Friday, April 28, 2017


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 29, 2017 issue

Can you tell a story in 30 or 45 seconds? What about in lesser time, 15 seconds, for example? In advertising world, a 60-seconder is already an extended version and it is different from a documentary or audio-video presentation.

Television ads have become an art form, showing the latest technology, special effects and using many different kinds of emotions - all in a matter of seconds, to connect to the consumer target.

The driver behind the steering wheel during the production stage of the approved concept is the director. He is responsible for bringing the creative team's vision to life, in close partnership with the advertiser and advertising agency. 

They usually start young or evolve from their advertising profession (creative director, art director or producer). Some begin apprenticing as production assistants or at the bottom of the food chain - utilitymen or assistant to the assistant of the cameraman. 

Some have burnt the midnight candle inside studios where they literally would not see the light of day, doing editing jobs, MTVs or inexpensive videos. Some were just driven to make it. Others had innate talent and just naturally gravitated to it until Lady Luck smiled at them and they hit big time. 

Behind the cutthroat competition is a common denominator: they are all storytellers, men or women who were not considered stars (movie stars were “stars”), but shadows operating in the background, doing what big brands hired them to deliver an assignment on a prescribed timetable.

A little backgrounder 

During the 70s, Young and Rubicam and Doyle Dane and Bernbach, two of many hyper-active ad agencies on New York’s Madison Avenue, were known as training grounds for directing and had a number of art directors and producers who eventually became famous. Among them were Bob Giraldi, Stan Dragoti, Bert Steinhauser, Sid Myers and Dick Lowe.

Joe Sedelmaier, a former art director for Y&R Chicago, revolutionized the use of comedy in tv ads, as shown in his memorable "Fast Talker" series for FedEx. He was also among the first directors to cast real people instead of actors.
Then European ad agencies invaded the U.S. and British adman Ridley Scott, created Chanel's "Share the Fantasy" campaign for DDB and eventually directed one of the most talked about commercials of all time, Apple's "1984" (No. 12 on Advertising Age's top 100 ad campaigns of the 20th century). “It epitomized the British look, with his highly stylized images,” according to Advertising Age.

In the 80s, big-name movie directors realized that making commercials was not only lucrative but also allowed them to hone their craft by telling a story in 30 seconds. 

Feature-film directors such as Penny Marshall, Robert Altman, John Schlesinger, John Frankenheimer, Spike Lee, Tony Bill, John Badham, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch began making themselves available for commercials.

A number of successful British commercial directors then turned to making feature films. Adrian Lyne directed "Flashdance" (1983) and "Fatal Attraction" (1987). Ridley Scott’s movies included "Blade Runner" (1982), "Thelma & Louise" (1991) and "Gladiator" (2000).

Tony Scott made "Top Gun" (1986) and "Crimson Tide” (1995) among others. Hugh Hudson directed "Chariots of Fire" in 1981. All of them crossed over between films and commercials, contributing to the development of a new breed: the Crossover director.

Film production in the Philippines

Even before the war, the country’s filmmaking industry was considered one of the most prolific and vibrant in Asia and the country had many talented directors. Today, the number keeps rising and new generation of megmen, better trained and studied abroad, contribute to the growth of the industry. Some of them, too, have brought honors to the country and continue to blaze new trails. 
National Artists Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, apart from their landmark films that lovers of great Filipino films know, also crossed over, making tv commercials for McCann-Erickson Philippines. Under his wing, Brocka trained a few Filipino talents, among them Jeric Soriano, son of the late matinee idol Nestor de Villa. 

Soriano was part of Brocka’s behind-the-scene team in making “Angela Markado”, “Kapit sa Patalim”, “Bayan Ko” and “PX”, all internationally acclaimed films (the last two were shown in Cannes and Manila International Film festivals, respectively).

Soriano would also shine on his own, directing memorable tv commercials. Some of them were for Palmolive (“I Can Feel It” with Alice Dixson, Sarsi (“Angat Sa Iba”), Magnolia Cheezee (“Umi-Spread Ang Sarap”) and did around 490 more, a conservative estimate over a 25-year career. 

Past forward, his son Paul would also venture into filmmaking and tv commercial directing. To date, the younger Soriano has done almost 60 tv commercials, even surpassing what his Dad had accomplished by winning Best Director and Best Screenplay awards in the Film Academy Awards of the Philippines (FAP) in 2012.

During a one-on-one interview, Soriano emphasized his mantra in doing a material. “The story has to be told well, because, for me, the story is king and has to be executed correctly.”

Soriano is a stickler for discipline, a great communicator with a creative mindset for a good script and dramatic images. “I marry a narrative with a visual style that evokes drama. I want people to be affected and watch what I create.”

“A great movie for me is when it moves and challenges me, even my opinion,” Soriano said. “A great film is something you’d want to watch over and over again. It has great writing, appropriate editing, and created by the director from a different perspective. A great tv ad for me is when it resonates with me, drives me to crave for it, allowing me to make a purchase,” he said.

Lino Brocka inspired Soriano for his focus on delivering a movie with great storytelling. He respects Lav Diaz, director of 2016 Venice Film Festival Best Picture, “Ang Babaing “Humayo” among new generation of Filipino filmmakers.
Having been his mentor, he is immensely grateful for the maverick director whom he also calls a ‘brother’. Diaz’ “don’t-take-life-seriously” philosophy in life, has also made an impact on Soriano. He is someone who is like a kid on the set but man enough to deliver the goods.

At the FAP, Soriano won a Best Screenplay award for “Thelma” and made the win more emphatic by bagging the most coveted – the Best Director prize for the same film. “It is my dream to be a director and winning would inspire me more in my craft,” he said on accepting his trophy.

The best is yet to come for the Philippine cinema, Soriano said. He romanticizes watching a great film, whether local or foreign made, in a theatre. “There’s nothing quite like the experience, with you eating popcorn, together with the rest of 400 people or so watching. Cinema is the king of projection. I don’t want theatre to die,” he said.

On the creative process, Soriano wishes for more professional people on the set. “Art is defining a culture and art is still discipline. I bring that to my shoot. People should respect the creation of the film and not underestimate pre-production preparation. It is a disservice to the art if you are not committed to it,” he said. His parting words for new directors: “Know the language of the film”.

New generation of Filipino filmmakers

We also interviewed new generation of Filipino tv commercial directors to give you valuable insights and learning experience from Jessel Monteverde (“Shake, Rattle and Roll” and award-winning Indie films), Nick Santiago (former copywriter and studied at State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick), Yeyey Yatco (multi-awarded and former multinational ad agency Art Director) and Torts Villacorta (graduate of communication arts with strong emphasis on film, technical expertise on food cinematography and mastery of the narrative). Here are their thoughts:

What is a good tv commercial to you?

Jessel Monteverde: A good TV commercial provides a clear message for the promotion of product/service/brand. It reaches the maximum number of a specific target audience and rises above the clutter of ads. A great TV commercial offers the viewer some other value over and above just the promotion of the product/service/brand.

Nick Santiago: Before, a good TVC was one that people remember and talk about.  Now it has to be one people can share.

Yeyey Yatco: Aside from having excellent and well-planned production values, a good TV Commercial is one that touches its target market one way or another. It should be able to elicit some kind of connection that would prompt the viewer and say, “ako yun ah!” With this, the product the ad is selling would create a strong bond with its consumer.

Torts Villacorta: A good commercial should communicate well with its intended audience and sell a product. 

What is your creative philosophy when making an ad?

Monteverde: Art and commerce must coexist. We are not strictly creating works of art here. The TV ad has a very specific purpose and one must be mindful of that purpose.

Santiago: My personal creative philosophy in making an ad is to make it not seem like an ad.

Yatco: To be able to clearly send the ad’s message across. A director should be able to do this with the smallest or biggest of budgets.

How do you keep yourself updated with global trends in filmmaking?

Monteverde: I keep an eye out on movies, videos, and technology online.

Santiago: I keep myself updated by constantly watching, reading, and listening to content.  Creativity is derived from a new combination of past experiences.

Yatco: Right now, being connected makes it easy to research and see what is new and trending in terms of filmmaking. Subscribing to industry publications on-line or print is a big help also.
I also watch a lot of films, TV shows and even other TVC’s to keep me updated. Another important aspect of my being updated is reaching out to different kinds of people—students of various levels, workers, executives, etc. This just gives me different perspectives on how these types of people view different things.

Villacorta: Aside from the usual online search engines and online video repositories, I try to watch as many film director interviews, new behind-the-scene documentaries, and production technology advancements as I can. 

Describe yourself when making a production. Who are you on the set?

Monteverde: I am the captain of the ship. If I take too long in the bathroom, the ship won’t move. I am a collaborator. I take input from all sides. One person can’t possibly have all the best ideas.

Santiago: On the set, I try to be an inspirational leader.  I try to get everyone to perform to the best of their ability so we can have the best output. 

Yatco: I try to be everybody’s friend on the set. I like my set to be as light as possible. I am everybody’s friend but that doesn’t mean that anybody can fool around. If you are on my set, I expect you to do your job efficiently. As much as possible, all concerns have been addressed during the pre-production stage of the project at hand.

Villacorta: I consider myself a Perfectionist. I’m extremely obsessive during the shoot, which I think is an actual understatement. You can ask my team. They know me best. Everything should run as smooth as possible but without being inflexible. It’s collaboration, after all.

Would you accept a project that would compromise your image/status or you’d take it as a challenge?

Monteverde: No. Reputation, once tarnished is a very difficult thing to restore.

Santiago: Of course I would take it and try to make it the best it could possibly be.

Yatco: I take all projects as a challenge. There is no small project. To me all projects should be treated with utmost respect, which means 100% attention from the staff and me.

Villacorta: I consider each project as a challenge. 

Advertisers or ad agencies at some point would clash because of creative interpretation or ego. What do you do to avoid conflicts and maintain good relations with them?

Monteverde: I try to think of solutions that maintain creativity while at the same time meeting the advertising objectives.

Santiago: By remembering that in the end, it’s just an ad.  No one is going to die over it. You win some, you lose some.

Yatco: My thinking is that once a project is handed to a director, client and agency should have agreed on every point of the storyboard/TV commercial. But, yes, this doesn’t always happen. When it doesn’t, the director should be able to point out where the conflict arises and try to show and explain to both client and agency how the concerns could be addressed.

It is also important to know when a director should come in. The director should be able to discern if the concern is strategic or creative in nature. It is also important to know the proper channels or protocols on how to discuss concerns.

Oh, and this should be discussed, as much as possible, during the feasibility and pre-production meetings. That is why I believe that the Pre-Production Agreement Document is my friend. Everybody can just refer to it during the principal photography.

How did you get into the field of production?

Monteverde: After deciding not to go to medical school, I spent a summer watching Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Smith films. I then realized that there is a career in directing.

Santiago: I entered production after first starting out in advertising as a creative and realizing that TV commercials were my favorite part of my job.

Yatco: I was an art director with McCann Ericson under the Coke Group. We were involved in a lot of TV productions and I was fortunate to have worked with different directors. The production process fascinated me. I was awed with how everything comes together.

During my stint as an art director, I got close with Matthew Rosen, a British Director based here in Manila under Unitel Productions. He saw my interest in filmmaking and he offered me a job as his assistant/apprentice. I accepted it and, eventually, got to work with the different directors of Unitel at that time like Jun Reyes, Dindo Angeles, Sockie Fernandez and, of course, Matthew Rosen.

Villacorta: I think my turning point was when Mon & Abby of JimenezBasic encouraged me to make the jump from Producing to Directing. Henry Frejas was also instrumental in that decision.

Who influenced you much and gave you a break in directing?

Monteverde: My influences come from many famous filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Wong Kar Wai, etc. My big breaks into a directing career came from my cousin Dondon Monteverde, Ross Misa, and Mari Buencamino.

Santiago: I was influenced by my older brother, Luigi, himself a director. AF Benaza gave me my break by taking a chance on a know-it-all kid.

Yatco: Tony Gloria, who gave me a chance to be able to work with the best directors up close and personal. Luigi Tabuena, who kept on insisting that I try out directing when I was still with McCann. He eventually hired me to join the director pool of Production Village. Ross Misa and Mari Buencamino, who from the start, were always behind me in my career as a director.  

What is your dream project?

Monteverde: Anything that I personally would like to watch and would be entertaining to others.

Santiago: My dream project is an adidas commercial starring Daft Punk and Girls Generation.

Yatco: In terms of film making in general? I’d love to do a prequel, remake or sequel to the Mike de Leon Classic, Batch 81.

Villacorta: A narrative, that’s purely storytelling.

Does one limit his creativity because of budget?

Monteverde: Yes. Budget allows you to broaden the scope of creativity. However, this doesn’t mean that a low-budget project can’t be creative.

Santiago: Lack of budget makes on become more creative.

Yatco: During Just Add Water’s talk in Abracadabra, Jem Lim made us realize this –– In terms of a production, she looks at three things and makes client and agency this reality: Great. Fast. Cheap. You can’t have all three in one project. You can only have two.

My take is that one should realize or know how much his budget is and work from there. A classic example is a Vulcaseal commercial shot in the 80’s. It was just a shot of dripping water to a pail inside a house while it was raining hard outside. The dripping stops and tag line comes in, “Tapal Vulcaseal!” One set up and one shot was all it took. This ad brought home lots of awards.

What is your favorite Filipino or foreign tv commercial that you wish you did.

Monteverde: Too many to list, mostly foreign commercials.

Santiago: Adidas’ “Hello Tomorrow” by Spike Jonze.

Yatco: I am a romantic at heart. Locally, I would have wanted to do any of the recent digital ads of Jollibee. I wish to be able to do something like that. There was a student spec ad for Johnnie Walker that came out a few years ago. I would also love do something like this. Even Filipinize it!

If you have a power to change something in the way we do things what would they be?

Monteverde: We need to figure out this paradigm shift from TV to online advertising. Somehow because of the low cost of online advertising, it has been equated with lower cost-to-produce materials. This needs to be seriously discussed because people are dying from being overworked trying to fit projects into small budgets.

Santiago: I would make sure that others would think of other’s first before they acted.

Yatco: That is for everyone to be paid fairly and on time. We are directors and we have the privilege of being paid well and on time. My heart bleeds for the staff and crew who have to wait to be paid for a long time.

Things you want to see happening in the Filipino production industry today.

Monteverde: We need more formal education in filmmaking. We don’t have dedicated degrees in directing, producing, screenwriting, etc. Many learn in a trial-by-fire manner. Many rise through internships and OTJ training. Those are fine but would be even better if supported by formal education.  

Santiago: I would like to see projects take more risks, rather than walk the beaten, proven path.  I want the Philippines to do creative that’s not just fresh for this country, but fresh to the world.

Yatco: Professionalize everything. It would help a lot if production houses can educate the staff and crew with the basics of production. This way everyone would feel dignified and respected with his/her job.
Brag a little, things you have done in the last three years, that you are most proud of, school or career specialization you attended, etc.

Monteverde: I have discovered the power of networking. You can be the greatest filmmaker in the world, but if no one knows who you are, you won’t get much work. I learned of this power after being invited as a speaker for a couple of forums on filmmaking. I met like-minded individuals who are open to mutualistic relationships and career building.

Santiago: I had my first son.

Yatco: I am proud to say that I can give back already. I do this by giving talks on film making to high school and college students. Ateneo de Manila University, my alma mater, for Senior HS students as a career talk and the College of Communications and CoSA as a career path. University of the Philippines, my other alma mater, wherein I have given talks and have held workshops on film making in the College of Mass Communications and the College of Business Administration. Miriam College, where I have given similar talks and workshops mentioned above during their MassCom week for several years already. I, also, have done two short films for a foundation that advocates reading. I am always here ready to help.