Filipino Filmmaker in Spain: A Journal Part I

“Ignacio de Loyola”, the epic feature film about St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, is set to hit cinemas nationwide on July 27, 2016. This world-class film, composed of a team of Spanish actors and Filipino filmmakers, is directed by Paolo Dy. Spanish actor, Andreas Munoz, plays the part of Ignacio superbly.

Organized by the alumni of the Ateneo de Manila University, the film premiered last night, July  23, 2016,  at the Solaire Theater, where it was accompanied live by the  ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra who, with Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, has created the original soundtrack of the film!

Spotlight is very proud that its very own Bombi Plata is the First Assistant Director and Acting Coach of “Ignacio de Loyola”! He shares, in this feature, a first hand experience of being part of the planning and production of this monumental film, and why he called himself a Doubting Thomas.


Written by: BOMBI PLATA

Edited by: Katrina Tan

PART 1: The Doubting Thomas

Finally, the credits roll as the crescendo of live orchestra music rises up to the heavens as the camera tilts up, revealing the top of the Pyrenees Mountains. I am not even sure if what I see is a natural camera blur or just tears in my eyes. Not being able to hold back the mixed emotions of overwhelming joy, sentimentality, and pangs of embarrassment, I never believed that this night will even come for the ragtag and war-torn Filipino filmmakers who risked their lives and limbs for this project. I admit, I have been the Doubting Thomas among the faithful disciples in the middle of a mission. I can truly say that this project became my spiritual journey in discovering this God of the impossible.


The team arrives in Spain. Bombi is the second from the right on the first row.

I first learned about the project from Pol Mangilog, Creative Director of the Jesuit Communications (JESCOM), when she mentioned that they are exploring the possibility of producing a film on the life of San Ignacio de Loyola. She said that the move of the Dominican order in producing the life story of the its founder, St. Dominic, inspired them.

After that initial talk, a lot of things happened in between- primarily on the writing and re-writing of the screenplay, to fund raising, and to going through the details of the logistical needs. The question then was: is it really doable? The common answer was, NO, it is a huge project, and JESCOM, though manned by seasoned filmmakers, writers, and journalists, does not have the experience to mount such film production with immense needs.


The Artajona Castle.

However, despite the unclear path from point A to point B to even jumpstart the project, I saw from the JESCOM team that it would take so much more from them to just abandon the idea. Thus, in spite of practically not having anything yet on their plate, except for the resolve to do this, the team started inching their way to move forward.

Then I was called for a production meeting. It was a briefing on the objectives and the vision for the project. I was given one of the earliest drafts of the script. The first time I read through it, I got overwhelmed. Reading through the descriptions of the battle scenes, with my many years of experience as an Assistant Director, and the many war scenes I have mounted, I already knew that this is going to be impossible given the restrictions on budget, the lack of production manpower, the unforeseen logistical challenges of filming in a foreign land, and not to mention, working with a foreign production crew whom we have never met!


The first pre-prod meeting in Spain.

I also doubted the capacity of the producers to mount such an ambitious project knowing that this is going to be their first time to ever produce a full-length film. I have seen this many times already. I’ve had painful experiences working with producers who are enamored with their project’s vision and have ended up not being able to finish the film, and this, is a potential unfinished project. To bring the dreamers in the team in touch with reality is part of my job description, and the producers’ over enthusiasm and positive projection that everything will be possible indeed scared me! I have already imagined in my head, based on their script, the technical and logistical requirements, what every scene would require vis-a-vis the number of warm bodies who will be there with me.

title card photo

I was scared. What was I putting myself into?

I have tried to identify every possible crack on the system that should be a potential problem during production. I have noted the assumed strengths and weaknesses of an imagined work flow per day, and I started questioning myself if I really wanted to be part of the project. I asked: is this going to be worth it? Is St. Ignacio worth it?


The beautiful Basilica de San Ignacio in Basque Country.

At long last, we received the final working script finished by Paolo Dy, who picked up from the initial work of Ian Victoriano. I started working on the script breakdown and again, I was confronted with the insane reality that we will be facing in the next few months. Once more, the pangs of doubt came in. Am I really disposed to go through this horrendous number of scenes I have been scrolling up and down on my computer screen? Such is the curse of being an Assistant Director. No one else will truly understand the feeling of anticipating problems on scene set-ups, maybe some wardrobe malfunctions, production design delays, camera or other technical hiccups, acting blocks, and not to mention, the language barrier that is going to be a major set-back in the efficiency of a production system where everything lies on the specifics of every instruction.


Andreas Munoz during one of the acting workshops.

Like a military tactician preparing for battle, I am just making sure I will be well prepared in my capacity to prevent such mishaps from happening. I will have to make sure that my Kapitan, who is my director, will be well aware of such ill possibilities for prevention. My position has always been the unpopular voice within the team. I am the ever pessimist. The dissenting voice. The ever “taga-basag ng trip”. The “Devil’s Advocate”. It is my job. And it is a job I take seriously.

To be continued…

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