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Of Flights & Voyages: The Ricaforts’ Journey as Independent Filmmakers


(L-R) Korean Star Hyun Woo, Direk Rommel Ricafort, Ms. Shine Deauna Ricafort and Devon Seron.

The local film industry is slowly but surely getting more recognition, paving ways and providing opportunities to lesser-known but deserving filmmakers. With the growing popularity of film festivals, independent works are also being introduced.


"You With Me" directed by Rommel Ricafort, written by his wife, Ms. Shine Deauna Ricafort, and produced by Tess Cancio of Gitana Film Productions, is part of the current Pinoy Indie Film Festival.


The independent filmmaking pair now in their 40s, shared their filmmaking journey with The Film Dream, and here is their story.


A COLLABORATION OF MARRIAGE AND WORK


On his way to his filmmaking dream, Direk Rommel met Ms. Shine at a friend's party, marking the start of their relationship.


Ms. Shine was teaching basic and tertiary education when Direk Rommel's photography business was starting to gain traction. "Ako lahat, ako secretary, ako phone calls, proposal, ako magshoshoot, ako mag eedit, tapos nung nag video production ako panay concerts, ako lahat," he explained. With a little too much on his hands, he turned to his partner.


As Ms. Shine managed the back office and admin work, documents, and marketing, the business became stronger, allowing them to expand to more serious productions. That was when she turned her whole focus on the studio.


With two great minds working together, even with the burden of workload, the goal seemed closer and closer to be achieved, especially as “You With Me” was released.


The romantic partnership becoming a collaboration sounds like a dream come true in itself, but it is not without its imperfections.

Behind-the-scene photos of Direk Rommel and Ms. Shine with their cast and crew


When asked about the pros and cons of their arrangement, Direk Rommel honestly told us, "Minsan nasusunog yung niluluto namin, parang sa sobrang busy ng pag-uusap namin (with work), makikita namin ung mga anak namin nakikinig lang samin, hinihintay matapos yung niluluto namin." As they are carried away with their projects, balancing work and family sometimes was a challenge.


He continued to explain how time could be a factor to both being at an advantage and the opposite. Some examples he cited were saving and maximizing time - with the two together, they can easily communicate with each other directly, at almost any time possible and necessary. Since they are also within each other's earshots physically, instructions and information are exchanged right away.


"’Pag may kausap ako sa phone, alam na niya kung tungkol saan yun, so minsan hindi ko pa nasasabi sa kanya, nagagawa na niya," and vice-versa, Direk Rommel answered. This became a comfortable arrangement benefiting them both.


As for brainstormings and decision-makings, both admitted to having their ideas clash against the other. But no contradictions really ever rouse fights, and the couple listen and respect each other equally in their work-relationship as well.


HOW IT STARTED


Ever since he was a child, Direk Rommel has been interested in show business. He recalled looking into newspapers, gathering information from the showbiz section - curious with who the people there were, what's happening, and how he would begin his journey to filmmaking.


His questions were answered slowly as time progressed, but actually beginning with Senakulos (Passion plays depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ). The young Rommel would take videos of the event.


In high school, he continued to express his passion, actively making ways to get into producing videos even without having his own camera. "Kahit na hindi naman filmmaking yung pinapagawa na project, sa-suggest ko sa teacher namin na gagawa na lang kami ng short film," Even as he entered college, he lacked the vital equipment for a filmmaker - yet, again, this did not stop him from what he wanted to do.


"Kami-kami magkakasama noon, mga 1996, 1995, gumagawa kami ng short films o kaya full length tapos nagyayaya kami sa school na panoorin sa classroom namin." Direk Rommel shared.


THE DIRECTIONS THE DIRECTOR WENT


One would expect that Direk Rommel would immediately start producing films professionally, but life took him to a few necessary detours. He would work for an IT company, which seemed to be a stray from his true destination. "Pero hinahanap ko pa rin yung passion na 'yon," he confessed.


Little did he know that this experience would benefit him, allowing him to evade having cyber-phobia and confidently dive into the digital field.


Thus, he established his studio - with services on mostly wedding coverages, until it included promotional videos for malls, launchings, music videos. "Kumbaga, pinapatulan ko para bumalik ulit ako sa production," Direk Rommel shared with The Film Dream.

Direk Rommel Ricafort (in gray shirt) during one of their film productions.

While Direk Rommel had his hands full in his studio business - of course, he soon became reminded of his yearning to produce more, create films. "Pero sabi ko parang gusto ko rin magshoot sa ibang bansa. So, nag apply ako ng stepping stone ko sa photography sa cruise ship." He was offered a contract to work as the Ship Photographer, where he covered taking photos of the passengers onboard - from simple moments to special events. And there, it transformed into something a little bit closer to his dreams.


Observing the people and tourists, Direk Rommel saw an opportunity. "Nagsasawa na yung mga tao na manood ng mga cable tv. Gusto nila mayroong parang organic, so gumagawa kami ng mga short film doon, pinapanuod nila, yung mga artista namin yung mga crew, entertainers, dancers. Natutuwa sila, tapos ineedit ko, maraming bumibili noong DVD, nasa infomercial yung about sa travel and tours."


Not long after, he was officially tasked with editing and filmmaking, branding him as a Film Editor. With shooting various places abroad and interacting with foreigners, he was familiarized with the cultures of different countries.


As he returned on land, he became an educator at La Consolacion College Manila and at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina, along with Ms. Shine. The momentum from the cruise led Direk Rommel to creating films, this time joined by his students.


"Pareho kaming nagtuturo sa college, tapos since may mga tropa, mga estudyante ko gusto mag-artista, gumawa kami ulit ng indie film." Direk Rommel explained. Unfortunately, they were unable to enter it at a film festival. "Nahuli kami, so ang ginawa namin ay pinalabas naming special screening nalang sa SM. Tapos simula noon, pumupunta ako sa tamang direction para makagawa talaga ako ng gusto ko."


Since then, they received chance after chance to pursue creating and screening their works across different countries, one of which being "Higanti", a 2016 Filipino film he directed, starring Assunta de Rossi and Jay Manalo under Gitana Film Productions. It tells about how a strong and loving woman fights to get back everything stolen from her.


This was previewed in Japan last 2017, and during the couple's stay in the country, Direk Rommel yearned to get started on their next project.


YOU WITH ME


The Asian fusion of a film, “You With Me,” became the first film Ms. Shine officially wrote and produced. Everything was from scratch, and was inspired mainly from their stay in Japan.


"Winter noon, and sobrang hindi ako sanay sa lamig. So, nasa loob lang (kami), nanonood ako ng kdrama. Siguro yun yung naging inspiration: bakit hindi tayo gumawa ng ganitong quality?" Ms. Shine mused. They conceptualized and Ms. Shine wasted no time - sending emails to Korea and to their delight, the Seoul Film Commission responded right away. "Tapos tinap nila kami sa local producer nila and ayon, mabilis lang. It went smoothly kasi nga a lot of people really like the concept ng korean di’ba? So mas na-appreciate ‘pag may element ng Korean."


Well, we can only agree, having fallen in love with kdramas ourselves.


Official Movie Poster of "You With Me" directed by Rommel Ricafort, written and produced by Ms. Shine Deauna Ricafort

Direk Rommel admitted not being aware of the popularity of the concept until working on the film himself. He did still have his share of watching kdramas, mainly those action or historical-centered such as Hwarang - where one of its actors also appear in “You With Me.”


The film was a Star Award nominee, and was even screened in more than a hundred cinemas in the Philippines and with special screenings in Korea.


FILMMAKING PRACTICES FROM OTHER COUNTRIES


From working on a cruise, to actually working on films abroad, we were very much curious to know how the filmmaking industry differs from Korea to our own country. Direk Rommel excitedly shares them with us.


1. The actors studied and graduated 4 year courses on film acting, thus, pushing their government to fully support them and the film industry. Direk Rommel clarified that this isn't completely necessary to be applied for everyone, but that would be a relevant asset.


2. Their strictness on piracy. Direk Rommel observed that they really do not tolerate piracy, at most not as much as it is in the Philippines. However unfortunate, we cannot deny that piracy, especially with the aid of the Internet, is still common among Filipinos.


3. The abundance of cinemas (including the U.S. and Europe) open and available to the public, whilst in the Philippines it is most common to have the cinemas within malls. Direk Rommel noted how Filipinos would also be distracted with other things, and end up choosing to spend on clothes instead of a movie ticket.


He also shared that in other countries, an estimated 8 out of 10 cinemas would focus on showing only local films. "Yung bilib na bilib na tayo sa hollywood na gawa - hindi pa sila ganung nagagandahan doon. Mas tinatangkilik pa nila yung gawa nila, so nakakainggit talaga." Ms. Shine added.


4. Time Discipline. Their team in Korea proved punctual and even ahead of time during their production process. With everyone ready at the right time, shooting is fast, deadlines are met, no excuses are made. What a dream come true, alas, "Filipino time" is still present, though hopefully not for much longer.


5. The hierarchy of their production team. Who the "director" is is clear to Korean filmmakers, and there is only one. While by definition, there is only one captain of the ship, the reality may be otherwise. In a local setting, an Assistant Director is also called a director.


A disadvantage present with several acting directors along with their staff in a local setting is how the main director's visions could be limited. Ms. Shine noted that with the present culture, some filmmakers tend to prefer the easier ways more often than choosing to make ways for a director's vision.


Direk Rommel also shared a specific instance with applying a "synchro" board while working on a local production. The idea was to have this board with the references of the shots - from color swatches, the time on clocks or watches, to serve as a guide to keeping the continuity in check. He was quickly informed by the crew that "hindi pe-pwede dito sa Pilipinas 'yan,'' to which he responded reassuringly, "Mas maganda siguro challenge natin ang sarili natin para at least mag improve tayo ng mag improve." And true enough, the notion proved to be useful.



THE FUTURE FOR THE RICAFORT FILMS


Currently, the pair is working on a project that's already been brewing for two years. Similar to their last work, their film-to-be will be a fusion of Korean and Filipino, this time shifting to an action, almost Supernatural genre. They just wrapped up shooting a short film for the Wildflower Film Awards, where they received a grant and collaborated with Malaysian and Korean directors to explore the world of VR technology using a 360-degree camera.


As for future goals, Direk Rommel aspires to create more films touching on different types of themes such as one based on the Filipino-American pilot who fought in World War II. "Yun yung isa kong pangarap gawin, yung story ni [Jesus Antonio] Villamor bukod sa action-war naka infuse ang love story."


He also shared a project involving Jose Rizal, having already been granted support from Spain, and one more goal about a certain saint, basing off the miracles and blessings he had asked for and received through her intercession.


We certainly have a lot to watch out for from the Ricafort duo!


ADVICE FOR THE ASPIRING ONES


"Kung wala sila sa posisyon ngayon, maaaring nasa iba silang posisyon, tanungin nila: bakit sila nandoon ngayon? Bakit ako nasa filmmaking? Gusto ko ba talaga 'to?" This question Direk Rommel poses towards the young ones may already exist among your minds, but what about the answer?


Direk Rommel believes in fate, and wherever you may be, it is meant to be. As his experience, everything seemed to be aligned and led to where he is now. "Kung alam mo na kung para saan ka, talagang gagawin mo ang lahat."



He also sets expectations to the beginning filmmakers. "Maraming obstacles, yung obstacles magagamit nila ‘yan, magiging tool nila yan para sa ladder of success nila," he strongly expressed. "Maraming manghihiya, maraming maninira sa kanila, diretso lang." He recounts instances when they fell into such situations, but rose above them. "Kaya kailangan diretso kalang talaga, tapos wag mawawalan ng pag-asa kasi hindi ka naman mapupunta sa situation na ‘yun kung hindi ka para doon and keep on learning new things, don’t be afraid to explore and experiment."


He then reminded: Dasal. "Huwag nilang kalilimutan, sa mga aspiring, yung dasal. Yan yung pinakamagandang baon sa success," he shared, adding, "Yung iba kasi hindi na naniniwala sa dasal, minsan yun ang kulang. Or minsan naman, puro dasal - kulang naman sa gawa, [gawa] naman ang kulang. ‘Wag din kalimutan na lumingon sa pinanggalingan at magpasalamat sa mga nagtiwala."


Ms. Shine agreed, and added a simple yet underrated advice regarding overcoming challenges: "If ever man dahil sa galing nila [ay] mabilis silang makaangat, wag sana sila maging feeling. Be humble, madaling makalasing yung fame ng industry na 'to."


She reminds everyone to remain grounded.


Finally, Direk Rommel pushes for future filmmakers to think of themselves as educators as well. "Isipin natin lagi makabuluhan yung gagawin natin," he urged. "Ikaw ay magiging instrument para makapagpabago ng tao, maka-pag-inspire lalo na sa mga gustong mawala na sa mundo. Baka magandang instrument ka. Gawin mong maganda/makabuluhan yung pelikula mo."





Don't forget to watch “You With Me” starring Devon Seron, Hyun Woo and Jin Ju Hyung, available now as part of the Pinoy Indie Film Festival on Dyipniflix [https://dyipniflix.com/v/QfjSXW] and follow the Ricafort couple at Rommel Ricafort Films on Facebook. CLICK HERE.







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