Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Cebuano director Kerwin Go  on doing Hollywood B-movies to directing for Netflix

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

Some may not realize that being a film director is something you must work hard for, not just a prestigious position in a movie set handed immediately to an aspirant. Cebuano filmmaker Kerwin Go, for one, had to start from the bottom all the way to the top to get to where he is now in the Philippine film industry.

“I worked as an intern, then became an apprentice. During my apprenticeship, I had to carry lights and equipment and learn to set it up,” Go recalled of his experience in an interview with The FREEMAN during the recent Sugbo Entertainment Expo where he was one of the key speakers.

“The problem is that, now, people are going straight to director of photography without going through the bottom first. Immediately, they are the boss but they don’t know how to set up [the equipment]. I recommend [aspring filmmakers] to start from the bottom so they can be empathetic to the crew.”

Go’s name might ring a bell for those who watched Netflix's “Keys to the Heart”, a Filipino remake of the 2018 South Korean film, starring Zanjoe Marudo, Dolly De Leon, Elijah Canlas, and Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Dee. He also directed the 2019 Regal Entertainment action-comedy “Mina-anud” starring Dennis Trillo and Jerald Napoles with the special participation of fellow Cebuano Matteo Guidicelli.

On the surface, both of these films have contrasting audiences. “Mina-anud” is R-16 as it involves scenes of drug use and police brutality, while “Keys to the Heart” is more family-friendly. But Go said that both have one thing in common: the Bisaya humor sensibilities.

“It has sarcasm, irony, irreverence,” he said. “Because there are many things in Bisaya that you cannot translate into Tagalog or Manila humor. It’s so unique. It’s that voice that is quite distinct.”

Elaborating on his filmmaking approach, Go said, “I like to keep things simple as possible, and unpretentious, so that it’s easy to follow. I believe simplicity is key in letting the acting come out. I like to keep things brief. I like my editing to be quick. I don’t like to drag things too long. I like to be quick and entertaining.”

Working with the stars of “Keys” was smooth-sailing. “They were super professional and super easy to work with. They showed up all ready to work and knew who the characters were so I let them do their thing,” he shared.

Originally, it was a Star Cinema project that would feature Joshua Garcia, Zaijan Jaranilla, and Charo Santos-Concio.

“When it came to finding a director, it’s not under Star Cinema anymore,” he explained. “This was the property of Erik Matti and Dondon Monteverde [through Reality Entertainment] and CJ E&M held theIP rights."

“They thought of me because they were in the Cinemalaya screening of 'Mina-anud' and they liked how I tackled the comedy, the drama, and the ensemble cast. That’s how the film fell on my lap.”

-- Working his way up --

Before becoming a director, Go worked as a cinematographer for Hollywood B-movies such as “Special Ops” and “Absolute Fear”, as well as director of photography for Filipino films “Tuhog” and “Dear Other Self.”

“You could oversimplify a cinematographer as a glorified cameraman, but it’s something bigger than that. It’s your job as a cinematographer to translate the director’s vision from script to screen so you are the one who sets the mood, tone, look, and feel of the movie,” he said.

“You do that with your lighting, your camera and everything so it’s very technical and organizational because you are working with a lot of equipment and a lot of people such as cameramen, camera assistant, gaffer, gripper. It’s kind of like you need an organization and a precise position to deliver things on time.”

Being a cinematographer was a journey on its own. Back when he was still based in Cebu City, he was asked by his friends to come up with content for RCTV36 - Real Cebu TeleVision. That time, his only qualification was that he had a video camera.

One of those contents is a television show called “Ismol Beginnings” featuring then-unknown Budoy Marabiles, a Samar-born reggae musician of Junior Kilat fame who went on to become a housemate in the first Celebrity Edition season of Pinoy Big Brother in 2006.

“He wasn’t famous that time yet. He was just this guy who was hanging around in our office. I figured that this guy looks interesting, might as well get into work with him,” he recalled. “The show became a hit and that was my first taste of producing entertaining material that people want to watch.”

He then went to Los Angeles Film School to get his formal filmmaking education. As a cinematographer in B movies shot in Cebu, he met a group of martial artists who he thought would be interesting to feature in a documentary. That became “Eskrimadors” -- his first work as a director that focuses on the history of the eskrima martial art.

After its nomination at the 34th Gawad Urian Awards in 2011, he moved to Manila to pursue filmmaking full-time. He would later meet veteran cinematographer and director Matthew Wilson. During a workshop, Go impressed Wilson so much that the latter made him his apprentice.

“In those three years, Matthew introduced me to the people in the industry. He taught me how to shoot cars, food, and products. I look that as instrumental in my career because it’s very hard to break into the industry in Manila, especially if you don’t have contacts or connections there,” he said.

He eventually started directing his own commercials and became a cinematographer for other directors.

Go is a big fan of British filmmaker Danny Boyle, with his favorites being “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” He also credited the films “Apocalypse Now” and “Seven Samurai” for turning him into a filmmaker.

“When you direct a script that's not your own, you have to put your input because you are the one tasked to implement that. There are some things that you think are not going to work visually, so you need to change them, ” he explained.

Now that he has done an adult action-comedy and a family dramedy, Go’s next project is a found footage horror film which will be his reunion with Reality Entertainment.

On tackling several genres, he said, “If you can infuse your own sensibility into it, you will find a common thread. Whether it will be horror comedy or drama, there is always a common thread that you can weave through it. As I am doing horror next, I am going to inject humor so that it’s not going to be too disjointed [from my other films].”

Go advised Cebuano filmmakers not to pander to mainstream taste and to stick to their voices as visual storytellers.

“Always be authentic and be true to yourself as a filmmaker. If you try to please everybody, you will wind up pleasing nobody at all," he said.

"If you are authentic to your true self, you will find that you will actually connect to people, or you connect to the people you want to tell your story.”

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