Exploring 'San Lazaro' with writer/director/star Wincy Ong

- Ramon De Veyra -

MANILA, Philippines - The inimitable Wincy Ong wrote, directed, and starred in his first full-length film, San Lazaro, then went to film school. That’s just how he rolls.

This coming Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m., the UP Film Institute will premiere Wincy Ong’s San Lazaro, its first non-festival screening. I was able to catch this strange little film while it showed out of competition at Cinemalaya, and made a note to talk to its writer/director/star, Wincy Ong, who has directed many a music video, and has successfully transferred his quirky persona into his latest venture. In the film, former schoolmates Limuel and Sigfried bring Limuel’s brother, who they believe is possessed, to an occult expert in the fictional town of San Lazaro. The comedy-horror also stars Nicco Manalo, Allan Forte, Bianca King, Julia Clarete, Earl Ignacio, and Ely Buendia.

Philippine Star: Give us the secret origin of San Lazaro. What made you think of the place as a setting?

Wincy Ong: San Lazaro is a fictional place that’s supposedly in Northern Luzon, a good distance that would be far but not too far from Manila. There are four or five real San Lazaros that you can see on GoogleMaps scattered all over the Philippines. While I was writing the screenplay, I sort of knew in the back of my head that the title of the movie would be San... Something, since most of the nondescript towns in the Philippines are named like that. I chanced upon San Lazaro, and it had a creepy musicality to it, good enough for a horror movie. Lazarus, the dead man come to life, is quite an eldritch concept if one thinks about it.

Upon writing the first draft, I wanted to make a fictional province so that there wouldn’t be any politics involved, like, say, a person in office complaining about the ill portrayal of their place. So the producers and I decided on making something entirely fictional. Funny thing is San Lazaro is actually a mix of Pampanga, Antipolo, Marikina, San Mateo, and the UP campus.

In my head, at least, San Lazaro is this town that’s a training ground for animistic warlocks. There’s a backstory there somewhere, but just like a lot of the scenes in the movie, we left the subtext for the audience to fill in.

What was the collaboration process like with Ramon Bautista? How about your other co-stars and guests?

Ramon and I wrote the outline in one session, then I just wrote the formal screenplay. It’s very easy to work with Ramon since he’s a writer himself. Some of the lines in the movie were improvised by him, and he even improvised lines for the other actors. The other co-stars who worked in the movie were friends that I happened to have worked with in the seven years I have been working after university. Bianca King is currently finishing Film Studies in CSB, and she’s very much a kindred spirit when it comes to horror movies. She’s a big Stephen King fan, just like me. Nicco Manalo is someone who I worked with for some cable channel plugs back when I was with ABS-CBN.

Ramon Bautista and Julia Clarete play husband and wife.

And the guy can just do anything you ask of him. Julia Clarete is a good friend, and she promised to help me whenever I make my own film. We worked together before on a rock ‘n roll film that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. Earl Ignacio was someone I met through the TV show Rakista. And Ely Buendia, who I helped with in some of his personal film projects and music videos, was game to act for my movie. Everything was just so informal. Like a couple of friends doing community theater.

What goes into juggling the disparate jobs of writer/director/actor?

That was the fun part, really. Honestly, I’m kind of a one-man band when it comes to filmmaking. Being an introvert, I get dizzy when there are too many people on the set. There’s just so much effort exerted communicating your vision. Doing things by yourself is so liberating and relaxing. I get more stressed when I delegate. I like doing things by myself for the most part. Not that I’m not a team player, it’s just that I think multi-tasking will make things cheaper, faster, and more direct. Also, I wanted to approach the movie like I was writing a novel on Final Cut Pro. The problem with big movies is visions get watered down as the idea gets passed onto more and more hands. I wanted it to be personal, and I didn’t show the rough cuts to a lot of people as I was in the middle of it. I only showed it to the crew.

What difficulties did you encounter in writing/producing/shooting your first full-length feature?

Since I was funding the entire production myself, I knew from the get-go that I’d be losing money as the shooting days went on. We had to stop production every other month, so I could do AVPs or act in commercials or write jingles so as to bankroll the rest of the movie. That was really tough. There were days when I just wanted to lie down in bed and read comics all day and forget about the movie. But in the end, we did finish it, after less than a year. Our first shooting day was September 2010. We premiered August 2011. I guess the challenges were easily overcome because everyone had so much passion about the project.











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