Julia, Xian, Marco intimidated by Brillante’s no-script style of directing
Acclaimed filmmaker Brillante Ma Mendoza is known for his spontaneous, instinctive approach to storytelling. His scripts and dialogue aren’t set in stone—that is, if there are any at all. And truth be told, Julia Barretto, Xian Lim and Marco Gumabao—stars of the new Vivamax horror flick “Bahay na Pula”—initially found the director’s style “challenging,” “intimidating.” But as the taping days wore on, they eventually came to appreciate the advantages of having such a setup: more creative freedom and a more collaborative working environment.
“This journey was inspiring for me … And having a director that gives you so much freedom and trust in the creative process is challenging, but also very freeing,” Julia said in the film’s recent digital premiere night and press conference.
“Bahay na Pula” revolves around Jane (Julia), who travels with her husband, Marco (Xian Lim), to Mindoro to sell an ancestral house she inherited from her grandmother. The caretaker gives the couple a tour of the property. And upon reaching the basement, Julia immediately senses that something’s amiss—like there’s something watching their every move.
The next day, Jane is informed that the buyer backed out because the local council plans to declare the house a national historic site. In her bid to appeal the decision, Jane crosses paths with her ex-lover, Anton (Marco Gumabao), who works as an assistant to the mayor. And as old flames get rekindled, a series of horrifying events happen in the house—one of which causes her belly to grow bigger and bigger as if she’s pregnant.
While she thought she already had a firm grasp of what the movie was going to be like, Julia still found herself getting surprised by the story’s twists and turns when she watched it for the first time.
“I remember getting in my seat and not knowing what to expect. Everything was done spontaneously … I was covering my eyes a lot because I thought I already knew the movie well, but there was a lot of other stuff injected into it. I was overwhelmed and I felt so proud after seeing it,” she said.
Because dialogue isn’t provided, Marco had to improvise some of his lines—quite a daunting task, he admitted.
“I felt very intimidated because there was no script. I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was right,” he said. “He wanted our reactions to be natural, so Direk doesn’t let us see the treatment of each scene. It took some getting used to.”
But while he was unsure of himself, he had full trust in Brillante. “When I first watched the movie, just hearing the music made me feel nervous … That shows you how good of a storyteller he is. You have no idea how the scenes would turn out while doing them.”
The absence of definite scripts also unwittingly fostered a deeper sense of camaraderie among the three lead stars.
“One time, we were eating and asking each other, ‘Wala tayong dialogue, paano ba ‘to?’” Xian recalled, laughing.
As a filmmaker himself, being exposed to Brillante’s methods, Xian said, was both instructive and fascinating.
“Usually, when we do films, we’re boxed in the dialogue. But he does away with those here. The story was constantly changing while shooting. We weren’t familiar with this style … We only knew where the characters were supposed to go. So we had to let the characters lead,” Xian pointed out.
Another thing he found interesting was Brillante’s preference for nonacting acting.
“He told us that actors’ first instinct when working with him is to perform in front of him and give their 150 percent. But he only demands a small fraction of that. That changes the whole mood of the film,” Xian said.
“We just took his lead because he has a clear vision in his head,” he added. “You just have to be in the moment. There’s no right or wrong way—feel free to explore, he would tell us.”
These things made the experience all the more memorable.
“The way he motivates the cast and crew … when he talks, you listen. He doesn’t beat around the bush; he will tell you what he needs from you,” Xian said. “He taught us so much, and introduced us to a new style that makes you think, ‘Pwede palang mangyari ‘to.’”
Julia, on the other hand, described her time together with Brillante as life-changing.
“I feel like he has changed my life … If there’s one thing I cherish the most, it’s the conversations we had in between filming,” she said. “I gained a lot of knowledge from him because he was so generous with his experiences.”
“These things lit a fire in my heart and made me realize that there are still a lot of films I can do,” she added.