Saturday, April 5, 2014

The screenplay, the movie, and everything in between

When I was a kid, there was nothing more magical than entering the cinema with snacks in hand, parting those thick red curtains, finding the seat with the best view, and waiting for the entire room to get dark. For a couple of hours, I was far removed from reality. I guess I will always love watching movies in the big screen. And I will always look forward to seeing a story unfold itself.

The story—the screenplay—is the movie's lifeblood. And a good screenplay can be quite a challenge to write. This is what I learned after reading Ricky Lee's Sa Puso ng Himala, a book that tells you everything that happened from the screenplay's inception to the making of the movie "Himala." It's a good story to tell, especially if the movie has been hailed as the best that Philippine cinema has to offer.

No, this book is no longer a manual for today's brand of filmmaking. Sa Puso ng Himala can be seen as a historical record, a piece of important collections of what people in the movie industry did back in the day. The daily toil, the grit that gets in their fingernails, the politicking to get funding, the non-digital manipulation of sound and dubbing, the thousands of extras that need to be hired—everything's in this book. If you watch the movie "Himala" now, you'll be transfixed by the inspiring performances of the cast, the timeless strength of the material, the texture of the production design. The book, Sa Puso ng Himala, tells you how they got there.

The movie's origins and production are a remarkable piece of storytelling in itself. Here are candid anecdotes of people who were involved in the movie. At that time, they never really knew that they were making Philippine cinema history; they just wanted to get it over and done with. The director was a perfectionist, the shoot location was a barren landscape, the extras were difficult to control, the budget was limited. Basically, there were problems at every stage. But you can never go wrong if you have a brilliant screenplay and a very talented cast.

Reading Sa Puso ng Himala is like finding yourself part of the crew. The book's author, Ricky Lee, who is also the screenplay writer of the movie, recounts the several changes his story underwent. The cast and crew reminisce about working with legendary director Ishmael Bernal, he of the impossibly high standards. (A couple of hundred extras needed first thing tomorrow morning? Done.) There are even articles about the movie's post-production stages, the production design, the poster, the local and international reception of the movie, and the day-to-day grind on set. It's a perfect book for classic movie buffs.

I have always believed that reading the screenplay is just part of the process. One gets to fully appreciate the magic of the movies when you see the words come to life in the big screen. It's like reading Shakespeare, yes? Shakespeare's plays become more vivid when you see them enacted on stage. That was, after all, Shakespeare's goal. After turning the last page of Sa Puso ng Himala, I did not just love the movie even more; it made me develop a deep respect for the craft, a fascination for the discipline that this form of media demands from its people. And that's why you stay for the credits at the end of the movie. Respect, people.

The different personalities involved in creating the film
The cast, the crew, the people in publicity,
and even a daughter of President Marcos
A page showing Ricky Lee's notes
Again proving that good writing requires several revisions
Ricky Lee conceived the screenplay with Nora Aunor in mind.
Quite amusing to read the perspectives of the cast and crew
Cat fights on set? Check. 20-hour days? Check. 
Lots of behind-the-scenes material in the book
Juicy, gossipy stuff
The book has lots of photo essays such as this spread. 
The devil is truly in the details.
How Bernal wanted to shoot the pivotal last scene
A study in organized chaos
Every aspiring writer should read Ricky Lee's screenplay. 
The book also includes the English translation of the screenplay.
On the left page is the visionary, Ishmael Bernal.
Read this book if:
  1. You find movies magical.
  2. You love reading screenplays.
  3. You're looking for a gossipy read.


Orly said...

Thank you for this, Peter! I'm really glad you liked reading the book. I enjoyed it, myself. This only goes to show that filmmaking in the Philippines still has a lot to show to the world.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Orly! Thanks for letting this book get into the book club's radar. If it weren't for your recommendation, we wouldn't have read this!

Jack said...

Right you are, brother. Those were magical times, and I consistently sought out the worst Hollywood had to offer, from Attack of the Mole People to The Killer Shrews. Maybe the magic was more about being a kid.

This seems like a very specialized read. I personally couldn't care less about behind the scenes on a movie set. But you close by saying "Every aspiring writer should read..." Do you mean "screenwriter," or is there something here for everyone?

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jack! I think this is more relevant to screenwriters. Thanks for pointing that out!