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Making Maledicto (Pt. 1)

Making Maledicto (Part 1) by Jonathan Guillermo 

There are few things in life more difficult than getting a feature-length film concept turned into reality while having no prior industry backing, no prior studio work and no pre-existing fanbase to leverage.

Feature films are often heavy investments. The Philippine film industry, much like its Hollywood parent, had become risk-averse over the last decade. Most of the money went to the predictably reliable IP’s that had established followings or involved people who did. Those IP’s were the inner core of the industry bubble.

Stretching out to the edges of that bubble were film content designed to catch what money fell through the cracks: stabs at this or last season’s hot genre formula, trend-chasing content or appeals to nostalgia, all still made by established entities within the industry looking to fill the spaces between the titans.  Everybody else standing outside that bubble could only shoot for the stars and pray something landed on the moon. 

There were ways to take that moon shot. Short films going through the festival circuits, independent movies taking bets on themselves, grinding out a fanbase in other mediums; these are all time-honored routes of shooting yourself into the bubble. Overmind Corp. has placed its own bets on these routes. But then came the shot that landed on the moon: Maledicto.

“Maledicto” marks the first time our company managed to get a full-length movie concept produced and distributed for mainstream consumption. Prior to “Maledicto”, we were effectively industry unknowns working just outside the bubble. However, we stumbled onto and capitalized on a perfect storm.

It began in late 2013, with Fox Philippines. Fox Philippines was the local outpost of the consolidated international mass media giant News Corporation. In that year, News Corporation spun off into two entities, News Corp. for the corporation’s news and publishing assets and 21st Century Fox, Inc. for its film and television. At this point, 21st Century Fox was the fourth largest media conglomerate in the US.

2013 also marked the dawn of the streaming wars, as the success of Netflix marked a shift in the audience consumption of video content. There was burgeoning pressure for more content among the mass media giants. 21st Century Fox began encouraging its international affiliates, including Fox Philippines, to look into developing regional content.

Late in 2013, Fox Philippines issued a call for concepts. Fox Philippines was in a unique position. Being a multinational company, it had a degree of detachment from the Philippine film industry. So, when it issued the call for concepts, it was an open call not limited to the major local players. For those outside the bubble, it was a rare opportunity to shoot for the stars with a multinational media company that reached beyond the traditional barriers. And many did shoot.

This is where Overmind Corp. comes in. Looking to make a name for ourselves, we submitted a slate of concepts hoping to be selected.

The concept that became “Maledicto” started life as “The Exorcist Diaries”. As the concept developer, I had the idea of combining the horror genre with the police procedural style. The Fox Philippines brief mentioned wanting concepts in genres that played well in the local markets, and horror belonged near the top of that list. I wanted to give the genre a more modern twist well suited to the fusion of local and Western influence that Fox Philippines dipping into the local film production industry represented. So, I came up with the idea for a limited series about an exorcist taking cases, told in the style of a police detective going through a series of procedures in order to deduce the truth. The style had a stellar track record of staying power in syndication going back at least two decades, which I had hoped would give the concept an advantage. And, most importantly (though I would only belatedly realize), the concept was wholly ours.

Early on, we got a notice that “Exorcist Diaries” was shortlisted. It meant another round of requirements, including the shooting of a “sizzle reel”, which we had never done before. We had to pitch the concept live to a panel of Fox Philippines executives. We leaned on our experience with big pitches, and the sizzle reel was a hit with the panel. When we came out of it, I felt good about our chances.

There would be no news until mid-2014.

When the email came telling us that we had won the pitch, we were ecstatic. We were on the verge of the impossible, going from industry outsiders with no pre-existing fanbase and no studio affiliation to getting our concept made into a full series. During the first meeting with Fox Philippines afterwards, we learned how close it was. They had chosen another concept, but had trouble guaranteeing the rights to the adaptation. We fully owned our concept, so there was no such issue. Plus, the office loved the sizzle reel.

After negotiations, our initial deliverables were scripts for six episodes and an eventual movie. We toyed with the idea of taking on production and post production as well, but ultimately went along with Fox Philippines bringing in an industry-tested production company to handle it. Fox Philippines also requested a title change, due to “Exorcist Diaries” sounding too similar to other shows running at that time. We eventually settled on the title “Maledicto”, from a Latin word in the 1614 Catholic Rite of Exorcism.

Over the course of 2014, Overmind assembled a writing team with myself as the head and went ahead with development. For all of us, it was a crash course on TV writing and concept development, especially with only one member of the assembled team having extensive writer room experience. The story came into form over several  months of creative struggle, with everybody working together to tie plot points and build narrative flow while maintaining the narrative integrity of the initial concept.

While we were doing the writing, we also embarked on extensive research on the topic of exorcism. Our project head, Javi Abola, began contacting several resource people on the subject, mainly from the archdiocese of Manila, and through our talks with them, we obtained some of the finer details that allowed us to bring Fr. Xavi, Dr. Sarah and Sr. Barbara to life.

By early 2015, every team member had completed their episode outlines and were getting feedback from Fox Philippines. It was also then that our producers at Fox Philippines introduced us to director Erik Matti, who they had tapped to direct and who was in the middle of negotiations to bring his company, Reality Entertainment, in as the production partner. We started out somewhat star struck, as we were fans of his, but to our pleasant surprise, he treated us like peers and we had many productive discussions over the direction of the series. The team was even invited to a private screening of his still-unscored “Honor Thy Father”.  It seemed like we were all in a good  place.

However, our hopes for a  smooth flow from script to production were about to be dashed.

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