What it took to bring back Encantadia

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A kingdom was being built inside a warehouse studio somewhere in Makati. Amidst the flurry of activity ­— from finishing touches being done on the imposing throne as set centerpiece, to the photo shoot of the main cast ­— people were repeatedly reminded not to take any photos, lest they wind up on social media and spoil whatever surprises GMA Network’s 2016 Encantadia has in store for televiewers. 

Encantadia is coming very soon, that’s all production people were allowed to say when The STAR was given exclusive access to the pictorial of the four Sang’gres, a.k.a. the lead characters of the Kapuso fantasy series that first aired 11 years ago. But based on what we’ve seen so far from that set visit, it will be worth the wait.

It was the first time Glaiza de Castro (Pirena), Kylie Padilla (Amihan), Sanya Lopez (Danaya) and Gabbi Garcia (Alena) donned their kickass fight costumes, photos of which you are also seeing for the first time on this page (and more in tonight’s newscast of 24 Oras).

Director Mark Reyes (who also helmed the original Encantadia with Suzette Doctolero as the writer) acknowledged the gargantuan task of bringing the series back. And this time as a “requel,” which by their definition is part-retelling and part-sequel to attract both old and new viewers.

“The original Encantadia is still fresh and it’s still something you wanna watch. I don’t know, but by the grace of God, when you watch it, it still looks good and updated,” Reyes said of the original Encantadia, which can be viewed via on-demand video portals.

“So, why do a simple retelling when you can simply watch it on iFlix and HOOQ? We have to give the audience something new so that once they watch it, it’s familiar and yet, it’s not.”

In terms of difficulty, Reyes likened the making of the present incarnation to “handling three movies and two soaps at the same time.”

“In a (regular) drama, you just develop the characters, you fix the set design and choose the location, you can concentrate on the story and characterization and that’s it. And usually, in a regular soap, the questions they asked me are like a hundred a day. In Encantadia, they probably ask me like 2,000 questions a day. This is because every detail must be approved by me, by my staff. Everything must be in sync. It’s really a complicated set to do,” said Reyes, whose last soaps for GMA were Half-Sisters and Because of You.

No question, Reyes finds the job much more challenging now that it was before.

TV preferences have changed. He pointed out that rom-coms are more prevalent than straight dramas in today’s television landscape, so they try to adapt to the change in the “tastes and sensibilities” of audiences.

According to him, the beauty of producing Encantadia back in 2005 was “we had the courage of ignorance, the audacity of being the first to do it.”

“Now, we are competing with ourselves. There’s social media. There’s instant gratification and instant condemnation. It’s immediate — right there on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram,” he said.

“The millennials are a very hard market to please... They demand us to be like Game of Thrones. Our budget is not even point-10 (percent) of what Game of Thrones is,” Reyes added. “So, we try to give the best to the Kapuso audience, and they expect a lot from something like Encantadia, which basically became the best and most successful telefantasya ever. I think that’s obvious with all the fan art and (the fact that) after 11 years, the Encantadiks (the fans) are still around. That’s why it’s so difficult.”

Then, there was the casting. The original cast members (Iza Calzado as Amihan, Sunshine Dizon as Pirena, Diana Zubiri as Danaya and Karylle as Alena) have made such an impact that fans weighed in on every development that involved the present-day Sang’gres.

Case in point was the “leaked photo” some months ago. During the screenings, auditionees were mixed and matched, and the photo showed one of the batches then being explored and considered.

“I wanted to kill the one who leaked that,” Reyes laughingly said of the photo that went viral in no time and generated both negative and positive reactions. It, nevertheless, validated the level of interest in the project.

“It was very difficult (choosing the cast). If they only knew that (it took) months of deliberation,” recalled Reyes. “We picked who we want or who we think could play certain characters but the last say wasn’t ours, it was the management’s. So, it really took a while. We had to choose a batch that will equate or even top (the original cast).”

And so it was Kylie, Glaiza, Sanya and Gabbi. Reyes offered the reasons they were chosen.





“Kylie was a shoo-in. She was one of my recommendations. I really wanted her to land Amihan because the girl can fight. It’s in her genes. She can easily do the stunts. And she can act.”

“There’s no other Pirena but Glaiza for me. Across the board, she was approved right away because of her acting. Pirena is one of the nicest characters to play in Encantadia because she’s both good and bad, the dark and light side, and I know Glaiza has that maturity to pull it off.”

“For Alena, we wanted someone fresh because she’s in a love team as in the original series. We had to choose among the love teams that the network is building up.”

(Gabbi came onboard with perennial love team partner Ruru Madrid, who plays the character Ybarro.)

“And with Gabbi, the innocence is still there. Alena was like that, she couldn’t care if she became queen, she didn’t want to be queen. Gabbi has that quality so we wanted her as well.”

“As for Danaya, she is the fan-favorite character, which we didn’t expect coming from 2005. You know the story? It’s a beautiful story of Diana Zubiri being so reluctant because she was coming from the sexy films industry and was accepted as Danaya by children and everyone. She made Danaya what Danaya is, beyond the director, the writing. So the approach there was to get someone fresh so that she will not be compared to Diana and with Sanaya, it was exactly that. And Sanaya is good with arnis.”

The timing of Encantadia’s return is deemed most fitting because it just celebrated a decade since its last airing. There were attempts of a revival in 2009 and 2013, but according to Reyes, economics and the political climate at that time prompted the network bosses to shelve the plans. This year, GMA felt it was high time to bring it back. Despite so many challenges, the production team can count on the wisdom of experience.

“We’ve done this before so we basically know what we’re doing and (to have) the support of the network to spend something like this, in this point of time, as the cost of production, compared to 11 years ago, has doubled, tripled, you know? Look around you, we’re building a kingdom. It’s really leaps and bounds, the cost. But GMA said, go, that’s what they want, give it to them,” Reyes said.

The more advanced technology nowadays has also upgraded the production values. “The visual effects have improved immensely. Of course, the craftsmanship of the costumes and props as well. Before (they were) made of foam, now they’re 3D-printed; I break a part, I just order a part.”

 One of the more popular characters, Imaw, used to be a hand puppet but “now he’s animatronic, radio-controlled,” noted Reyes, adding, “now, we have camera drones, we have cinematic shots. We shot in Fortune Island so just imagine drones circling the island and the Greek columns, with our dress-up and a fight scene going on. It’s fantastic! My bosses are pleased with what they are seeing. There’s really no other way to do it — we have to level up.”

Encantadia will shoot in Nasugbo, Tanay, Quezon and unlike before, even in locations accessible only by boat. “We might shoot riding a plane. I really plan to do a lot of outdoor (scenes),” the director added.

Written by Suzette Doctolero, Encantadia made its Philippine TV debut in 2005 and spawned two sequels immediately after. Encantadiks know its story by heart, which revolves around a mythical realm that’s home to four kingdoms enjoying their peace, with the help of the four gemstones of water, earth, air and fire. Four sisters Amihan, Alena, Danaya and Pirena become keepers of these precious stones as evil forces threaten to take over the realm. As the Sang’gres carry out their duties, not only are their skills and powers put to the test, but also their relationship with each other.

How the story will play out in the requel is anyone’s guess. Reyes did say though that whatever mistakes they committed in the past, they are correcting them in the new version as “we now have the gift of hindsight.”

Reyes had also teased fans by way of memes that read “History may or may not repeat itself” and “Nothing is what it seems.” 

“Even I don’t know how it will turn out,” he stressed. 

And so, as the denizens of Encantadia would say, “Estasectu (Get ready),” and expect the unexpected.  

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