Have you seen Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington yet? If not, why not? It’s like one of the funniest local films this year and quality films like these need our support.
Anyway, I managed to have an interview with the movie’s director Jade Castro, who also helped create the script for the movie. Read on below for the interview.
Vince: First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the successful launch and screening of Zombadings. I’ve seen it twice and I must say that it has been very entertaining. So, how do you feel, now that Zombadings is receiving rave reviews and accolades (including a rare 5-star rating from a popular online movie critic)?
Jade: I felt... relieved. Haha. We certainly made a film that wasn’t safe, so we were never really sure how it was going to be received. We HOPED people would like it, but there was no guarantee. So I really, really feel a weight off everytime good feedback comes pouring. Also, we knew how important the good word-of-mouth was, because we didn’t have money for TV ads to promote the film. We NEEDED people to like it, or else we wouldn’t survive in theaters. So I’m also very thankful for the praises. People can be so generous! I remember running into Phil Dy after the very first screening, at the CCP, and he told me he thought it was the most subversive film ever! And I didn’t know if that was a good thing exactly. The five stars puts it in an easy to understand context. Haha.
V: Zombadings, which is just the third film you have directed, is now your second film to receive an “A” rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board after Endo. Do you think that puts pressure on you to live up to people’s high expectations in future projects?
J: No, because I’m not famous. I doubt many people will even remember the name of the director. This gives me freedom to do whatever I want next. But I do put some pressure on myself, not in order to live up to some pattern, like a chain—I personally dislike an auteur theory that states a filmmaker must be consistent—but because I just want everything I do to be kind of worthwhile.
V: Not famous? I guess we need to remedy that. Being indie, the film had minimal marketing compared to mainstream movies, but it still generated a lot of word-of-mouth buzz. Did you expect that Zombadings would become a success in this regard?
J: We wanted it to be a success, we wanted it to be seen by as many Filipinos as possible, and we wanted to make money out of it, and we wanted to please our investors and partners too, because we want to keep on making films. We found ways to market the film, even without big network TV backing. The marketing we’ve done was minimal only in terms of budget, but not in effort. We had to work hard and be creative, especially because a Star Cinema movie (that was also a comedy) also opened on the same playdate. If you ask me, I think our marketing was grand and out-of-the-box and surprising, compared to them. What they had that we didn’t were TV spots and the guns to put their movie in as many theaters as possible because of their relationship with theater owners. The word-of-mouth was crucial to our plan. It’s something the studios never do, because they always finish their films in the nick of time. They bombard us instead with commercials. We, on the other hand, had time in our favor. We invested in advance screenings so that people will have time to spread the word around.
V: I actually think that your marketing efforts did pay off. I personally know of people who had wanted to see the film because of the word-of-mouth. And investing in social media, like Twitter and Facebook, is both economical and effective as well. So kudos on showing that a movie can become the talk of the town without needing to advertise on television.
J: It wouldn’t have worked if people didn’t actually like/love it. Thank you to the people.
V: What do you think will be the influence of Zombadings on the local indie film industry, especially the gay segment, which has, sorry to say, been producing a lot of really badly done films these past few years?
J: I don’t know. Only time will tell. I know what you mean about the gay indies. I watch a lot of them. I wouldn’t want to generalize because there are a few every now and then that are worthwhile, and there’s a market for gay stories that the big studios would never touch. My complaint with bad filmmaking is not limited to gay indies. Major studios make bad films, too. And there are bad arthouse/festival films, also. But there are good stuff, too. I doubt Zombadings will be seen as a primer on good filmmaking -- haha, that would be funny -- but I can see how its success could maybe stretch the possibilities a bit of what cinema could be in this country, or what audiences are willing to try. Industry people can be overly literal when analyzing phenomena, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick apart the elements of the film and maybe attribute the success to, say, the gay element, or certain jokes, or, you know, details. I hope the legacy it leaves, if ever, is larger. My friend, director Mario Cornejo, summed it up best, I think, when he tweeted: “Concepts are important and all, but commitment is the key. #Zombadings proves that you can even make a gayzombieserialkiller movie work.”
V: I agree that major studios can produce bad films too, but I would have to say that gay indies seem to be the champs in setting the bar lower and lower. Some gay indie movie producers seem to think that just putting bare skin on screen is the sole key to success, but I’m increasingly resenting paying 150 pesos or more for a film that doesn’t seem worth its weight in film reels. If I wanted skin, I find more satisfaction browsing through free videos in online adult sites. I really want to support the gay indie film industry but the industry is making it hard for us to do so. While Zombadings might not be seen as a paragon of gay indie filmmaking, I hope that it proves that one can invest in a film with enough of the fundamentals and technicals down right to be an unexpected success.
J: You’re right, it’s frustrating when a film has skin to offer but not much else. I feel the same way with studio films that offer only stars, or a formula, or whatever ingredient they think is enough to make a film worth our money, but is not. I disagree with you. There are studio films that are worse than the worst of the gay indies. You shouldn’t feel obligated to watch movies you don’t want to. It’s the job of moviemakers to make their movies interesting for you. If they’re advertising skin and that’s not what you want, then by all means stay away. However, it’s also sadly the audience’s loss when they decide to shut out an entire genre because of a few bad apples. I’m an audience member first, and it’s true that expectations can’t be helped, but I also like the idea of walking into a movie and somehow end up being surprised. With Zombadings, I think there was a hurdle for us, with people who were predisposed to avoiding gay-themed films, or even independent films, or even films with silly titles, or films that don’t fall under the usual standards of good taste. Which is why I get giddy when people say they were surprised by how much they liked the film.
V: As you said, many people liked the film. But of course not everyone did. There was this one particularly scathing review posted by Michael David C. Tan online at Outrage Magazine. What can you say regarding the points raised by Mr. Tan in his review?
J: To be honest, we expected an anti-gay reading very early on, when the film wasn’t even finished. Even during the writing, we were aware it could ruffle some feathers, beginning with the very provocative premise of a gay curse. How politically incorrect! So we’ve been sensitive from the start, but also brave and not dodge prickly issues. But I think the first time we ever heard someone actually say “It’s anti-gay” was from an executive at Star Cinema, who saw an early, unfinished cut of the film, back when we showed it to them for possible distribution. They didn’t like it, of course. When that article by Michael David Tan came out—I think immediately, a day or two after the very first public screening—I was perplexed by its content. I worried for a while, because the values he was advocating in that article were also our advocacies, so it really did seem like we were being offensive, and yet we knew very well we had nothing but love and respect, we did our homework, we had been working on the film inside and out for close to two years! But I was concerned, too, because I felt that if a party took a real offense, it should not be taken lightly. His claim that the movie will lead to gay killings was scary. I would never forgive myself if people actually died because of the film. So I took that article seriously, and with the help of friends, studied each part carefully. In the end, I can say that Mr. Tan had simply misread the film. Thankfully, his opinion remains in the minority. People, including many LGBTQs, find the film to be a positive, enriching experience. There have even been articles written by other people who counter his argument.
V: To be fair to Mr. Tan, I think that a few of his points may have some merit. While a comedy film should not be taken too seriously, there’s a worry that people who have preconceptions that gay men like to cross-dress or act feminine would have their notions reinforced upon seeing Zombadings, or that some people might leave the theater continuing to believe that gay people enjoy wearing baby-tees, shashaying their hip, and saying “keribels,” ignorant of the fact that LGBT men and women come in all types. Do you think this is valid or is this just worrying too much?
J: Remington was turning into a particular queer image, and this is the image that he loathes, the one he makes fun of as a homophobe, and also this is the image that reflects that of the person who cursed him, the role played by Roderick Paulate. It’s a very particular transformation and is never meant to encompass the entirety of the gay experience, because that would be impossible. It’s too diverse. I think it says a lot about the gay men in the audience who react negatively to this image. What’s wrong with transgenders? Or effeminate gay men who like to speak in baklese and wear tight clothes? I find it sadly ironic that some people refuse to identify with Remington or the film just because of this. What I’ve been hearing so far are a few gay men who are concerned about what people will think about them after seeing the movie. I haven’t actually heard anyone say their preconceived false notions were reinforced or some such effect. It’s all so far a lot of second guessing and a fear of not being accepted. This is ironic because transgenders are more marginalized than discreet gay men, as attested by the lack of employment opportunities for them, to name one example. Obviously there’s non-acceptance even within the LGBTQ community. Having said that, we did sprinkle the film with other representations. I wonder how people would label Remington’s best friend Jigs (Kerbie Zamora), or one of his basketball buddies, the muscular Odie (Herson Barias), or the once-married middle aged Mang Berting (Ward Luarca), and others, not to mention the women. Also, this is a small, close-knit, rural town. Obviously it isn’t a melting pot, and we’re limited in ways that are integral to the location, and a specific local mindset and behavior. I think many in the audience get it, and get that there’s a real issue to be tackled in the real world, and the film in fact pushes for that discussion.
V: These are indeed very good points. I guess if there are people who misinterpret or fail to see past the queer personas in the film then the problem is with them, not with the film. Going to another topic, why did you guys decide to shoot in Lucban, Quezon?
J: The film was based on a true incident that happened there. Raymond Lee (writer, producer) was walking in the streets of Lucban when a little boy called out to him, “Bakla!” That same afternoon, Raymond pitched the concept to me. So we were inspired by Lucban from the very start. Raymond, Michiko Yamamoto, and I later cooped up in a house in Lucban to write the initial draft of the script. We decided there was no other place to shoot this but Lucban. It was also visually perfect. It’s a beautiful town. And the houses are bunched together and the streets are small, you’d believe it’d be a real calamitous situation if zombies attack. Also, I love the cool weather! Great for shooting.
V: How did the townspeople receive your making the film in Lucban, and one that has gay zombies to boot?
J: They had no problem with it. In fact, most of the Zombadings were played by locals. Everyone was warm and accommodating. The Mayor and the local government allowed us to shoot anywhere, so we really were all over the place. People welcomed us into their homes, and schools. Often when there were people drinking outside we had to join them or at least drink a shot, or tumagay. The people of Lucban were a large part of why I feel we captured a unique Filipino spirit. They provided inspiration and atmosphere.
V: Have you done or would you do a special screening in Lucban for the residents (or maybe in SM City Lucena since that’s the nearest cinema)?
J: We had an advance screening in SM Lucena, two days before the nationwide release. Most of the people from Lucban who helped out, who were part of the cast and crew, attended. The movie also screened in SM Lucena during the regular commercial run.
V: I’ve read that you guys spent almost two years in making this film. Was this the biggest film project you’ve ever directed?
J: Yes. Even though technically, my second movie, which was a studio film from Star Cinema (My Big Love) had more shooting days and itself also quite ambitious because of the fat suit element, with a bigger budget. I still feel Zombadings is bigger in scope and vision, in terms of what it’s trying to achieve.
V: By the way, where did you get those hunky macho dancer? Despite the creepy makeup, I think they’re seixer than some of the “macho dancers” I’ve seen in some indie gay movies lately.
J: Haha. None of them were actual macho dancers. Two of them were bodybuilders, including the main ghost who attacked Remington at night, played by Joseph Ferandez. Two were masseurs. Two were ledge dancers, or go-go boys, from a bar, not to be confused with macho dancers, hehe. One of the ledge dancers acted as a choreographer and dance instructor for the whole group.
V: Really, none were actual macho dancers? Interesting... hehehe. Speaking of men, who’s that cute police officer that appeared in a scene where the zombies were attacking the town plaza?
J: That’s Dane Sabas, one of our grips. He was game enough to play a cop/victim. He’s quite a looker.
V: He’s a looker indeed. And what about the cute hunk who's with Martin Escudero in this YouTube video? (Sorry, I like eye candy!)
J: That would be me. Haha. Kidding. You must be referring to Kevin Santos, also a GMA talent like Martin at the time. He’s also terrific. You could see in that video that he also did great in his audition.
V: He played one of Remington’s buddies right? The one wearing the yellow fitted shirt during the party? Generally I find chinitos attractive and he’s one really cute dude.
J: No, we didn’t cast Kevin Santos. The guy you’re referring to is Herson Barias. He was one of the few actors in Remington’s barkada whom we “imported” from Manila. Most of the other friends were Lucbanins. We found Herson through auditions.
V: Yikes. I got them both mixed up! Hehe. By the way, I think that casting Leandro Baldemor and Daniel Fernando in Zombadings, two actors that likely filled the fantasies of gay men in the nineties, was brilliant! How did the idea of bringing these two into the film come about? Someone should feature Leandro Litton and Rodel Velayo next! Hehe.
J: A Burlesk King reunion? Haha. Sounds good. I can only remember that [Leandro and Daniel’s] names were brought up during brainstorming for casting the roles. Maybe I suggested it. Maybe Raymond. We wanted a mix of personalities, and this combination, together with John Regala, seemed just right. We weren’t simply ticking off names of former sex idols, or at least I think that wasn’t the only consideration.
V: On a different note, I was honestly a bit disappointed to learn that the titular zombadings were just a subplot to Remington’s story, especially after all of the teaser trailers that featured them. I’ve read from an interview with producer-writer Raymond Lee that this was intended. Were you satisfied with how the gay zombies were integrated into the film?
J: Yes and no. The zombies were always meant to be a surprise, like the many horror elements in the film. I think the title hurts us for those people who come expecting an all-out zombie attack. But the zombies came first, before the title. I admit that that part of the movie had always been a challenge, not just because of the zombies, but also in terms of how the climax should function for the overall picture. The zombie scenes were revised many times. Because of budget and time constraints, we had to economize. The scenes were originally written to be larger and more action-packed, with more extras. I think we did good, considering the circumstances, but if I had to do it again, there are definitely changes I want to make, a solution to the problem which we belatedly figured out, but I’m not telling you, hehe. It’s not easy to guess because I think the problem is complicated.
V: Are there other things in Zombadings that you wish you could do over again?
J: That part during the zombie attack. I would also have wanted all the characters to have participated in the zombie chaos, and also for all of them to be in the ending montage. But we had to make do with constraints in schedule.
V: So, what can we expect from you and Origin8 Media in the future?
J: More suprising, meaningful films.
V: That’s it for my questions. Thank you very much for doing this interview with me! Congratulations again on your film. All that long and hard work has paid off.