Red alert: Direk Mikhail dishes on Nadine, Charo and ‘Deleter’
You can’t be in awe of the collective lure of films like “Birdshot,” “Arisaka,” “Eerie,” “Dead Kids” (the first Netflix original from the Philippines), and the Cinemalaya drama “Rekorder” without getting impressed by how young those productions’ director is.
In fact, maverick Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Red just turned 31 early this month — and, at the rate he’s churning out new ideas for his film, TV, and streaming projects, it doesn’t look like he’ll just sit on his laurels anytime soon.
That’s why we were thrilled to chat with Direk Mik recently to discuss the intriguing concept behind Viva Entertainment’s Metro Manila Film Festival entry, “Deleter,” starring Nadine Lustre.
As we see Mik continually evolve as a storyteller, we’re also impressed by how much he has managed to merge his character-forming indie sensibility with the more commercial aspects of mainstream filmmaking — which is a feat in itself. Moreover, he knows how to put an unconventional twist to formula.
Mik’s stories have emerged from this formative upbringing, he explained to us: “I’m privileged to be a second-generation filmmaker and artist. I was exposed to cinema at a very early age because both my parents are artists (he is the eldest son of Raymond Red, who won the country’s first and only Palme d’Or at the Cannes film fest in 2000, for “Anino”).
“I grew up a film fan. So, before I’m a filmmaker, I’m an audience first. Perhaps my ideas are born out of frustration. I make movies that I want to see as a Filipino viewer. I use genre to tell stories that come out of my primary influences—they’re Western concepts with a local setting and a very Pinoy subject matter.
“At the same time, they’re about the things that disturb me in our current society. Even with limited budget, I want to show the local audience that we can do this type of productions… films that are entertaining and engaging.”
Asked if he sees himself in the characters that he creates, Mik mused, “As a writer and storyteller, you can’t help it. That’s why many of the characters in my productions are very introverted, very internal—which is what I am as a filmmaker. I’m the type who geeks out about the craft. They’re not heavy on dialogue and they’re more visual.
“This country has very strong voices in the arthouse films that we make. But we also churn out very commercial romantic dramas that appeal to a wider audience. What my team is trying to do is diversify from the usual content — we try to stay in the middle — because we also want something sustainable. Para s’yang Trojan horse… so that we can ‘smuggle’ important subject matter there (laughs).”
Set in the little-known industry of online-content moderation, “Deleter,” which incorporates elements of techno-horror and the psychological thriller genre, is a cautionary tale that revolves around “deleter” Lyra (portrayed by Nadine), whose job is to prevent graphic videos and other disturbing imagery from reaching social media.
The young director was drawn to the idea behind the film when disquieting themes that are driven by social media began to take shape. He said, “We were fascinated by the rampant distortion of truth, censorship, and fake news, as well as the people behind them.
“They’re people in the trenches, filtering what we see online, and many of them are even outsourced in the Philippines. We wanted to see what the struggles are for these ‘cleaners,’ ‘moderators’ and ‘deleters.’”
We then asked Direk Mik to talk about Nadine as an actress.
“She’s very professional and very straight to the point, but she’s also very quiet and introverted,” he noted. “But once the production got going, nakita ko that she was also very excited about the project, perhaps because it isn’t the typical genre she’s used to. It’s something new to her.
“What we asked her to do wasn’t easy because, in horror, hindi ka palaging may kabatuhang scene partner. Here, she had to imagine ghosts or an entity. She was always facing the cameras and lights, and yet, she needed to imagine what she was supposed to see.
“Sometimes, horror can be very technical—you have to hit your mark, you have to look this or that way, etc. I was surprised because kuhang-kuha n’ya and Nadine knew exactly what needed to be done. She really pulled it off, and you see that when you look at our poster and stills… where a certain ‘horror look’ is crucial.
“Nadine has very expressive eyes for a character whose struggle is very internal. As a deleter kasi, you can be very numb about the whole thing because you’re processing the whole world through a screen. There’s a ‘Taxi Driver’ element to it.”
For our part, we always enjoy interviewing Mik because while he’s very upfront about his thoughts and opinions, he goes about every question without any pretension… he’s never “pa-deep” and doesn’t mind acting his [relatively young] age.
Like, when we asked him about how he never seems to get intimidated by his high-profile actors, like “the” Charo Santos-Concio. Then, he told us how he pitched “Eerie” to Charo, when the latter was still the head honcho at ABS-CBN.
Excerpts from our Q&A with Mik:
You began your professional career making indies. Could you talk about how your evolution as a filmmaker came about?
I think growth is part of the natural progression of things. When you make your feature-film debut, all your angst and ideas come together—it’s very you, and all you want to say is right there. So when you finally get your Cinemalaya grant, everything comes out in one film.
Eventually, you aspire for something more ambitious, like ‘Birdshot,’ which got international grants. There’s really a progression. As I got older and traveled to different film festivals with my films, I became more pragmatic. I didn’t want to get stuck in my comfort zone, which isn’t bad in itself.
With every project that gets the green light, I see it as an opportunity to learn new techniques, collaborate with exciting new actors, and work with different studios — from Star Cinema and Netflix to TBA and Globe Studios. And this one is with Viva.
You often let your films do the talking for you. But more and more, you’ve been helming films headlined by massive show biz personalities, like Charo Santos-Concio, Bea Alonzo, Joshua Garcia, Julia Barretto, Maja Salvador, etc. Do you ever get intimidated by your actors?
Oh, of course. Because I really am the shy type (laughs). It always starts out awkwardly. In fact, I remember my first time at ABS-CBN, and I had to go straight to the Penthouse (laughs)… to pitch “Eerie” to Ma’am Charo, who was the CEO at the time.
Para akong nagte-thesis defense (laughs)! It was a little awkward because I had to explain that her character was considered an institution who was going to get toppled by the school therapist, played by Bea. And she said, “Hmm, that’s similar to what I am now…”
But once I overcome that hurdle of shyness and they see me geek out over the material, they realize how serious I am about filmmaking. It becomes infectious and rubs off on everybody on set.
So, at workshops, I always remind student filmmakers that if you’re passionate about something, it always shines through. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon… where passion can outweigh talent.
Nadine Lustre to star in Mikhail Red techno-horror film ‘Deleter’
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