"Taklub" is a powerful cli fi movie directed by Brillante Mendoza in the Philippines, and was recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival where it won an Ecumenical Award for its humanitarin theme of climate change and communities coming together.
The movie won the Best Picture award at this 2015 Cli Fi Movie Awards, dubbed the Cliffies, and took awards on several other annual categories as well. The Best Screenplay award went to Honee Alipio for her script for "Taklub."
Wanting to know more about how Ms. Alipio went about preparing for her work on the movie and how she went about writing her screenplay, we reached out to her in Manila via email and asked a few questions about the screenwriting process and "Taklub." She graciously replied in Internet time, and here are excerpts from her answers:
- DAN BLOOM: Writing a screenplay is in many ways a team effort, because your words will be spoken by the actors in their own inflection and nuance and your words will be filmed by the cameraman in his or her own hand-held camera way, and your words will be given to the actors to speak under the directorial supervision of Director Mendoza...so tell me....how to start work on the screenplay and in the end how many pages did it come in at, if you can say, like 100 pages or 160 pages. And did you write the screenplay in English or Tagalog?
- The script was 75 pages with 93 sequences.
- I wrote the screenplay in Filipino.
- I went to Tacloban City three times to reseach, interview references, and observe the human, cultural and communal behavior of the survivors. I was then at the time working as a full-time communications specialist in one of USAID projects on family health. I only had weekends and extra work leaves to fly to Tacloban City.
- My first visit to Taclonban was to research on the overarching situation of the people, the political scenario, the roles of the civil society, non-goverment organizations, church and local media. I also interviewed several survivors for possible subjects/referents, specifically mothers who lost their children and husbands. Later on I realized that the magnanimity of the havoc brought by Supertyphoon Yolanda in November 2013 could not suffice to only one story, it should be a story of a community. When I got back to Manila I told my mentor (and creative consultant for ''Taklub'') Armando “Bing” Lao and Direk Dante that the story could represent each survivors who lost their reciprocals - that is to say: a mother who lost her children, a husband who lost his wife, a son (with siblings) lost their parents. They gave me the greenlight to proceeed.
- My 2nd research visit to Tacloban was to interview 2 references (which would be the characters in the movie named Larry and Bebeth), to study the geography aof the area and go to transitional sites, government institutions.
- My 3rd research trip was to interview 2 more references (which would be Erwin and Kagawad/Councilor’s), and there I also bumped into one Tzu Chi volunteers activity, went to more locations.
- For me, half of the bulk of screenwriting is researching and another half for the creative processing of the facts.
DAN BLOOM: When you write a screenplay, like for ''TAKLUB'', how much back and forth meetings and conferences did you have with director Mendoza, in order to get the story and dialogue right?
- HONEE ALIPIO:
- Together with my mentor and Director Mendoza, we would meet for every dramatic act that iIfinished (usually on a Sunday and this went on for 4 times). We discussed about the design per act, logic, drama, engagements with the institutions, rhetoric, etc.
- Direk Dante was always there during the discussions providing insights and inserting some considerations or requirements but he never meddled with my writing process. He didn’t even read the drafts until my last revisions, and for his patience I thank him and I admire him for allowing me to fully write in peace, without any bias to his feelings or ideas.
- The dialogues were not really an issue, we never discussed about the dialogues which were just almost an ad-lib, common, either driven physiologically or ecologically. Well, except for some scenes where i needed to put dialogues that are intentional for the character.
DAN BLOOM: Did you also write in the screenplay such notes as "CAMERA INSTRUCTIONS" such as close ups, pan left, cue music, or did you leave all those things to director Mendoza as he shot the movie on set and on location?
- I did not provide camera instructions. That was all up to Direk Dante on how he would interpret the scenes based on the message/rhetoric that the scene wishes to assert. Also, descriptions were given to suggest or cue the director/camera that scenes/objects need to be close-up, wide shot, etc.
- The diegetic music or songs (through radio and live singing) were used as a design in the script to interconnect the lives of the 3 main characters.
DAN BLOOM: The movie began with an idea. Not a documentary but a feature movie. Not an advocacy film per se, but somewhat like an advocacy feature film, sponsored and funded by the government. When Mr Mendoza first approched you about doing the screenplay, what was you initial reaction?
Of course I was excited and honored. The story of the survivors of SuperTyphoon Yolanda in 2013 is something that is absolutely part of the Philippine history, something that not only Filipinos but all of humanity must remember and learn from the repercussions of neglecting the warnings of the nature, and therefore it is something thatI wanted to give my best. Prior to that, I also got involved with two documentary projects on the Yolanda aftermath, and media training on disaster risk reduction in Tacloban through Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON). So when Direk Dante said that I was being commissioned to write an ''advocacy film'' in a narrative form, I accepted the proposal because i knew my experiences in fieldwork, being grounded to the community, and being trained for social realism screenwriting would surely help me deliver ''Taklub'' on time and on message.
DAN BLOOM: Did you ever work with Mr Mendoza before on any earlier films?
HONEE ALIPIO: This was the first time I worked with Director Mendonza. It was an honor.
DAN BLOOM: During the shooting, were you there on set every day, too, to write new dialog as the case might come up or did you stay back in Manila and just answer questions that Mr Mendoza might have had by telephone or emall or text? How did you work during the actual filimg?
- I only stayed for 4 days during the shoot since I needed to get back to my regular day job in Manila. Anyway, there were only few changes that came up, and Direk Dante and I share the same approach of story-telling which is ‘found story’ or rooted at social realism, so any commutation that he did wouldn’t ward away from the context of the sequences or script as a whole. And although Direk Dante knows what alternatives he can replace (objects, scenes, etc) but he would still call and consult me as courtesy to being the writer.
DAN BLOOM: In the movie, Filipina actress Glenda Kennedy plays the role of a Tzu Chi volunteer. What was her role in the movie in terms of the theme of post-disaster recovery and resilience?
Ms. Kennedy’s role was as a local Tzu Chi volunteer facilitating the counting of donations and inspections of the tent city.
DAN BLOOM: Sierra, the little girl who celebrates her birthday in the makeshift hut in the movie, I heard she is a non-professional actor. And a very good one, quite natural. As you know, she won the BEST CHILD ACTOR award for the 2015 CLI FI MOVIE AWARDS because we wanted to celebrate children as the next generation as climate change advances and gets worse in the future. When you wrote Sierra's part, did you talk to her beforehand at all, or did you meet her first time on set? How did Director Mendoza find her and cast her? And what is the name of the girl she plays in the movie. I LOVED that scence when they sing happy birthday to her! THAT touched me.
I only met Sierra during the shoot. Zander was our casting manager and Direk Dante auditioned her for the role. She played the role of Erwin’s youngest sister in the movie.
DAN BLOOM: The famous actress Nora Aunor, of course, is amazing and wonderful. Did you write the script with her in mind specificially or did her casting come later? And if you did write it with her in mind, in what way did you write it for Nora knowing her power in cinema and her past performances -- Ate Guy?
- Direk Dante told me beforehand that he had Ms. Nora Aunor in mind as the main character which added to my excitement as it was my dream to write a screenplay that stars the Philippine cinema icon. My real-life referent to Bebeth embodies characteristics that Nora can surely deliver. Yes, I had Nora in mind while writing the script (together with Julio Diaz and Lou Veloso), it helped me see what they do, how they would behave, make their emotions photographable through, etc.
- When I was asked by Direk Dante and Sir Bing who I might want to play the character should Nora Aunor not be avaible for the film, I had to say that I honestly couldn’t give the name of any alternative actress that I thought could deliver justice to the character of Bebeth. There are have ''name names'' in the Philippines film and TV industry that could it off, but I think no one can perfectly blend-in with the community, knows the operation of the day-to-day lives of the masses, and top it with suitable acting mechanics better than Nora herself. She was perfect for the role.
DAN BLOOM: In your mind and your point of view, what part of the script was the most powerful and meaningful to you, as sa criptwriter, which scene or scenes specifically and why?
Every scene that the characters attempt to empower themselves to face the institutions, and equally for every scene that the characters enfeeble themselves from desperation.
DAN BLOOM: And which part or scenes in the final movie on the screen most resonate with you as both screenwriter and human being?
For me, the scenes where the characters engage themselves to each other as a social being. That when catastrophies like SuperTyphoon Yolanda hit us, and have taken almost everything from us -- including our loved ones and what little faith we have left, we still give and gather strength from the people around us. We managed to keep hope alive because somebody was in need of us, let alone that fact that mourning and grieving take time to wallow in, but for sure we will get back on our feet!
DAN BLOOM: We gave the BEST SCREENWRITER award to you for this year's 2015 ''CLIFFIES'' -- last year it went to the screenwriters of NOAH movie directed by Darren Aronofsky of which he was one of the two writers -- because you wrote a powerful story! And ....with the COP21 U.N. climate meeting coming up in late Novemeber, we wanted to draw worldwide attention to your movie and your script in hopes of maybe serving as a wake up call to world leaders. So yes, your little movie made in the Philippines is a worldwide wake up call, that is how good it is! Of course, ''TAKLUB'' is not about climate change exactly, it is about post disaster YOLANDA recovery and the resilience of the people of the Philippines. But in a way it is also a climate movie, and that is why it caught my attention as the BEST CLI FI Movie of 2015, better than anything from Hollywood or Europe. So congratuatlions.
How does getting a CLIFFIE feel?
I am truly happy and grateful for being awarded as the best screenwriter for a Cliffie in 2015. I hope that the film indeed serves as a springboard to recognize the need to do something about Climate Change and to protect our environment. ''Taklub'' is designed for that, and as a screenwriter I intentionally emphasized on what fire, water, and Earth can do to magnanimously affect the economic, social, political lives and even the foundation of faith of humans.
DAN BLOOM: Anything else you want to say to readers about how a scriptwriter goes about crafting a story in collaboration with a team of director/crew/casting director/cameraman/actors, PR and marketing/ sponsors?
As a screenwriter, first, I give most importance to respecting the lives of the references and the people whom I interviewed in my research for the movie. With this, screenplays will always show sensitivity to the characters. When writing, I make sure that emotions are photographable (through iconic objects) and varied so that actors can showcase their acting prowess, the locations are chromatic and detailed to facilitate production design team interpret the set and needed props. I provide suitable inflections and ironies to the characters vis-a-vis institutions that would widen, add density, and scale up or down the story for the director and cameraman process and interpret each scene.
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