Goyo makes history

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Goyo makes history
No expense was spared in bringing to life the story of Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, the second installment in the historical trilogy that commenced with the 2015 blockbuster biopic Heneral Luna.

MANILA, Philippines — A recreated town from the late 1800s. A huge cast and crew of 2,000. A production of multiple set locations. A film budget that almost tripled the cost of its predecessor. No expense was spared in bringing to life the story of Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, the second installment in the historical trilogy that commenced with the 2015 blockbuster biopic Heneral Luna. 

Goyo, starring Paulo Avelino as the titular Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, is yet to roll into theaters — it opens on Sept. 5 — but it’s already making history as the biggest (possibly, most expensive!) Philippine movie ever made.

According to the production notes, the epic film — set during the Filipino-American war — tells the story of the “revolution as it marches on against the Americans after the death of Gen. Antonio Luna. The conflicted philosophies behind the heroic struggle continue and become personified in the colorful character of Goyo, one of the youngest generals of the Philippine Revolution.”

Gwen Zamora as Goyo’s love interest Remedios Nable Jose

For Goyo, Jerrold Tarog returns as director and screenwriter (with Rody Vera, fresh from the critical acclaim for his screenplay work in Signal Rock). Producers of the film are TBA Studios, Artikulo Uno Productions and Globe Studios.

TBA Studios’ executive producers Fernando Ortigas and E.A. Rocha confirmed that Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is bigger than Heneral Luna in more ways than one.

“The problem with Jerrold (laughs) is when he has a vision, it can be expensive,” Ortigas told The STAR. “But when Jerrold has a vision and a message, it’s priceless.”

Heneral Luna reportedly cost P80M and went on to earn over P240M in the box office. When asked for a ballpark figure for Goyo’s budget, Rocha said, “Way more (than Heneral Luna). Roughly about three times, including marketing. It’s the biggest film (in Philippine cinema). Nando (Ortigas) got the guts and Globe believed in our vision to make the biggest film because we’re gonna treat the audience with the utmost respect that we can. We made sure that Jerrold’s vision would come out the way he saw it. TBA’s motto really is the Filipino people deserve the best film we can make. And I think we’re proving that. In other words, it’s a love letter to the Philippine audience.”

Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini

For Tarog, he’s very much aware of how much trust the producers have had given him to be able to execute a project of this scope and scale. “When I was starting out, I was very skeptical with the idea of finding a producer who would have this level of trust in me. Now that I’m here, it feels surreal but in a way, I’m endlessly grateful to them that they are like that to me and with other filmmakers, also. I don’t take it for granted,” he said.

It took three years for them to release the follow-up film because first of all, the scriptwriting took some time to “perfect,” which was about six to seven months. 

Ortigas said, “We didn’t really think Luna would be a big hit. The idea was to make three films (with the last one on the former president Manuel L. Quezon) but in contingent that Luna would have propelled us to the next one. So, when Luna became a box-office hit, we pushed Jerrold and said, ‘How fast can you write?’ And he said, he had to do research… Then he said, ‘I want to get Rod Vera.’ And we said, ‘Rod, can you finish it like yesterday (laughs)?’ It took him about two or three months. When the script was almost there, we started getting the production (in April last year).”    

Goyo with Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo played by Mon Confiado

Goyo filmed for 60 days in Tarlac, Bataan, Rizal, Batangas and Ilocos, spanning the months of May through December 2017. The old Dagupan rose from an empty lot in Tarlac. “It was great that Tarlac governor Susan Yap gave us a location without charge,” Rocha said.

The most costly and challenging scene to shoot was the infamous Battle of Tirad Pass, where Filipino troops commandeered by the young general made the last stand and ultimately, met the end.

Tarog said that they had climbed up to Tirad Pass twice but when it proved too tough for the production, they scrapped the initial plan and opted to shoot the battle scenes at Mt. Balagbag in Rizal province instead. He shared, “It was a question of… at times, our cameras were in one mountain then our actors were in another mountain so how could you pull off the logistics, the blocking, everything was difficult and how would you recreate the idea that the soldiers were suffering? The difficulty was passed on to the crew because we shot during the rainy season.” And one day of shooting would equal to just one minute of film time. “Ako nga mismo nagugulat in terms of the set, parang is this for real? Kami lahat sobrang grateful lang na nagawa namin yun.”

Since Tarog is also an award-winning composer, will Goyo have an equally “grand” score and soundtrack? “I hope so,” he laughed. “I also took the effort to make the score sound epic.”

Arron Villaflor as Joven Hernando

Asked how he managed to be the movie’s director, screenwriter and at the same time, composer, he said, “I know, pahirap sa sarili ko (laughs). I wrote the script first with Rody Vera. We shot the film, I edited the film myself and afterwards, that was the time I made the music. So, it was like, after the shoot, I locked myself in my room for six to seven months to make the music and also because I was editing.”

Magnitude of the production, notwithstanding, at the heart of Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is the coming-of-age story of one of the most revered Filipino heroes of the late-19th century — how a naïve, young person comes to terms with adulthood, responsibility and making sacrifices. “The message here is we’re asking everyone to find the heroism within. Do something good for the country, stop being selfish, pretty much like Goyo, he’s very entitled but he goes through a journey and finds the hero in himself. And boy, what a hero he became and that’s what we’re trying to impart, especially to the youth of the country. We have to change, goddamit, it’s about time,” said Rocha, who also has a role in the film.

Tarog, for his part, laid out the differences between Goyo and his previous film. “I always say that Heneral Luna is all fire and anger. When it comes to Goyo, it’s introspection. If Luna is fire, then Goyo is water. That’s the flow of the story. So, mas tahimik yung pelikula (it’s more subdued) and in a way, it’s an invitation to the audience to reflect on what is happening on screen,” explained Tarog, also saying that the film, again, attempts to utilize the past as a reflection of the present. “It’s more of, ‘Saan ba tayo nagkamali sa ano yung nangyari sa revolution natin at bakit tayo naging ganito ngayon?’”

Paulo Avelino is not only playing the titular Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, he is also one of the film’s executive producers

With research based on Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes, Teodoro Kalaw’s An Acceptable Holocaust, Gen. Jose Alejandrino’s The Price of Freedom, The Letters of Apolinario Mabini, among others, the director tries to provide a “balanced” picture of the young general as the hero that he truly was, but who wasn’t also devoid of, one would say, faults or flaws.  “When you read about Goyo, usually accounts about him are medyo straightforward na heroic siya, but when you encounter the book of Nick Joaquin, A Question of Heroes... binabasag niya yung mga tao na tinuturing natin na mga bayani (he tears down the people we regard as heroes). So, I somehow tried to find a balance.” For one, he noted certain accounts by friends of Goyo who witnessed his fear at times, which came with the realization of his mortality. “These are things we don’t usually see in a film about a hero? So, I tried to emphasize in the film the idea that (Goyo) also got scared because he realized that his life was very fragile.”

Heneral Luna had its share of criticism from historians. Tarog expects the same for Goyo.  “Of course,” he laughed. “I will just wait for their reactions.”

Tarog is also not thinking much of the expectations over his film. Rather, he is more excited to show it to the public because “I’m pretty much aware that a film like this has never been done before in the Philippines. Among all the films I’ve done, I’m very, very happy with this one because of the trust the producers gave me. What’s important to me is that I was able to focus on a film that makes me happy. So, whenever people would ask me if I get pressured like with Luna, I’d say, not really.”

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