From computers to cameras—Rich Ilustre has no regrets since he made that decision not to practice his B.S. Computer Science degree, and just follow his dream of becoming a director.
During the latter part of his college life in Ateneo de Manila University, Rich already knew that his rightful place would be behind the camera.
"I noticed that yung mga subject ko sa IT [Information Technology], yung mga presentation [ko ay] mataas kaysa sa mga computer subjects ko.
"Lots of my extracurricular activities involves mga ganun—film, visual arts. Usually kasi, may pre-elective ka pag Com Sci ka. A lot of people get Spanish, Foreign Language, and extracurricular nila. Ako, cinematography.
"Malayo talaga siya, sobrang malayo siya, hindi ko talaga siya na-a-apply. But I finished college din, kasi sayang, e, third year na 'ko nung time na na-realize ko na yun," related Rich to PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in an exclusive interview.
But before he could finally sit in his director's chair, he went through the usual route of learning the ropes.
He said, "I studied in the States for a year. I took up films courses in UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] Extension and, at the same time, worked as an intern in NBC Studios and as a gaffer for non-union films in LA."
When he returned to Manila in 1995, he began pursuing his passion. "I worked as assistant director in various episodes for GMA-7's TV series, plus Gimik with direk Lauren Dyogi. I also worked with direk Chito Roño and Kitchie Benedicto."
Channel V's defunct program, Sigaw Manila was his first directorial job was. He recalled, "I did that for three years which led me to directing several music videos for Zsa Zsa Padilla, Pops Fernandez, Karylle, Freestyle, to name a few."
FINDING A HOME IN TV5. His first job with ABC 5, TV5's company name when it was still owned by Tonyboy Cojuangco, was Heart to Heart with Helen. "I was the assistant director," he said.
In 2005, the management chose him to handle the block-timer show Club TV- featuring Laura Jean and KC Montero. Direk Rich told PEP,"That's my first mainstream directorial break. It ran for one season."
The project failed in capturing an impressive share of viewers, but direk Rich succeeded in getting the management notice his skills.
Subsequently, he handled the biggest shows: Philippine Idol, which earned the nod of viewers, including the creator-producer Fremantle Media, in terms of production value, and Shall We Dance, which ran for four years.
The latter won the Best Talent Search Program and Best Talent Show Host from the 22nd PMPC Star Awards for Television in 2008, and became competitive in terms of ratings.
"I'm kinda lucky [because] I was there before the transition, di ba. But even before talaga, parang...you know how hard it is to penetrate in the industry. Wala naman akong commercial, may big events pero wala akong...I never did a TV show. I never did a ganyan...Biruin mo, they give me parang...take a chance on me for Shall We Dance, na during that time is one of the big shows. Si Lucy yung host. "
Afterwards, he focused on Talentadong Pinoy, which he's very proud of because the show changed the usual treatment of reality shows. Focus is not on the physical beauty, but on talent.
"We make sure na ang bida sa show is yung mga tao...na yung show, nagre-rate dahil sa mga taong sumasali. This show is for them, to give them at least five minutes of fame," he exclaimed.
He also underscored the prize component of Talentado.
"Biruin mo, the non-winner, basta makasama ka sa final 7, you're entitled to five thousand pesos. 'Tapos, yung pinaka-winner, 10 thousand pesos plus the chance to compete for the 50 thousand pesos...
"Yung mga audience, they get to win also. If they are chosen as the face of the night-yung may pinakamagandang reaction during the show's performances.
"Then, yung mga home viewers, they get to win din if the one they voted for na performers wins," Rich explained.
His latest challenge is to come up with a party like no other every Sunday. He's no stranger to this because his company, Creative Connection, has been teaching him the ins and outs of mounting an event.
Since rivals are focusing on the production aspect, PO5 offers a catchy come-on for the viewers: a brand new car, which can be won by simply guessing and texting the estimated amount of the total prizes.
Direk Rich said he's a bit overwhelmed by the fact that TV5's variety show is "massive."
He said, "I'm working with 30 artists...So lahat naninibago pa kami, nagpapakiramdaman pa kami sa working habits. But so far, walang problema... Hindi pa masyadong bonded yung group pero they are very professional. We're the new kid on the block, and [we're] getting 101% from them."
GIVING THE SILVER SCREEN A SHOT. And in five years time, he wants to try his hand at filmmaking.
"I have a ready to go na story na...I just want to focus first on the TV shows, lalo na itong PO5."
He finds Iza Calzado and Dennis Trillo "really good," and hopes to be able to work with them.
But his wish: "To do a remake of one of my lolo's films."
The director-who, by the way, is also a supporter of PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society)—is the grandson of Felicing H. Constantino, the man who discovered Charito Solis (also his Tita), and helmed classics like Bakekang, Kambal Tuko, Mang Kepweng, Asiong Aksaya, among others.
Rich added enthusiastically, "He's a director from Sampaguita days, [from 1960s to early '80s...His last film before he passed away was Mr. 1-2-3, starring Tito, Vic, and Joey."
But before he gets too excited about the wonderful possibilities of the future, he will continue giving his best to the medium that established his name as a director.
"I'm very grateful to TV5 for their trust in me, and I look forward to developing new and innovative shows with them in the coming years."
Given his boy-next-door appeal, he could have been a model. And with his degree, he could opt to become a techy boss. But he found his place behind the camera. "Maybe, it runs in the blood," he said, smiling.