The truth behind ‘On the Job’
THE OUTSIDER - Erwin T. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2013 - 12:00am

Frequently asked questions, notes, and assorted trivia about On The Job’s score

When it began…

Erik Matti asked me to come onboard to do the music for On The Job three years ago. We did a scene-by-scene reading of the script, and he detailed each scene for the creative team that he assembled. Even then, his vision for the film was so clear that you couldn’t help but see and, in my case, hear the film already. That doesn’t mean he dictated how we were going to make the film. He trusted all of us to contribute and collaborate with him. He gave us all the support, encouraging us to think (yes, think) about what we could do to bring the story up to the level that he had set for himself. The film was his dream. He allowed us to dream it up with him.

The original concept of Erik for the film was that I was to act as the music supervisor and select only pre-recorded material for the film. (This didn’t exactly work out as planned and I had to produce several of the tracks used in the film, acting as musical director.) As early as the first script conference, I already jotted down possible songs to be used for the scenes that needed it. I knew from the start that I wanted to only use music from local artists though Erik gave me no such requirement. (He gave me that much freedom.) Furthermore, I just didn’t want to use anything that was too obvious. In fact, I took it as an opportunity to complement Erik’s story of a criminal underground racket and under-the-table dealings in the corridors of power by coming up with a “secret history” of OPM. If any popular artists were to be included, it would be their lesser-known album cuts rather than their hit singles. Early on, two tracks from Juan dela Cruz were considered: Maskara and Pinoy Blues.


Lalo Schifrin — especially his work on the first Dirty Harry film. I really loved how he made San Francisco sing with percussion. Also, as one perceptive viewer pointed out to me recently, the DJ Shadow album Endtroducing… was particularly influential albeit unconsciously. That album was such a landmark. If anything, how he made that album — the thinking about sampling and how it could be used creatively — as well as the mood that he managed to create on it may have provided a template for my work on OTJ. Another influence would be Vanishing Tribe’s soundtracks for Ishmael Bernal’s films.


Interesting story: We were supposed to finish the film on a Monday. I got a call from one of our producers, Steve Vesagas, that we had the synch rights to the Juan dela Cruz songs but not the performance rights. That meant we could use the compositions but not the actual recordings. Right away, after getting approval from Erik, I called Dong Abay and Francis de Veyra from the Radioactive Sago Project asking them if they could record the two songs that weekend at HIT Studio. Thankfully they agreed. For Maskara I originally wanted Armi Millare to play keyboards but when we got to the studio I got the crazy idea that we should just record Dong’s voice and layer them on top of each other. Armi did all the vocal arrangements, working closely with Dong to see how far we could push it with his voice. (I’ve always loved how Dong uses his vocals and how much of a performance he puts into each song.) For Sago, well it was only a matter of letting them do what they do best. And hitting record.

 For one crucial and poignant scene, I knew we didn’t have anything pre-recorded that would be right for it. I called Ely Buendia and asked if he could come up with anything. Erik always encourages collaboration and so I again asked Armi if she was willing to work on the track. The two songs they recorded for the movie was all done in one night, right after viewing a cut of the film.

Who else did you work with for the music?

Arvin Nogueras, who most people know as Caliph8, was my classmate in college and I’ve always been a fan of his. His band, Bent Lynchpin, make instrumental music that sound like soundtracks already. (One of his bandmates, Fred Sandoval, was my music editor for the film.) I also chose to work with music from artists like Pasta Groove. A lot of people describe the music of the film as being very rock but really it’s local hip-hop that’s much more of a pervasive influence on the sound of OTJ. To further prove the point, we had no less than the late great FrancisM, who I wish I could’ve worked with even once. He is sadly missed.

Special mention should go to the guys at HIT, namely Dennis Cham and Salito Malca for not only allowing us to record at their lovely studio but being real collaborators in the truest sense. They egged us on to do more with each take as well as provided much-needed guidance on how to use the capacities of their studio.

Where can you get the complete soundtrack?

As of now, there are no plans to release an official soundtrack. But if you want a complete listing of all the music in the film, watch it again and stay for the credits! Then buy the albums of the artists! Go to their gigs! (If you want to hear OTJ, I strongly suggest you go to Subflex at BSide, which happens every first Wednesday of the month. If anything, that’s where all of the main music was born.) As for the original music for the film, who knows? Perhaps one day…

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