Brillante Mendoza and the cast members of Sapi underwent “spiritual cleansing” to prepare themselves before making a film about possessions and exorcisms.
However, more than being a horror-drama, Sapi is a commentary on the media as the film depicts the ratings war between two rival TV stations.
In the film, Meryll Soriano and Dennis Trillo’s characters work for the TV station SBN (Sarimanok Broadcasting Network) while Baron Geisler is a cameraman for rival station PBC (Philippine Broadcasting Channel). Sapi is slated to open in Philippine cinemas by November 6, 2013.
“We don’t actually dwell on the demonic possession,” said Direk Brillante during the press conference of Sapi held yesterday, October 22, at the Centerstage office in Mandaluyong City.
He continued: “Actually, meron kaming commentary and merong social issues na na-inject tungkol sa mass media at tungkol sa ating mga media practitioners. Meryll is playing the role of a segment producer, Baron is the cameraman… We are also touching the issue about network wars and network ratings.”
When asked to indicate who is actually possessed in Philippine society, Direk Brillante pointed out: “Panoorin na lang natin kasi sasagutin ‘yan sa pelikula kung sino talaga ang may sapi, sino talaga ang napo-possessed. Sino ba ang napo-possessed ng greed? Sino ba ang napo-possessed ng materialism?”
When PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) asked Direk Brillante why he chose to do this movie, he explained: “Ang point is gagawa kami ng horror film. This is a Solar production co-produced with Centerstage. Boss Wilson [Tieng, President and CEO of Solar Entertainment] asked me to do a horror film and ang nangyari, binigyan niya ako ng freehand kung anong gusto kong gawing horror film.
“For me, it was really perfect na binigyan niya ako ng full creative freedom. Dun talaga nagsimula yun.
“Pero sabi ko, ayoko naman gumawa ng basta horror film na wala namang issue o mananakot ka lang.”
He elaborated further: “Ako, ang personal belief ko, nothing to do with horror…
“Bilang tao at bilang filmmaker kapag tinanong mo ako: ‘ano ang kinakatakutan mo?’ Mas natatakot ako sa mga bagay na natural na nangyayari kaysa sa paranormal. Kasi ang paranormal, hindi mo mapu-prove ‘yan. Ang hirap i-prove ‘yan at kailangan manaliksik ka pa para sa proof.
“Pero maraming bagay na nasa harap natin na hindi mo na kailangan i-prove kasi nandiyan na ‘yan at nakikita mo. Kailangan lamang maging sensitibo at kailangan mo lang makita at kailangan mo lang maramdaman.
“I wanted to incorporate all these ideas sa isang horror film. That’s why I came up with Sapi. Tungkol siya sa possession but it so happened na nangyari siya sa network war.
“Yung ganitong klaseng sitwasyon, nagre-reflect siya… It’s a perfect example to show these ideas sa network wars and network ratings.”
WITNESSING EXORCISMS. Meryll mentioned that as “journalists,” they were “on call” and they had to be ready at all times in case they had to rush to a location to film a demonic possession and/or exorcism.
In a separate interview with PEP, Direk Brillante explained, “Pag nagsu-shooting kami, biglang may magsasabi… may mga contacts kasi kami na mga pari at mga nag-e-exorcist. Bitbit ko sila tapos pupunta kami.”
He also revealed that the cast members witnessed three to four cases of demonic possessions and exorcisms.
Dennis narrated, “Marami kaming na-witness sa pelikulang ito. Marami kaming pinuntahang lugar at may pinuntahan kaming mga eskwelahan kunsaan may sinasapiang mga bata.”
The GMA actor also admitted, “Noong nalaman ko na gagawa ako ng ganitong klaseng pelikula, natakot po ako at nagdalawang-isip dahil kumbaga, susugal kami dito kasi itataya namin ang mga katawan namin.
“Paano kung kami naman ang sapian kasi mga totoong sinasapiang mga tao ang pupuntahan namin. Nakakatakot talaga. Nakakatakot na project pero dahil sa pagtitiwala namin kay Direk, tinanggap namin.”
To date, Sapi is Direk Brillante’s tenth film as a director. During the 62nd Cannes Film Fest, he bagged the Best Director award for the crime drama Kinatay (2009). The Filipino director was able to beat renowned filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Ang Lee, among others, in the said category.
(READ: Brillante Mendoza named Best Director at Cannes 2009 for Kinatay)
Knowing Direk Brillante’s background made Dennis nervous about working with him.
“Noong malaman ko na magkakatrabaho kami, naramadaman ko, punong-puno ng intimidation. Nakaka-intimidate ang pangalang Brillante Mendoza dahil siyempre, award-winning at internationally acclaimed… at tumatak sa akin ang reputasyon niya na tinalo niya sina Quentin Tarantino at Ang Lee.”
To prepare for their roles, the three lead stars—Dennis Trillo, Meryll Soriano and Baron Geisler—spent time with news crews.
NETWORK WARS HERE AND ABROAD. Sapi was one of the Filipino films shown during the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival. The said film fest took place in Spain from October 11-20, 2013.
Direk Brillante recounted the positive feedback he received from Spanish media practitioners whom he talked with during the said film fest.
“Pinakainteresting na feedback na nakuha ko just recently was when I was being interviewed sa Spain by media people. Nagdo-document rin sila at sabi nila, they could really identify with the film kasi parang nakikita rin nila ang sarili nila [with the characters]. That’s really how they work at kung paano talaga bumuo ng documentary.
“For me, nakaka-flatter yun kasi ibig sabihin na-capture natin ang mundo ng mga tao na gumagawa ng isang documentary.”
He later added: “Sa Spain nga may network war rin and they really fight for ratings. Important sa kanila ang ratings and may mga controversial and sensational silang pinapakita para magkaroon ng mataas na ratings. Minsan, ginagawa nila tini-twist nila ang truth.
“Ang mga nangyari dito, based on our interviews rin with network people and mga nangyayari talaga sa mga networks.”
Isn’t he afraid of offending network executives TV from networks?
“Bato, bato sa langit, ang tamaan, huwag magalit,” said the acclaimed director. “Guilty ka kapag tinamaan ka. At the end of the day, this is a horror film, genre film. Bakit kayo nasaktan?”
“MAY SAPI KA.” Veteran actress Ruby Ruiz plays the possessed woman who is filmed by Baron’s character. She recently won the Best Supporting Actress award for the Cinemalaya entry Ekstra.
Ruby believes that she became so immersed in her role that she was actually possessed by a spirit.
“Yung manggagamot sa eksena ko ay authentic na manggagamot ng mga sinasapian. Mayroon silang ginagamit na gauge at nung ginamit nila sa akin yun, napatili ako sa sakit.
“According to them, kapag naramdaman nyo ang ganung klase ng pain, ibig sabihin may sapi ka.
“Habang ginagawa ko ang eksena, half-conscious ako [at iniisip] hindi, umaarte lang ako at nilalabanan ko. Then before I know it, wala na ako sa sarili ako at nag-iiba ang boses. Kung ano ang nararanasan ng taong sinasapian, naranasan ko sa pelikulang ito.”
Was she aware of the entity that possessed her?
“Ayokong sabihing diablo dahil ang hirap magbigay ng label. Ang dami diyang restless spirits. Isa siyang babae na may mahabang buhok na nakakatanda sa akin at similar to the storyline of Sapi, marami siyang hinagpis at maraming angst. Maraming anger na lumalabas.”
She was even honest enough to admit that she became angry at the filmmaker at one point during filming.
“Totoong natakot ako at totoong nagalit na ako kay Direk at one point. [Parang] ‘tama na’ kasi hindi na nakakatuwa at para panoorin lang at para i-film dahil iba na ang nararamdaman ko.”
SAPI SYNOPSIS. With the rival station Philippine Broadcasting Channel (PBC) eating up the TV audiences' major share, Sarimanok Broadcasting Network (SBN) needs a miracle to stay alive in the competition. In these mad and fearful times, SBN's news team finds that documenting an actual spiritual possession would be their only hope.
Tasked to head the documentary production is Meryll Flores (played by Meryll Soriano), a trainee TV executive producer, along with Dennis Marquez (played by Dennis Trillo), the reporter. Needless to say, the success of the project will also secure their eventual promotion in the company.
However, the miracle seems to evade Meryll's team. They go to distant places, schools, provincial areas, religious groups, and faith healers, just to cover the case of mass possession, but to no avail. They simply cannot find a single incident of possession.
Worse, Baron Valdez (played by Baron Geisler), cameraman of the rival network PBC, is the one who was able to capture the isolated case of demonic possession that involved a high school teacher (Ruby).
Under intense pressure, Meryll enters into a deal that is more profoundly horrifying than the harrowing scene of paranormal possession. To acquire the needed footage, she buys the outtakes of the Ruby possession case from Baron.
But at the point where Meryll imagines to be the turning point of her new career, an exorcising reality dawns on her with a spiralling effect that mirrors the political system governing the TV network.
Sapi is slated to open in Philippine cinemas by November 6, 2013.