Confessions of an indie filmmaker

Antoinette Jadaone - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Breaking Dawn Part 2 was all you could see in the malls. Late for the 7:20 p.m. screening at Cinema 5? No rush, Cinema 7 was showing it at 7:50. Oh, seats J14 and 15 are already taken, ma’am? Cinema 3 still has them at 8:10. The theaters’ treatment of Breaking Dawn Part 2 is understandable — its estimated gross is nearly $600 million. But then I go back five weeks ago, when Origin8 Media’s Raymond Lee was practically begging these same malls to give my film, Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, one — just one — theater. It becomes heartbreaking from here.

OA na kung OA, but try to understand: How’s having 50 people inside a 1,000-seat theater watching your film? We joked, “Pwede kaming mag-patintero sa loob.” Only now, I can’t laugh about it. Hindi nakakatawa. In fact, nakakaiyak. Because when you are that film’s director and you see a nearly empty cinema watching the movie you’ve worked your heart out for, it really is heartbreaking. So excuse my tears; pahingi na rin ng tissue, pare. ‘Yung two-ply.

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay is my first full-length film. We enjoyed a successful run at the 2011 Cinema One Originals festival, even getting some awards and film festival invitations. It was a collaborative work of love, with my family and friends volunteering their time, money and support just to help me complete it; this, after years of only dreaming about it.

Commercial release

After the festival, I knew exactly what our next step would be: a commercial release. I just had this burning desire to share our film with the fellow Pinoys and I thought this was enough. After all, I figured, with all the sweat and tears and heartbreak I had while making this film, I’m sure quota na si Universe sa’kin. I believed the commercial release was going to be easy compared to the making of the movie.

Ano ka, Skyfall?” the Universe then replied, “O Star Cinema man lang?”

Our play date was set for Oct. 31. It was payday and a long weekend — people had money and time to watch films. On this same day, though, two other films were also opening — Skyfall and Star Cinema’s Mario Maurer-Erich Gonzalez starrer, Suddenly It’s Magic. I don’t want to say that we were going up against these films because it definitely wasn’t a competition and I figured the three of us had different target audiences anyway. It was a case of sa’yo ang Tondo, James Bond, sa’yo ang Cavite, Mario Maurer. And Nanay Lilia Cuntapay? Sa kanya ang nine theaters lang naman. And Twitter.

Two days before opening though, four out of nine of these theaters decided to pull us out of their lineup. We eventually added one, leaving us six cinemas to show our movie. Not bad for an indie, some would say. Not bad at all. But when you’ve waited so long to show people your film, “not bad” just won’t do.

Social Media

Twitter and Facebook, they were our sharpest weapons. I relied on the kindness of friends and friends of friends to help us spread the word. “Oct. 31 is Lilia Cuntapay Day,” we declared. We were lucky we didn’t end up in Twitter jail for spamming everyone’s walls with everything Lilia Cuntapay. Sorry, indie lang po.

See, we couldn’t afford to place our trailer on TV (although Cinema One snagged us spots on their cable channel and on Showtime’s commercial gaps). Neither did Nanay Lilia have any eksklusibong tsismis to clear on The Buzz. Theaters also didn’t show our trailer. It would have been a really big help had they done so before box-office hits like This Guy’s In Love With You, Mare, Tiktik and A Secret Affair, but it may have been too much to ask — we were just Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, our lead star was no Bea Alonzo and our story wasn’t about adultery.

The day of judgment came — Wednesday, Oct. 31. With malls, there is such a thing as “first day-last day”; when the first day grosses of a movie are very small, cinemas often decide to pull the film out from their line-up immediately, without even waiting for weekend audiences to come. We needed to convince six theaters that we deserved at least a second day. That’s why we urged our friends to watch the film as many times as they could on opening day — sukatan na ito ng friendship, we told them.

But neither our Twitter and Facebook campaigns nor our gentle threats to friends worked as well as we hoped. On Oct. 31, one screening in one theater sold only 17 tickets in a 1,200-seat cinema. Some friends texted me to say there were only around 20 people in the movie house. One person even said that only five of them were inside. “Parang pinarenta ko yung sinehan,” he said. That was supposed to be funny, but on that day, I couldn’t bear to laugh. Kahit sarcastic pa. I waited one year for my film to be released commercially, and when it finally happened, konti lang ang manonood?

Made for Pinoys

I made Six Degrees for Pinoys. I didn’t make this film for Italians or Koreans or Americans, although I am very, very happy that they loved it when it was screened for them at international film festivals. They even laughed and cried with Nanay Lilia. I had the Pinoy viewer in mind when I was writing the script — people who could understand and appreciate “tabi, tabi po, nuno” or the cameo by Kris Aquino, or the clip of Maging Sino Ka Man in the movie. But most Pinoy viewers still decided to watch Skyfall instead of Six Degrees.

I gathered my team to watch our film at a mall, in the big cinema where I watched Don’t Give Up On Us, One More Chance and Transformers — and now it was showing my film; the film we worked our asses and hearts off for for seven months; the movie I only used to dream about.

The lights went off, and the opening credits rolled; credits I’ve seen a thousand times before. As the film played, I heard the people in the theater laugh at all the right punch lines — alone, with their friends, or while holding hands with their boyfriends. My team was laughing as if they were seeing the film for the first time.

These are the people that I made this movie for, and when the film ended, they clapped. They f*cking clapped. And most of them even stayed as the end credits rolled. I later learned that there were exactly 97 of us who watched that screening. And at that point, I told myself, it was all f*cking worth it. Not bad. Not bad at all.

* * *

The author would like to incessantly thank Raymond Lee, Orign8 Media, Cinema One Originals, and the at least 97 people who watched Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay in its week-long run.

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