Direk Erik Matti on what he discovered about ‘Kuwaresma’ lead star Sharon Cuneta, leaving ‘Darna’
It took two long months of convincing before filmmaker Erik Matti, director of the horror-mystery film “Kuwaresma,” finally agreed to sit down with the Inquirer Entertainment team.
“I really don’t like press cons. People ask you questions, but when you try to read your answer, you find that it’s just one short sentence,” Matti pointed out during a recent interview held at the Inquirer office in Makati City.
Lasting for almost an hour and half (including the session that he wanted “off the record”), the interview was attended by representatives of various platforms of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
The director was “strong, brave and bold”—much like the characters in the movies he creates—when he answered the questions thrown at him, be it about his views on politics; his controversial decision to quit “Darna”; his thoughts on “Kuwaresma” lead actress Sharon Cuneta; his bashers; and even his fellow independent filmmakers.
He definitely deserves more than just a one-sentence quote. Excerpts from our chat:
You just came from a shoot in Baguio. Tell us about that. When I left “Darna” in October last year, I immediately sat down for the next project.
[For “Kuwaresma,” written by Katski Flores,] I was thinking of casting actors whom I love to work with, not necessarily those with big stellar value.
Then, midway into preparing, Dondon (Monteverde, producer) had an idea: “What if we cast big names? Let’s try Sharon (Cuneta).” I thought, will she accept this? She doesn’t do horror! Besides, horror is tedious, with so much camera coverage.
To our surprise, Sharon said: “Nobody knows this, Direk, but I’m the biggest fan of horror movies.” True enough, she can throw the lines of Linda Blair in the classic horror film, “The Exorcist.” Nakakatuwa.
This project does look like something that will show Sharon in a different light. Definitely. I’ve worked with her in advertising and everyone sees her as an icon, a star.
To find out that she loves horror and is willing to do something like this is awesome. To hear that Sharon, a big star, is willing to do everything that the material demands of her is a big deal.
There’s something about your productions that draw the attention of big stars, like John Lloyd Cruz, Anne Curtis, Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson. I’m just lucky. I’m not known for being an actor’s director, but I challenge my actors by encouraging them to contribute to the development of their characters. That more than the dialogue, the nuance of the actor, creates the character.
Natutuwa ako with Sharon and John (Arcilla, her costar in “Kuwaresma”). There’s a scene that we wrote while we were already on the set—because I realized I didn’t have a dramatic scene between Sharon and John.
I said, you have two big, talented actors tapos hindi sila makikita na nag-drama? That will be like Al Pacino at Robert de Niro (in the movie “Heat”) na ’di mo pinagtagpo. Ang tanga mo namang direktor (laughs)!
We shot the scene for two days. The script was eight pages long, with lines running up to four pages. Of course they enjoyed it because they were such good actors. Sharon, at one point, confessed that she got so scared of John, who is always very intense, very organic. It’s a really emotional scene.
You once said that only bad movies make money. In “Kuwaresma,” you have a good director and two good actors. Do you think it will make money, because it is presumably a good movie? I’m actually scared. We’ve invested so much in this movie. We worked on this for 28 days. We’re doing a big promotional stint on this because we want to give this movie a chance.
When I posted something about movies not making money anymore, most of the comments I got were, “Ang pangit kasi ng pelikula! Ang cheap!” or “Walang bagong kwento!”
So now, we have a new, original story, one that is not based on “The Conjuring.” It’s very Filipino. We paid so much to get the best talents to be part of it. We didn’t scrimp on production money. Now, I hope people would go and watch. We hope that they feel that we’re trying to make an event movie out of this—itinaon pa namin [na malapit] sa Mother’s Day ang opening.
What really happened while you were still in charge of “Darna”? I was with “Darna” for five years. We introduced a lot of characters, old and new. We had a hard time putting that together. I said I was ready to complete the movie after five years, but if there’s going to be more waiting, if there are still adjustments, then I’d have to move on.
They say this particular “Darna” project is cursed. What do you think is the reason it’s not pushing through? I think they’re banking on it as a flagship project. They’re making sure it goes well with the branding of ABS-CBN. I’m thinking that gusto rin nila pagandahin ng sobra.
I know that I got involved with “Darna” mainly because of “On the Job” (OTJ). All my films have some sort of strong, brave, bold themes.
But with “Darna,” there’s pressure to come up with a superhero movie that goes with modern times. I mean, we have to take into consideration products from Marvel and DC Comics. With the audience seeing superhero films every other month, people are bound to compare your product not just in terms of aesthetics, but also theme and story.
Would you have wanted “Darna” to be more political? Not really, but there’s already a strong message here, partly about women empowerment, and how a superhero can help a nation like ours by inspiring the people, by encouraging them to do what’s right.
You said you’d like to see Nadine Lustre as Darna. There are other names emerging. We’d like to know your two cents on this. The actress to play Darna should be able to transform from the ordinary looking Narda into a superhero who looks extraordinarily gorgeous. I never considered getting a beauty queen or a model, because then I’m just satisfying one side of it—’yung pagka-Darna n’ya. Since this is a reboot, it’s better if she’s a young and fresh face. I’m thinking 21 years old.
Nadine can look plain and ordinary, but can also transform into someone stunning. She’s beautiful and is oozing with sex appeal. Pinay na Pinay ang kulay.
Were you able to turn Liza Soberano into a plain-looking girl? Oo! Pero kasi hyperreal kami. She lives in the slum area, pero ’di ito mukhang dukha. It has … aesthetics (laughs).
On a lighter note, we heard that you will be doing something for HBO. What is this? HBO Asia has a series airing now called “Folklore,” which is an anthology horror series. They have directors from eight different countries. It’s a strong series, so they came up with “Food Lore,” which is about the food of each country.
Mine is a dramatic story of an OFW. Our consultant is Margarita Fores (of Cibo) because we’re both Ilonggo, and I want to feature Ilonggo food.
In the meantime, I’m resuming the shoot of “OTJ 2.” We’ve partnered with Hooq and Globe. They’ve agreed that we will first join an international festival, like in Toronto, before releasing it locally.
This goes straight to OTT (over-the-top) streaming for Southeast Asia under Hooq.
What’s the next “OTJ” about? Dennis Trillo said he badly wanted to work with you. Dennis is an underrated actor. I believe he needs a lot more exposure in terms of films. He is a silent worker. He doesn’t have to prove anything.
“OTJ 2” may be my last political movie, for now. I’m moving towards more story-driven films. I’m not trying to be a Lino Brocka. My movies don’t try to lecture the audience. They always present things on both sides.
Here in “OTJ 2,” the main character, played by John Arcilla, is a paid journalist, a hack. He gets money from a politician so he constantly argues with his partners.
One day, he goes to the office and discovers that all of them disappeared. So now, the compromised journalist starts becoming the journalist that he used to be. He digs up evidence as to who is to blame for what happened to his colleagues.
Ang corny ng bida na walang bahid ng dumi. It’s unrealistic. At the same time, I don’t want a villain without humanity. I always make movies that are grounded on those things.
For example, “BuyBust” would be consistent with my views on social media if I pictured the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) as the bad guys. We later realize that everyone is a victim, and that there’s just one or two people benefiting from what’s happening.
In the end, ’pag nanood ang mga yellows (anti-Duterte groups), they can’t say, “Kasama pala natin si Matti!” Some parts of the story also contradict their point of view.
Despite presenting both sides, there were still be those who took this as a form of attack. Some actually called for the boycott of your films. Makikita mo naman talaga ang stance ko, but I don’t point a finger and say, “Kayo lang ang may kasalanan.” I made Anne’s character, a PDEA agent, the lead in the film. If I’m this unthinking filmmaker, then I would have turned her into a kontrabida, since that’s how others portray people like her, anyway.
Your thoughts on the MMFF (Metro Manila Film Festival). Sadly, we’re back to this really senseless ruling.
No one in his right mind could justify why there are two submissions. Bakit may apat na scripts at apat na finished films? That’s unfair business practice because the first four finalists will already have legs for promo even before the cameras start grinding. The other four will be announced at a time that’s closest to the festival run.
It’s a festival with no integrity.
Do you think online platforms contribute to the low box-office turnout? That’s one issue we’re tackling with the cinema owners now. We’ve had a series of meetings already with the cinema owners.
One of the issues raised was that the audience no longer feels forced to go to the cinemas to watch because, a month later, the movie can be seen online or in other platforms.
They’re asking if producers could extend the holdback period to between four and six months. We’re willing to give them five months because we feel that the cinema operators have a point.
Do you think it’s OK to move the opening of movies from Wednesday to Friday? The cinema operators said “We’re not sure if it’s going to help, but we’re OK with Friday if that’s what you want.” Walang tanggalan sa sinehan until Sunday, kasi kung ’di naman uubra ang palabas, malalaman mo na by then.
We also said that by Monday, ’wag naman silang magtanggal nang hindi kinakausap ang producers. This is because we sometimes expect “word of mouth.”
What’s good about what happened was that, now, it’s not only two parties talking. Also involved are the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) and then there’s (Salvador) Panelo (presidential spokesperson).
Will reducing ticket price of local films also help? I don’t agree with that, but I’m a team player so I’m OK with it, too. But I had to point out to them that the Philippines has the lowest ticket price in Asia. They sell movie tickets at $8 in Malaysia. I said I’m OK with the present ticket price, but I agree that we should come up with a student price … up to high school only. We’re still thinking about whether to include college students.
How is your partnership with your wife, screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto, like? How do you influence each other in terms of artistry? We started working together in “On The Job.” At the time, she was writing another movie. I said, “Swap tayo! Basahin ko ’yang sa ’yo. Read mine.” She said, “OK, I’ll put order into it.” It worked.
When she writes it, I know that I will be able to shoot it.
Do you fraternize with fellow directors, much like the directors’ club of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Frank Ford Coppola, et al.? Every other week, I have drinks with some of them. I invite a good mix of male and female directors. Filipino filmmakers aren’t the type who would tell you straight out how they feel about your work.
In that maverick group you’ve mentioned, Spielberg once asked everyone to watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
After the screening, he said: “When a director suggests a scene to be taken out because it’s bad, it’s probably the best scene in the movie.” Mga inggitero daw kasi sila! (laughs) [Brian] De Palma asked him, “Why are you doing a movie about aliens when there’s enough stories about people?” Cut to it becoming the biggest blockbuster!
People actually listen to you. Do you use your influence to encourage people to support a political group or candidate? I rant against someone or something simply because I’m angry. But I don’t have any political agenda. Everything I post on social media is personal.
In the event that most of the administration’s senatorial bets make it, will you curse at them just like what you did after President Duterte won? At this point, I’m already letting the country flow as it is. I haven’t had a political post in a while. I’ve been quiet because nothing is happening, anyway. Besides, I’m doing a lot of things these days, so bakit naman ako magbibida-bidahan? Right now, I’m only going for (senatorial candidates) Chel Diokno, and maybe, Neri Colmenares.
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