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‘English’ lessons at MMFF

Filmmaker Dan Villegas hopes his film’s success would inspire producers to give new directors a break. JILSON SECKLER TIU

For the past two weeks, social media has been flooded with raves for the rom-com “English Only, Please”—an entry in the 40th Metro Manila Film Festival which concludes today, Jan. 7.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter messages, with photos of sold-out and SRO screenings, verify the film’s unexpected success.

To think that the movie, which top-bills Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay, was a box-office cellar dweller in the first few days of the festival.

Seven awards

The turning point came two days after awards night on Dec. 27, when “English Only, Please” won seven trophies—including second best picture, best actress for Mercado, best actor for Ramsay, best director for Dan Villegas and best screenplay for Antoinette Jadaone and Anj Pessumal.

Alemberg Ang, supervising producer, said the film had 68 theaters on Dec. 25, first day of the festival. On the day of the awards, the number had dropped to 65; a day later, to 60. On Dec. 29, it was screening in 77 cinemas and, by Jan. 2, in 108.

Ang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that “English Only, Please” may remain in cinemas after today.

Very pleased, indeed, is Ramsay. He told the Inquirer via email, “Our goal was to at least finish in the Top 4 and we [got that]. Public response has been overwhelming.”

The best actor trophy is cause for celebration, but Ramsay is more touched by a random quip on Twitter. He reported, “According to a blogger, the movie allowed me to showcase my versatility as an actor. That [is] sweet.”

There is an important lesson to be culled from the film’s critical and commercial triumphs, Ramsay said: “If you have a brilliant script and work with talented individuals who share your passion … nothing is impossible.”

Ecstatic

Mercado is equally ecstatic: “I’ve always wanted to make a rom-com like this. I didn’t think twice when I got the offer from [producer] Quantum.”

Ang described the film’s sleeper-hit status: “It’s surreal, especially for indie filmmakers who are used to losing cinemas to mainstream films … We didn’t have a single TV commercial, no official support from any network. We relied on word-of-mouth and social media.”

Ramsay, who is under contract with TV5, noted, “It proves that a movie’s success isn’t necessarily dependent on the financial resources of a major network.”

Best publicity

Scriptwriter Jadaone, who is also behind last year’s crowd pleasers “Beauty in a Bottle” and “Relaks, It’s Just Pag-Ibig,” agreed: “There is no publicity like positive word-of-mouth. I never imagined this would happen. There are people asking for a sequel… it’s heartwarming that viewers want to follow the lives of the characters we created.”

She has heard from netizens who saw the film more than once—“Three or four times, with different sets of friends. They shelled out hard-earned money to share the experience.”

Ang enumerated the lessons of “English Only, Please”: “It’s important to promote early. We released our first teaser on Facebook in August. We had to be more creative in marketing and promoting… that’s a challenge for indie filmmakers.”

It’s also vital to study the market, he said. “It’s the MMFF; we cannot offer the usual Cinemalaya (type of) film. But we had to make sure not to insult the viewers’ intelligence.”

In sum, Ang said, the experience “serves as an inspiration.”

“Hopefully, we can replicate [this] with our other projects in 2015… and that other producers will be encouraged to make insightful but entertaining films.”

Villegas concurred: “I hope this [convinces] producers to give new directors a break and [helps] them realize that it’s possible to make a hit movie without TV advertising and network backing.”

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