I’m no stranger to a press conference. I’ve been to many in the past few years — as an observer, as part of the organisers, and as part of the press. When I became an HIV advocate, I found myself seated at the table in front and facing the press who then asked me questions. That was a new development for me but because I was fuelled by a need to share my story so that people could learn about HIV and what it means and how one can get it — I had a mission, and that’s what made it easy to bare.
You see, since I turned twenty-seven or something, this need to be in the spotlight kind of disappeared and faded away. I was fine not having to be on the centre stage.
Yesterday, I found myself at the front again, facing the press, but this time as the screenwriter for Sonata. I really don’t know why I was nervous considering that I’ve done this several times before for the advocacy. I guess, as an HIV advocate, I had nothing to prove. I have HIV and my experiences are valid and my opinions are my own. I don’t represent any organisation or group and I might be speaking in behalf of the HIV community when I go to these things, but I always try to be inclusive and relate that my experiences are my own and not always shared by the community in general. I felt safe to be myself and that I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I just needed to share what had happened to me and what had happened after.
But sitting in front of the press, this time as a screenwriter, I felt nervous. I was joined by the co-directors, my Dad Peque Gallaga and Tito Lore Reyes, and our producer and lead actress Tita Cherie Gil. The three of them have proven their worth in the industry over many years of dedicated craftsmanship. They have contributed wholly and fully to the industry. While I have been writing professionally for twenty years, I sat in front of them as a first-time screenwriter. They don’t know what I can do as a writer of film, and I couldn’t help but think that they thought the only reason why I was there was because I’m my Dad’s son.
Truth of the matter: it was my producer, Tita Cherie who asked me to be a part of the panel. I don’t really remember many press conferences where the writer of the film was at the panel; but my producer asked me to go and I love working with Tita Cherie and I will level mountains and cross the seas for her, and for this project. They told me that this movie is very personal to all of us who made it, down to the crew, and that I should be there.
It began and I was quite nervous. I was asked to say something about writing Sonata in the introduction, right after Tita Cherie and I found myself speaking in Filipino, which is not usual for me. It came out well, actually. I was able to express myself correctly, surprisingly. It always come when I need it and speaking to a large group of people has become easy for me, having done it so many times. Public speaking has never been a problem.
The questions started coming and they were mostly for Tita Cherie. And of course, that made things very, very awkward for me. The entertainment press did not want to hear anything from me, or that’s what I thought. I can get horrendously self-conscious that way. These are the thoughts that enter my head in situations like these. I’m really very cruel to myself.
Then the questions started coming faster, more in-depth, and we had begun to throw the questions to each other, to help each other fully paint a proper picture of what it took to make this film and what it meant to all of us who made it. Tita Cherie threw a question at her to me and I felt that I was able to answer it. It was about whether the role would be considered a career highlight for her and how did it challenge her as an artist, or something to that effect. She answered it but asked me to fully explain what her character, Regina Cadena, has to explore as a fully realised human being.
I felt great because this was an answer I knew I could handle. In pretty intelligible Filipino, I was able to talk about how I wanted to create a character of a woman that I, personally, have not seen to many of in the Filipino film industry — a 50-year old career woman, who put her career above everything, at the expense of love and family, and who had to come back to her roots and found that she had nothing. I wanted to write a strong woman who was not defined by her relationship to a man or to a child but was defined by what she does, and what happens when she loses that. I was then able to relate how, in being producer, I had an evening with Tita Cherie were we talked about the character fully and she wanted to fully explore her being a woman and added that she needed to see her also as a sexual being — and the character of Carlo (played by Richard Gomez) was born, to help round out her experience of what it means to be a woman.
My Dad and Tito Lore even sent praises my way which made me very conscious; these are things we have talked about in the privacy of our private meetings and brainstormings and to have it said out loud in a press conference, I can’t help but say that it made me conscious, but I was very proud.
Later on, even I was being asked questions directly.
Halfway through, I really felt like I was glad to have been there and on that panel, to shed light on the artistic process and the hard work that came into Sonata. We shared stories and jokes and laughed and we were able to show that this was not just some professional collaboration; it was a personal one. It was a work of love and art by a family unit who have worked together for many years.
What was important was that I was able to share that I had been writing for my Dad for as far back as 2002 or 2003 and that this is the first full-length feature film that we finally were able to put out for the country to see. I may not have written a movie they have seen, but I have written for films. I wasn’t just a newbie jumping into the ocean and swimming with giants. I am part of that team, I am part of that family.
It felt good. I have to say, it felt really good.
It was the kind of the thing where I went there to help promote the movie, but in the end, it was something I needed as a person, as a writer, to realise that it’s happening. I’m a screenwriter. And deep down inside, I guess I’ve always wanted to be one, even if I didn’t know it back then. And it’s happening.
I’m a screenwriter.
Please watch Sonata when it opens on September 11 until September 17 in all SM Cinemas Nationwide.