A good sports movie
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2019 - 12:00am

One of the things this writer has long wished for is good Filipino sports movie. There have been many excellent sports movies over the past decades (“Raging Bull” was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential American movies of all time). But in the Philippines, it has been left behind as an art. There are many reasons why sports movies have not developed as much as other genres of cinema. And it has nothing to do with the skill of directors, writers and the other creative minds of the industry.

To begin with, some major studios are simply mill churning out formulaic movies as quickly as they can. In the late 1980’s, the “pito-pito” (seven-seven) trend was created: seven days to write a script, seven days to shoot a movie. But this was actually designed to help one studio pad its inventory to fulfill its contract for weekly movies to air on a leading television network. This led to some absurd situations, like unfinished movies actually making it into cinemas. This writer once sat through a Dolphy comedy whose sound had not yet been dubbed over. You could still hear the camera grinding and the director shouting instructions in the background. Today, studios put immense pressure on directors to complete a film in 40 days. If they don’t, they don’t get succeeding projects. This stringent and reasonable requirement puts so much strain on directors that two of them have dropped dead from fatigue.

Also, it is much easier for a studio to spend most of its budget on the talent fee of big name stars and make cute romantic comedies of slapstick comedies, instead. They can do multiple takes and variations of sight gags (visual humor) without spending on set pieces and crowd scenes. Since the invention of video (which was first used to help directors see their shots immediately and save the cost of reshoots), producers have gotten lax. They can do as many takes as they wants. A comedian mugging in front of the camera is much easier to film than an entire crowd of extras who would need to be dressed, fed and controlled. A crowd would also mean renting a venue like a coliseum, which could cost hundreds of thousands of pesos a day.

In addition to the logistical and continuity nightmare of shooting crowd scenes, sports movies have a technical standard that comes with making them. The automatic expectation of authenticity is very high. Actors have to look the part, equipment has to be the real thing, and so on. Even in the many pseudo boxing movies produced in the last half century, the protagonist never really trains to look like an athlete. In other countries, authenticity is taken much more seriously.

Also, sports is considered a niche market. Despite the popularity of basketball, not everyone is into it, and a basketball movie would not necessarily attract a female audience. The script would have to highlight relationships in (mostly romantic ones) for the film to achieve this. And if you were to do a basketball movie, your lead actor would have to be unusually tall. The options would therefore be limited. And studios would just rather plug in mainstream actor, even if he looks nothing like the protagonist in real life. When doing pre-production for his Rocky films, Sylvester Stallone wanted to cast real heavyweight boxer Ernie Shavers, but their size disparity was just too obvious. He cast the much smaller Mr. T, instead. Casting actors as athletes in a much more limited market like the Philippines is even more difficult.

Studios don’t bother to learn the sports they are simulating. They just show a little of the sport to establish it, then the respected athlete is forced onto comedic situations he or she is not prepared for. This often results in scenes that demean the athlete, all for the sake of a laugh. They are not shown as the highly competent experts that they are.

All over the world, scripts are designed to move the story along, not to be factually correct. In movies from “Chariots of Fire” to “Glory Road” to so many others, real-life characters are downplayed or deleted, events that didn’t happen are inserted, and so on, all in aid of the three-act narrative. The contrast between the set-up and conflict must be artificially heightened so that the resolution is more satisfying – even if it didn’t happen that way in real life.

Lastly, producers in the Philippines generally target Filipinos here and abroad. They don’t believe Filipino films in general can appeal to a broad international market. Hence, that is where the focus is. Given that, why would they further hamstring themselves by making a sports movie that they will likely not get right?

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