Smart stories from Lola Basyang’s heir
- Buena Joya () - November 22, 2006 - 12:00am
Blame Jun Reyes for getting you all misty-eyed just watching a Smart commercial.

In directing Smart’s latest commercials – a son missing her mom who has passed away, a wife keeping a one-sided conversation with a husband who can’t speak – Reyes has hit on a tack so nuanced it makes sentimentality have the force of emotion in 45 seconds flat.

The viewers, inured by now to the celebrity endorsements in over-the-top TV spots of mobile phone companies, are at first stunned by the sudden shift in tempo of the Smart commercial. And then the stories hit them, and they are moved.

Jun Reyes is known in the advertising and commercial industries as a master storyteller. It is a gift he inherited from his great grandfather, the late Severino Reyes, whose phenomenal Lola Basyang stories kept three generations of listeners glued to their radios. But unlike his legendary forebear, Jun has to hook his audience visually, on TV, at a very fast clip.

"I have to make the message come across very clearly in 30 seconds," Jun says, still in awe of the task that he must have hurdled a hundred times over since coming on board Unitel Productions.

Jun is one of a pair of creative dynamos, the other is Tony Gloria, who run Unitel Productions and has kept it humming successfully since they opened for business in 1985.

That the launching of the new Smart commercials this month coincides with the 21st anniversary celebration of the production house is serendipitous, because the elements that went into the making of the commercials themselves spelled out almost everything that Unitel has proudly bandied about stands for all these years: doing justice to a strong concept and story, superb photography and art direction, impeccable casting, terrific sound and the cutting-edge in video technology.

Unitel is the first and the only one in the Philippines that uses High Definition (HD) in the production and pre-production phases of TV commercials.

In the US and Europe, HD has gained momentum in both film (Star Wars prequels, Superman Returns, Fly Boys) and TV spot productions. Experts have been one in saying the technology "provides a bigger canvas on which to paint the story of a commercial."

To Jun, the biggest benefit is seeing the work in HD while working in real-time. But it does not come easy. "Doing high-def is difficult that you have to be precise, particularly with lighting. You shoot and that’s it. You still go through the same process of color processing as when you do film, but you don’t process it anymore," he explains.

For the Smart commercials, Jun used a Sony HDCAM SR 950. Its technology captures images as the human eye sees them, picking up every subtle nuance of color and motion. "You save time and create more compelling images to tell your 30-second story," he says.

But technology aside, it is the story and how it is told that matter the most in a TV commercial. However, in the case of Smart commercials, drama and high definition came into play as though one without the other would have rendered the work less effective.

As it developed, Smart gave its advertising agency, DM9JaymeSyfu, the challenge to come up with a "very human" concept. The agency then turned to Reyes to translate their idea into video. For background, Jun had also directed the PLDT commercial Suportahan ta ka that gave rise to a fancy catchphrase and catapulted an unknown talent, Christian Vasquez to fame.

"There’s psychology behind the Smart commercial," Jun elaborates. "The psychology of the dialogue would represent the idea that the wife is already taking over the function of the husband, who is helpless in his wheelchair and cannot speak. Ito nahanap ko sa palengke… tatawagan ko na ang tubero. Subconsciously, you get involved with the running dialogue of the wife, then, unexpectedly, her cellphone beeps. All hell breaks loose. We did not have the luxury of film. I was constantly timing. The commercial was 45 seconds but the dialogue has to be completed in 15 seconds. We kept revising until we got it right."

And just as crucial was the choice of talents for the wife and husband. From 50, Reyes narrowed down the choice to seasoned PETA actors Irma Adlawan and Nanding Josef.

Despite an avowed passion for the creative aspect of his career, Jun has not lost sight of the fact that commercials are commission-based: "Commercial is selling a service, a product. But if you have materials like this, you don’t sell outright. You’re selling an emotion, which is more significant in terms of concept in the advertising world. In the Christian Vasquez commercial for instance, the subliminal message is that NDD using landline is important… di ka mauubusan ng load. But what sold it is the commercial did not say anything about using NDD."

Even during his spare time, the commercial director can’t stay away from moving images. "Watching DVDs!" Without skipping a heartbeat, this was his response when asked about what he does to unwind.

But the realization that he wanted to stay behind the camera didn’t dawn early on Reyes, who signed on in two college courses before settling down on a bachelor’s degree in Communications at the Ateneo de Manila University. From there he moved to study filmmaking at the London Film School. Since then, Jun has been on the right track. Proof of this is his pivotal role in the flourishing of the production house.

Jun reminisces how he and Tony traveled around abroad to source for equipment. "That’s how we upgraded. Tony has very good vision on what we need to create a company that’s dynamic. We work independently, but we check and balance each other. Then after a while, we collude."

It is with this type of partnership that Unitel has come to evolve from being a production house to an integrated company with highly-specialized divisions. "Before the editing was part of the production house. Now it’s already separate."

The five-time 4As winner of Production House of the Year has even established Unitel Pictures. With this development, is movie directing in the offing for Reyes? "All of us want to make that transition. I’m not in a hurry. It will happen because that’s where the soul is."

BLAME JUN REYES CHRISTIAN VASQUEZ COMMERCIAL COMMERCIALS FLY BOYS JUN REYES SMART UNITEL UNITEL PRODUCTIONS
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