INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS JON RED AND LARRY MANDA (2003)
TEN YEARS OF “ASTIG” TRIPS TOGETHER
By SIGFREID BARROS-SANCHEZ, Contributor
The contributor is a 28-year old screenwriter and character actor whose credits include “Prosti,” “Alas-Dose,” “Bertud ng Putik,” “Dos Ekis,” and “Kilabot at Kembot”. He plays one of the goons in “Astig”.
“Astig,” which will have its premiere on February 10, 7PM at the CCP Little Theater and on February 13, 7PM at the SM Megamall Cinema 6’s celebration of this year’s Pelikula at Lipunan, not only marks itself as the first experimental digital film ever to be starred by action prince Robin Padilla. It also celebrates ten years of collaboration between Red and Manda, perhaps the two most influential and most respected indie filmmakers in the country.
The duo’s works have become so significant amongst up and coming filmmakers that one of them, MTV’s Robert Quebral, used the concept of Red and Manda’s first-ever collaborative work together (1993’s “Trip”) to be the theme of an Ogie Alcasid music video shot last year. “Trip,” an entry to that year’s Metro Manila Film Festival Short Film Division, tells the story of a young boy from the province who eagerly rode his jeepney to Manila only to end up disillusioned of what city life is really all about just by meeting all the passengers. Somehow, the film mirrors how the ride has been for Jon and Larry in the past ten years.
“Sa sampung taon, na-realize namin na kapag hindi mo mahal ang ginagawa mo, talagang hindi worth ang lumalabas,” explains the 40-year old Red. “Pero kung okey sa ‘yo, kahit ano gagawin mo. Kaya mong magpuyat, kaya mong hindi matulog, at kaya mong magkulang-kulang na meals.”
“Bumibiyahe kami ngayon na hindi namin alam kung saan kami papunta. Hindi namin kailangang mag-impake. Hindi namin kailangang magpaalam. Ni walang nakakaalam. Basta kailangan naming bumiyahe kahit na anong mangyari,” Manda philosophizes.
Red and Manda’s “artistic vehicles” were already crossing paths as early as 1985. Larry was a part of a Mowelfund filmmaking workshop whose facilitator was Jon’s younger brother, future Cannes Film Festival Palme d’ Or awardee Raymond Red. Dropping by the Reds’ Cubao residence to edit his Super 8 works, Larry would engage in art and film talk with the then-serious painter Jon.
In 1988, when Jon decided to ditch his canvasses for a much bigger one, a wide screen, Larry was already helping at the pre-production planning of Raymond’s most significant and most revolutionary, both literally and figuratively, work “Bayani”. By the time Larry was editing the younger Red’s second foray to full-length filmmaking via “Sakay,” he and Jon had already decided to heed their true calling. Jon for directing and Larry for camera and lighting. Luckily for them, the first and probably the last MMFF short film contest sprouted to give hope to their dreams. The product was “Trip”. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is independent filmmaking history.
“Ang maganda kay Jon, magaan ang shoot. And he has a way para pagaangin pa lalo ang shoot,” compliments Manda who now credits to his name DOP work to over a hundred TV commercials. “Siguro dahil sa sense of humor niya and siguro dun sa state of mind niya during the shoot na wala kang makikitang ka-pressure-pressure. Kung meron man, itinatago niya ‘yun o meron siyang paraan para hindi ipakita ‘yun.” A comment shared by their favorite indie actor and also ten-year co-collaborator Raul Morit, “Hindi lang si Jon ang hindi mo kinakikitaan ng pressure. Pareho sila. Maganda kasi ang rapport nila sa isa’t isa. Walang hierarchy. May concern sila sa trabaho ng isa’t isa, may respeto, at may puso.”
Witness to these are Jon and Larry’s other important works like 1994’s “Pabrika,” “The True, The Good, and The Beautiful” (1998), the digital pioneer “Still Lives” (2000), the 2002 Manila Filmfest breakthrough “Utang Ni Tatang” (which won for Manda Best Cinematography honors and for Bona Fajardo Best in Production Design), and last year’s ABS-CBN documentary on the Abu Sayyaf hostage-taking “Bihag”. In between those years, the two also worked on some episodes of TV shows like “Philippines Most Wanted,” “Hirayamanawari,” and “Pahina” where Red was then resident director.
Red and Manda also had separate dips into mainstream filmmaking before “Utang Ni Tatang”. The former wrote Yam Laranas’ “Radyo,” one of the sleeper hits of 2001 that broadcasted Jeffrey Quizon as a cerebral actor, while the latter did camera chores for Erik Matti’s 2001 remarkably photographed yet critically-snubbed, “Sa Huling Paghihintay”. However, it surprises that after they did “Utang Ni Tatang” on a meager budget and limited shooting days, no producer decided to gamble on them again.
“Meron naman. Several times nagkaroon ng prospects pero laging nauudlot. Pero right now, if I can earn a living through writing plus TV and commercial work tapos I can do this kind of filmmaking on my own, dito na lang muna ako. Pero I’m still open to it,” Red clarifies.
“Astig”, the story of Bien (Robin Padilla), an assassin who suffers from astigmatism, is an example of this type of filmmaking. Using the camera as a device to tell the story, the whole film happened from the point of view of Robin who also works as the camera operator while portraying the role of the killer. Whereas their early work, “Still Lives” was in static due to the fact that it was later revealed that the film acted as a surveillance camera, “Astig” takes the audience where the lead character goes. Somehow, it carries the same effect as the computer game “Counterstrike” only that the device was used to tell a story in a different yet clever presentation. It also transformed them into something they love being the best: daring, experimental, subversive, and improvisational or to put it simpler, rock and rollers.
“Para kaming may mga hawak na instruments na nagja-jam lang kami and everyone goes and dances with the flow. Pixieland!” exclaims the 38-year old cinematographer.
“Ang attitude kasi dapat ngayon ay ‘yung kung gagawa tayo ng film, huwag na tayong maghintay na may magpagawa sa atin ng film. Ganoong attitude, ganoong frustrations, at ganoong aspirations ang dahilan kaya nabuo ang “Astig”,” Jon swings.
Veteran stage actor Dido dela Paz, who plays one of the goons in “Astig”, best sums up Jon and Larry’s works, “Dynamic. I think the way they keep their films, hindi siya plastic. Hindi sila nagpapaka-Hollywood kasi alam nilang hindi tayo Americans. They want their films to be Filipino and be good at it. Meron silang mga deeper insights on how to bring the story to the audience. They give each other ample build-up and ample characterization. Kahit maliit ang role, meron siyang laman.”
Like its predecessor “Still Lives,” Jon and Larry’s line-up boasts of mainstream cinema actors (Robin, Albert Martinez, Francis M, Jeffrey Quizon, Alessandra de Rossi, Ronnie Lazaro, and Jaime Fabregas), theater veterans (Dela Paz, Nonie Buencamino, Shamaine Centenera, and the late Errol Dionisio), TV personalities (Maverick and Ariel, Jackie Castillejo, Benjie Felipe, and China Cojuangco), and indie figures (Tado, Hector Macaso, Gary Rada, Raul Morit, and this writer). According to Red, his newest “film exercise” with Manda acts as the sequel to “Still Lives” and a prequel to “Utang Ni Tatang”. Shot with only P200,000 as total budget, the production scored a first to become, perhaps, the only production team that paid communally and equally all its staff, actors, and crew (from the director to the cast down to the utility guy).
“I didn’t try to convince them. I just presented them the project na if they feel na there is something in it for you, sasama ka. Alam nila sa sarili nila kung sasama sila o hindi. At ang mga sumasali, seryosong actors. Mga artistang may iba pang gustong gawin other than their commercial works,” Red explicates.
“Maraming gustong baguhin at maraming gustong patunayan ang lahat,” Robin enthuses when asked why Red was able to convince him to join. “Kaya namin ginagawa ‘to dahil kailangang may makita na rin ang mga manonood na bago. Hindi ‘yung laging gano’n na lang ang paggawa ng pelikula. Hindi ko gagawin ‘to kung hindi ko nirerespeto sina Jon at Larry, una bilang mga tao at pangalawa bilang matatalinong tao. Meron silang tinatawag na kumpas.”
Coming from the original “astig” of Philippine cinema, the remark somewhat blesses the two filmmakers as “astigs” of their own kingdom, independent cinema. A tag that Manda tries to affirm.
“Mainit pa kami, pare. Kailangang ihanda namin ang mga sarili namin. Gaya nga ng sinabi ko, kailangan pa naming bumiyahe kahit anong mangyari.”
If this is so, we would like to reserve our seats to the next ten years of collaborative work from Red and Manda. After all, their most “astig” trips are yet to come.