• Writing the Romance

      “I got a story for a movie...”

      Way back late April 2010, Victor Villanueva and I met in Turtles Nest Book Café, a regular haunt for creative types in the city. Earlier we finished a screenplay for a short motion-picture that Victor would direct and produce, about South Koreans and the ESL community in Cebu, a romantic comedy called “Saranghae My Tutor” (“I Love My Tutor”, still in post-production).

      After the successful collaboration with the short movie’s twenty-page screenplay, Victor felt that that we could work together on a full-length one. Victor always had good concepts for stories. I was already familiar with his student works and early projects, which had entertainment appeal. I was all for that.

      Though I appreciate and admire the ‘artistic’ and ‘truthful’ efforts of other movie makers in Cebu and in the Philippines, I am committed to the craft of story-telling and movie making to entertain audiences; to ‘enrich’ a humdrum hour or two of their lives with laughter or other strong emotion. My own life had been enriched the same way countless times before. It is for this sole reason that I am passionate about movies.

      If audiences get influenced to think differently than they used to, dig out a nugget of enlightenment or become ‘smarter’ from experiencing my stories, then that’s a big plus but as a ‘story writer’, I humbly set sights level on the chest rather than aim high for the head.

      When we met, Victor had already produced and directed short movie projects in Cebu and in Manila. He also worked on full-length productions like Ruel Antipuesto and Jerrold Tarog’s “Confessional” (2007) and Joyce Bernal’s “Kimmy Dora”(2009). He has yet to venture on making a full-length movie on his own, or even write a screenplay for one from scratch. I believe he had attempted before, and perhaps had not succeeded. If he did, he wouldn’t be asking me for help.

      As for me, this wasn’t my first time hearing, “I got a story for a movie...” I’ve heard it in one form or another, and often with the underlying intention, “...and I need your help to write it.” In 2005, I wrote a hundred-page screenplay about the revolutionary hero Leon Kilat for director Carlo J. Caparas, who was well known in the 1990’s for his ‘massacre movies’.

      Also, I was involved as the screenwriter for a possible movie production with Cebu cinema icon Gloria Sevilla at the time when Victor and I met in Turtles Nest.

      Both projects were “on-spec/speculation”, an advertising term that’s been adopted by screenwriters (especially in Hollywood) on producing material in the hopes that it would interest willing producers to make the material into a movie. Compensation comes once funding is there. Since 2001, I’ve written fourteen on-spec full length screenplays of ninety or more pages, including “My Paranormal Romance.”

      Back to Victor and I on our ‘story conference’ in Turtles’ Nest; we continue with a process we naturally got into with the writing of “Saranghae my Tutor.”

      Victor tells me his story idea. I record the telling on my digital recorder as I take down notes and ask questions to explore the story further. As soon as Victor runs of details to share regarding his story idea, we conclude the meeting with a general estimate of how soon I could get back to him about his story.

      Then I go home and make time to write out his story idea from personal memory, with the notes I’ve written and the session itself as recorded in audio. It’s like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, with many large pieces missing in key areas.

      It is my task to fill in those missing spots, with characters; their appearances, names and back-story, with settings; descriptions and atmosphere, and with the plot; beginning, middle and end.

      As I’ve done in many other previous story writing projects, I start by writing a one-page synopsis, where I establish the main characters and the beginnings of the plot.

      I tend to write more than one synopsis for a given story idea. There are so many ways a story can go, and so many ways on how to tell it. I read a lot; I think I read more than I’ve written, and will ever write. This foundation of stories as well as information on a variety of topics is a strong source of inspiration as well as motivation. With such a foundation, ‘writer’s block’ is a mere pebble that can distract but never disrupt one’s work.

      I also feel that having more than one story synopsis to send back gives the story’s originator the power to make a decisive choice. Maybe, he or she likes the promise of one synopsis more than the others. With that decisive choice, come the beginnings of commitment to the selected story.

      The one-page synopsis serves as a marker for me, as a story teller. It is a starting point, this is where the story begins: ‘there are these people (the main characters) who have these lives which changed dramatically because something happened and then...’

      I stop the one-page synopsis at ‘and then...’ because at the time I have not completely figured out where ‘and then’ will go, much more how the story would end. These one-page synopses I send back to the story’s originator for his or her approval. Once I received the ‘green light’ along with some comments, recommendations on how the story and/or characters should be developed, I proceed to beyond ‘and then...’

      It usually takes me about a week to ‘see’ the story in its entirety, through which I ‘daydream’ about it every spare moment I can. I make the movie in my head. I note down key plot events or emotional points sometimes so as not to forget. When I feel that I have seen 80 percent of the story, especially how it ends, I sit back down in front of my PC and write out the treatment.

      The film's script went through rewrites and revisions for the director's exciting, enchanting, extraordinary vision

      A movie treatment is a manuscript that details the story out more than a synopsis or an outline. For a full-length movie, a treatment can run between twenty to eighty pages, depending on how detailed the writing can get--on who’s in the story, what they look like, what they go through, where they go and what they do--from beginning, middle and end. It could be said that the treatment is like a script, just without the dialogue. It’s all action and description sentences, nouns and verbs, all in the present tense as if it’s happening as one reads it.

      I write out treatments between two days to a week, depending on my eagerness.

      The treatments I send back for the originator to read and evaluate. Then more comments on character and plot development would come, what needs to be added and need to be taken out. However once the originator is pleased with the overall treatment, I go on to write out the screenplay.

      I write in English and Filipino, two languages I am most comfortable with since I grew up and studied in Manila until my third year in high school. My scene, action and character descriptions are written in English and my dialogues are mostly in Filipino. If I write a Cebuano/Visayan screenplay, the result would be the same then I would spend longer time and more effort as I translate the dialogue of the first draft into Cebuano/Visayan for the second draft.

      I write fast since I don’t think too much on the first draft. I just let the story flow out on its own without my inner editor/critic making comments or corrections.

      The fastest time I worked on a first draft is about four days. The screenplay of “My Paranormal Romance” was written out in such a time-frame. Many colleagues and friends voice surprise at the speed of my writing. It’s just that I’ve been doing this for many years and once I’ve been daydreaming, breathing a story for so long through synopses and treatments, ‘seeing’ the story in my head completely as a movie, it has to get out from my neurons and become ‘real’ on paper.

      More than an aspect of my skills, it’s become a necessity for the screenplay to exist as soon as possible. Any delay, loss of momentum and interest could send a story into mental limbo or, as some would say, ‘on the backburner to simmer until ready’’; however when one puts things on the backburner for a long time, things burn to a crisp and get discarded.

      Once I complete the first draft, I keep it for myself. I believe that a writer should never share the first draft. I put the draft aside, keep it safe but never show it to anyone unless it’s necessary.

      If there’s time, if there’s no cutoff to meet, I keep away from the original draft for about three days. Then I get back to the script with the mindset of an editor and critic, checking for errors in spelling and grammar, plot loopholes, changing a scene to make it more ‘visual’ with further details and descriptions, showing the story. For example, rather than just state that a character drives a car, I’d re-imagine then re-write ‘...drives a rundown ‘98 Corolla with rust biting at the seams and edges.’ Details like that build up interest from readers. Once readers start to imagine the details, they enter the world of the script and are invested with its story’s progress.

      I also believe that real writing is in the re-writing. Even though I’m smitten to the core with the raw freshness of the original draft, there’s a discipline I strive to make sure that I have written out the script in the best manner.

      It’s usually the second or third draft I send out to people to read, send back to the
      originator to review. Then I wait, or work while I wait. After a week or so, a story meeting gets called for everyone who are invited to be involved in the production to discuss the second draft script (which they all should have read prior to the meeting), on its strengths or weaknesses, on how to develop it further.

      Collaboration is integral in the creative process of a movie. As the screenwriter, I do not only consider the opinions of just the director or the producer. If there are good or valid comments from others, like the cinematographer, the production designer and at times, from the actors in terms of the character development, I take notes. The director regularly acts as the funnel and filter, for these opinions, taking which works for him and his overall vision for the movie and gives these to me as guidance on the rewrites. And the rewrites do come aplenty.

      From these story meetups with the production team of “My Paranormal Romance”, the script underwent three or four total plot versions as Victor formalized his vision with our support. The final version went on to have four or five rewrites, three by myself, the last two by the director Victor with some ‘polishing’ assistance from others as they proceed forward with production.

      As production began for the movie I am involved with, my role as ‘surrogate parent’ to the story came to its culmination and I turn the script over to its ‘real parent’, the director, to make it a movie.

      I know playwrights of stage plays have a more intensive role in the productions of their written works. They work side by side with the directors through the castings and rehearsals, as if they’re there to make sure that their script is properly and, as much as possible, faithfully adapted on the stage. I think such dedication and labor are wonderful.

      Once I have the means to do so, I would work side by side with the cast and crew from production to post-production until the premiere, when the movie has to be promoted.

      It’s a matter of expediency however for me to not get too involved in the production. My role as a screenwriter has its limits and I respect those boundaries. A movie is a director’s show, and I think it is very important that screenwriters should always be supportive of the director’s vision of the story. If screenwriters have doubts or complaints, then they should just go and be directors of their own movies.

      It’s also a matter of trust. I always look for what I call ‘creative chemistry’ with my collaborators. If I work well with others, I place trust and expectations that they will achieve much with what I’ve written. And once that trust gets fulfilled, all the better for me to look forward to more future collaborations with such people, like Victor and the hardworking cast, crew of “My Paranormal Romance”.

      As I take to the bench, sit out the production for the time being and cheer on the cast and crew, I don’t simply wait, I keep busy--Earn my living as a technical writer, read bargain sale books, browse the Internet for news and global trends, keep tabs on upcoming movies in Hollywood, Europe and Asia (though I rarely watch movies in theaters these days), listen to global music, hold free seminars for students interested in writing stories, attend local culture and arts events, blog about such experiences, produce and direct short films or video projects to study movie-making, and write more stories and scripts.

      I keep busy because I know it’s foolish to pin ambitions on only one body of work, especially in this profession, in this business of story.

      There are so many stories in the world. More often than not, all simply ‘re-told’ by many, many writers working on them to make sure these appear original, fresh. It’s very competitive. Movies and TV series today, even in the Philippines, have teams of writers to develop stories for scripts.

      The ‘system’ goes something like this: a director or producer proposes a story concept, the team members write out synopses and treatments based on the concept. The best will be selected, discussed and developed.

      Then each member will go on writing their script version of the chosen treatment, then the best script will be selected, discussed and further developed.

      With such a competitive environment, how does one stand out among story writers and screenwriters? Persistence certainly helps. Curiosity is also another quality that’s needed. Both fuel creativity which is essentially the willingness to explore possibilities.

      And anything’s possible on a blank sheet. Keep the rudimentary skills that the craft requires sharp like use of language, grammar, spelling, through reading and writing.

      That’s where persistence comes: always write, never wait. The more stories one writes and sends out, the more one improves, the more the odds stack in one’s favor that someone else, someone in authority (a producer) likes the work so much to fund its production as a movie.

      There are so many people, like directors or producers, who have many stories to tell and excel in other areas of expertise but they do not have the discipline, patience, knowledge and skills of fleshing these concepts out-- with structure, with values and potency to spark interest, to inspire involvement. It’s the working screenwriter who helps overcome this hurdle and the production begins, the movie gets to be made then enjoyed by audiences ultimately.

      “My Paranormal Romance” is my first screenplay that’s been made into a full-length motion picture, but it isn’t my first written full-length screenplay nor would it be my last. I persist despite the hard work, speculative compensation and the odds, because I enjoy what I do. I simply enjoy stories. When I open a novel, start to watch a movie, sit down to listen to another human being, or set out to write one of my very own -- I’m curious where these would take me. So far, I haven’t been completely devastated by disappointment.

      So I continue, to find and enjoy the good stories, and to give out my own for others to experience and enjoy.

      There are a lot of stories and movies out there.

      What’s your story for a movie?

      By: Dennis "Diem" Judilla

      MY PARANORMAL ROMANCE is a Cinema One Original 2011 production in Cebu, and has gained prestigious awards. It will be shown in SM Cinemas this coming Valentines' Day. Check our article regarding this movie--> My Paranormal Romance

      Its screenplay is written by fellow iSTORYAn Diem Judilla, with story by Victor Villanueva (also a USC alumnus) and Diem Judilla.

      Article originally published in the University of San Carlos BFA Cinema film journal SINEKULTURA. Check out their Facebook Page:

      You may like...
      Comments 3 Comments
      1. thisbe.ara's Avatar
        thisbe.ara -
        Kudos to Cebu Cinematography!
        Kuya Diem, I'm proud of you..

        Btw, Ticket priced at P100 only per movie for the Cinema One Originals in Cebu on Feb. 11 to 16 at SM Theater Cebu cinema 8.

        Catch other great Cebuano-made movies like Confessional, Damgo ni Eleuteria and Di Ingon Nato in SM Cinemas.
      1. potterboy's Avatar
        potterboy -
        Nice one Diem. I hope they get to show this in Manila or set another screening schedule apart from the Feb. 11 to Feb 16. I'm really really going to watch this with the family. T_T
      1. Silver_clone's Avatar
        Silver_clone -
        Nice au ni.. magkatawa jud mu.. ehehehe.. mga liki na scripts and other crazy stuffs.. ehehheeh

      Facebook Comments

    about us
    We are the first Cebu Online Media.

    iSTORYA.NET is Cebu's Biggest, Southern Philippines' Most Active, and the Philippines' Strongest Online Community!
    follow us