Last March 14, 2022, The Ateneo Filmmaker's Society held their Gabi ng Parangal, wherein recognition and awarding for the Cineatenista 22: Bituin sa Madilim na Kalawakan took place.
Congratulations to the team behind "Help WanTed!" for winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Theme Song.
The Film Dream invited Directors Abegail del Rosario and Shaun Panugan, and Assistant Director/Writer Aliah Tambuco to share their experience with creating their first film together and the success it achieved.
The three, as most of the rest of the production team, are Grade 11 students coming from different departments of the film club at Ateneo de Davao University. 16-year-old Abegail from the Film Critique, 18-year-old Shaun from Directors of Photography, and 16-year-old Aliah from the Writers’ Pool. Despite being in the same school and club, it was actually at the film festival that the three met each other.
Aliah explained that for the film festival, they - the members of the club, were formed into 5 groups. "We didn't know each other. We just introduced ourselves, got to know each other," She shared that with understanding and adjustments with a new team, they were able to find the perfect balance to work together.
"We had a bunch of ideas passed around, and we voted for which idea we could do as a group," Shaun began when asked how the process went.
"It was Aliah's idea on the 'therapist friend' and then we improved and worked on that," Abegail continued.
When asked about the inspiration for the chosen concept, Aliah expressed that it came from her own experiences. "I have a lot of friends who care about their other friends, and they want to be there for them always but to be honest, you can't be always be there for all the people you love.”
"You just need to take care of yourself too." She went on to explain the weight of wanting to take responsibility for your friend's welfare, and that friendship isn't just 'solving your friend's problem.'
The message was definitely heard loud and clear from the short film. However, working on "Help WanTed!" was not as smooth as they would have liked it to be.
(from left to right - Abegail del Rosario, Aliah Tambuco, and Shaun Panugan)
From the start, Aliah struggled with communicating with her team because she lacked the proper materials. "I don't have my own personal set up or proper gadgets to communicate with them, so it's hard to chat or be in touch with them every night," she confided. But what she lacked in tools was made up for by the understanding and support from her directors. "They've been so good [to me]."
As for the script, originally, Teddie's parents were to be included in the film, but due to schedule conflicts, they were unable to proceed with the intended shots. "We came up with the idea of having voice actors instead to represent her parents," Abegail told The Film Dream about the simple remedy to this hiccup.
But what they most agreed on being the biggest and stressful hurdle was the fast-approaching deadline of submission.
The director went on, "Our shooting schedule was pushed too far [behind] because of our cast's availability, the table reading as well, it was done very late."
And even before this, the team also had difficulties with finding their cast. The film club had different departments, each focusing on an aspect of filmmaking, including the Actors’ Guild. "We didn't have a lot of actors to volunteer, we looked for our cast even if they are from the Directors’ Department or Writers’ Pool...whoever is available as long as we can do this film and we can portray the characters we needed people to see."
With all the interconnected challenges, the final film was actually submitted without directors Abegail and Shaun viewing it first.
"Everyone was panicking, they haven't slept for days," Aliah said, pertaining mainly to the editors. The writer explained that during editing, a lot of revisions had to be made repeatedly and consumed a lot of time.
"As Aliah said, the editors were panicking because they need the directors' approval before they actually pass the final edited film," Abegail said, while Aliah expressed that it was time pressure that led them to the situation.
Through all this, Shaun expressed his admiration for the hardworking team. "The editors seem to have the most work to have done, [since] there's also animation. I'm really thankful they were able to make it the best that they could."
It was ultimately decided by their writer, Philip John Wapaño, and producer, Franzine Clarisse Ancheta who were trusted by Shaun and Abegail, to go ahead with the film.
Learning about these obstacles, The Film Dream asked the young filmmakers - what were their thoughts as the competition carried on?
"I felt like there were some things that could have been improved on," Shaun admitted, as he and Abegail had viewed it only after it had been submitted.
"I didn't expect much but when I showed it to some of my friends, they said it was really good and I think because we are the makers of the film we can't really appreciate the beauty of our film." Abegail gladly shared. "I heard from them that it is really relatable to people."
Meanwhile, Aliah voiced out, "I was thinking that as long as people can see this, as long as people can relate, and the message is delivered to the people watching, it is okay to me."
Thus, "Help WanTed!" being awarded Best Film came as a shock to the trio.
Shaun was quick to say, laughing, "I suffered from Imposter's Syndrome, like you feel like you don't really deserve it."
"I didn't really expect that our film would bag some awards. It was really heartwarming," Abegail said, recalling how she felt emotional during the first time she viewed the final cut.
Aliah was in disbelief as well. "I also thought we wouldn't win. I felt like there was no chance, then they announced the winner, to which she exclaimed, "What?!"
"Help Wanted! Help Wanted won. I was crying. I was telling our producer Kuya Philip, I don't feel like I deserve this award and everyone was cheering in the group chat: Congratulations! We were all just happy...and crying," Aliah colorfully expressed.
Feeling victorious and relieved of having their hard work pay off, we wondered what their filmmaking journey plans would be moving forward.
"If we'll be staying in Ateneo Filmmakers' Society, we will be working with other people again, new people," Aliah mused, pertaining to the next school year and the new batch of senior high school students. Sharing their first filmmaking experience together, Aliah believes that they'll be supportive even if they'll be separated.
As for herself, she took the awards as a sign for her to continue writing. "What if one day, there would be something big you can do with the drafts in your storage?" Aliah felt hopeful and encouraged. While not yet sure of which course to take, and taking practicality into consideration, she is confident with one thing: "I know in my head and in my heart that filmmaking is still part of me."
Shaun also confirms that he wishes to continue filmmaking, that it is one of his dreams. "Wherever I'm going to end up, I hope I still get to create things that I want to create, in any form of medium. All I really want is to tell stories."
Meanwhile, the Best Director awardee is taking her time to plan as to what she intends and wants to do in the future. She shared her previous activities in school, taking on leader roles, works related to creating videos, and participating in theater. "Right now, I'm still not sure if I will pursue filmmaking," she responded modestly, "But it would also be one of my hobbies and interests - watching films that can touch your heart and leave you some life lessons."
Speaking of life lessons, the triad certainly learned a lot from the short time they worked on "Help WanTed!"
"If you are really interested in filmmaking, you need to know how to shoot, how to write, and so on, because you might need to adjust depending on the situation," Abegail said, recounting how from being a film critic she was tasked as a director. She encourages aspiring filmmakers to be open to learning all the different roles.
She added, "Accept criticisms, learn to improve."
"Don't be afraid to voice out all of your ideas," Aliah continued, "Even if it's in the middle of production, or in the writing process because, what if it's a great thing? What if that is what leads you to winning?"
"We are still kids, we need to explore, we need to express - like feelings, we don't want it to stay bottled inside us."
Aliah continuously showed her support and strongly encouraged future members to be unafraid of expressing themselves. "We are here to guide you, like how our seniors are guiding us now."
"Take advantage of limitations," advised Shaun.
"Even the most simple stories with certain restraints or restrictions can still make a huge impact on the minds, hearts, and souls of any mass audience."
"Make what you want to make, even if you lack resources. Every good storyteller starts small, you can continue learning from films, studying, creating," Shaun implored. "Experiment. Break the rules!"
Even with little uncertainties, the determined spirits of Abegail, Shaun, and Aliah were definitely present in our virtual interview. Whichever path they choose, one thing is certain - they’re eager to learn, explore, experiment, and do their best!