Monday, March 10, 2003

ne'er was: bloody abortions

Over coffee with Nikki and Jason, I got to talking with Flim about a possible new film project with the usual parameters - tight budget, sex and/or horror genre, very trim production crew. So in the course of generating 3 concepts, of which the one involving mirrors was the strongest, I recalled all the sad and frustrating times I was commissioned to do a film, and did my part only to see the thing either aborted or end up as a beast I did not father.

My first was with Flim and our subject was the Filipino women who were used by the Japanese army as "comfort women" during World War II. Flim and I were tapped because of our individual awards and we developed this lovely script with a melange of sensibilities. Alas, the horrible unprofessionalism of the producer led to my leavetaking, followed by Flim who refused to work on the unfilmable new script. The poor guy left behind was my brother-in-law, Ricardo Cepeda, who signed on because he wanted to work with us. The resulting film was a fiasco. (Of course I watched it, I wanted to see how much they ripped me off - besides, it's like a roadside accident; how can you not look?) Of course it never made the Berlin Film Festival. Please.

Then came another actor-producer with his own production house. He got me because of the awards again (and here I thought they were just pretty). As a bonus, my brother-in-law was to be cast in the movie. I was given a kernel of an idea and asked to write it in Filipino. So I asked for 6 days - 3 to write in English, 3 to translate to Filipino. This time, I was paid 50% of my fee (thank god). What happened here? He kept adding elements to the script - a car explosion (because he found "budget" for it), his wife (because she was suddenly free to co-star, and so what if the original film had no female leads), sex (well, because what is the female lead for, right?), a school gang (used to be a street gang, but the setting became a school, so, okay), blah blah blah. By the umpteenth revision, there was nothing of my story or vision. But the worst was yet to come.

Him: Have you seen "Dangerous Minds"? The one with Michelle P.?

Dean: Yes, is that the tone you want?

Him: No, no. That's the movie I want.

Dean: You mean in terms of mood?

Him: No, I want you to copy it. Just translate it to Tagalog and have me and my wife as the leads. Oh, and write yourself in too. That way you can make a little extra cash.

Suffice it to say, I got out.

There was also the producer who couldn't accept the fact that I did not believe in happy endings. Or the film about the thousand paper cranes that died stillborn. Or my inital Super 8 film stock that vanished in Hawaii. The tragic thing is amount of time I've spent thinking, writing, revising. And given my nature, it is easy to take advantage of my other skill sets - I can consult, art direct, design, coach, blah blah. So it is never a case of "just writing".

I still want to do a film within the next five years. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, it just has to be true to my vision.

Most recently, I was asked to consider developing a script for a new studio. The challenge was to create an art film in English but set in the Philippines and give it a Merchant Ivory feel - period, structured, costume drama. Maybe I'll say yes.

But right now I'm enamored by what a woman sees in the mirror. Who knows? Perhaps one day you'll get to see it.


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