John Paul Su recounts difficulties while making debut film Toto starring Sid Lucero

by Nikko Tuazon
Nov 5, 2016
Film director John Paul Su with Toto actress Bibeth Orteza.

Film director John Paul Su is happy to announce that his film Toto starring Sid Lucero will now have its commercial release starting November 23 under OctoArts.

JP's debut feature film bagged three awards in the New Wave category of the 2015 Metro Manila Film Festival. These are: Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Bibeth Orteza, and Special Jury Prize.

In a recent interview, the 37-year-old film director expressed his excitement to (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and other members of the press when asked how it feels now that his film will finally have its commercial release. He narrated, "It's great kasi parang it came full circle na, the film. It started in MMFF last year, and then it traveled muna to the festival circuit abroad."

Like most indie films, funding was one of the major problems they encountered during the early stages of the film. JP said, "I think, pinakamahirap diyan funding e. Sa lahat naman ata ng indie film, funding yung pinaka-mahirap."

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When it comes to the actual production, JP already had an overview of how filmmaking is done in the Philippines after working as an assistant director to Carlo Siguion-Reyna for his 2014 film Hari Ng Tondo. With this experience, it was easier for Direk JP to work on his own feature film.

JP recalled, "On a bigger scale, nakita ko yung work culture sa Pilipinas, yung challenges niya and all. With that, pagdating sa paggawa ng sarili kong feature, mas nakatulong siya kasi yung mga katrabaho ko naman sa feature, yung producing team ko dito at saka karamihan ng crew, parang comeback team sila from team ni Carlito's."

John Paul Su, director of award-winning movie, #TototheMovie. #WhateverItTakes

A photo posted by TOTO (The Movie) (@toto_themovie) on

JP feels lucky to be part of the current indie film industry knowing that more Filipinos are starting to show their support. However, the director still feels that commercial distribution remains as the biggest challenge indie filmmakers are currently facing in the country.

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He explained, "I realized kasi na afterwards, making the feature film is just half the battle. If I want to communicate a story that I wanna tell a bigger audience, mas mahirap siya for independent films. Lalo dito sa Philippines.

"Yung infrastructure niya, hindi pa ganun ka solid. Parang hindi pa hinog. Meron tayong captive market dito for independent films pero concentrated siya usually sa Metro Manila, 'di ba? Usually, yun yung market ng Cinemalaya, ng ToFarm, ng Sinag Maynila or what but beyond that tapos na. Pag nagcommercial release, usually ano, hindi nagko-cross over."

"So yun yung parang feeling kong challenge na I think the industry needs to see the value of independent films here."

JP added, "Kasi, not to compare naman, kahit naman sa America meron ding independent films and Hollywood/blockbuster films pero you need both. The blockbuster brings you the revenue for the industry, the independent films, there is the soul of the artist in the industry.

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"Usually, that's where you find the new voices, para magkaroon ng bagong boses din, ng bagong aesthetic yung blockbusters in the future. I think here, they need to support that. What's the point of making independent films if only a few will support that di ba?

"Parang you're not helping your audience din para mas lumawak yung kaalaman nila sa mundo, hindi lang panay rom-com or what. Marami, buong scale."

Toto received favorable reviews from foreign critics and even won two awards at the 19 LA Comedy Festival in California last May. Sid was hailed as Best Actor and the dramedy also bagged the Best Foreign Film award at the festival.

Read: Sid Lucero named Best Actor; Toto wins at 19th LA Comedy Festival

JP said foreign film critics commended the film for its proper representation of the LGBT community.

The director noted, "One thing kasi na they said, that they highlighted is that compared to most Filipino films raw, according to them na nakita nila, kasi marami ring Fil-Ams doon na nanood, they said, the way the LGBT community is presented in the film… it shed a positive light on the LGBT community in the film.

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"At saka hindi siya yung tipong objectified, hindi objectified yung LGBT [comminty]. You don't laugh because they're from the LGBT community, you laugh because of the sensibility of everyone in the film."

He continued, "Aside from that, they like the cast, they like the performance of the whole cast."

Aside from this, JP was happy that foreign moviegoers were able to relate to his film. He said, "What sticks with me is when I made this film kasi, of course, there's like an eye to reach out to the international community, di ba? And usually, especially for comedy kasi, ang hirap i-translate yung humor from culture to culture. It's not just with in Filipino films, it's about every film from different countries.

"Usually, humor is very distinct to the culture of the nation, most of the time. It's good to see na the humor of this film and also the drama, crosses over to the audience from abroad whether they're from California, from New York, from Florida.

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"It crosses over naman and not just among Fil-Ams but actually like, most of the audiences are foreigners of all colors—Whites, Latinos, Blacks, Fil-Ams, everyone. It's good to see that na may potential pala. Siyempre pag drama, people can relate sa tragedy and all pero humor nga, for it to translate is nakakagaan ng puso.

Aside from its commercial release in the Philippines, JP is also preparing for two other international film festivals this November.

He said, "Actually, it's not yet done with the festival circuit abroad. Pagkaalis ko dito, it will play sa Hawaii. It's part of the Hawaii Film Festival selection, spotlight on Philippine cinema.

"That's November 11 and 12, tapos they picked out film as one of the films they're bringing to other islands in Hawaii."

JP continued, "And then after that, two days after ng theatrical release dito, we go naman to Rome."

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Film director John Paul Su with Toto actress Bibeth Orteza.
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