Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar but the best improve with age.
—Pope John XXIII
It has been a pleasure talking with older persons, even during my youth, since what I learn from them cannot be duplicated in any school. Their wisdom is unparalleled.
It was a pleasant Saturday morning at the FAP office where I was scheduled to participate in a digital editing workshop when I met by chance a man I have so much silently admired in years. A small man, more or less a little over five feet. But I discovered in the course of our conversation that he is really tall in terms of knowledge and experience. Not only tall but blessed with an open mind in sharing his know-how about filmmaking, particularly cinematography. Sergio Laderas Lobo… He is a multi-awarded cinematographer who started his career way back in the younger days of Philippine cinema. He admitted he is now over 80 years old but he is still prim, erect and full of enthusiasm as far as cinematography is concerned.
I came too early for the workshop and, to while the time away, I talked with Screenwriters’ Guild board chairman Franco Deocareza at the lobby when this man joined us and started talking with Franco. It was a big surprised for both of us when I asked him for his name after introducing myself. So it came out both of us know each other simply by name. That was the first time we met in person. And so taking the cue, I asked him if he won’t mind if I take this chance to interview him for this article. He readily said yes! It was that spontaneous, that casual. Sergio L. Lobo is a simple man, prolific, warm, friendly and humorous, which is typical of the Visayans.
From left: The author, SGP Chairman Franco Deocareza, Serge Lobo
He started his movie career as cinematographer in a Visayan movies starring the nymphet Gloria Sevilla with her equally new star husband, the late Mat Ranillo in 1947. He was given the break by producer Natalxious Bacalso. Then in 1955, he went to Manila and worked in Tagalog movies. With the help of Atty. Espiridion Laxa of Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, he worked as camera man with director Alex Sunga in a film where Tony Ferrer played the role of a priest opposite Jess Lapid. Mang Serge could not recall the title of the movie which was shot in Baguio City. From then on, he continued making movies in different productions under different directors.
Then he moved on to work with FPJ in the King’shis early years in the movies. Some of the films he could not remember their titles but important projects are retained in his mind like Perlas ng Silangan and Ang Alamat ng Lawin which were both blockbusters. The latest movie he made was Pakners with Fernando Poe Jr. and Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes.
Looking back, he recalled making movies then was real hardship. Due to financial restraints and the lack of technical polish, movies then lacked the luster of movies today. Producers were scared at releasing big amount of money for fear it will not recoup it at the box office. Unlike today, Mang Serge explained when uncontrolled film piracy is really the real stranglehold that grips the local film industry. He expressed hope that film industry people work hard collectively as one to wrestle down film piracy by the horns.
He, however, quickly added that with government help through subsidies, the local film industry may finally emerge and attain international recognition. He explained that film piracy is not the only problem. He also cited the proliferation of imported tele novellas (which areeen dubbed into Tagalog) and the unlimited importation of foreign films as the other problems facing the industry. Mang Serge opened that local scriptwriters must come up with logical and realistic stories which can be megged by competent directors who will be backed up by creative and talented staffs of editors, cinematographers, musical directors and set designers. If these people will work together unselfishly and with dedication, we can come up with quality movies that can compete worldwide, he stressed.
Mang Serge waxed nostalgic and recalled the heady days of films during the decade of the 50′s when the Big 4 production studios were churning projects one after another. These were LVN Productions, Sampaguita Pictures, Premiere Productions and Libran Pictures. The 80-year-old cinematographer remembers that in the 60′s, Atty. Laxa started producing films under his Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions to clash head-on with the studio system put up by the now Big 3 (after Libran ceased operations). The lawyer-turned-producer recruited virtually new actors like Fernando Poe Jr., Zaldy Zhornack, Vilma Santos and produced films of quality.
One movie Mang Serge remembered with obvious pride was Sigaw ng Digmaan which took two years to shoot. It was started in 1961 and was released in 1963. The movie was directed by action superstar Efren Reyes Sr. and produced by FPJ. It starred Fernando Poe Jr., Rebecca, Vic Diaz, Lito Anzures, Vic Varrion. Another film Mang Serge fondly remembered is Kulay Dugo ang Gabi which was directed by the country’s first National Artist for Film Gerry de Leon or Manong. Mang Serge recounted that Manong vowed he wouldn’t direct anymore if his cameraman will not win an award for their film. Luckily, Mang Serge said: “Nag-dilang-anghel si Manong”. He won the best cinematography trophy and Manong Gerry de Leon went his merry way to direct more movies. When asked how many awards he got, he was so naïve to admit he could no longer remember how many.
One thing I noticed with Mang Serge was that he finds it hard to remember many things in his life. But I am sure he had as many awards as any one can imagine. With more than 200 films to his credit, it is believable that he could not remember many of them much more the details. I learned he was offered a job as cinematographer in 1970 to work in South Korea with $1,000.00 for talent fee, but he turned it down in favor of local movie he was then about to shoot.
Mang Serge humbly admitted that the late Remigio Young was his personal tutor in cinematography. He rattled off the names of his contemporary cinematographers like Felipe Sacdalan, Raymond Lacap, Ricardo Marcelino (father of Tommy Marceino and grandfather of Ramong Marcelino Jr)., Fortunato Bernardo, Mike Accion, Heginio Fallorina and Mauricio Agra.
He said he also spent a lot of time working with Sampaguita Picture but he never dared to direct and remained attached to the camera. He paused, backtracked to the list of his contemporaries and confessed that all the cinematographers he mentioned had already joined their creator: Mukhang ako na lang and sumisipa pa rin. Pwede pa, may asim pa.
He had actually worked with a lot of directors, like National Artist for Film Lamberto V. Avellana, Ben Feleo, Romy Villaflor, Emmanuel Borlaza, Chito Tapawan, Jose de Villa, Eddie Romero, Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, Maryo J. delos Reyes, Joey Gosenfiao, Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Elwod Perez.
Mang Serge felt bad that we had limited time for him to be able to tell many things about his work and the unforgettable experiences he had working as a cameraman. But he promised we will sit down once more. He smilingly boasted that what he had shared with me for this article is not even half of what he wants to talk about.
While writing this article, I even called him up to ask who the director of Sigaw ng Digmaan was and made arrangement that he visit me at my home in Quiapo for more stories about his escapades as aged-in-oak-barrel film cameraman. I even mentioned to him that a new young aspiring director has expressed his wish to direct one of my scripts and getting him as cameraman. Mang Serge got excited and said he is looking forward to working with us. The feeling is mutual. I myself is doubly excited to work with a genuine old hand in filmmaking.