Ate Vi: Ekstra Challenge
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2013 - 12:00am

Ate Vi is nervous. 

It’s Thursday, three days before the gala premiere (today, at the CCP Main Theater) of Ekstra, her first indie starrer produced by lawyer Joji Alonso’s Quantum Films and directed by Jeffrey Jeturian (who’s the megman of the hit ABS-CBN soap Be Careful With My Heart), competing in the Directors Showcase of the ongoing Cinemalaya with four other indies: Gil Portes’ Liars, Cesar Evangelista’s Amor y Muerte, Adolf Alix Jr.’s Porno and Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati.

The governor of Batangas has taken time out from her airtight schedule to have a free-wheeling chat with some of her writer-friends at the Korean Garden, Joji’s favorite Korean restaurant in Makati. Joji and Jeffrey are ticking off the names of those attending this afternoon’s screening and Ate Vi is saying, “Natatakot ako!”

One of the writers assures her, “Vilma Santos ka. Bakit ka nininerbyos?”

How she feels is understandable. Ekstra is her first foray into indie-territory and like every first time, it can be nerve-wracking.

Jeffrey is nervous, too, but for a different reason.

“I still can’t believe that I have finally directed Vilma Santos,” he says. “Vilmanian kasi ako, eh!”

True, he and Ate Vi have worked before but not at this level.

“I was the production assistant on Baby Tsina, her movie years ago,” recalls Jeffrey. “I’d been wanting to be a director then. Fifteen years later, I did become a director. And 30 years after Baby Tsina, my secret dream of directing my idol finally came true!”

Easy to work with, that’s how Jeffrey describes Ate Vi.

“And easy to deal with,” adds Joji. “As soon as she read the script (written by Jeffrey himself with Zig Dulay and and Tonette Jadaone), “it was smooth sailing all along. Madali siyang kausap; walang maraming demands.” Joji didn’t even have a hard time convincing top stars to appear as guests, among them Pilar Pilapil, Marian Rivera, Cherie Gil, Tom Rodriguez and Piolo Pascual.

Judging from comments of those who have seen portions of the movie (clips have been uploaded on the Internet by Joji, watch them!), Ate Vi and direk Jeffrey actually have nothing to be nervous about.

Of the many indies offered to you, what made you say yes to Ekstra?

“Kasi extra ako d’un, eh! First time I’m playing that role.”

According to lawyer Joji Alonso, the producer, you fell in love with the script at first reading.

“Na-challenged ako. That was the big come-on — a role that I haven’t done before. Hirap nga ako, eh, so I asked the help of Atty. Joji and direk Jeffrey. Before we started shooting, we sat down to discuss how I should look — you know, star- struck. I should really look like an extra, from the way I dress up to the way I act on the set.”

I heard that you brought different sets of clothes to the set.

“Kasi if you play an extra, you play different small roles — guest sa party, nice dress; nakikipaglamay sa patay, black dress; lalabas kang abogada, blazer. But I wore mostly loose dresses, ‘yung maluluwag na binili sa ukay-ukay. In one scene, I wore a flaming-red dress as the double for Eula Valdez.”

You started as bida in your first film, Ging (Premiere Productions) and in your second, Trudis Liit (Sampaguita Pictures), so you were never an extra, were you?

“In those two films, I played the title roles. Pagkatapos noon, as a teenager, I played roles that fit my age like as Imee Marcos in Iginuhit ng Tadhana (the Marcos propaganda movie with Gloria Romero and the late Luis Gonzales as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Gina Alajar as Irene Marcos and Jonji Aranda as Bongbong Marcos). After that, start na ng ‘Vi & Bot’ period.”

But, of course, you know the life of extras…

“Oo naman! Hindi mabubuo ang isang pelikula kung walang extra. During the shoot of one of my movies, I asked one extra how much he was earning per day. P300 daw. Sometimes, nauubusan daw sila ng food; sometimes, hindi sila nakukunan. So what made them go on? He said, ‘We enjoy it!’ Biro mo, they are doing it because they love it.”

In one scene (that went viral in the Internet) in Ekstra, you are shown with your head covered with a bag. What other memorable experiences did you have on the set?

“I am in that scene with Cherie (Gil) who was supposed to slap me. Cherie was hesitant, ‘Gagawin ko ba ‘yan kay Ate Vi? Hindi ko magagawa ‘yan!’ I told her, ‘Ok lang, do it!’ Direk Jeffrey wanted to have a double for me na lalagyan ng supot but I insisted, ‘No, direk, ako na, ako na!’ I really wanted to feel it para realistic. I was playing the double of Eula. After the shoot, still part of the scene, Cherie is supposed to say ‘Sorry’ to me! Ang sagot ko, ‘It’s okay; part of the job!’ Ganyan naman talaga ang buhay ng mga extra, di ba?”

How was it working with Jeffrey?

“It’s true what direk told you that it’s his first time to direct me. But we have worked before in the movie Saan Nagtatago ang Pagibig (with Tonton Gutierrez and Ricky Davao) where I delivered the (iconic) dialogue, ‘Si Val, si Val, si Val!’ Direk Jeffrey was the assistant director and script director (of Eddie Garcia).”

So your working relationship was okey naman?

“He’s very gentle. Ni minsan hindi ko siya narinig sumigaw sa set. Malumanay mag-direct, and a perfectionist. I’m glad that Ekstra introduced me to the ‘indie family.’ Di ba they have their own culture? Iba’t-ibang grupo sila. It’s a privilege for me to have joined their world; happy ako na napasok ko ang mundo nila. The only problem was time. We would work straight from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m. the next day, so we could finish the movie in 12 days. Sagaran talaga, so nakakapagod. You know naman that I have my obligation as (Batangas) governor. One time, I had a speaking engagement the following day, so I brought my speech to the set to study it.”

How did you adjust your schedule?

“It was they who adjusted to my schedule. ‘Yung two days a week naging one day na lang, but 17 hours straight shoot naman. The good thing is that you could see that everybody was working hard, so it was a nice feeling.”

As a Star For All Seasons, how do you handle extras in your movies?

“I spend time with them. Sometimes, they want to have their pictures taken with me and somebody would say, ‘O, bawal ‘yan!’ And I would say, ‘We’ll do it later ha.’ Most of them work for 24 hours and I saw some of them eating just one pandesal and one piece of egg, so I would offer them food. They don’t earn much.”

Mayroon ka bang naging extra na sumikat?

“A lot! There’s Alma Moreno who was an extra in Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw, my movie with Boyet (Christopher de Leon). She was in the scene na naliligo sa dagat. Another is Cesar Montano who was in Broken Marriage (also with Boyet, directed by Ishmael Bernal). He played the guy who was getting married to the girl playing my sister. And (the late) Rene Requiestas, he was an extra in Ikaw Ay Akin (also by Bernal), movie namin ni Boyet with Guy (Nora Aunor). Rene played the katulong na kumuha lang ng aso. He came from theater at naging bida siya (initially with Kris Aquino in Pido Dida).”

Can you spot a star potential in an extra?

“First, the physical. If he or she is good-looking, naturally standout sa crowd ‘yan. O, maganda ‘to, makinis at maganda ang height. Then, ang kasunod n’un ay talent. Minsan maganda pero patay umarte; minsan naman hindi kagandahan pero mahusay umarte, so may future. What matters is talent pa rin.”

How did Ekstra change the way you look at extras?

“Ever since, ganoon na ang tingin ko sa kanila. Alam ko na ang katayuan nila. I consider Ekstra my tribute to them.”

And for 12 days you lived the life of an extra while at the same time campaigning around Batangas (for her third/last term as governor). How did you do it?

“The campaign was starting so we saw to it that the shoot was finished na at that time. I wanted so much to do the movie kaya talagang isiningit ko ‘yung schedule. So no matter how tired I was, I would wake up very early, moving from the set in Balic-Balic (Sampaloc, Manila) to Calatagan (Batangas) and wherever. And we did it!”

You’re a double winner. You won in the election and you did a winning indie. What’s next?

“If ever I produce an indie, gusto ko hands-on. I produced a movie (Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak) and I went bankrupt, nagka-utang-utang ako. I’ve learned my lesson.”

And as a public official, do you aim for a higher position? According to your husband Sen. Ralph Recto, you will be a president in 2016.

“Kasi ang daming tanong nang tanong, so Ralph said that I would be president in 2016. Sabi ko, ‘Ralph, don’t say that!’ Then he said, ‘You will be president in 2016…president of senior citizens!’ Hahahaha!”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

AKO BATANGAS EKSTRA EXTRA JEFFREY JOJI TIME
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