Notes (and memories) on writing for the screen
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - June 11, 2018 - 12:00am

If such a tribute to scriptwriters were to be done locally, I’m sure that the most popular lines would be led by Maning Borlaza’s ‘You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat.’

Recent participation in a selection committee that went over dozens of film scripts had me harking back to the old days when I dabbled in the craft. 

It wasn’t my proudest moment, but my first script was written for Lino Brocka, a distinction not too many can claim. Except that we both quickly consigned the experience to oblivion.

Cherry Blossoms was one of Lino’s earliest works, done as a compromise with the producer in the hope of eventually bagging something closer to a dream project. Among the givens were that the romantic drama starring Pilar Pilapil and Dante Rivero was to be shot in Tokyo, and involve a search for a mssing relation. That’s all my memory tells me now.

The next scripting project was Boatman for Tikoy Aguiluz, starring parvenu stud Ronnie Lazaro and Sarsi Emmanuel. I co-wrote it with Raffy Guerrero, and Tikoy eventually had our script vetted by Pete Lacaba. I was particularly proud of having penned the lines for fellow-poet Freddie Salanga, who portayed a pimp for a sex show. When Ronnie’s character applies as a toro performer, he is told pithily: “Ibaba and lonta. Ipakita ang ari.”

Since I had resolved to work only with friends who happened to notable directors, my next filmscript was Kid, Huwag Kang Susuko for Peque Gallaga. Again, it was meant to be compromise project for another producer who simply wanted a quick takeoff on Karate Kid. It would star the upcoming Richard Gomez, with Rachel Ann Wolfe as his leading lady, Nida Blanca as his doting aunt, and a Chinese martial artist as his sifu

A phone call from Peque cued me in on the script’s requisites: romantic scenes, martial arts training and eventual violent encounters, with the bully-villain played by Mark Gil, and side encounters between the aunt and the sifu.

I finished the script in four days. After Peque and co-director Lore Reyes vetted it and tweaked some details, they started shooting. We were all pleased with the comic banter between the aunt and the kung fu master, who exchanged cliché adages as part of Pinoy and Chinoy wisdom.

I thought we had a pretty tight structure. Despite the producer’s sidekick (a lesser director) insisting on adding one more love scene, one more fight, and an inconsequential sequence that had the romantic partners going through a carnival’s horror ride (rather inexplicably), the year’s award-giving bodies took note. Nida Blanca won a Best Supporting Actress award, while I came away with both a CMMA and Famas award for Screenplay.

That was well over three decades ago. A pity that a subsequent script I was working on with Bing Caballero, for Ishmael Bernal, fell through before production. Titled Halakhak at Luha, it was about a movie star’s downfall, and was meant to star Nora Aunor.

I remained grateful for the sessions with Ishma, who introduced new lessons on scriptwriting, such as the need to apply what he called texture, and to use the seasons or weather as they related to the timeframe. I had loved his Relasyon, scripted by the legendary Ricky Lee, and Broken Marriage, written by Bing Caballero and Jose Carreon — with the give-and-take of realistic, crackling dialogue as hallmarks. I had also envied Mads Lacuesta for scripting Working Girls and Hinugot sa Langit, also for Bernal.

Earlier, I had admired the scripts of Jose Javier Reyes for Peque’s Oro, Plata, Mata, Pete Lacaba for Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. and Brocka’s Jaguar, and Doy del Mundo for Brocka’s Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag.

I had also enthused over Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon, co-written with Roy Iglesias, and Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, also scripted by the director.

I recall an Oscars ceremony where the most memorable lines of Hollywood dialogue were featured. Among these were: “Rosebud.” / “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” / “I coulda been a contender.” / “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine.” / “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Etc.

If such a tribute to scriptwriters were to be done locally, I’m sure that the most popular lines would be led by Maning Borlaza’s “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat.” Followed by “My brother is not a pig! Ang kapatid ko ay tao, hindi baboy damo!” maybe in a tie with “Walang himala!”

But the most overused line, in fact over-abused and totally unnecessary in any film, has been “Ano ang ibig mong sabihin?” Which was why I was glad that of over 20 script submissions I went through for the TOFARM filmfest grants, only one had that uber cliché of a line, which never advances any narrative beyond the product advertisement tactic of stressing by repetition.

Other observations: structural weaknesses, a tendency to be too talky and often unnecessarily didactic, and an over-reliance on falling back on montages, when the passage of time could be distilled in a single potent image or mise en scéne.

Also, a surfeit of scenes happens in the kitchen, where food is processed and eventually shared multiple times throughout a story. Okay, the filmfest theme involved agriculture. Still, the now-trendy farm-to-table culinary practice seemed overdone. A particular oddity was the excessive amount of scenes of making and having coffee. Well, I don’t know if the caffeine habit has truly become a contemporary Pinoy activity, even in the countryside.

A tagline used in a pitching session was most memorable: “May the forest be with you.” I’m hoping it can be applied as dialogue in the expected revision.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with