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Making Maledicto (Pt. 2)

Making Maledicto (Part 2)

Show business can be a very volatile place. Film projects can get greenlit one moment, then get trapped in development hell in the next. They can go through various format changes at the start of the pre-production cycle, or emerge an entirely different thing by the end of post-production. Some companies have even adapted to this volatility with an almost industrial approach to creativity. Disney, for example, infamously practices something called “scrapbooking”, where many different permutations of a storyline, usually the endings, are shot just so the producers can alter the film’s story in the middle of post-production based on how it is testing to sample audiences. Some film projects are just subject to the whims of show business trends and capital. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, for example, was slated to be produced as a hand-drawn 2D animated feature by future Pixar legend John Lasseter in 1988, before the rights changed hands and Universal Studios decided it would have better luck as a CGI project before giving up on the idea in 2001, where it was changed into a live action movie that was ultimately produced by Warner Bros. in 2009. Such was life in the film industry.

We had our own brush with this volatility with “Maledicto”.

Not long after that first meeting with director Erik Matti, another meeting involving all three parties was convened in the offices of Reality Entertainment. In that meeting, the FOX Philippines representative casually mentioned that the primary output would now be the movie. Apparently, it was decided between FOX and Reality Entertainment, and we were left in the dark until well after the decision was made. Perhaps it was a reflection of how fast things were moving with FOX Philippines’ parent corporation.

There were a lot of adjustments to be made, not least of all in the organization of the team. The movie meant that all TV script work was on hold, and that the team would now be whittled down to the writer taking on the movie. That meant that I was now a team of one. Creatively, whereas the movie being the last thing we made meant that we could conceptualize it as a capstone on the series and deal with it later, the movie now being first meant that it had to be an origin story with a cliffhanger.

I toyed with the idea of just expanding the first episode into a full-length movie, but the format left little room for expansion.  So I had to take my character notes and create a more fleshed-out origin that could sustain a full-length movie. It also meant jettisoning  one of the main characters, Dr. Sarah, from the movie, as she is established as just having returned to the setting at the start of the series. I started on a story outline for the film with the intent of preserving the core of the character arcs and in keeping with the themes we were going to establish in the series, both as a matter of keeping the strengths of the original concept alive as well as my own creative integrity. I finished the outline for the movie in the first half of 2015, but would not hear from FOX again until the next year.

The next time we heard from FOX Philippines, there had already been a lot of movement. The deal with Reality Entertainment had fallen through over some key details in the contract, but another partner was lined up in UNITEL. FOX Philippines was moving with an urgency we hadn’t seen thus far, which gave us a sense of excitement over the future of the project. I was given feedback on the outline by the FOX Philippines producers, so I began writing the first draft of the script. I would ultimately write 15 drafts.

The first four drafts of the movie script had only a few minor changes from the original outline, as FOX Philippines was generally content with the creative decisions we’ve made so far. This was the calm before another storm. By early 2017, UNITEL had tapped a new director for the film, someone who had some mainstream credibility in the genre and who shall remain unnamed in this article. I learned some very important lessons working with this director. My fifth draft was spent fixing the dialogue to match the director’s expectations, which was a great creative exercise. However, my first major test as a creative was about to come up.

This director sent me a script he had been working on with two other writers, something he was likely trying to get produced internationally as the characters weren’t Filipino. He sent it as a way of showing the type of tone he had wanted for the next draft of the script. As I was working on the next draft of the script, I received another email from the director, one that contained a completed draft of the script. I was being told that, in essence, this was going to be the script going forward. I looked over the script and saw that he, or his writers, had changed much of the script to look more like his own script that he had shown me. He had changed plot elements and gender-swapped characters (though not nationalities, thankfully) in ways that made little sense to our original themes and intentions. Moreover, the new script left very little room for a follow-up series. 

This was a shock, not just for myself, but for the rest of Overmind. While I admit that a part of me was attached to our original concept, which made me recoil at the extensive changes on instinct, even a calmer reading later on revealed a story vastly different in theme, intent, and expansion potential from the concept and scripts we already had approved from FOX Philippines. We had to formulate a response. So, I carefully crafted a reply email that listed both the changes we could work with and the changes we were going to reject, including our reasons for doing so, in as professional a manner as I could muster. The reply we got was harsh and belittling, with the director eschewing all discussion and pulling rank. I was just the “f-ing writer”.

One of the more subtle political changes in the shift to a movie production was the creative hierarchy. Typically, in a Filipino production, creative hierarchy is determined by the type of production. In a TV commercial, the client was king. For a TV series, the producer / showrunner was the decision maker. For movies, it was all up to the director. Had Maledicto remained a series, we would have reported to a producer who had already approved of our work simply by selecting us out of a competition, and who we had been working with for around three years at that point. But the movie now placed us under a director new to the project, and one who was bringing his own creative baggage. So, we had to think of a way to both save our work and creative integrity, as well as the future viability of the project despite lacking the authority to do so.

First, we asked around and realized that our producers were not yet aware of the major changes the director was going to impose on the script. UNITEL was aware of the script, but FOX Philippines was not. So, our next step was to loop FOX in. I sent them a copy of the new script, along with our explanation as to what we could work with and what we couldn’t and why we thought the major changes were a bad idea in the long run.  We had hoped that FOX would act as a kind of guiding middle voice. However, things would not get that far as the director issued an ultimatum. It was him or me.

A week later, we learned that the director had exited the project.

After that 6th draft, there was a gap of almost half a year before we heard from either FOX or UNITEL. We learned that there was a new director on board: Mark Meily. We also learned that the producers were eager to begin casting. The people on the FOX Philippines side had not lost that sense of urgency they had begun the year with. In retrospect, this was around the time FOX and Disney were discussing the potential sale. Having many projects officially running would only increase 21st Century Fox’s value.

With Mark Meily’s fresh input, I began work on the 7th draft, of which I was to include some plot points to make the story seem bigger, and pave the way for the possibility of a larger world for the potential series to work with. The difference in working with him compared to the previous director was night and day, and the key difference was that Meily believed in the potential of the story and its storytelling to begin with. We would have, conceptually at least, the “final” draft by the 9th one, which was finished in January of 2018.

I was also tasked with writing the character profiles and helping with the casting process. When the project first got greenlit, I and my colleagues already had our “perfect cast” priorities in mind, and my casting suggestions reflected this. I was pleasantly surprised when my preference won out for lead actress, though who I had in mind for lead actor was hopelessly unavailable due to scheduling. At the end of the process, I thought we had a fairly strong cast. Even the chosen lead actor, who I felt was too young for the role, surprised me.

From this point on, every draft of the script was meant to polish it, or make some adjustments to suit the actors and actresses. Drafts 10-15 were, in essence, refinements to the production script.

The production opened with a big lunch with the entire cast and team, along with some media. There, FOX Philippines executives made it clear that the production was a “Hollywood” production, with the film entering the list of active 21st Century Fox projects. In hindsight, the number of active projects the studio had would have played at least a minor role in what is now considered Disney’s “overpay” for 21st Century Fox, so FOX may have been looking to add as much as it can to that list. But to us then, it felt like a big deal.

My final role in the production was to act as both script consultant and informal subject matter expert for the duration of production and post-production. I wasn’t required to be on set. I just had to be available when they needed to consult on certain dialogue, or certain character aspects. The most involved with post-production I got was to help in voice over pronunciations. But, I was voluntarily on-set more than half the time and got to see the dream come to life.

Overall, it was a credit to the entire team, for sticking with a vision and a process that allowed us to achieve the nigh-impossible. The beautiful thing about achieving such things is that what once seemed impossible seems to shrink into the realm of possibility,and we at Overmind are not afraid to dream again.   

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