• Golden Globe Awards

Write About Love (Philippines): Interview with Crisanto B. Aquino

Screenwriters, often the unsung heroes in cinema, get the spotlight for a change in Crisanto B. Aquino’s feature directing debut, Write About Love. Working as an assistant director for a decade, Aquino decided that in his diving in as a full-time filmmaker, he would focus on scriptwriters as the main characters.
Writing with Janica Mae Regalo and Ays De Guzman, Aquino fashions a comedy-romance in which two aspiring writers (Miles Ocampo) and veteran (Rocco Nacino), are forced to collaborate on a screenplay. As they work on the script, the two imagine their characters (Yeng Constantino and Joem Bascon) going through various complications, resulting in a film-within-a-film.
Starting in the film industry in 2006 as a production assistant, Aquino worked his way up, becoming a script continuity supervisor and then assistant director with such noted Filipino filmmakers as Chito S. Roño, Chris Martinez, Ruel S. Bayani, Pepe Diokno and Jerrold Tarog. This experience inspired Aquino, with the backing of TBA Studios, to write and direct his filmmaking debut, Write About Love.
The film won eight awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival and the ABC TV Award in the Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Was the film’s story based on your own script writing collaboration with another person? What was your idea inspiration for the story?
It’s been the germ of an idea for years to create a story about writers who physically enter the scenes that they are creating as they write. The film’s treatment came first before conceptualizing the actual story of Write About Love. Then, I thought, “why not play with the worlds of independent filmmaking and mainstream and merge them towards the end?” believing that the line between the two should be blurred.
For a change, it’s good to see the struggles of writing, of how unheralded the individuals who create stories and characters out of nothing, are depicted in the film.
In the middle of my script writing, I realized something: after watching a good film, we the audience always commend the director or actors, but we never discuss about who the writer was. The writers are nameless until the final credits.
Like here in the Philippines, in the 2007 hit, One More Chance, everybody praised Cathy Garcia-Molina (director), John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo (actors). But if you ask the moviegoers who are the writers, only a few know they are Carmi Raymundo and Vanessa Valdez.
In my film, after the last shot, I placed the writers’ names (Crisanto, Janice Mae Regalo and Ays De Guzman) first before the director. That’s intentional. This film is my gift to all the writers who create our stories.
What films or TV shows have you enjoyed that depict the act of writing?
I loved Stranger Than Fiction, Moulin Rouge! and Secret Window.
What qualities did you want the four leads to have so the couples are different from each other?
For the male writer, I wanted him to be serious and introvert, the opposite of the female writer who is jolly and extrovert. As for the other couple, Marco is like the male writer while Joyce is like the female writer but more mainstream-ish.
How influential was Ricky Lee, the Philippines’ veteran screenwriter, who is prominently mentioned in the film, in your own work?
I first encountered the name Ricky Lee when I was in college during the late ‘90s. I read his book Trip to Quiapo (a central district in Manila). Ever since then, a small flame of being a writer started to grow inside my heart.
When I asked Ricky for permission to use his book Trip to Quiapo in my film, he was very accommodating. After finishing my film, I invited him to attend our premiere night. I was so humbled that he said yes. He influenced me a lot in my writing career.
Do you agree with Ricky’s analogy in his screenwriting manual that there are three kinds of writers, with Quiapo as a metaphor for a good story (first writer uses the known route; second writer tries other routes but still ends up in Quiapo; and third writer does not end up in Quiapo at all, but he convinces the reader the place is Quiapo)? Which one are you and why?
Yes, I guess I belong to the second kind, but I want to be the third kind. As Ricky described it, the third kind of writer is the ideal and most experienced writer of them all.
Since I’m just a beginner and trying to study more to learn, I still belong to the writers who follow rules and soon, I will have enough courage to break some rules to create something different yet believable and acceptable.
Does Manila still have a flourishing coffee shop scene, as shown in the film, where writers hang out to create their scripts, books or articles? Or has the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on that scene?
I usually write at home or somewhere quiet but yes, there is a coffee shop I know in Tomas Morato (Quezon City) where some writers usually write. It’s called High Grounds Cafe. But some writers here in the Philippines also write in some branches of Starbucks. For a while, these places were closed (due to the pandemic). They are back in operation but with limited customers.
Describe your own writing process. What are your own rituals and preferences?
I usually write in a quiet place, usually in my own space at home, as I mentioned. Sometimes I write in an island where the sound of sea waves and birds are the only ambient. I prefer that sound rather than music or songs. Day or night doesn’t matter but what’s tricky is the mood. Sometimes I stare at the blank page for days and write nothing. But sometimes, it’s continuous days of writing.
What are the challenges being faced by the Philippine film industry today?
Before, there was a struggle between cinema and online platforms. Now that online is the main platform for films, the struggle is the challenge of creating a film in the middle of the pandemic in which cost is higher due to all the health safety protocols.
Not only that, recently the Metro Manila Film Festival released all their finalists online via Upstream, but some people pirated some entries, particularly Fan Girl of Antoinette Jadaone. Even in this climate of film release platforms, due to the pandemic, some people find ways to pirate heartlessly. That saddens us, filmmakers.
And how do you work your way around those challenges?
I believe that piracy will always be there. Maybe we need to transform the character of the entire Filipino nation to give value to the art of filmmaking, for the people to realize how important what we are doing because at the end of the day, we make films for them, to tell them their stories. If they can only give value to us in return, maybe piracy can stop.
What are your dreams and hopes as a filmmaker?
As a Filipino filmmaker, I dream that one day, our government will give us support. I hope that they won’t consider us as “non-essential.” I hope that they can support by giving subsidy like what the South Korean government is doing to filmmakers and as result, quality outcome follows.
To quote from the series, Salvation: “The non-essential, as you call the writers, the artists, the dreamers, are essential because in our darkest hours, they give us the most essential ingredients to the survival of the species: hope.”