ABS-CBN Films takes a new direction as it returns to cinemas

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
ABS-CBN Films takes a new direction as it returns to cinemas

ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc. is taking a new direction as it makes its way back to the cinemas in the last quarter of 2022 with three movies. Its opening salvo come November is An Inconvenient Love top-billed by the love team of Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano.

When ABS-CBN announced last April that Kriz Gazmen would serve as the new head of ABS-CBN Films, succeeding Olivia Lamasan, it was indicated that his appointment was going to bring in a fresh era of storytelling, while new approaches in content creation and platform migration were going to be further explored.

Gazmen, a cum laude UP Film graduate who started out as a creative producer for Star Cinema, used to oversee ABS-CBN Films’ subsidiary Black Sheep before his current role.

Under his leadership, ABS-CBN Films is officially making a theatrical return. What gave them confidence to do so this year is also the success of their content, including DonBelle’s He’s Into Her series released on iWantTFC, during the height of the pandemic.

“We’re confident about the content we do more than anything. (We noticed) a lot of things were tried during the pandemic. But ‘pag tinignan mo, happy pa rin kami na yung ano alam naming gawin, such as the likes of He’s Into Her, we made a KathNiel sitcom The House Arrest of Us and Hello, Stranger, na sabi namin sa ABS-CBN Films, thank God, everything that we tried to pivot and maneuver, like our strategies, during the pandemic worked… We still know how to communicate to our audiences,” Gazmen said during a recent virtual interview.

They’re also banking on what they’ve seen as audiences’ increased hunger for content.

“Especially during the lockdown, nakita mo na lahat ng tao, all of a sudden, naging best friend niya entertainment. Di lang Pinoy, sa totoo lang K-drama na pinapanood ng lahat and all those series that came out on Netflix and all the other streaming platforms. So, we said (to ourselves), there’s such a huge appetite for content. That’s what gave us confidence,” he said.

He also noted how they studied various models on how they could sustain their health as a company. The Kapamilya network’s situation after Congress denied its renewal for a 25-year franchise last June 2020 somehow became a “blessing in disguise” in that it was “forced to innovate” and expand its world to include partnerships.

“For the longest time, feeling namin sa totoo lang, sobrang halos lahat, we try to do things on our own, distribute our own films, we’re the ones in charge of monetizing our films. But when the world is bigger, all the more pala na ‘di siya one-man show,” Gazmen said.

ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc. head Kriz Gazmen says Star Cinema, the flagship brand of the Kapamilya network’s film arm, will be ‘bolder’ and ‘younger’ in terms of content.

“We found so many different partners out there. We’re grateful for partners who were willing to help when they learned na parang okay, financially, may problema ang ABS. We had the confidence na we had so many partners who came to us and believed in the content that we do, as in the level na willing mag-invest and spend for titles. We realized that there was so much to learn in terms of partnerships, especially now, even with the streaming platforms kasi andyan na yung audience ngayon,” he added.

Through these partnerships, they were also emboldened to go back to the theaters, beginning with a DonBelle film.

For Gazmen, it’s only fitting that ABS-CBN Films returns with An Inconvenient Love given that the team-up was born during the pandemic through He’s Into Her.

“During the pandemic, we really struggled with what we’re going to do, we wanted to experiment doing a lot of things and thankfully, He’s Into Her was one of those hits. Sabi nga namin, during the pandemic when it was so difficult to build stars — ang hirap kasi nagsabay pandemic and shutdown of ABS — we really grappled with where are we going, what platforms are we really going to use. And when He’s Into Her happened, we’re so grateful our audiences received them (DonBelle) very well,” the network executive said.

After He’s Into Her Season 1, DonBelle had the follow-up project Love is Color Blind, a movie released on ktx.ph and eventually on Netflix. Their series also had a second season that wrapped up last Aug. 14.

“When we were planning ano ba talaga yung gusto naming comeback (vehicle) to the cinemas, we thought we just have so much faith in DonBelle, (we have to) strike while the iron is hot,” he said.

Film plot details are not yet available, but Gazmen teased that the material is more difficult than DonBelle’s previous works. It is directed by Petersen Vargas and written by Enrico Santos and Daisy Cayanan.

The two other ABS-CBN films are entries for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival — Partners in Crime starring Vice Ganda and Ivana Alawi and Labyu with an Accent featuring Coco Martin and Jodi Sta. Maria.

Meanwhile, Gazmen disclosed that along with the return to the cinemas, ABS-CBN Films is also taking a new direction as a company. He clarified though it’s not just because it has undergone a change of leadership, but also because audience profiles and preferences have changed.

“Mostly, ang sinusundan namin is the direction of where audiences are, and the taste of the audience is so different now. What used to work, I don’t think it’s going to work now, so ang laki ng bagay na ‘pag tinitignan yung kinds of content na na-appreciate ng audiences ngayon, andami nilang hinahanap na bago,” he explained.

“May feeling ako na ‘pag binigyan mo audience ng usual, magrereklamo na sila, ‘Yan nanaman…’ and right now, sentiments are real time. ‘Pag may isa kang content na hindi nagustuhan ng tao, kita mo yan all over social media. So, I think what’s good right now is that we’re able to quickly monitor the taste and feedback of the audience in terms of kung ano mababago (what needs to be changed).”

One thing’s for sure, ABS-CBN Films’ flagship brand Star Cinema is going to be “bolder and younger.”

“Star Cinema, in general, is gonna be bolder as a brand. It’s gonna be younger. It’s gonna talk to the audiences now — sino audiences ngayon na mas malakas nagko-consume ng content — but, of course, without forgetting what is the essence of a Star Cinema content,” said Gazmen.

“Nandoon pa rin (yung) what people normally love, the emotions are still there, yung family-friendly values are still there, but this time around, ibang bihis… In terms of vision, that’s where we want to go.”

Gazmen admitted it’s “scary” to resume theatrical runs and releases as it means they’re taking many risks.

“But at the end of the day, wala kaming magagawa, that’s our business — movie-making. We still believe in the power of movies being consumed in theaters kasi iba pa rin yung experience.”

He cited as examples the recent box-office performances of Hollywood movies such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Jurassic World: Dominion, which proved that people are still willing to watch movies inside a movie house.

Gazmen believes that “people have adapted and are going back to the cinemas, sabi namin, as long as we have great content.” Although it would be very tough to produce those Hollywood-level films, he said that “what we know very well is how to tell the Filipino story.”

The last big hit of Star Cinema was the 2019 OFW-themed Hello, Love, Goodbye, which ultimately became the highest-grossing Filipino film of all time after opening in more than 400 cinemas and reportedly earning over P800M in gross revenues worldwide.

Gazmen said, “Our biggest wish is to bring that kind of behavior to cinemas. Nakaka-pressure pero lahat ng bagay na high-risk ay high reward. So, hopefully, it pays off.”

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