghahanap, magkasama silang patuloy na manunuod, hindi susuko sa pelikulang Pilipino. Gano’n. Keso!

“Pero meron at meron d’yan, restless, makulit, hindi basta papayag na iyun lang ang mapanuod. Sana sila, magpatuloy.”

Jerrold: In fair. I think that’s the best thing one can say to the audience right now.
Dwein: Tissue pls. (laughs) Oks na ba ‘yen?
Jerrold: Panalo sa ‘kin. 

This story was originally published in our fifth anniversary issue and has been edited for web. The digital copy of Scout’s 36th issue is accessible here.

Art by Cathy Dizon

Special thanks to TBA Studios



Jelou Galang
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