This month Cinema Asian America on XFINITY On Demand features the bone-chilling, fright-inducing premiere of Romeo Candido’s supernatural thriller, “Ang Pamana: The Inheritance.” Drawing up on the monsters and creatures which populate traditional Filipino folklore, “Ang Pamana” tell the story of a young Filipino Canadian who returns to Manila for the reading of his grandmother’s will. When the rural, family farm is bequeathed to him, a trip to the secluded location reveals secrets, betrayals and supernatural forces that have cursed his family for generations and will change his life forever…
Ang Pamana: The Inheritance is filled with all kinds of creatures from Philippine folklore, including the manananggal (a winged, half-bodied vampire) and the aswang (a blood sucking monster). Tell us a bit about how you first heard about these creature, and the myths and folk tales they come from. I moved to the Philippines between 2004-2007, and while I was there I became fascinated…more obsessed…with the stories people would tell me of spirits in the trees, dwendes in backyards, curses from aswang etc. At the time many of the Filipino horror films being created were ripping off the Japanese style ghost stories and weren’t mining from the rich material ingrained in our culture. Maybe because it’s such a familiar thing to the Filipinos that who needs a film about these stories? But being a Canadian born Filipino, all of these stories were fascinating and horrifying to me, so I wanted to dive deep into the folklore. Most of the scary scenarios in the movie were pulled directly from real stories that I heard from real people. And then there were some stories that we built upon to show these creatures in a light that we have never seen before in Philippine cinema.
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Your main character, Johnny De Jesus is a Filipino Canadian teen whose trip back to his grandmother’s homeland is anything but what he expects, and more nightmare than homecoming. Tell us a bit about how you developed his character, and what it was like bringing a mainly Filipino Canadian cast and crew to the Philippines to make the film. In many ways the character of Johnny De Jesus is autobiographical of my feelings of being a fish out of water when I moved to Manila. Growing up in Canada, everything felt ‘exotic’ to me over there, from the heat, to the population, to the traffic, to the markets. It really took me over a year to get over the culture shock and fall into the rhythm of Manila. “Ang Pamana” is almost like an ‘Asian identity’ film but with monsters. The feeling of being a stranger to one’s own customs, to one’s own family history and moving through that ‘otherness’ into a place of ownership.
Bringing a Canadian cast to shoot a horror film in the Philippines was a ‘trip’ and in itself could have been a film. I don’t know if it was the locations, or the frame of mind we were in, but we had so many supernatural experiences there. From ghosts in windows, to cold cold air in shacks where Japanese soldiers once killed Filipinos. From locks being unlocked by themselves, to locals telling us of a real life Kapre down the street from where we were shooting. Eventually we had to get over our disbelief of the paranormal and start putting offerings in our locations to show respect to whatever ‘entities’ were watching us. In many ways I think a film about the ‘making of’ could have been just as frightening.
Your previous films have included comedies (Rolling Longaniza) and indie musicals (Lolo’s Child). What drew you to the genre of the supernatural thriller? I just wanted to do films in the genres that I like, and at the time I was really into horror. At the time Asian horror was the hot shit, so it was a genre I was able to sell to financiers and production houses to get behind with the hopes that it would make money. For me, story is the most important thing, and the story I wanted to tell was about a Filipino returning to his homeland. I just thought it would be cooler to throw monsters at the guy while preserving that theme of identity.
There are many techniques which filmmakers us to scare the daylights out of their audiences. Without giving away too much, how did you approach doing this? There are three types of scares in our movie. The BOO, sneak up from behind and grab the shoulder scare, the kind that makes people jump out of their seats and laugh out of embarrassment after. It’s easy. It’s all about the sound design and edit. It’s a superficial scare to get the blood pumping and for the audience to have a collective moment.
The second scare is the CREEPER scare…that kind of scare where it’s like someone tickling the back of your neck, where it creeps up on you and silently freaks you out. This is done with an almost opposite technique to the BOO scare…where it is all about the silence…and the building of expectation without an edit. We have a couple of these, all in-camera tricks where something appears, and disappears, and you kinda don’t know what happened, and it just leaves you with a feeling of eeeeeeew.
The third scare is the SAVE IT FOR LATER scare. This is the kind of scare we wanted to create where…sure…it’s scary in the movie…but it’s scarier when you find yourself in a bathroom with a shitty florescent light…or when you’re in a cemetery…or when you’re pregnant and it’s the full moon and you’re in the province and a monster wants to eat your baby. You know…that kind.
What are you working on next? I’m actually doing a 180 from supernatural thriller and returning to my roots in musical theatre (I was dancing Vietcong in the Canadian Production of Miss Saigon). For the last year and a half my creative partner Carmen DeJesus (also a writer on “Ang Pamana”) and I have been developing a musical ‘inspired’ by the famous Filipino dancing inmates from YouTube. At the end of this year we will be shooting a 12 part Interactive Musical Web Series called PRISON DANCER which will hopefully scale out into a live theatre event in the following years. What drew me to the idea of doing a webseries was the fact that it will be available to everyone instantly, and people will be given the opportunity to add to the online experience. We’re really excited as it’s music, it’s dancing, it’s drama, it’s comedy, and who doesn’t love gay characters singing in jail? Right now we are deep into casting, and if there are any Filipina females, 18-25 out there, who can sing, dance, act, and speak Tagalog, holler at me!