By Isagani Cruz
(Reprinted from Mini Critique Column, Phil Daily Star, Dec. 11, 2014)
Last Oct. 24, The Film Academy of the Philippines announced that the Second Sine Panitik Scriptwriting Contest attracted 75 entries. The competition involved adapting to the screen 20 outstanding Philippine short stories.
The short stories were : “My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken” (Alejandro Roces), Sandosenang Sapatos” (Luis Gatmaitan), “My Father Goes to Court” (Carlos Bulosan), “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” (Manuel E. Arguilla), “May Buhay sa Looban” (Pedro Dandan), “Banyaga” (Liwayway Arceo), “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam” (N.V.M. Gonzalez), “Lugmok na ang Nayon” (Edgardo M. Reyes), “Dead Stars” (Paz Marquez Benitez), “The Death of Fray Salvador Montero” (Rosario Ma. Cruz Lucero), “Midsummer” (Manuel E. Arguilla), “Si Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino” (Eros S. Atalia), “Bread of Salt” (N.V.M. Gonzalez), “Ang Apo ni Lola Soledad” (Edgar Maranan), “We Won’t Cry About This” (Socorro Villanueva), “Suyuan sa Tubigan” (Macario Pineda), “The Woman in the Box” (Jose Y. Dalisay), “In Transit” (Rebecca E. Khan), “Apokalipsis” (Alvin P. Yapan) and “Shut Up and Live” (Lakambini Sitoy). I list them in the order of number of scripts submitted.
As in the first Sine Panitik, the winning scripts will be made into short films by veteran Filipino film directors. They will be available for showing both in commercial theaters and in school auditoriums.
The idea behind Sine Panitik is to make Philippine literature more familiar to young students, who are more used to stories in film than in print.
I sat on the board of judges of the script competition. I want to comment in general about the kind of screenwriting now being done in the country (based, of course, only on the scripts that were submitted).
First of all, most of our screenwriters are at home with cinematic language. They are able to specify camera movements and angles. They know how to use the camera not only to document what is going on with the actors, but also to comment on the action. Today’s writers use the camera as a tool for expression and not just for representation. Clearly, this is a generation that has grown up with film and television.
Second, most of our screenwriters know how to tell a story. The classic Hollywood definition of a film as “a story told in pictures” still holds sway. The most important element of any film is what is seen on screen. What are heard (dialogue, music, and sound effects) are only of secondary importance. This is why, when I judge, I do not like Voice-Overs (a technique in which a speaker who does not appear on screen says lines). Voice-Overs presume that the audio element of film is as important as the visual element, and to me, that is a major neglect of the camera.
Third, some of our screenwriters fail to realize that one page of script is usually equivalent to one minute of screen time. That is an average of course, but in general, a script that is ten pages long will not be enough for a director to do a thirty-minute film. There are short films that are only ten minutes long or even less, but they are not enough to convey the original meaning and flavor of a literary piece, certainly not a classic Philippine literary short story. Therefore, I immediately eliminated scripts that were too short.
Fourth, some of our screenwriters do not have an ear for screen speech. They use monologues, long sentences, long words, difficult words, unpronounceable words (since, sadly, not all Filipino actors are gifted with perfect articulation). Characters on screen do not talk the way people actually do on the streets; all you have to do to check this out is to watch a movie and imagine that you are speaking the lines to your sweetheart or colleague. There is a type of speech that is fit for the screen—almost realistic but not quite. (Technically, it is called a “register’.)
Fifth, and this is true only to the Sine Panitik contest. The objective was to adapt a literary text into a screenplay. The first thing a writer had to do, then, was to understand the literary text. Some screenwriters were not exactly very good readers and missed the whole point of a short story. For the Sine Panitik (and, in fact, for all types of writing), good reading is a prerequisite to good writing. Writers who do not have a sense of literary tradition, who cannot read between the lines, or who miss the symbolic level of literary texts are not the best ones to adapt a short story into a screenplay. They betray literature, and, as a con-sequence, also betray cinema.
All in all, nevertheless, I have to congratulate all those who submitted scripts for the competition. In general, they are sophisticated and literate. They make me confident of the future of Filipino filmmaking.
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