Surviving "Umiyak Pati Langit", my first movie as a producer

Umiyak Pati Langit is the first film I produced — a Filipino drama directed by Eduardo Palmos and starring Helen Gamboa, Janice de Belen, Joel Torre, Dante Rivero — some really amazing Filipino actors.  I originally posted this in two parts and I’m reposting it today because today is my daughter Michelle’s 21st birthday and, as the story here explains — she was born on the frist day of filming of  this, my first movie. It’s hard to believe it’s been 21 years. She’s grown into a beautiful woman and I’ve still got my oar in the water paddling updstream as a film-maker.

One more note: This was written initially for an audience of young American independent film-makers at a film festival so Filipino readers please bear with explanations of “things Filipino” that seem over-obvious to those who know the Philippines intimately.

SURVIVING UMIYAK PATI LANGIT” — My First Movie

PART 1

I began my “second coming” as a filmmaker in early 1990 when I quit my “day job” (more about that in other posts) and started a company called Pacwood Media in the Philippines.   (My “first coming” was right out of NYU film school, ten years earlier.) My day job which I quit to resume film-making (and which I will write about separately here at some point) was being a CIA officer working out of the US Embassy in Manila, helping the government of Corazon Aquino work to re-establish democratic institutions after 16 years of Marcos’ martial law, and to work to manage the effort of the Philippine government to counter the communist insurgency by the New People’s Army (NPA) which had been going on in the Philippines in one form or another since the 1950’s. So my route back to filmmaking was to set up a company in the Philippines where a) I could raise some money because I had high level contacts and b) I could make the case to American filmmakers that they could come over and save a bunch of money because of lower costs. Remember this was just a couple of years after “Platoon”, shot in the Philippines, had won Best Picture.

For quirky reasons that were more than a little strange, it turned out that the first money I was able to get my hands on was not to produce a Hollywood picture for the international market (which was the business concept of the company), but rather it was to produce a Tagalog language Fililpino film called “Umiyak Pati Langit”, which translates roughly as “Even the Heavens Cry”.

It was a strange, wonderful, and heartbreaking journey.qc2.jpg
Photo: A quiet street in Quezon City, near the offices of Pacwood Media

The journey began in August 1990 when a wonderfully talented Filipino director, Eduardo Palmos, approached me and said he wanted to make a film for the Metro Manila Film Festival which runs every year during the Christmas Holidays. The title was “Gisinging Natin Ang Dios”, which translates as “Let”s Wake Up God”…..(we later had to ditch this title because the censors wouldn’t allow it because it had the word “God” in it). Now … the Metro Manila Film Fest is a little different — it’s for Filipino films only, and what happens is that they take over the entire theater capacity of Metro Manila, shutting out anything but the Filipino films in the festival, for 10 days straddling Christmas and New Years. This means that if you’re in Manila, there are no foreign films available during this time — just “Pinoy” films. The films are supposed to celebrate Filipino cultural values, a common complaint was that the films were selected more on the basis of box office potential than on whether or not they conformed to the “celebrate Filipino cultural values” mission statement of the festival.

I didn’t really understand any of this at the time …. so when Ed Palmos came to me with a script which in a variety of very meaningful ways really did in fact celebrate Filipino values, I was intrigued. He was certain that with this script, and with his reputation (he was a bonafide artfilm director whose earlier film Babae Sa Ulog had won awards) we would get into the festival. Moreover Ed, who was nothing if not a pitchman, swore he could do this entire movie using major Filipino stars for 3 million pesos — about $150,000 at the time. He even had an investor on board for half of it. He just needed me to come up with the second half, $75,000, and we could make the movie.

I liked the story. It was a tale of an upper middle class family whose life is thrown in turmoil when the father dies without leaving insurance, and whose lives spiral down to a point where they are living in a squatter area and only have one another to hold them together. The key character was the mother, and Ed had his eye on Philippine screen legend Helen Gamboa to play the lead. But there were a number of juicy roles and Ed said he could deliver great actors for all of them at discounted talent rates because of the nature of the film and because of his relationships with him.

So, not really having a clue how I would come up with my half of the budget, I did what every indie producer does — I said “no problem, let’s do it” and we started working it in August or so.

“Working it” in this case first of all meant going to meet Ed’s 50% investor.

As we were driving out to Novaliches, a distant suburb of Manila, Ed began telling me about who were going to meet. First, he said — don’t be put off by his size.

“What you mean?”

“Well, he’s big.”

“How big?” ”

“About 500 pounds.”

“Oh.”

Ed went on to explain. “Mang Apeng” (not his real name) suffered from diabetes and a few other ailments and as a result had gained an enormous amount of weight. He had lost one leg to circulation problems, but in spite of this — had built an empire as a manufacturer of shampoo and soap products which he had brilliantly marketed in the Philippines under a foreign name, making it appear that it was an imported shampoo, which in those days  course upped the value in the Philippine market. “He’s a really good guy,” Ed kept telling me as we bumped our way into a subdivision with nice houses in compounds that were an acre of so in size.

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Photo: Entrance to Greenfields I subdivision in Novaliches, where Mang Apeng lived.

It was dark when we pulled into Mang Apeng’s compound and parked behind the half dozen or so vehicles that were visible, then walked past stacks and stacks of shampoo and soap. When Ed rang the doorbell a domestic helper (odd, I started to write “servant” but years in the Philippines have taught me that “servant” is never used there, and is somehow demeaning….”domestic helper” is the corect way describing it, and I like that) invited us and led us through a series of rooms and finally into THE room where Mang Apeng was seated on what I could only describe as a throne. He was huge … his body seemed to sort of flow over itself — yet he was completely lucid and cheerful and in fact touchingly human and warm. And he had a lovely, clearly adoring wife who took care of him and his guests effortlessly and with the kind of warmth that Filipinos consider second nature.  I really liked this guy, and was touched by his affliction.

More of Mang Apeng’s character came out when he explained to me why he wanted to do this movie. It was, he told me, all about the story.

The deeper story of “Umiyak Pati Langit” centers on a woman who, when we meet her, is a modern middle class wife and mother — a woman with a good heart, attractive, lovingly taking care of her husband and children. We learn that mother-in-law detests her for reasons that aren’t entirely clear at first, and when the father dies without leaving any insurance, a battle of wills ensues in which the mother-in-law refuses to help unless the mother gives over the children, and the mother refuses to give them up, grimly hanging on to keep the family together even as they family plunge deeper and deeper into poverty. Along the way we learn (and this is what drew Mang Apeng into the story) that the mom herself was from a very poor family and had “done time” as a prostitute, and in fact had been a prostitute when she met her husband. It was this cloud over her background that had caused the mother-in-law to never accept her in spite of her other good qualities.

Well – it turns out that this tale mirrored Mang Apeng’s own tale. His wife, too, had been from a poor family and had helped her family with wages earned as a prostitute, and had been rejected by Mang Apeng’s mother.

So it was personal for him. He wanted to make the movie as a gift for his wife, and as a tribute to all that she had gone through for loving him through many years and many hardships.

A few hours and half a dozen San Miguel beers later, we were back in Ed’s car, a handshake deal in place, and headed back to Quezon City – loaded down with enough shampoo and soap to last five years. It was the simplest of deals — 50/50 partners, 3 million pesos, 1.5million each (about $75,000), Ed would direct, I would produce, and Mang Apeng would be an executive producer.

Now of course — as noted before– I didn’t have my half of the money but I was confident I could raise it. And in truth I got lucky and raised it very quickly, getting it from a single source — Lito Garcia. Lito was as quirky in his own way as Mang Apeng. An amiable non-working playboy member of the otherwise hardworking Garcia clan,  Lito went by the nickname “scuba” because that’s how he spent most of his time. In spite of being somewhat subject to criticism from family members for his indolent lifestyle, Lito was actually a very goodhearted person and when I pitched him the story he too seemed to like it and take it personally — and so when I said it would only cost $1.5M and we’d be done, Lito said without hesitation–“Let’s do it”.

So my money materialized pretty quickly and painlessly. In fact now, 17 films later, I would have to say that this was the easiest it has ever been for me to put together financing for a film.

But it wouldn’t stay easy.

We set up the company, put my money in the bank, and Ed started talking to Mang Apeng about getting his money in place.

Here is where things started getting a little ‘hinky’.

It turned out, Ed told me, that Mang Apeng was waiting for his money, which was going to come in the form of collections from his first film, a thriller starring Eddie Garcia, who was then in the latter stages of a stellar career, that had done reasonably well. Ed gave me the math — told me what the box office had been, what the distributor’s cut should be, and encouraged me that Mang Apeng’s money was days away. I wanted to wait until Mang Apeng’s money was in — but Ed frantically reminded me that we were already in desperate straits if we were going to make the film festival submission deadline, and the entire enterprise was founded on the notion that we’d get into the festival and get a 10 day run (instead of the usual 7) during the peak holiday viewing season. I was faced with a decision to either plunge in without Mang Apeng’s money, or risk having the whole thing come off the rails. I plunged. We launched prep with just my money in place.

And my money went fast.

First — I need to explain our modus operendi. I had rented a fairly large, creaky house on Examiner Street, a major street in Quezon City in the heart of the media district, near the TV stations and most of the movie production companies. The downstairs became the office, and the upstairs my living quarters.

For day after day, Ed and I would work on casting the film, obtaining crew, and getting vendors lined up — but always it was Ed who was the public face of the operation. I had to remain in hiding upstairs because, Ed was convinced (and i tend to think he was right), the minute anyone saw an American involved, their price would go up 50%. And Ed was not only trying to get them to work for their regular rate — he was trying to get them for about fifty cents on the dollar (fifty centavos on the peso?).

So I remained in hiding.

And Ed delivered. For very little money even by Tagalog film standards, he first got screen legend Helen Gamboa (think Susan Sarandon) to play the mom. He then got another screen legend, Dante Rivero (Sean Connery type) to play the dad. Janice De Belen (a young Demi Moore) came on board as the daughter, and the rest of the cast were all good, strong actors with a name in the local market. Our film starting looking like a budding blockbuster. We were all jazzed.

Meanwhile, Mang Apeng’s money kept failing to materialize.

I made another pilgrimmage out to this compound, knocked down another half dozen San Miguel’s, and gently tried to figure out what was going on. All was well, he assured me. Mang Apeng promised that he had gotten all necessary assurances from his distributor that the money would be forthcoming. If I could just keep us going a few days longer, he would be ready with is money.

By this time we were days away from the start of filming and my money was going fast. Talent fees fo rthe actors, paid in advance, accounted for almost half of the P1.5m. Then the equipment deals, also paid in advance, took another P300,000. The caterer got 50% in advance, so another chunk went there. And wardrobe had to be created, some sets and props had to be created — so on the day before we wer escheduled to shoot, my $1.5m had been drained down to about P200,000 and I was desperately in need of Mang Apeng’s money to drop.

I’ll never forget the night before the first day of filming.

First of all, I had a girlfriend at this time, named Lorna, and she was 9 months pregnant and due any day. So with all the stress of the movie, we also had that going on, and she was lying in bed, her tiny frame (she was about 5’1″) blown up to gigantic proportions with the child of a 6’5″ American, and while she tossed and turned in discomfort over the pregnancy, I was tossing and turning worrying about the fix I had gotten myself into.

And then, in the middle of the night — about 3 am (our call time was 6 am so this was just a couple of hours before the start of filming), I hear a car horn, tapping polittely but incessantly ind the carport just outside the front door. I went to the window — it was a flatbead truck, the kind used for hauling goods around Manila. The flatbed was empty except for a few stray bottles of….shampoo.

Oh boy…..

I went down, opened the door.

There was Mang Apeng, sitting in a specially configured driver’s seat which took up about 2/3 of the front bench of the truck. He reached over, pushed open the door, beckoned me to sit next to him. I climbed in an looked at him and the first thing I noticed was that this huge, shapeless mountain of a very kindhearted man was crying.

Obviously his money hadn’t come in — but it was worse than that. He had just found out that not only was the money not coming in any time soon, it wasn’t coming in at all. The distributror had finally given him a complete statement of account which he was clutching in his hand and turned over to me. He flicked on the cab light and I read it — and very quickly it became clear that because of an enormous (and largely fictional, I’m sure) claim of print and advertising expenses, the distributor was claiming that nothing was owed to Mang Apeng since the distributor, under standard film financing structure, was entitled to recoup his entire P and A advance in first position, then pay himself his commission, before anything was owed to the producer.

Mang Apeng had been taken–not the first independent producer to be robbed by a distributor.

He apologized profusely, wished me well, then drove away.

I stood there, standing in the driveway, watching him leave, wondering how in the hell I was ever going to get out of this one when I heard someone calling to me from upstairs.

It was my girlfriend — telling me her water had just broken.

I’m not kidding.

PART TWO

(In Part 1 of this post entitled Memories: Remembering Umiyak Pati Langit, My First Film we had reached 3am on the morning of the first day of filming my first feature film as a producer.  The film was Umiyak Pati Langit (Even the Heavens Cry), directed by Eduardo Palmos — a Tagalog language drama starring Helen Gamboa, Janice de Belen, Dante Rivero, and Joel Torre.  My 50/50 partner who had been waiting for his 50% of the money to drop,  had just driven away after telling me that his money hadn’t come in and he was dropping out.  And as he was driving off my girlfriend, 9 months pregnant, informed me that her water had just broken. Call time on day one was three hours away and we didn’t have enough money to last more than a week.  Disaster loomed on multiple fronts.)

Filming Begins

There are times in life when the ridiculousness of what is going wrong rises to a level where you just have to shake your head and grimly hang on. This was one such a moment. I could feel the blood rushing to my head as I thought about the financial train wreck that was about to happen — but the more immediate problem of getting Lorna to the hospital provided a sort of respite. Sometimes there are things that come along which just pretty much demand your full attention — this was one.

So we piled into the car and navigated over to Delgado Hospital in Quezon City. It was an old, 1920’s era buildin, Spanish style with an open courtyard, with a helpful, competent atmosphere. One difference from America was that they weren’t at all into the “let the father into the room” kind of thing – so it evolved into much more of a 1950’s style “wait in the waiting room” kind ofr thing. This was before cellphones, so with little chance to communicate with the set, I found myself entering a little bubble as I started thinking sometimes about the prospect of another child–a very much unplanned one, but a child nonetheless–and sometimes about the economic ruin that was looming if I didn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of enough money to keep the production afloat for the next 21 days.

The situation was that we needed P3M to get the film in the can and I had started with P1.5M (mine), and and expectation of P1.5M from a coproduction partner who had now tanked. Of the P1.5M I had started with, P1.3M or so was gone already before the first day of filming due to the heavy “front load” in which all the major actors had been prepaid, equipment deals prepaid, etc. So there was not even enough in the bank to meet the first week’s payroll, which would hit on Friday. So the first step was to come up with enough cash to cover that first payroll…that would get us into the second week of filming and it was just a three week shoot. Somehow I had to do it.

I thought about going to Lito Abuevas, who had provided the P1.5M, but in the first instance I didn’t want to do that, and anyway he was out of the country scuba diving somewhere and there was no way to reach him. It would have to be some other way.

Meanwhile — and gloriously –the baby came, a beautiful girl, an 8 pounder whom we named Kenny Michelle. Ironically, although I didn’t realize it at the time, having a daughter born on the first day of filming of my first film as producer would make it easy for me, from that moment on, to always be able to instantly know how long I’ve been making movies.

I got to the set by around noon. It was strange in one sense, because I had hardly met anyone due to the “secrecy factor” that had required me to stay in hiding and let Ed Palmos, the director, do all the negotiations. The thought process behind that was that if this film somehow got labeled as an “American” (i.e. “Hollywood”) production rather than a homegrown Philippine one, there would be no way we could bring it in for the money we had (or thought we had) because everyone would expect more money.

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Photos: Philippine Jeepneys. Build to hold about 18 people, but the actual capacity is properly described as “one more”. Three of these were the basic transport for our entire crew on Umiyak Pati Langit.

But now that all the deals were done, I was free to surface and by this time had met everyone, but didn’t really know them yet. At the time it seemed like a pretty solid, professional operation that was big enough to get things done, but small enough to do three company moves in a day. Looking back now, though, there was something better — it was ingenuously lean. There was a camera truck which had all lights and grip equpment and which towed the generator. The actors all provided their own dressing rooms — usually a big SUV, a van, or something like that. The crew rode around in 3 jeepneys, wardrobe had a jeepney, makeup did their work in the actors trailers, and all-in, including 5-6 actors at any given time, the total headcount on the set was less than 40. And you know what — the film looked pretty good, fully professional.

Not that I got to spend much time on the set.

Chasing Money

From that first day, I learned what I would later come to describe as “production with a gun to your head”, as my life became a mad dash from one potential investor to another, begging, pitching, scrambling, and trying one way or another to feed money into the production account fast enough to keep checks from bouncing.

I discovered that in the Philippines, once you’re in production and have stills to show, it is possible to get advances from the theaters so that was one of the first places I went, armed with old styled photo albums showing stills of the film-in-progress, and with the help of Jelly Cano, our booking agent, went down to Escolta in Chinatown where the theater bookers hold office, all in the same building (kind of like a permanent trade show). For the first week, it was the theater owners who got me through the payroll — and I could only thank Jelly (a wonderful 60 year old grandmother type who knew every single booker for every theater in the country) for opening doors and extracting the checks.

Then I was on to my rich Filipino friends, trying to convince them to put money in to a Filipino movie, and I’ve got to tell you — this was pretty disheartening. The truth is, the entire Filipino film industry is built on the notion that the vast majority of moviegoers are C-D demographic types with little education and sophistication. Which means, among other things, that the elite of the country would rather be caught dead than be seen attending a Filipino movie. So the idea of investing in one was pretty hard to grasp.

It was a nightmare.

But somehow — and I have to be honest and say I don’t exactly remember how — I got us to the finish line and the film was in the can and bills were paid. We wrapped in early November — and had about three weeks to post the film and deliver it to the Metro Manila Film Fest.

Three weeks?

Posting a Film in Record Time

In the US, the fastest I could even imagine posting a film would be about 12-14 weeks, figuring at least 8 weeks to edit, and 4-6 weeks for sound, opticals, etc.

Not so in the Philippines…..

We posted in a 1930’s era facility called Magna Tech in Quezon city which was a very comfortable place to work — in fact too comfortable, since just down the street were plenty of bars and restaurants and it was sometimes a problem keeping the editor working on the 15 hour a day schedule that was expected of him. I ended up having to spend a lot of time essentially being a security guard and keeping Ed Palmos (the director) and the editor sitting in front of the World War II era movieola on which they were editing.

But again– somehow, we got it done. And then the sound — everything done in a matter of a few days in a cavernous sound stage where the sound was laid in and mixed just the same way it had been done back in the 1930’s — mag tape, live pass mixing. First we did a pass to balance the dialogue. Then a pass to balance effects and music, then the “real pass” to put everything in. The sound mixer was a legendeary Filipinos mixer, Rolly Ruta, who was just a joy to work with. He would get everything ready, throw the switch, mix forward until he either felt he’d made a mistake or until I tapped him on the shoulder, and then he would stop, rewind, then we would punch in, go forward, and keep pounding it.

We finally the movie finished with, literally, minutes to spare before the clock struck 12 on submissions to the film festival. We were a “lock” to get into the festival, we were told, because of Ed Palmos’ reputation as a director, and because the film really depict major Filipino values, the depiction of which was the mission statement of the festival.

And then another drama developed.

The Film Festival Fracas
It turns out, the year before, a film called “Olongapo – The Great American Dream” had won the festival. The film was a co-venture between some Americans and Filipinos and told a story that involved both Americans and Filipinos, although the main focus was on the Filipino side of the story.

Well, the fact that Americans had won the previous festival had created what we would come to understand was a backlash, and in fact a new rule excluding any film with a non-Filipino producer from consideration. So … we were unceremoniously informed that our film was “out”.

We appealed — but we lost the appeal.

And so it evolved that with the help again of Jelly Cano, our booker, we secured a playdate of February 20, 1991. With Jelly’s help, we scratched and clawed and managed to book the film in 47 theaters in Metro Manila, a respectable number (a “big” local release would be 60 or so, but this was enough to get some traction). We made our prints, put up our billboards, launched the film with a press conference (my first exposure to the wild and scrappy world of the Filipino movie journalists, whom I came to really love in later years), created our TV spots, radio spots, and Print Ads, got everything past the Movie and Television Review and Censorship Board (who disallowed, by the way, our original title “Gisingin Natin Ang Dios” which means “Let’s Wake Up God”. The censors were not willing to allow the word “Dios” in a movie title.)

And then something equally strange a quirky happened.

The Release

The week before our film came out, a film came out called “Maging Sino Ka Man” starring emerging bad-boy heartthrob Robin Padilla (think James Dean) and Pinay “megastar” Sharon Cuneta (think Drew Barrymore in style, with Julia Roberts market balue), and this film exploded — setting every box office record imaginable, due in part to the fact that rumors around Manila were ripe that Sharon and Robin were, in fact, “on” — meaning they were having a relationship which was huge, huge news in the gossip mad Manila environment.

Okay, so what’s the big deal for our movie?
Well, for starters, it meant that our 47 theaters became 35 as the demand for extensions for the Sharon/Robin megahit overwhelmed our film. This was a very ominous sign and we fought as hard as we could to hold onto every theater we could … but we still could only hold 35.

Still, hope springs eternal. And one particularly promising aspect was that we had put together a huge “Hollywood-style” premiere in which we had invited not only our stars, but many if not most of the other Filipino stars to a premiere that we booked into the biggest theater in the Philippines — a 4,000 seater. (To put this in perspective, the largest theater in any megaplex you’re likely to go to in the US is around 350-400 seats.)

And our secret weapon was that “megastar” Sharon Cuneta was the niece of our star Helen Gamboa, and “Tita Helen” was able to get Sharon to agree to not only come to the premiere, but to bring Robin with her. We of course leaked this through our publicist and the result was astonishing. On the night of the premiere, not only were all 4,000 seats filled, but there were another 5,000 people on the street outside watching the star arrivals. It turned out that somehow we had created the biggest movie premiere in memory in the Philippines.

The screening began. I couldn’t sit still so I went out on the street, worked my way through the crowd and found someplace to grab a bite to eat. I sat, ate quietly, and could just feel the excitement and the possibility that we had engineered a giant hit. Never mind that we only had 35 theaters — that would be enough, and with great numbers we could expand that the next week.

I went back to the premiere and walked quietly into the back of the theater, walking perhaps twenty rows into the theater, picking my way past a number of people who were sitting in the aisles. Again — an unforgettable moment. The film is a tearjerker, and by the time you get to the last 20 minutes there is plenty going on that will in fact extract tears from any empathic filmgoer, particularly Filipino drama fans who have a history of warming to this type of story.

What I heard was one of the strangest and yet most welcome sounds I had ever heard. When you’re the producer and 4,000 people are in a theater and half of them are sniffling, crying, clearing their throats, and even a few sobbing quietly, all of this is very beautiful music.

I knew in my bones we had a hit.

Opening Day

Two days later it was judgment day — opening day. I was up early, down at our booking office in Chinatown where everything was organized in a way that was more like an election control room than anything else I can think of.

There was a “big board” — a huge white board and across the top were the names of each of the 35 theaters. Then running down the left side were rows for each hour — 11am, 12 noon, 1pm, 2pm, and so on. This created a matrix where, for each theater, there would be an hourly total that would tell us how the film was doing.

And, somewhat to my amazement, Jelly explained to me that there were certain theaters that were considered “bellweather” theaters for particular types of films. Thus, for example, we should be able to look at the first hour results form three or four key theaters, and from that, we could project to within a few percentage points, what our week one overall theatrical gross would be.

There was more to the system that was intriguing as well. To gather our data, we would have a “checker” in each theater. The checker’s job would be to write down the ticket number for the first and last ticket for each hour, and it would be that calculation that would tell us how many tickets had been sold for that hour. There was always a chance that checkers might be in cahoots with theater owners, so in addition the checkers, there were several roaming undercover “supercheckers” who would travel between theaters, monitoring the goings on, looking for any anomalies. Out of all of this would emerge, hopefully, the portrait of a film about to explode.

Eleven AM came and the first reports were called in. I remember in particular there was one theater that we were watching. If we could hit P7,000 for the first hour, we were assured of major hit status. P5,000 would be semi-hit, very profitable, and P3,000 would be so-so. Anything below P2,000 we would be a flop and below P1,000 we were in danger of “First Day Last Day”, a grand Filipino tradition wherein a film that really tanks is yanked after one day.

The call came in.

I was sure, absolutely certain, that we were going to hit P7,000 and it was going to be high fives all around.

I was wrong.

The number was P3,200. Respectable, but not a hit. We were all stunned, but probably shouldn’t have been. We probably should have understood that the huge buzz surrounding the premiere was more about Sharon Cuneta and Robin Padilla and their romance, than it was about our movie. We were, after all, a family drama with a good cast but nothing that could compare with the buzz of the the Sharon/Robin romance, or their mega-blockbuster movie.

As a footnote, we did defy “the norm” in one other way. Jelly told me that there was a pattern that was very predictable — that Friday was a certain percentage of the first week, Saturday, Sunday, and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — once you knew your Friday, you could pretty much fill in the rest of the grid by applying the formula that indexes off of day one. So of course I did that — I created a spreadsheet and entered the day one totals, then projected the rest, and then as the days went by, entered the actuals.

A pattern emerged that got me very excited. We were beating the formula — meaning that after opening day, each day’s “actual” was substantially higher than the formula projected, which could only mean one thing — that we were getting excellent word of mouth, that audiences liked the movie, and maybe there was hope that we could build something here.

I of course took my spreadsheet and had Jelly take me all over Escolta to all the theater bookers where — I can now imagine — everyone tolerated this 6?5? mad American and his spreasheets and frantic exhortations to not only hold the existing theaters, but add more theaters.

In the end, I may have saved a few theaters, but by and large my efforts were met with amused tolerance.

The film did go on to do about P5M in Metro Manila Box Office, and P8M over all — enough to recoup and produce a modest profit. And over the years it has become a lasting institution on Philippine television, where it still gets replayed regularly today.

My first movie was history and I had survived it.

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