Why Arjo’s 9-year-old dream project ‘needs to be told’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Why Arjo�s 9-year-old dream project �needs to be told�
Arjo Atayde is set to resume fi lming of Hey Joe, the fi rst movie under his production house, Feelmaking Productions, Inc.
STAR / File

Arjo Atayde is gearing up for a return to filming following his recovery from COVID-19.

Opening up on his recent bout with the coronavirus disease, he believes vaccines saved him from getting so much worse.

“Kaka-recover lang din. Merong hirap ng hinga kahit papaano, konting paghihina but much, much, much better,” the 30-year-old Kapamilya actor told The STAR last Sept. 25 when asked how he’s been doing after getting hospitalized last month.

Arjo said being an asthmatic, the whole experience became one of the scariest times of his life.

“I am very, very scared because obviously, pneumonia. And I had severe back pain, you cannot imagine, it was so painful,” he recalled. “For some weird reason, biglang ang sakit ng likod mo… mahapdi... and the doctor told me that it was already building pneumonia. It wasn’t helping. Nag-fi-freak out na ako, (I was thinking) oh my god, this is not even a joke anymore. That was one of the scariest times of my life. I’ve never been this scared.”

One realization during his health ordeal is that it’s also a mental game for anyone battling the virus.

“Any added stress won’t help. Anyone who has COVID, it’s a mental game talaga. I mean we’re all familiar, but it hits people differently, di ba? Iba’t-ibang organs ang possible na matamaan. Iba-iba din yung symptoms, there’s mild, moderate and severe COVID patients, and I was somewhere between moderate (to severe)... I had all the symptoms, even the worst back pains, hindi mo alam kung saan nanggagaling. Everything. Pati paghinga, inhaling specifically, mahirap.”

Vaccine awareness

According to Arjo, his parents Sylvia Sanchez and Art Atayde’s own experience with COVID last year helped him deal better with the sickness.

“Not for anything, muntikan na rin sila madale nung COVID… Meron din kaming iilan na kaibigan that we try to help as much as we can because we’re kind of familiar in a way, especially kami mismo nagkaroon, but not know-it-all, just to a certain extent that we think could help.”

Arjo recalled that early this year, he was asked to do a video about vaccine awareness but that it was “hard to explain to people because I never got (COVID). Realistically speaking, you’d believe someone who got it. I didn’t know what to say to people, convincing them, until I got it. When I got it, I just thought, I wouldn’t and couldn’t even wish this on anyone, not even my enemy, you know, if I had but I don’t.

“But it’s such an experience. It’s such a mental game, just thinking about your family. Iniisip mo kasi with COVID, para kang ticking time bomb. Kailangan maagapan kaagad. You can’t just say ipapabukas ko na ‘to. Kailangan ‘pag nalaman mo, you have to do something about it.”

Spreading awareness on the merits of getting vaccinated, he further realized, is one thing he could do now, especially after surviving the virus. “I’m not gonna force people because meron tayong kanya-kanyang opinion but based on experience and what the doctor told me, ‘The vaccine that you had played a very big part in saving you from the COVID worsening in your system,’” he said.

“I believe it because I survived it.”

Meanwhile, Arjo said he has a lot of people to thank for helping him get through that tough time. “People whom I didn’t expect to text me, people from the industry, no need to mention (their names). But I was so surprised by these people who I barely talk to but I just built a good relationship with them, they showed sincerity at my down time. I will treasure that,” he said.

“I would always be thankful to my family, to (girlfriend) Maine (Mendoza) and to everyone else who’s always there. But not only thank (them) but also a reminder to everyone that when someone gets this, it’s the hardest to stay positive, but fight it. There’s hope in everything. Hangga’t may hininga, may pag-asa.”

Resuming work

Arjo and his production company Feelmaking Productions, Inc. (FPI) are preparing to resume shooting for the film, titled Hey Joe, in Baguio City. “Yes, I’m now about to get back to work. Na-delay lang din ang shooting gawa na rin ng ECQ. But I was ready to go back the moment I got out (laughs) kasi may momentum na kami dun, eh.”

He confirmed an earlier statement by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) that the issue with the local government of Baguio City has been settled and resolved. To recall, his movie, which was filming in the Summer Capital for two months, got put on hold last month after an investigation was ordered into the production over a possible breach of protocols.

“Yes, resolved na and we will be shooting hopefully by October. Of course, depende lang din po sa LGU and the Baguio government kung kailan kami possible umakyat, then we will go there to finish our last day,” Arjo said.

The film, which is roughly 98-percent done and down to its last two shooting days, tackles the relationship between a grandmother (played by veteran actress Nova Villa) and her grandson (Arjo). It’s the first movie produced under FPI, his newly formed production house with veteran TV director Avel Sunpongco, and advertising and marketing communications practitioner Marj So.

“It’s about every Filipino today, in some way. The story is about love, about reality… Every character reflects a person in reality, experiencing something. It might be happiness, sadness, anger; it goes with the ‘feel.’ Isa siyang kwentong kailangan ikwento ngayon,” he said, careful not to spoil the plot.

The story idea originated from a personal experience of Arjo, co-written and developed further by his Bagman director Shugo Praico and ABS-CBN writer Jerry Gracio.

“Definitely, my goal since Day 1 in creating this story is to get it out there,” he said. “It took nine years in the making because I wrote the story coming from an experience. I won’t explain why (since) it’s a bit personal, but there was a certain situation where I was there and it was just chaos, chaos. In the middle of chaos, I saw just the silhouette of two people, I won’t even explain further... But for some weird reason, out of sincerity, of love, I built the story instantly. And I just kept building it...”

Eddie Garcia as inspiration

The film was supposed to star the late Eddie Garcia in the grandparent role. Arjo had worked with the screen legend, who died in 2019, on the ABS-CBN series FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano. “I had a conversation right before he left everyone. I was going to meet him supposedly the day after he passed away to talk about his nuances, his additions to the script,” said Arjo, who turned emotional, upon remembering the actor.

“Same day, I got the call. Of course, it was the worst news and not for anything — forget about the story — I was devastated as a friend, as an apo. After that, it died and no one wanted to touch the script anymore.”

One day, Arjo chanced upon the fantasy-comedy movie Miss Granny starring Nova Villa. “The challenge for us, as a team, was how could you present a dramatic film in a very light way? As I was trying to get my inspiration back, no doubt Tita Nova became a choice right away.”

The script underwent revisions to accommodate the “gender change,” but the movie will also pay tribute to Eddie Garcia. Arjo sought the permission of Eddie’s family to use some of his images in the film. “Tito Eddie is still an inspiration and I believe he became the reason behind everything pushing through despite the pandemic.”

As for Nova, Arjo said, “She’s already so good but she gave so much more each day that we kept on going... The whole Baguio (team), you know… Everyone was on board. You’re rolling on the same page, you’re flipping that page together. It’s all because of everyone and the blessing of Tito Eddie, I believe.”

They’ve started editing the film, as well as negotiations with streaming platforms for a possible release. Asked about his other plans and goals after this project, Arjo said he’s set to do something with ABS-CBN “very, very soon.” He also hopes for a Season 3 for the iWant and Dreamscape series Bagman, for which he won Best Actor at the third Asian Academy Creative Awards last December 2020.

He further said: “I would want to be able to do many more roles that are different again. I don’t want to repeat any role as much as possible.

“And to have a family is definitely one of my plans, one of the things that I look forward to, because why else am I working anyways?

“And just to grow as a person, you know. To accept the imbalance of reality, to embrace positivity, and the people I love, to protect them. To, you know, take it day by day, but progress as much as possible and learn in every way.”

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