Recapturing the magic of Encantadia
Vanessa Balbuena (The Freeman) - July 10, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - It has been said that you rarely catch lightning in a bottle twice. When that rare stroke of genius comes, blessed is the man who can summon back that moment of brilliance.

Yet with how things are shaping up so far, director Mark Reyes feels confident that he and his team have “caught the lightning” again, so to speak, and recaptured the magic of “Encantadia,” GMA-7’s groundbreaking 2005 telefantasya.

It was the success of one vital goosebumps-inducing scene which gave Reyes that huge sigh of relief that yes indeed, this 2016 Encantadia “requel” (a remake and a sequel) is most definitely on the right track.

“One of the heart-and-soul scenes of Encantadia is when the sisters fight with each other at bumaklas si Pirena from Lireo at inaway niya si Inang Reyna,” Reyes explains during a press conference at the Golden Cowrie Lahug restaurant.

The said scene – shown briefly in the recently released Encantadia mega-trailer – signals Pirena’s break-away from their kingdom of Lireo and from her family, drawing her sword at her Queen Mother in a fit of anger as her shocked sisters foil her attempt.

“When we were doing that scene, I was kind of nervous. If this does not work with this cast, we’re dead. Because in 2005, when they did that scene, I said ‘That’s it. That’s the show.’ And then when the cast now finally did it, I turned to my executive producer and said, ‘You know what, we didn’t have one Primetime Queen in that scene,” said Reyes, referencing Marian Rivera who plays Inang Reyna. “We had five.’”

“They [the new Sang’gre’s] delivered, and I was so happy because that scene was the heart of the show.”

Encantadia’s grand TV comeback would never have been had one former GMA Films executive not seen that a proposed fantasy movie was better off as a primetime series. Written by Suzette Doctolero (“My Husband’s Lover”), the supposed movie was titled “Ada Encantada” and focused on just one diwata or female deity. Long story short, “Ada Encantada” became television’s “Encantadia,” inspiring sequels and a movie, and inducing legions of fans who to this day, call themselves Encantadiks.

There were previous two attempts to bring back Encantadia – in 2009 and 2013 – but the economic climate wasn’t favorable then. “The network felt it wasn’t the right time. The economy wasn’t doing that well, so we decided to put it aside,” said Reyes.

Finally, Reyes got a call last December telling him that it was time. “We panicked a bit since they wanted it aired mid-year of 2016. Encantadia is something you prepare one year for. We prepared a year for the first; this one, I barely had four months before we started shooting. December, we hit the ground running. I gathered the team I used to work with in Encantadia and got some new people too. It was a long series of auditions until we came up with the cast.”

If it took 11 years to bring back the Kapuso masterpiece, Reyes said it was only because “it was very hard to outdo the first one which was embedded in the heart of viewers.”

Encantadia’s budget, said Reyes, is no joke. The production is an equivalent of at least five shows, and so he feels the network’s mandate to provide the requel everything it needs is a stamp of confidence that he and his entire team will deliver.

“The network won’t pursue something like this if they feel they won’t recover,” he said. “The price of plywood 10 years ago has now been tripled. At walang natira sa original Encantadia that we used now, so we started from zero.”

If rebuilding kingdoms from scratch was a challenge, making Encantadia fresh to a whole new generation of viewers was an even bigger task.

“It’s very difficult because the 2005 Encantadia is still on Iflix and it’s shown on Fox Filipino. I think the reason it’s still popular now because it’s iconic. For some reason, we were able to make it look timeless and not dated. So we have to compete with ourselves.”

“For new audiences,” continued Reyes, “we will start from the beginning and tell the story so they can catch up. For old audiences, they will not get bored because at a certain point, we will stop being a remake and segue into a sequel where everything is fresh. No one knows anything. Nothing is canon.”

“But also with the remake, there were some story and plot holes that we are fixing now. Like the character of Sunshine Dizon now is not present in the first one. The character Asval played by Neil Ryan Sese was taken out of the sequel, but we thought of developing the character earlier so we put him back. The length of Dawn Zulueta’s turn as Inang Reyna was shorter since she was about to give birth. And now with Marian Rivera, we extended Inang Reyna’s role to develop better her relationship with her four daughters.”

Despite these tweaks here and there, Reyes said their ears remain alert on the ground to adapt to social media-savvy viewers.

“What was not prevalent back in 2005 was social media. Now, it’s instant gratification and instant condemnation. The reaction is so fast, so digital. They want results. They want faster pacing. If they don’t like something, they’d say it out loud. So we’re sensitive about these things,” the director of former GMA-7 soaps “The Half Sisters” and “Because of You” said.

“The viewing sensibilities are very different now. Now, they compare us to ‘Game of Thrones’ and I tell them we can’t do that because their budget is 10 million, my budget is 10 pesos.”

Speaking of the hit HBO fantasy, does Reyes feel the Filipino audience is ready for shocking twists and fan-favorite deaths ala “Game of Thrones”?

“We will have to test that out because, you know, Western audiences get mad, but will later on forget about it and still watch,” Reyes says. “Here in the Philippines, if people see a kontrabida in a mall, lalapitan nila and sasampalin. So we’ll have to see. Baka mamaya, ‘Sa’n ba nakatira yang director na yan? Bakit mo pinatay si ganyan?’ But I have told the cast, ‘Sige mag-bulakbol kayo, I will ‘Game of Thrones’ you.’”

What is sure though, Reyes said, is the improvement in special effects and action sequences. “Now, we have drone cameras, we’re shooting in HD… so at least we’re with the times. This isn’t something we shoot, put effects, and then we air. This is like a movie. In GMA, ‘Ilustrado’ was done this way, but for a primetime series, this is the first where it’s color-graded and with sound design,” boasts Reyes.

But trust Reyes and his crew not to merely rely on computer magic, for as he says, at the heart of it all is the story of family – a subject Pinoys are fond of.

“I think what made Encantadia work before, it’s very Pinoy in nature,” Reyes pointed out. “Take out the gems and the costumes, it’s basically the story of four sisters trying to uproot themselves and then trying to be part of that disjointed family. And then the mom is there, and when the mom is gone, they quarrel among themselves, and how they become a family against all odds. Very Pinoy. I think that’s the heart and soul of Encantadia.”

To flesh out this heart and soul of four sisters, the task of finding the right actresses (Glaiza de Castro, Kylie Padilla, Sanya Lopez and Gabbi Garcia) to play the four Sang’gre’s was most crucial.

“Unlike starting a new soap, where we just know the characters on paper and you hope that whoever you end up picking, ‘Uy parang bagay si Kylie dito,’ and then you develop the roles after you start taping. In Encantadia, we know exactly who Danaya was, who Amihan was, who Pirena and Alena was…so it was easier to pinpoint that ‘Ah, Glaiza is surely Pirena.’ That’s why when I heard Kylie wanted to be Pirena, I was ‘No, hindi ka bagay dun. I’m eyeing you as Amihan.’ My choice for Pirena, hands-down, was really Glaiza. No questions. Kylie as Amihan, no questions also,” shared Reyes.

The great advantage now, according to Reyes, is that his Sang’gre’s have prior martial arts exposure unlike the original Sansg’gre’s.

“Kasi dati, sila Sunshine, Iza, Karylle and Diana had zero background in fighting. Now, ang sarap bigyan ng fight scene ni Kylie and Glaiza. Ang sarap nila tignan magbakbakan. And you know, Diana Zubiri was a relatively fresh face when we got her and again, we wanted a fresh face to take up Danaya, so we got Sanya. I told Sanya to really work on her arnis, because for the original, we were praised by the Arnis Association of the Philippines, that finally, there’s a show that pays tribute to the local martial arts. We can’t fail on the form and style. And then there was a love team with Ybarro and Alena, and Ruru and Gabbi fit the bill.”

Describing each of the Sang’gre’s and why they are good female role models, Reyes further relates, “Danaya is a fierce warrior. She’s the person you must get or bring out if you’re facing a fight or a challenge. Amihan is that strong leader with a compassionate heart. Alena is the peace-maker. When there’s conflict, she’s the one who pacifies. Choose love, choose happy, choose life…siya yun. Pirena is the scarred one. Ang daming issues sa buhay. Siya yung bugbog na bugbog. Siya yung lumalaban, but in the end, she will choose family over ambition.”

“So these are the four pillars and four facets of women that I think make Encantadia work,” he adds.

Asked what made him and management ultimately decide on Glaiza, Kylie, Sanya and Gabbi, Reyes shared: “Yung hindi sakit sa ulo. I tell them this is not merely an acting job, it’s a vocation. You want this role, you have to be in shape. I told the girls, if you cannot commit, and you think you cannot follow the lifestyle of being in an armor with no belly, then this show is not for you. The same with Ruru and Rocco, they have to bulk up. I cannot see a skinny guy portraying someone who lives in the mountains and fights for his life every day. And all of them committed.”

Kylie, in fact, showed her commitment by forgetting her former inhibitions of showing skin. “In the original, it was only Iza who begged off from wearing full-on sexy because she was not the Iza now…we all know her story. This time around, we became conservative. The first designs, may takip sila sa stomach. But when we were doing the pictorials, we felt there was something wrong. It did not feel like the old Encantadia. Then the producer said, ‘I think we should cut off yung takip nila sa tiyan.’ So talagang two-piece na siya. That’s why they really have to stay in shape.”

At the end of the day, Reyes tells his four female stars that a huge aspect of the show’s success lies not only in her on-cam performance, but also in their off-cam dynamics.  “For this to work, I told them that first and foremost, the four girls have to get along. This is the same thing I told the original Sang’gres. Walang intrigahan,” he says.

“Don’t feel that you have to be superior to this other person. It’s not gonna work. Because day in and day out, we will be struggling during taping, where we shoot four times a week and we have late hours. The only way the first Encantadia worked was the girls became really close friends – even until now. We get together every year, well, not sabay with Dingdong and Karylle…you know, the bond is still there. And I hope that same magic happens to this cast. I’m not expecting it, but if it happens, then good. But in terms of their working relationship, I feel that the bond is there. The four girls have it, the cast is tight, and that’s what we need. One loose thread, and it’s not gonna work because people will see it on screen.”

Reyes said Encantadia is committed to air until December. But past his shows, like “Half Sisters” for one (which was committed for three months, but became two years), have proven that there’s no telling how long a program will last if audiences embrace it with fervor.

“Let’s see how this goes. If there’s a demand for it, we will extend most definitely.”   (FREEMAN)




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