THE INTERWEB is all abuzz: Fellow filmmakers have been debating the “worm’s-eye view” shots used by Brillante Ma. Mendoza, in directing President Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week.
Inquiring minds would like to know: Was the Cannes-winning director inspired by the low-angle shots utilized by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane,” or was it perhaps Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will?”
“Neither,” Mendoza told the Inquirer, a day after the much-talked about Sona.
All he wanted to achieve, he explained, was to frame the President in a “power shot.” “I wanted to show him as a man of authority,” he related.
Problem was, the area in front of the podium was off-limits to cameras. “As early as the first meeting, I already expressed my intention to do a low-angle shot. I was told it was impossible because cameramen weren’t allowed on the floor of the Plenary Hall,” he recounted.
Mendoza’s solution was to use a robotic camera, operated by remote.
Outside the hall, there were seven cameras, including a Steadicam that followed the President upon his arrival by helicopter and throughout his march to the Plenary Hall.
Inside the hall, there were 10—two easy rig, five on a tripod, a Steadicam and the two robotic cameras that captured those much-ballyhooed “worm’s-eye view” shots.
He had to choose from the shots taken by 10 cameras and, quite understandably, he was so “engrossed” in his task that he didn’t notice that from 34 minutes, the speech had been stretched to one hour and 30 minutes due to the President’s ad libs.
“I expected that he would veer away from the prepared speech,” he quipped. “He’s a man of surprises. And he did surprise us.”
Mendoza also tinkered with the lights at the Batasang Pambansa. “I asked that the house lights be turned off. That was why it was a bit dark in the hall. But we placed several movie lights trained on the podium.”
The intention was to create “mood lighting,” he volunteered.
It was Mendoza’s first time to direct live on TV, so he didn’t intend to leave anything to chance.
Right before the event, Mendoza went up the podium to check if the lights were too bright and blinding. “I wanted to make sure the President could still read the teleprompter in spite of the lights.”
Like his film work, his direction of the Sona elicited mixed reviews from the public. Mendoza has always been a polarizing figure in cinema, and the Sona was no exception.
There were viewers who understood his vision and lauded his innovative approach, but there were those who dismissed his shots, especially the low-angle ones, as “too artsy.”
“You can’t please everyone,” Mendoza said of the harsh criticism. “I’ve been in the industry for 30 years… I knew what I wanted from the start.”
His goal, he clarified, was to bring change to the Sona coverage.
“I didn’t want it to be different for the sake of being different,” he pointed out. “I wanted to achieve a certain look, mood and feel.”
Although he never really sat through past Sonas, he noticed that, in the news accounts, such events were always “too stiff and formal.”
“I wanted to avoid that,” he remarked. “I wanted the Sona to be more casual. I wanted the President to come across as sincere and down-to-earth.” Thus, the closeup shots of the President’s hands, the bottle of water, etc.
Fortunately, the President seemed to have the same thing in mind.
“Nag-jibe kami,” Mendoza quipped.
Although Mendoza never got to sit down with the President before the Sona, the director is scheduled to meet with the Chief Executive this week, for a postmortem of the Sona.
“I was told by [Presidential Communications Office] Sec. Martin Andanar that the President was happy with it,” he noted.
To top it off, Mendoza also became a trending topic on Twitter that day.
“I only found out about Twitter when I stepped out of the OB van, on my way home,” he recalled. “Well, at least people are talking about the Sona.”
And they discussed it on all platforms… passionately, fervently. Mission accomplished.