There are quite a few reasons why I wanted to shoot Crisanto Aquino’s Write About Love. First, it essentially takes me out of my comfort zone having shot a lot of drama and horrors. The romcom genre is not necessarily my territory. There is excitement when panic and confidence mix. You learn something new when you are confronted by something unfamiliar. Second, it is Crisanto’s first feature film. I have known Crisanto way back in 2009 when he was our script continuity in Chito Rono’s musical Emir. He later moved on to become assistant director to a lot of Chito Rono films and eventually to other directors – Chris Martinez, Joel Ruiz, Mae Cruz-Alviar and Jerrold Tarog among others. That’s a very solid foundation for a director. Third, it’s my first time to work with TBA Studios which has produced some groundbreaking Filipino films. From the very start, Crisanto knew exactly what he wanted to see on the screen from the film’s design to colors and photography. I have my own idea on what I thought the film should look like and I tried to marry that with the director’s idea. It is at this point of pre-production where as a cinematographer you will know if you are on the same creative plane with the director and if you can help him create his vision. It is also at this point that you can decide whether you’re going to do the movie or not. It is pointless to start a movie then resign in the middle of the shoot due to “creative differences”.
Write About Love’s multi-world and multi-track story – the “writers” world, the “movie” world and the “reality” world created a complex approach visually. Although Crisanto was very definite about the overall feel of the film we had long discussions how to pin down the visual look of each part. How do we create contrast for the three worlds? How do we guide the audience visually in the film’s crisscrossing narrative? We struggled I think not only because we wanted to try something different but also because the technology today offers us a vast playground giving us multiple options to play around. Compared to shooting on film negative cameras, today’s digital landscape in cinematography is a lot different. Today you can alter aspect ratios randomly, you have a wider range of digital cameras and lenses each giving you a different texture and the possibilities of color grading in post production is endless. As a director, Crisanto Aquino used that present technology as part of his narrative tools.
For the “writers” part Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati (2013) was a major reference point. The film has an “indie” look and we all know indie means less budget so whenever I’m shooting the writers world I lessened my lights, used more practical lights of the set and tried to avoid making it look glossy. I “imagined” I’m shooting an indie film whenever I’m shooting Miles Ocampo and Rocco Nacino’s scenes. To complete the indie look we used the Canon C-300 camera recorded at HD resolution, partnered it with the old Zeiss super speed lenses and shot the scenes on 4:5 aspect ratio. Sana Dati’s DP Mackie Galvez, LPS was on board as first camera operator so I sometimes asked him if I’m doing it right. I was close to asking him to light some scenes but he did sub for me for two days so Mackie was a blessing.
Clockwise from left : 4:3 aspect ratio, 1.85 and 2.39
The decision to make the “movie” part look like a Star Cinema romcom movie was a much easier process but was more challenging for me as a cinematographer. My last Star Cinema romcom was 2004 which I didn’t even finish for some non-creative reason. For this I watched Star Cinema movies photographed by Dan Villegas, LPS and Noel Teehankee, LPS which I think did great works. I honestly struggled trying to duplicate their works. For the movie world, we used the Alexa-Mini with Leica Summicron lenses recorded in 4K to highlight the difference with the Canon C300 in terms of quality, resolution and color rendition. We decided to shoot this part in an aspect ratio where most of the earlier romcoms films were shot – in 1.85 aspect ratio.
In Crisanto Aquino’s vision, the convergence of these two worlds must be emphasized technically on screen with one continuous shot which required some amount of preparation. The shot happened in a park with the four major characters and extras choreographed together for a precise camera movement. As the camera moved, the aspect ratios changed from 4:5 to 1.85 to the final 2.39. With this technical requirement, we did tests before the actual shoot. First thing to consider was with the changing aspect ratios – will there be some projection issues in the theaters? Second was the camera we used. Since we’re using two different sets of cameras and lenses, at what point do we “converge” the cameras. Although this is pretty much a creative decision it has some budget concerns because there are shooting days when we have four cameras on the set because we’re shooting scenes of the two worlds? The projection issue was solved by making the 1.85 as the master aspect ratio with the 4:5 and 2.39 fitting in to that frame space. The changes in aspect ratios during the shot was done in post. We decided to use the Alexa camera for the final world with the 2.39 aspect ratio. With three different color treatments, colorist Marilen Magsaysay did a great job in blending the colors and texture at specific points of the shot creating a seamless transition from the writers world to movie world to the final reality world.
On the surface, creating the visuals of Write About Love was simple until you got into the detail. There was a need to have a close coordination with the director, PD, DP and post-production to actually make it work. Although most of what the audience saw on screen were pre-visualzed and pre-arranged and were done in clockwork precision, during shoot there’s always some creative space to improvise and experiment. Crisanto created this kind of environment on and off the set. It is always a joy to work with creative people with a high level of teamwork from director Crisanto to production designer Monica Sebial to colorist Marilen Magsaysay. There’s always a play of ideas creating a visual renga for Write About Love.