A Conversation with Ato Bautista
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
AT: What are you working on now?
AB: Carnivore. Working title is Carnivore.
AT: Whatís that about?
AB: About Lino. The character of Lino, that hopefully Carlo Aquino will also play.
AT: Lino? Not Lino Brocka?
AB: No, the name is homage to Lino Brocka. He went to Manila, he wants to be somebody. Heís admitted to one of the universities.
AT: Where is he from?
AB: Itís unknown, I wonít say, one of the provinces. Itís close to my life because I also came from the province. From San Jose, where Lino Brocka came from. Iím proud of that, Iím the only one whoís followed [in his footsteps] as a director, after him. So he goes to Manila, wants to be somebody. But heís doesnít get that because he doesnít know anyone, heís a nobody. So he joins a frat so he can build connections. He wants to be a senator in due time, the youngest senator. The story seems hard to narrate; I donít know how to narrate it, whether I just talk about the metaphorical value or the story itself. He goes there, meets Ely, a bunch of four guys. Itís about corruption, you know the idealism of a person thatís broken by society; you donít realize that you were corrupted even from the start. Hazing takes place. The final initiation is where they end up in the woods. When they get there, theyíre blindfolded on the way. Theyíre asked to dig a hole and stay inside for two days, nodody is to leave. Itís the final test, before they pass. Two days go by, nothing. They start to feel paranoid, itís dark, and the hole is covered. Lino falls asleep and when he wakes up, his friends are outside. Theyíre hungry, thirsty. They donít know the masters are gone. So they wander in the forest until they lose consciousness and are rescued by a family. Eventually, they turn out to be a family of cannibals. Itís hard to narrate; Shugo can do it betterÖ Iíll call Shugo, I want you to meet him; you havenít met him, right? If the film is good, itís all because of him. Heís a really good writer.
[interrupts with phone conversation]
Weíre meeting at eight, heís still writing, weíve already laid out where itís going, where itís been. I donít want to talk about it first, I wouldnít be able to give it justice. All I can say is that itís still about society. Itís not a genre film, itís not horror. More of a psychological thriller.
AT: You mentioned that a big part of your film is to wake people up, awakening and you donít like escapist films.
AB: Itís not that I donít like it; itís just not my voice.
AT: Then how do you reconcile the work that you do here? A lot of the shows might be termed escapist or just for entertainment purposes. And do you think that they contribute to the dulling of the consciousness of the Filipino. They do one thing and your film, you counter that, youíre trying to do something entirely different.
AB: Thatís a good question. Itís like this, when youíre in prison, you have a uniform you have to wear. Itís like in the films we watch, if you donít wear it, youíll be punished. Or maybe, you end up dead. But while youíre in that prison, youíre thinking, you want to do something. So you go underground. Like what Rizal did before, they formed an underground movement and wrote then they smuggled their writing. Thatís probably my answer; youíre there, and you have nowhere else to go. It wouldnít matter if I was like Mike de Leon who has the means. Itís a compromise between what I want to do and what I can take.
AT: Itís like, the slaves, they tell you to dig, be in uniform, you do it even if youíre doing something just for their service. But it contributes almost directly opposite to what youíre really trying to attempt to do.
AB: But youíre born with it.
AT: Youíre born with it and you have to do it, and youíve learned and youíve done it; now that you have, will you go back? Would you go and work on another TV show?
AB: I think so, I would. Itís been said that the revolution isnít in the mountains. The revolution is in the cities. You do your revolution here in the industry. How do I get actors? How do I get my team? How do I know how to do this and how to do that? But I have no money. Iím not born with a silver spoon [in my mouth], man.
AT: Then push your film! Push it abroad, push it through festivals. The pennies they give you abroad is gold here.
AB: What Iíve tried to perfectówell we can never reach perfection, at least try to get thereóis to hone my craft as a filmmaker. It goes hand in hand with marketing, something to do with business. One has to suffer. So right now I have spent years honing my craft, how I can sneak through, where I have to pass. Take a gun, for example, it can be good or bad, depending on how and where itís used. Letís say these shows; we know which shows these are. The least that I can do is get money from it and do something independent, do something different. Even without me, these shows are here, these shows will be there. They have been there even before we were born.
AT: Thatís also like saying, these Star Cinema films are there, Iíll just do them.
AB: But thatís different. TV is different from film. When they talk about filmography, when you do your personal work or independent work and it still looks like a Star Cinema film, thereís something wrong. Iíll give one example. During my stay here in ABS, I make it a point that everything I do is done with quality. I make it with quality. I try to defend the quality, I try to defend a vision which of course is very hard, which is why Iím jobless. The music video, itís in black and white; I had an idea which the producer doesnít approve of, but I fought for it and it was shown. There are certain ways to approach Ėfor lack of a better termóan enemy. From the time I was born, there was compromise already. We live with compromise. But donít do it for those things which you can control. If you compromise in the independent [scene], in what you do personally, then thereís a problem with you. With this film man, personal film, Iím the producer; my only compromise here is that I wasnít able to do everything I wanted because I didnít have the money. Thatís it. The vision, what I wanted to say, I make it a point that itís there because I can do it, itís in my hands. I share the same vision with those people I worked with, the ones who gave money. Itís hard man, say you have money, man and give it to me to use in making a film, like they say, put your money where your mouth is. Donít put othersí money where your mouth is. The most that youíre probably capable of doing is smuggling your ideas. Itís like that. Thatís why thereís endless struggle of businessmen and artists because artists arenít born naturally good in Math.
AT: Say for example, you can eat, you have your food, your rent is paid, and then youíre getting funding for your film, you wouldnít work here?
AB: In a heartbeat man, in a heartbeat. The only constraint is that we have to live; we need the tools to create. Like I said, many times, why I donít just become a poet, all I need is a pen and paper to do my art. Why didnít you just make me a good painter; all I need is canvas and paint. But even painters compromise. Even poets compromise. What about me? Iím a filmmaker who needs a lot of people, who needs money, who needs these kinds of things to fill the canvas. Itís very hard, you know. You have filled the canvas, itís there, but where are you going to show it, thatís another problem, fuck. Like I told you, my ultimate dream or of any filmmaker for that matter that is true to what they are doing, is to just do what they want, tell the stories they want to tell. Besides that, their lives can be taken from them while on the set or while watching a film. A friend of mine asked me once, what do I feel when I shoot. I feel: this is life. This is where I feel most alive, when Iím shooting. If I was shot there and I died, I would die happy if I was shooting a film. Many people would find it weird because itís rare that people talk about it, manÖ
Iím telling you man, weíre not rich, and we donít have money. My father is a cop; my mother just caters [food]. But I made a film because I wanted to. I donít have a job, but I was able to make a film.
AT: How much is your rent?
AB: My rent is seven, if you include the lights, eight. Every year, every month, days go by where I donít do anything. Thatís why I have so much respect for Jon Red. Jon Red makes a film every year, fuck it, I canít do that. Maybe if I was born into wealth, I wouldnít be a filmmaker. Lifeís ironic.
AT: The other thing is, you really have to fight, so you donít have to make those compromises.
AB: Like you man, 2bu. You started as a 2bu writer. Youíll do that. Youíll eat shit, man. Youíre so familiar with that taste, you donít even recognize the taste of shit anymore.
Carnivore is my voice, thatís what weíre going to say in Carnivore. Before you reach wherever you destination is, youíll eat shit, youíll definitely eat shit. Thatís just it, until you can barely taste that youíre eating shit. The only thing is we reflected this in the flesh of human beings. Thatís just it. I used to be so real, man. But you canít be like that. I have learned that you can just keep quiet; you donít have to talk or if you need to, just look for something nice to say. Man, if I had a place to live, if I could eat everyday, I would have given it up already. Itís hard to stay in Manila, I canít go back and forth from San Jose City, Nueva Ecija to Manila, that would be costlier. Thereís no contest in San Jose, how am I supposed to make a film there, thereís no equipment there? Itís still hard. When you watch Sex and the City, you get jealous of Carrie. Think about it, sheís a columnist in the newspaper, she buys Manolo Blahnik shoes. Fuck, sheís just a columnist, how can she have that kind of lifestyle? But in the Philippines, youíre a film critic, you come out on TV, you get what, P500? Itís not even enough to pay for our beer.
You know to tell you honestly, you know how I wasnít able to make a short or anything for two years? I figured that after I made a full-length, maybe the emptiness will be gone. Fuck it, itís like Batman, the Batman syndrome. He gets back at the people who killed his parents until he became a vigilante. What I feel is something like that. Itís almost as if I became hungrier, like I wanted to do more. You realize that there are still so many stories that you want to tell.
(Interview transcribed and translated into English from Tagalog by Tiffany Limsico)