For this installment of artist interviews, we give you one of the up and coming names in the local film industry, Christian Linaban. A self-taught filmmaker, Christian makes you excited about the direction indie cinema is heading in our beloved Cebu.
He was gracious enough to let Hanging Rice pick his brains about his inspirations and his new project, Aberya. (Thank you, Christian!)
How did you become a filmmaker? Was this something that you always wanted to do?
Christian Linaban: I was raised by 80′s and 90′s television. My grandfather was an avid moviegoer and he usually took me on his motorbike to watch the latest action flick at a cinema downtown or uptown (anybody remember Belvic and Century 21?). I always made it a point to watch at least a movie a week until college. Good or bad I watched them all. I was a regular at rental shops as well. So when I tried making a music video for a TV arts class in college it felt very fun and natural. I was immediately hooked. I got myself a video cam and a manual SLR film camera and that was basically the extent of my self-education. I still have the piles of film prints and tapes with me until now. The school of “watch and make,” that’s where I come from. If you love movies so much you can make a movie that you love.
What other movies have you done or worked in?
CL: I’d been producing shorts films in the past with a bunch of talented individuals before finally doing the cinematography on a full -length one long take film entitled “Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria” (2010) with some of the people who worked with me early on. In fact, Remton Siega Zuasola who directed it was a frequent collaborator. I also did the camera work for a Cebuano Zombie flick “Di Ingon ‘Nato” (2011) directed by Brandon Relucio and Ivan Zaldarriaga. We also finished a movie entitled “Biyernes Biyernes” (2011) directed by 7 directors including myself. It told 7 stories which happened in a span of one Friday. “Aberya” is my first feature film as director. If you want to know more about our projects please check out my online portfolio.
Who are your inspirations or influences?
CL: My influences differ depending on the project. For Aberya my inspiration comes from the works of Alan Moore, Darren Aronofsky, Alex Grey, Michel Gondry, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai, Christopher Doyle, Gaspar Noe, Austin Spare, and Aleister Crowley.
Tell us your top five favorite films of all time.
CL: Kinda like Rotten Tomatoes huh? Lol
Off the top of my head:1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – What’s not to love? How the hell could you do those crazy things in a film and still make it accessible? The ending ‘okay’ still works for me no matter how many times I’ve seen it.
2. Tony Takitani – A japanese film based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. This film is a masterpiece in minimalism for me. It proves that you don’t need a big budget to make a remarkable movie.
3. The Fountain – I saw this in the big screen and I remember being intensely mystified. Even after Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky still considers this his best work so far and I ‘d have to agree.
4. 28 Days Later – This zombie flick is a reminder that a camera is just a ballpen. They only used a Canon XL1 camera for it (I own an XL2) and yet it still looked awesome.
5. Fight Club – You do not talk about Fight Club.
Tell us about your film, Aberya. What is it about?
CL: Aberya is a trip through the seamy side of Cebu through the eyes of four anti-heroes: an egomanic Fil-am boxer on a pleasure trip, a prostitute from Luzon on a mission, a local drug dealer experimenting with time travel, and a social climber from Mindanao caught up in a scandal.
Who are the people behind Aberya? How did you guys come together to create this film?
CL: About a decade ago a close friend of mine, Ariel Llanto, expressed a desire to write a screenplay for a short film that I was going to direct. We were both fans of Woody Allen so we fashioned it much like his movies: dialogue-driven, character-based, and with an emphasis on the city where the story was set. The latter had the most appeal to me. Having been born and bred in Cebu, I felt I could paint a relevant portrait of the city. We agreed that Cebu is basically an international terminal – there’s constant influx of different cultures intermingling with each other. Hence we came up with characters who embody these differences and have them interact or “bump” into one other.
Sadly, on December 2005 my friend Ariel died of bone marrow cancer. The story however remained alive in my head, fermenting until it was ripe for insurrection as of December last year. With the help of Ara Chawdhury we came up with a first draft after working on it non-stop for 4 days. Having another mind to bounce ideas with made the process faster and more efficient. We let people whose opinion we respected read the script for feedback and one of them was Bianca Balbuena. After calling us crazy she offered to work with us on the project. I felt it was such a privilege to have her onboard as a producer. I pitched the material to Cinema One Originals and the rest is history. I must be very lucky because I also got my dream cast for this project. Will Devaughn, Mercedes Cabral, Nicholas Varela, and Iwa Moto were my first choices and they all agreed to do it when we asked them.
Can you tell us about one unforgettable moment shooting the film?
CL: It’s a toss-up between two incidents: One moment was when we were going to shoot an interior cab scene at night and since we didn’t have LED lights yet we got nearly all of the crew’s cellphones, bundled them together, turned on the flashlights, and pointed them at the actors. The final image looked gorgeous. It was a blessing there wasn’t any signal where we were shooting or else imagine the disruption that might have gone on while shooting the scene.
The other incident was when we were shooting at the model unit at Woodcrest Condominiums, Guadalupe. The scene called for the actors to lie down on the dinner table. Trouble was the dinner table was unstable and it belonged to the condominium. As we shot that intimate scene, the entire art department did an Atlas and held the table up from underneath.
What is your dream for Aberya? Do you wish for it to be huge or make a great splash in the local film industry?
CL: Right now my intention is to work hard to make a movie that I would be proud of and enjoy watching myself. The best films are the ones that get better the more you watch them. According to Peter Jackson, “Pain is temporary, film is forever”. If it’s forever then I better give it my best shot while it’s still under development. You can’t please everybody anyway so might as well please yourself. Honestly, whether or not it makes a splash in the local film industry has not been any preoccupation of mine… but it would be awesome if it does. Love is only real if shared.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of making a film here in Cebu?
CL: The system here isn’t as developed compared to manila. That could be a good and bad thing. The bad thing about it is that we are still learning how to run a production as efficiently as possible. Most of the crew aren’t oriented of how things are supposed to be run according to industry standards. The good thing about it is that despite the inexperience they are so eager to work on a production because of its rarity. In the process we come up with novel ways to go around solving a problem or shooting a scene and it shows in the final product. There’s room for creating a different system.
What’s next for the team behind this movie? Do you have other movie projects lined up?
CL: I know Bianca has a lot of projects lined up after this one with different directors which include Pepe Diokno and Lav Diaz. As for myself, I’m going to be doing cinematography for “Sabado Sabado” which is a sort of a sequel to “Biyernes Biyernes”, with a different set of directors, including my co-writer, Ara Chawdhury. After that I may also be doing cinematography for Remton’s next film which is currently under pre-production entitled “P”. It’s definitely a bigger project compared to his last one and way more ambitious if that’s even possible.
Any advice for anyone who wants to try their hand at filmmaking?
CL: Do it for the sake of doing it. Don’t do it for the glamour and prestige – those are just bonuses. You have to enjoy the process because it’s not going to be easy. Plus, wear comfortable shoes like Steven Spielberg said because you’ll be standing up most of the time.