After KC, US-based Pinoy producer to make H’wood films for Jericho, John and Jaclyn
Film and theater producer Jhett Tolentino, who paved the way for Kris Aquino to become part of the American film “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, said his goal is to create more opportunities that will enable Filipino talents to “go across.”
This is why Jhett, a Tony and Grammy winner, said that in the pipeline are projects for Jaclyn Jose (2016 Cannes best actress), John Arcilla (2022 Venice best actor), Jericho Rosales, Maricel Soriano, among others.
He recently produced and directed “Asian Persuasion” for KC Concepcion, which also features Filipino actors like Rachel Alejandro (“who already got her SAG-Aftra membership card after doing the movie”) and Tony Labrusca, as well as US-based Filipino talents Apl.De.Ap, Fe delos Reyes and Rex Navarrete.
“To create something that will allow Filipino talents to go global” has become Jhett’s advocacy, he said. “If I were selfish, I’d say, ‘I don’t have to do this.’ I can just stay on Broadway and I’d still be happy. But then, we have artists like John or Jericho, and we know we can create something for them over there. It breaks my heart that nobody is doing this, nobody is initiating the drive to go international. The world is a big market to tap.”
Jhett began producing Broadway shows in 2013. His first, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” with Sigourney Weaver as one of the leads, won best play at the 67th Tony Awards. The following year, he did “A Raisin in the Sun” with Denzel Washington and won the Tony award for best revival of a play. He also bagged his third Tony award (best musical) for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” In 2017, he won the Grammy award for best musical theater album for “The Color Purple.”
“I come from nothing. I grew up from the slums in Iloilo, but then in New York City, you only have to live smart. As they say, I’m a very effective salesman. I produced through OPM (Original Pilipino Music), meaning ‘out of people’s money.’ Of all my 18 Broadway shows, I’ve never had any bad reviews from the New York Times. That’s a very tall order for a producer. My talent lies in choosing the materials I produce,” Jhett told Inquirer Entertainment during a recent trip to Manila to promote “Asian Persuasion,” which is scheduled to be shown here in November.
When he produced Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” in 2019, Jhett said he realized that “I should’ve gotten into movie-making earlier.” He explained: “For a Broadway play, the operating cost is $400,000 to $750,000 a week, while for a musical, you have to have $800,000 to $1.5 million for weekly expenses. I’ve done it every single day for seven years. There was one point where I had four shows running on Broadway. I said, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
Jhett continued: “I love filmmaking because I do one film for a certain period of time, let’s say between seven to 12 weeks, but it lives on forever. The revenue stream is limitless. We now have a lot of streaming platforms, and then there are also the airlines, hotels and the different cable companies in different countries around the world. Now, I’m focusing on getting the best Filipino actors to go across. I want to see more Asian-American film projects released.”When we asked him about the kind of stories that he personally enjoys seeing in films, Jhett said: “I can tell you what I don’t want to see. I don’t like stories about mistresses, about people who have gone comatose, about characters not knowing they have twins, and about stories that end up being nothing but a dream. I also don’t want to see people slapping each other or throwing cocktails on each other’s faces.”
He added: “When I came here to watch films during the recent Metro Manila Film Festival, I picked only one, ‘Deleter.’ I’ve seen the trailers of all the other entries and didn’t find them as interesting. I was right. ‘Deleter’ ended up being No. 1. My conclusion is that Filipino audiences have gone smarter. You can’t fool them anymore by producing the same story with a different cast and location. We have to think outside the box. We have to fit a square peg into a circle hole. If it’s not a fresh idea, then what is it? Just like ‘Asian Persuasion.’ We don’t have divorce in the Philippines. Hopefully, they will find the film both entertaining and informative.”
Jhett would often base his decision on how well one script is written. “If I eventually see my imagined ending at the script’s end, then that would be a ‘no’ for me. The script has to shock me. Second, the script has to impress the critics. I used to be a critic of Broadway shows through my vlog, so I first put on my critical hat. If I think the writing is good, I already think of the cast in the process,” said Jett.
“Lastly, it has to have commercial value. I can’t just say ‘thank you’ to my producers. At the end of the day, I want to be able to give back my investors’ money. Also, I always take it upon myself to share because I came from nothing and these people trusted me based on nothing but my name. I have to protect that,” he pointed out. “I turn down a lot of pitches, but if other writers and directors are open to my ideas, then I pick those, too. Like for ‘Lingua Franca,’ I gave a few suggestions after I read the script, and Isabel agreed to them. If you’re not ready to collaborate, then we move on because life is short.” INQ