Simple was not on the itinerary as these Filipino students made sure to do the most with their short film for their group project.
When you hear the words group project, the response usually boils down to two options: either a fun time with friends or another boring slog to get through in school. Most group projects don’t elicit joy from most students as they just want to get it done and be over with it. But that wasn’t the case when it came to seven Mass Communication students from the University of Baguio.
When their professor told the class that they needed to make a short film as a project, they used their ingenuity, talent, and creativity to create a drama-thriller with elements of mysticism called Manang Klara. It could easily pass off as a film festival entry which is no wonder that the trailer went viral on TikTok with over eight million views and 1.6 million likes in less than a month. NYLON Manila recently chatted with the project’s leader, Sky Martinez, as he shared how this impressive feat came to be.
Sky, who describes himself as “pabibo” in everything that I do”, took inspiration from the movies he grew up watching. In particular, the young filmmaker loves watching Hollywood films, but realized that he rarely saw Filipino representation. He wanted this short film to change that. “I was not comfortable with how I knew—and liked—more about English kings and queens and very few of our own Datus, Rajahs, and Lakans,” he shares. “As an aspiring filmmaker, I chose the representation of the pre-colonial Filipino culture to be my voice in creating my stories. I believe Filipinos will better appreciate their culture if they get to be more exposed to such films.”
When the project was assigned, Sky and his groupmates, Melanie Lawingan, Alex Poderanan, Danica Mendoza, Chad de Guzman, Jessica Alis-is, and Gad Asher Villanueva sprang into action. It was a film that was a true group effort that touched upon many fields. “[I] conceptualized the story and translated it to a screenplay, making sure that each of the seven members has a role to play. Considering the feasibility of the story, I also led the scouting of locations and other resources like props and wardrobes. The research for the background of the story and the art department of the film was also limited to my capabilities as a multitasking student leader. For us to prepare for the roles, I initiated a DIY acting workshop before the production.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
When it came time to film in what became a two-month shoot, not only was Sky the director, but also the cinematographer, head cameraman, and one of the actors. As for post-production, he was also the editor, VFX artist, color grader, and graphic designer for the digital media and print outputs. And to top it all off, he even composed an Ilocano song that was deconstructed from the famous Ilonggo folk song, Ili ili, for the movie’s required OST.
With the help of his friend, Florence Montero, Sky gathered all the needed tribal sounds to make the OST. Needless to say, it was a lot of hats to wear, but Sky stresses that it was a team effort through and through. And besides, the current Masters in Multimedia Arts student at Mapua University always had that passion for filmmaking. “I have always wanted to do filmmaking even if I did not plan to be a filmmaker.”
@skyreels111 Replying to @Emskrrrt ito po ang mumunting edit namin haha #fypシ #manangklara #vfxbreakdown #shortfilm #tiktokph ♬ original sound – Sky Martinez
Ask nearly anyone, whether they be professionals or rookies, what it’s like to work on a movie set, and they’ll tell you that it’s not easy. And that was true for Sky and his groupmates. “Difficult is an understatement. Working on this project necessitated the commitment of my entirety. I attempted to expand my existing skills and opened myself to learn more than I thought I could. I have also dealt with chronic stress and battled my unstable self-esteem to perform my best.” It was a DIY project from start to finish. But even if they were just students with limited resources, they made it work, and work well.
They made a five-foot miniature Nipa structure from scratch to serve as the wooden chapel. They scoured materials they could find that can look like they came from the pre-colonial era. The rest of the team handled other responsibilities from daily operations to makeup and wardrobe. The team even had to deal with their main actress suffering a breakdown and nearly quitting the project. But she powered through, with the group taking extra care to check on her mental health, and finished the project. “In our difficult and fun journey of filmmaking, we were fortunate enough to have a very supportive family who assisted in our financial and moral needs, and friends who were more than willing to help in ways that they could.”
At the end of the day, all the hard work, sweat, and tears during pre, shoot, and post-production were worth it. The trailer alone looked like it was done by professionals or a movie studio, not by a group of students for a class project. When Sky posted the trailer to his TikTok page on October 27, it blew up and quickly went viral, raking up millions of positive reactions. “It would be hypocritical to deny the rush of energy that I felt when it happened,” says Sky on the trending trailer.
@skyreels111 Please check the Facebook page of Pelikula Ilokana Film Exhibition for the online screening on November 2! #film #shortfilm #filmstudent #fypシ #tiktokph #manangklara ♬ original sound – Sky Martinez
He adds that he didn’t just feel good because of the number of likes, but because of how it strengthened his resolve as a filmmaker. “I was happy not just because of the overwhelming attention and validation from the positive feedback, but because of the increased chances of being the filmmaker that I have always wanted to be. I have now committed myself to create more short films and content that will support my intention to showcase more of the pre-colonial Philippines and convince the Filipino youth that our films can have stories that are as beautiful as their favorite foreign films.”
When asked why he thinks the video did as well as it did, he chalks it up to how people didn’t expect this level of quality from a group of non-film students. And he also credits incorporating elements of classic Filipino films like Himala and Bituing Walang Ningning. “Since my target audience is Filipinos, I thought it would spark their interest if I incorporated some elements from films that they already loved. Filipinos admire intense confrontations (and face slaps), so I made sure to include them in our film. Furthermore, the idea of the colonial setup with a focus on pre-colonial practices seems to be a representation that intrigues them.”
THE TALENT OF STUDENT CREATIVES
The praise wasn’t just limited to social media as the professor of the class they made it for also loved their work. “Our professor, Cesar Liwanag, was very happy about our output. Considering that he does not major in film, he showed nothing but appreciation and support for our work. We became the talk of the town, for some time, when this trailer was released. Other professors and people from the media in Baguio City recognized our work.”
@skyreels111 Replying to @Mharu nagsilbing workshop po yung paulit ulit naming trial and error sa shoot 🤣 #fypシ #tiktokph #filmmaking #manangklara #shortfilm #collegefilm #bloopers ♬ original sound – Sky Martinez
Its success is remarkable when you consider that the story we see now isn’t the one that they originally made. “The short film was supposed to be a modern Tagalog film called Miss Fortune, where the story was supposed to be about a fortune teller who is a serial killer. We initially shot it with Tagalog lines but it was so bad since most of the actors did not have Tagalog as their mother tongue, that I rewrote the whole story into what it became.”
Just like that, more young creatives are getting their deserved praise and time in the spotlight. It also serves as proof that even student creatives have the potential to really flex their talents even with their meager resources. If you want to watch the full movie, you can check out Sky’s YouTube channel. He’ll also post updates on is TikTok account and some behind-the-scenes content.