A Conversation with Ato Bautista
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
AT: How do you feel, that there was an old couple that walked out [at the premiere of the film at the NCCA]? Thatís the news I heard.
AB: I was glad. Truth is Iím glad. Iíd be scared if everyone I spoke to like the film. That means I did something wrong. Thereís something wrong if everyone, if every single person liked it. Thatís scary. That means you didnít do anything. For those two people to walk out on the film, that means they were affected, youíve gotten to them. On that alone, youíve gotten to them. For those people who were angered by the film, I got to them, they reacted to it. But if everyone I see liked the film, didnít have an opinionÖWhen you step out of mostly Hollywood films, itís ďThat was good, come on letís eatĒ. Donít you have that? Itís like that Will Smith movie I saw, they call it visual masturbation. When youíre in the theater, it feels good. When you step out afterwards, ďCome one, letís eatĒ, you just donít talk about it. But for those people who walked out, that means, theyíll tell other people about it. Even if itís not for them, theyíre a means to reaching other people.
AT: Thereís a Malaysian director I spoke to recently, U-Wei Bin Hajisaari, and we were talking about the film of another Malaysian director, Ho Yuhangís Sanctuary, on DV also, made with a really low budget. I like it; itís a very good film. We were talking about it and U-Wei said he liked it, and that Yuhangís a very good filmmaker, [he said] "But in the film [Sanctuary], all these negative things happen to the characters, one after the other. And then the film ends, thatís it. I think itís a very good film, but when you make a film, you have to have hope, there has to be some kind of light."
AB: If youíre asking me, what the light there is, itís the awakening. Though itís realistic, I still ended the film in a dream, in what one dreams of. For me man, I believe that for people to accomplish something, for them to really do it, he should think that if he so much as makes a mistake, heís going to die. The exchange of failure for the things we do is death. If youíre going to do something, you have to give everything; you have to give your life. If you make a mistake, youíll die. The film is like that. One more thing, I donít know if you got this. The ones who are drinking, they donít want to drink anymore, right. This is enough; they didnít want to drink anymore. They were the ones who were awake. But when Rey wakes up, his companions were the one knocked out. What happens to their lives the next day could have been another story. Maybe Pogi wonít look at women in the same way; maybe heíll change. Maybe Jopet will have a different life the following day. Kahoy may go back [to snatching], but heíll also be changed; he wonít want to drink anymore. When Rey wakes up, on the other hand, we donít know what happened. What do you think; do you think he killed them?
AT: You cut and then you put the bloody table, so people assumed he killed them.
AB: But the bloody table is from a dream. Though for me, he really killed them. Thatís the hope youíre talking about when you watch the film. Youíll acquire hope [in reflecting on the idea that] these people had no chance. You know they were never given a chance. When you watch it, maybe it will make you think. Maybe tomorrow, you wonít do that [type of thing] anymore. My aunt was asking me, about three years ago, what type of films I wanted to do, the ones with hope at the end [she asked]? I said I wanted to make films that were like Lino Brockaís. Everyoneís voice is different. I donít oppose films that are heartwarming, the ones with the happy endings, the ones with hope. Thatís how they tell their stories; I cry at the end of these films myself. My style, as a storyteller, as a director, as a filmmaker, I show you what you should not do. This is what will happen; donít do this. I donít glorify violence, man. Have I glorified violence? No, I didnít. Thereís more violence in Bad Boys 2 or any other action flick in Hollywood. They go on a shooting spree, killing people off easily. In my film, thereís only a stabbing that you donít even see. You know the part with sodomy isnít even real.
AT: I agree also. I think that sometimes if you end it like that [bleak], it can be more thought-provoking for the viewer. Like in La Visa Loca [dir. Mark Meily], at the end itís kind of neatly tied up and you donít think about it as much anymore.
AB: Right, man. Because if thereís anything shown to you, ah ok, everythingís fine, everythingís good, so? Yeah, cinema is entertainment, but I donít want to give them escapism. Fuck it, I will take your one and a half hour or more than two hours to influence you, to say something, that I can die with.
AT: So would you make a Star Cinema  film?
AB: Well, I liked Central Station. The quote-unquote Star Cinema film? I wouldnít use that term. But using the director as smuggler, I can smuggle. But now that Iíve made this on my own, why would I sell out now? Itís nice to think about making that kind of film, but I donít feel like doing that right now. You have to be true to yourself. I donít know man; I would be making fools of the audience [through those films], that the poor really dress like that when they donít. That thatís what really happens when they donít. Iíve lived with sadness, with failure. Erwin asked me, how I came up with that kind of language, that dialogue. Shugo and I looked at each other. ďWhose dialogue was that?Ē, Erwin asked. I talk like that. I may not be like that when Iím talking to you. Iím an educated person, even if I curse a lot. Itís hypocrisy when you say that children donít hear cursing. I grew up with my grandmother who curses a lot. We grew up in a place where everyone curses. This violence, this cursing, itís not new; you see it everyday; itís in front of you though you donít see it. Itís always been there; thatís what Iím trying to say. So if you love these people, for one and a half hour, you have to show them, with the use of this medium, whatever it is; may it be DVD, digital or film, that thatís reality.
AT: In terms of Philippine cinema, who are the ones you look up to?
AB: My favorite film in the Philippines is Scorpio Nights 1 of Peque Gallaga. Thatís how I lived, man.. Life in Manila is like that. Of course, Lino Brocka. Peque Gallaga.
AT: What kind of influence, if any, did Maynila have on the end? [Maynila ends with a character being cornered, Sa Aking ends with a character rising to action.
AB: The end, itís a homage to Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag. In Lino Brockaís film, the last frame shows that the people are afraid. I said that in this one, they would fight back. In this one, it would be the reverse. But I only thought about that in the end.
AT: During the editing, you mean or during the shooting? Was it included already?
AB: It was included when we were shooting. But in the process of writing the script, it wasnít included. The ending was supposed to be a dog running away. I didnít include it anymore. That still wasnít the ending. My ending was that it would fade in from black and the place would be empty; the people wouldnít be there and there would be no traces of blood. The store would open; there would be shots of the MRT, of Manila. Then you would see the dog. The beginning was supposed to be Rey and the dog staring at each other before Rey gets beaten up. The dog wants to cross the street. The ending would be the dog crossing the street against the flow of the traffic. Heís crossing, the leftover meat dangling from his mouth.
AT: But you didnít get to shoot it?
AB: Not anymore. I scrapped it also.
AT: Would you have wanted to shoot it on film?
AB: Thatís our dream, man. Film is really my dream. Film, man.
AT: But this film, itís a different medium.
AB: I donít believe in that. I should have placed my speech on that CD [I gave you]. It says everything I think. May it be DV, digital, film, the content is whatís important. But if itís on film, you can show it in the theaters, thereís a bigger chance that more people will see it. Filmís easy to transfer to telecine, itís cheaper. But itís more expensive to blow up DV. If youíre a storyteller, if youíre a filmmaker, you definitely want more people to see it.
AT: But then thatís a question of after the film is done, how you can show it. If the whole Manila, the whole Philippines had digital projection, thenÖ
AB: Itís okay.
AT: Itís only a matter of the audience? If they all had digital projection, then you wouldnít want to shoot on 35 anymore?
AB: No. I still want film, I just donít have the money thatís why itís on DV.
AT: But if the whole Philippines had digital projection, then do you still want to shoot on 35?
AB: Thatís probably a different story. Because your questionís tricky man. If all theaters had digital projection, that means there wonít be film projection.
AT: If they have both?
AB: Still film. Film has been tested for a 100 years, itís tough. Storage, the quality, in-depth, the color. Film is more flexible, but of course I would like to edit it in non-linear, in Avid. Still film. Iím not a purist when it comes to editing. I still love the medium of film. Itís just too elitist until now. Itís too expensive. But for me to think twice that no, it has to be filmÖ
AT: As long as you can finish it.
AB: For me, thereís no conflict. For other filmmakers thereís an issue with film and DV; for me there isnít.
AT: I think that if youíre gonna shoot, you have to approach it differentlyóif youíre going to be shooting on DV or shooting on film. It affectsÖ
AB: No, I donít think so. For me, I still use the film discipline, how you would shoot on 35. The only difference is that you donít need to do a reading, but we made it a point--Odyssey Flores and Ióthat we have the same discipline as with shooting on 35. For example, I only used 10 DVís [miniDV tapes] for the whole film. I donít do more than five takes. Most of the heavier scenes only took one take. All of those are one take. Three takes is a lot for me. In decision-making, as I stated earlier, Iíve decided already; itís preparation. Take Hitchcock, didnít he say that if only he wouldnít shoot because it was finished in the office? The storyboardís been done, itís done in the office. Hitchcock is about technique. For me, itís not like that. Thatís Hitchcock, he has the money. For me, itís discipline man. It's not that because youíre using DV, you can shoot, you can just buy more since itís cheap.
AT: But if not in the process of shooting in the same film, itís the effect of the visual on the audience. Just like what you said the depth of field of film, the feel for the audience. For example, itís more realistic shooting on DV compared to film.
AB: I still wouldnít. Because you can adjust the lighting to make film look grittier. You grade it colder or shinier to make it look glossy. Itís the same. The only difference is the quality, film is still different. For the filmmaker like me who doesnít have the money, Iíd go for DV. For other people, thereís material for DV and thereís material for film. It isnít like that for me. Itís like saying Iíll shoot you on digital, your face is for a digital camera or your composition is for a digital camera, this one is for film. Itís not like that, itís a story. It only changes because of the times; you work with what you have. Film used to run at 15 frames per second, but why did they make it 24 when they could have made it 30? From 8mm it became 16mm, then they came out with 35, after 35, there was 75. Erwin and I were talking about how there's some material thatís good for DV and thereís material thatís good for film. I donít understand that, but I get his point. 35, thatís the dream of everyone, man. His article made me glad because there were some comments about the explosion of DV, of digital, thereís so much trash. From what I understand, what heís saying is, itís not as if there were good films when everyone was using celluloid.
AT: What Erwin said is also right.
AB: I was saying that whatís happening now is like what happened in the early 90s, 1991, 92. When the Eraserheads [a popular Filipino band in the early 90s. -ed] came in, fuck it, bang! Everyone was in a band, there were so many bands. The time will come that theyíre the only ones left behind, whoís real. Itís become part of pop culture already.