VICTOR VILLANUEVA: Master storyteller


(CDN Photo/Edd Buenaviaje)

Wait lang daghan kaayo ko og favorites! I have to think this thoroughly,” he said, flustered.


“For local, it will be ’Starting Over Again’ and for international, is the 2015 Japanese animated action-adventure-fantasy, ‘The Boy and the Beast.’

I am kind of torn between Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name), however mas na-affected ko sa ‘The Boy and the Beast.’ Also the film that changed my life was ’Princess Mononoke.’”

The realness. Sitting through a whole afternoon with director Victor Kaiba Villanueva is a smorgasbord of the absurd, the random, and anything that’s out of the ordinary.

“It is all about movies. I used to make TV commercials and I am all set to do movies for 2018. There’s something about movies that leaves a mark on the audience unlikeTV commercials.”

Born in Davao and educated in Cebu, the Fine Arts graduate is still reeling from his breakthrough feature “Patay Na Si Hesus.”

From its box-office success to the very encouraging feedback via last year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, Victor is grateful for the rare feat considering it is not common for Filipino audience to sit through an entire Visayan film.

He’s currently mainstreaming in the upcoming “Kusina Kings” with Zanjoe Marudo, Empoy and Maxine Medina.

Here, he talks about his passion for Cebu through cinema, and how Cebu should keep up with the changing times.

You’re loaded with projects for the year …

I was anticipating this. I have to adjust now that I am venturing into mainstream, and it’s good that I have a number of advisers.

I have done TV commercials before but this is what I really want to do.

How do you stay sane?

PS4, and hanging out with friends. Usually when I’m with friends in Manila, we watch movies, even the really bad ones.

And I read comics. It is important for me to stay sanein Manila because my family is here in Cebu.

I really value my free time there in Manila, though at times I’d rather sleep it off because kapoy.

When did you decide that film would be your life?

My goal before was mainly about advertising, as well as marketing.

And then in college we had Media Arts as oneof our courses. My batch mates back then were Remton Zuasola and Keith Deligero. Nalingaw mig buhat og salida.

After graduation I got somehow bored here in Cebu so I decided to try and pursue advertising in Manila.

This was in 2009, and that time we were feeling the economic crisis here in the Philippines, so freeze hiring in some companies.

Ang nahitabo, I did freelancing, and good that I was a part of a production.

I did camera, was a PA, and I admit it was what I really wanted.

Nalingaw ra sab ko and things took off from there.

I became involved in the production, nahimo kong editor.

The term “social media content producer” was not prevalent yet. But back then I was doing it for the first installment of “Kimmy Dora.”

That’s when director Joyce Bernal and Piolo Pascual discovered me—they loved my work.

How did you start directing movies?

Eventually, my desire to venture into advertising was set aside, and in 2011 my friend Diem Judilla wrote a script
and we sort of submitted it for Cinema One Originals.

Wala gyud ko nag expect that it would make it. There was no turning back since then because I was made to direct it.

A lot of people around me were prodding me to direct my own film since according to them, I do have the sensibility for mainstream or commercial films.

That first movie was “My Paranormal Romance.”

What’s the takeaway after the success of Patay Na Si Hesus?

Wala gyud mi nagdahum. We were ready to surrender na because back them we sort of got victimized by politicking and there’s that notion that no one would want to watch a Bisaya film.

We were surprised because nikusog man siya on its second day.

We only started with 80 cinemas until 130 on the succeeding days.

Na-shock mi sa nahitabo.

What I learned was that dili siya mo-matter if it’s Bisaya as long as pulido imong story and authentic siya.

It was weird because most Manila audience was clapping when the end credits rolled in.

Wala ko nagdahum nga it would get such attention nga even now I would still get private messages and tweets that PNSH is one of their favorite films.

We would love to release the film via DVDs, however the film is still slated for a number of film festivals.

From the title to the theme, everything was kind of absurd. Do you have this thing for anything that beyond normal?

The movie examines an imperfect family and despite their imperfection you can still hold everything together.

Accidental lang gyud ang title nga PNSH, it was supposed to be “Lubong Na Ni Hesus.” Eventually we decided to change it.

Which is good because the title created this unnecessary controversy. It also tripled our Facebook likes.

Diha ko makaingon nga bad publicity or good publicity really works because nisaka ang viewership with our trailer.

It was all free press for us and it really helped.

What happened to the character of the nun portrayed by Mailes Kanapi?

Naa pa man unta siya sa funeral.

However, we noticed nga scene-stealer na kaayo siya sa salida.

It was a hard decision to let her exit, but we believe that we owe it to the family to have their moment during the funeral scene.

The point with Sister Lucy is that siya si Lucifer, na the devil can be in disguise, at the same time the devil wants to have fun.

In the end she was free, liberated from the shackles of tradition. We’re in talks for a sequel with Sister Lucy and Jude in it.

After doing PNSH, do you think there’s a promise for the local film industry?

I hope dili na ta magbinuntagay og shoot. But really, there are a lot of issues that need to be discussed and tackled.

I mean in the US they have this union and standards nga dapat masunod.

Here lisod siya and for Cebu I also hope that our creative talent would someday be recognized, and dili kita ma-exploit. Ang problem sab with Cebu is that once in a blue moon ra ang mga production. I mean there’s just not much in here.

Not to mention stories I heard about exploitation, like mangita sila ug way nga dili sila makabayad sa production, mangita ug bikil or sayop para dili makabayad.

I hate the thought nga when you see them spending for their premiere night with red carpet pa, pero wala diay mabayran ang mga tao.

Production and the creatives should be treated well and paid rightfully.

(CDN Photo/Edd Buenaviaje)

What’s your dream project?

I am still writing it pero dili pa nako siya mahuman because of ‘self-doubt.’ It’s called “Ricky Boy, the Wonder Boy” and I already pitched
this in Korea and it even got an award for pitching. There are a number of interested producers.

Considering it’s sort of like my passion project, dili pa gyud nako siya mahuman.

What’s your take on drone shots in films?

You can do drone if necessary. For PNSH we decided on no drone shots, and if necessary nisaka mi og bukid for that open shot in Boljoon.

Apart from the fact that drone shots weren’t necessary in our story, mas ganahan ko nga organic lang ang dating sa salida.

What are you like as a director?

Empoy once said, “Direk, ang bait-bait mo. Ikaw ang pinakamabait na director na na-encounter ko.”

Then I thought whether I may have missed on something, like I heard of directors na nagmumura. Masuko man ko pero I’d rather keep it to myself.

However in my previous Cebuano production I was very strict as well as very particular with how to go about things.

What was the last movie that wowed you?

For local, that would be “Kita Kita.” For one, Empoy was a revelation.

Also it was a very simple story, but honest. And I felt something—that’s how I judge a movie.

And though it may have its shortcomings “Kita Kita,” the way it was told and the way it ended, just has this effect on me as an audience.

I have always been a fan of the film’s director and she has always been good with emotions and nuances.

“Call Me By Your Name” was also honest, and I have to say “Respeto,” too.

“Respeto” was able to capture the entire vibe.

Any genre that you would like to do?

I want to do a movie that would cut across its market, not only here in the Philippines but also in Asia or the world.

Recently I was amazed with “Bad Genius”—the film was meticulously done, from the script, to the casting and editing.

I hope I get to make one myself. Dili na ko magdahum og Hollywood.

Why not Hollywood?

Maybe it’s because the culture I know, and the style of humor I know is pretty much local; and I don’t know if these would cater to the preference of a Hollywood audience.

But I may reconsider… let’s talk in five years.

For now I just want my country to be happy with what I can offer.

What makes a good film for you?

Honesty. Authenticity. Daghan man gud films nga maklaro nimo ang pretense.

Some local movies are made just for the sake of doing it, and it is sad because it just has no soul in it.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a feel-good, like na-shock ko with the ending of “Respeto.”

With “Kita Kita” wala ko nakamatikod nga naghilak na diay ko.

Either masuko or makatawa, kinahanglan naa ko’y ma-feel.

Will you sit through a bad film?

It is actually one of my pasttimes.

I love watching bad movies or trash films and I don’t know why. My neighbor in Manila, Jade Castro, who is also a director, mangita mi og bad film sa sinehan.

Mogasto gyud mi to watch it and we complain about it afterwards. Funny, there was a time when we went to this far-off screening of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Maybe the reason why I watch these films is because they teach you what not to do, and also because naa ko’y makuha.

I don’t know, either a gag or a sequence, naa man gyud ka’y makuha from these bad films.

I’m talking about the kind na it’s bad that it’s good. But there are also a different kind of bad films nga maka-walk out ka because of the pretentiousness.

In this kind of job you get to meet interesting and odd people. Who do you think is the most interesting among them?

Direk Joyce Bernal. She is the one person who sought me out. She urged me to make films.

Come to think of it I was like a sisiw pa back then pero she gave me that trust, she saw something in me, and she has been supportive ever since. She always read my scripts, sit through them and we discuss it.

I’ve met a lot of interesting people actually.

Like there’s Moira Lang who sort of really helped me out during my first few months in Manila.

What surprises me is that these individuals are among the many that I look up to.

During discussions maminaw lang gyud ko nila sa kilid, on how the industry works, how to handle the production and they always guide me.

There’s also Jerrold Tarog. We have a love-hate relationship and in his first film I was his co-producer. Being part of that film made me realize that
I love filmmaking.

When I started in Manila we were sort of housemates, but we argued on some things. Still, I really learned a lot from him.

Any Cebuano directors you want to work with?

I have pretty much worked with all of our local directors. What I would love to do now is work with or train young upcoming directors.

The only problem is that I am mostly in Manila.

But really, anyone can freely consult me.

I am just a message away, provided we should have a disclosure… hanesay na if I go through your script ayaw ug hilak.

In this industry never take things personally because it can be a soul-crushing industry.

I learned this when I started out na you need to have this filter of what to take in and what to disregard.

I would suggest for film students to commit. Don’t just make films for the sake of doing it.

Don’t limit your audience inside the classroom, and even if you’re just doing a short film, make sure that it’s good.

Like my first short film took me to seven different countries.

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