We shot this off a laptop so the sound is muffled. In this scene: Tesa Celdran, Ronnie Liang, Federico Olbes, and our band of extras.
Last year, filmmaker Elwood Perez (Lipad, Darna, Lipad; Disgrasyada; Diborsyada; Waikiki) asked us to write a movie.
“But we’ve never written a movie from scratch,” we said. “It will be terrible for sure.”
“Only you can write this movie!” Elwood declared.
“What’s it about?”
“Oh you know, East is East and West is West…the different types of gays in Manila…and the lead is Ronnie Liang. And Carlos Celdran must be in it, as himself.”
“Yes, but what’s it about?”
“Bahala ka na diyan,” he said, airily. “Daahling,” he added, like Tennessee Williams by way of Rita Gomez, “I’ll be busy all of next week, so just text.”
The following week.
“Where were you?” we asked Elwood.
“Oh, my partner sold his car and I shot an indie movie,” Elwood said, as if this were something most people did anyway.
“In one week?”
“Yes, and I’ve edited it. The title is Otso. What do you think?”
We were floored by Otso and started working on a synopsis for the next movie. After many lunches and coffees, we had a sequence guide.
“Sige, isulat mo na yan,” Elwood said. “Make it sound like you.”
“Who’d want to watch that?”
“Hahaha, ikaw talaga. Can you add vampires?”
Weeks passed. We added vampires.
Elwood skimmed through the sequences. “Puede na ito. Write the screenplay na.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to add anything? Werewolves? Cause once we start writing, we’re not changing the plot.”
“Gawin mo na.”
That night, at 3am, Elwood sent us 10 text messages describing additional characters and changes to the storyline. Ordinarily we hate late revisions, but Elwood’s ideas were so outré, we had to use them. The barrage of text messages continued for weeks. The writing was slow at first, but once we realized that making sense of the whole shebang was not our problem and that the director would throw out most of the script anyway, we finished it in a few days.
“Ang mahal naman ng screenplay mo,” Elwood said. “This is a no-budget movie.”
“You said you wanted parties.”
Elwood’s solution was to call a friend. “Daahling, are you having a party next week? Can I shoot there?”
Elwood started shooting the movie. Next thing we know, the title had been changed from Object of Desire to Esoterica Manila. In January he showed us the trailer.
“I didn’t know Jon Hall was in the movie,” we said.
“That’s footage I shot a long time ago and never used,” Elwood explained. “It works.”
“What are all those socialites doing there?”
“Nag-shoot ako at a cocktail party.”
“Umm…do they know they’re in the movie?”
“They do now.”
Elwood wanted a scene in a bookshop.
“Our hero has a thirst for culture. Literature. Art,” he reminded us.
“We could ask Solidaridad to let us shoot there.”
“Perfect. We’ll need extras.”
So we put out a call for extras, and some readers gamely turned up. This being a no-budget movie, the crew consisted of Elwood, DOP Jopa, and Elwood’s driver Gilbert holding a microphone. Elwood blocked the scene.
“Alright,” he told us, “Turn this way, hold up the book, and sign it at this angle.”
“In mid-air? Isn’t that unnatural?”
“Basta, ako ang direktor!” he declared, turning to our band of intrepid extras. “Hijo, masyado kang matangkad, masisira ang composition. Doon ka sa likod. Okay, when you give her your book to sign, tilt it so we can see the cover, and then hand it to her, slowly.”
“He has to do his own slow-motion?” we laughed.
“Quiet. You there, turn right, crane your neck, that’s your angle. Hold that pose. Dapat maganda kayong lahat, lalo na’t walang bayad ito. Don’t look at the camera. Feel beautiful! Feel gorgeous! Okay, roll!”
Our shoot went quickly. We improvised our lines.
Last week Elwood sent us the rough edit for subtitling in English.
“Uh…Elwood? We don’t recall having written a gay rape scene.”
“No, that’s a movie they’re watching.”
“Did we have transgender characters?”
“Yes, isn’t she gorgeous? I couldn’t get a big star—no budget, remember—so I added her. So much more interesting.”
“There’s full frontal nudity.”
“Ang bongga, diba? That’s why I call it Esoterica. It’s not for everyone.”
“Why are those guys speaking in French?”
“Because they can! So our movie is in Tagalog, English, French and Spanish. Very cosmopolitan ang dating.”
We’re pretty sure we didn’t write it, but we can’t wait to see it. Here’s the scene we shot at Solidaridad with our reader-volunteers. Thank you for showing up! (Sinabi nang act natural, eh.)