“It's a simple story about love, told in a unique way. It’s nostalgic and new at the same time.”
This is the number one reason why the movie Saving Sally is worth watching, says screenplay writer Charlene Sawit-Esguerra. The movie is one of the eight official entries to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
Saving Sally tells the story of two best friends, Sally (Rhian Ramos) and Marty (Enzo Marcos). Marty is secretly in love with Sally, but Sally has a boyfriend (TJ Trinidad). Sally is also held captive by some bad people, so the two find themselves having to fight animated monsters against a background of delightful painted environments.
10 YEARS IN THE MAKING. The fact that the film took 10 years to make is also part of the movie’s draw. Its lead star, Rhian Ramos, who plays Sally, looks much younger in the movie. So does Enzo Marcos, who takes on the role of Marty.
The movie is based on a short story, which Esguerra wrote in 2003. Director Avid Liongoren and Esguerra were classmates at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts when they came up with the crazy idea of turning it into a film.
“We actually began very naively. We wanted to just shoot a film (even if we had zero experience making one), show it to friends (and at best, screen it in selected tiny theaters where we thought only a few people would watch it), and maybe upload it online for the rest of the world to stumble upon if they wanted to,” Esguerra says.
It was an ambitious project, as they would soon discover. Although they got friends to help out, Esguerra and Liongoren did not realize how much work needed to be done—and how much funds they needed to get the production going.
They had a team of about artists working on the film, when Esguerra says companies like Pixar usually have hundreds of people doing it for three to five years before they finish the film.
The list of challenges they’ve had to hurdle is long, but Esguerra says, “I think what we lacked in money and manpower, the team made up for with a lot of hustle and heart.”
A TEDIOUS PROCESS. While all films undergo a long and laborious process before it is fully completed, Saving Sally combines real actors and kaleidoscope-colored animation so it naturally required more work.
“First, we shot the actors partly against constructed, stylized sets (painstakingly planned beforehand) and partly against a huge blue screen,” explains Esguerra.
The long years of labor came in after the actual shooting. The post-production process involved editing, creating the assets (background paintings and animated monsters), and online composting (combining and refining the animated and live-action elements. It didn’t end there. Enhancing of colors, musical scoring, sound mixing, and additional recording of dialogues and sound effects also had to be done.
THE ROAD TO MMFF. Fast forward to 10 years later, the production team found themselves submitting Saving Sally for consideration to MMFF 2016.
Esguerra says they almost didn’t make it, as Liongoren’s air conditioner had conked out and he had to spend to get it fixed.
“Avid [eventually] cobbled enough for the submission fee. Of course, we were hopeful, but we didn’t think we had a chance because we were up against so many big studio films,” Esguerra points out.
In fact, during the announcement of the Magic 8 at Club Filipino last November 18 at Club Filipino where they were invited, Charlene and Avid said, "Bakit pa natin kailangan pumunta? Di ba puwedeng i-email na lang nila tayo para pag rejected tayo, diretso na sa kama para umiyak?"
“We were stunned,” Esguerra said when they found out they did make it. “Avid says he sagged with relief and [shed] a few almost-tears when they announced our film.”
WILL SAVING SALLY MAKE IT? Only a few days to go before the MMFF kicks off and the team behind Saving Sally still can’t quite believe this is happening.
“It's amazing that we get to show in so many theaters and people who we didn't think would be interested in our film are showing it so much support. The online response alone on the Saving Sally Facebook page has been overwhelming.”
Esguerra admits she is realistic. The surprising selection of MMFF entries this year is something she considers “a bold move.” At the same time, she is bracing herself for the backlash.
“Of course, it will have impact on revenues. We can’t dream of competing with film franchises that have legions of loyal fans and big studios to promote them,” she says.
But to Esguerra, that shouldn’t be a problem, since she herself is friends with people in the industry, and they all understand how difficult it is to make a film.
“There’s room for everyone, and it's weird that there's this mindset that you should choose one or the other. Let audiences see the films they want to see, be it indie or mainstream, and don't deride them for it. The more variety there is, the more vibrant our film industry will be. So personally, I feel like this is a very exciting time for local films.”
What Esguerra hopes is for people to see the love and dedication that their team has put in every single frame of the film.
“The characters in our film never gave up, the people who made the film never gave up, and hopefully the audience comes out of the theater after seeing our film thinking, ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too.’”
(To stay updated about the latest news about the MMFF, visit http://www.pep.ph/guide/mmff)