Interview with Eduardo Roy Jr., Director of “Bahay Bata (Baby Factory)” conducted on Oct. 5, 2011 during the Vancouver International Film Festival @ Vancity Theatre, Vancouver, BC
“Bahay Bata” is Eduardo Roy Jr.’s first feature film. It is a day at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital considered as a “baby factory” as 20 percent of all babies in Metro Manila are born there. We follow the people that inhabit the hospital – the nurses, patients, relatives, doctors and staff for a glimpse at Manila’s busiest public maternity hospital. The mixture of actors and non-actors, staged moments with real events blurs the line between the fictional story and the reality of the setting that it is easy to mistake the movie as a documentary.
On a separate article, I included the “Bahay Bata” post-screening Q & A; since there were topics that I asked that were asked in the post-screening Q & A.
The interview was conducted right after the screening of the movie.
Michael Edillor: Who are you?
Eduardo Roy Jr.: I’m an aspiring filmmaker until now. I am a soap opera writer in the Philippines. I write soap opera there. For so many years I am a writer at ABS-CBN and also I am an Interior Designer. I studied at PSID, Philippine School of Interior Design. After I graduated, I decided to join Cinemalaya and the script got chosen.
ME: Where were you born?
ERJ: I’m born in Manila.
ME: City of Maynila?
ERJ: Yes. Ermita is my place.
ME: Growing up, what movies did you like?
ERJ: When I was a kid, I appreciated the Sampaguita Pictures. Sampaguita, LVN, those kinds of classic movies. I’m the type of kid who after the movie, stayed and watched the credits roll. When I was 9 years old, I remember all the director, the cinematographer and I realized that I want to become a filmmaker someday. I knew from that moment that I want to direct a film.
ME: As a child, do you remember what movie made a huge impact on you?
ERJ: I really love “Insiang” [by] Lino Broka and “Himala” of course [by] Ishmael Bernal. Those kinds of films I really, really like.
ME: Did you get to see it in the movie theatre?
ERJ: No, I saw it on TV.
ME: Other than going to Philippine School of Interior Design, did you study anywhere else?
ERJ: I also went to New Era University in Quezon City. It’s run by Iglesia ni Christo. After that, I went to ABS-CBN to be a writer and after 3 years, I studied at PSID. I stopped writing and studied for 2 years.
ME: What did you take at New Era University?
ERJ: I took Mass Communication. My first thesis won a Film Academy of the Philippines, it’s like the OSCARS in the Philippines; it won a grand prize there.
ME: For a student short film?
ERJ: No, it was an open competition. So I think it was a sign for me to continue my desire to become a filmmaker.
ME: How did you end up working as a writer at ABS-CBN? Did you just apply there?
ERJ: I just applied for a workshop, the writer of “Himala” Ricky Lee, he’s my mentor. He picked me out of 4,000 applicants and I was one of the 39 that was chosen and I was deployed at ABS-CBN.
ME: What did you work on at ABS-CBN?
ERJ: Soap Operas. My early works were Piolo Pascual’s “Mangarap Ka”; it’s a noon time soap. It was around 2004, I guess. Then “Spirits” by Chito Rono and “Isabela” by Judy Ann Santos.
ME: Where did the idea for “Baby Factory” came from?
ERJ: Actually, I have a co-writer. He pitched this concept of [a] nurse doing her rounds but the setting was in the emergency room. We brainstormed and instead of it being in the emergency room, [we set it in a maternity ward] so that it will help her to decide whether she aborts the baby or not.
ME: How did you decide with the directing style? You said in the Q & A that you came up to tell it in real time. Was it because of the location or did you thought about the style beforehand?
ERJ: I decided to have this real time method because it is more of the milieu story than the character. It’s not the character or the ego of the character is portrayed. It’s more on the location, which is the Fabella [Hospital]. So I decided to explore a certain location or to a certain milieu and you only have a day to expose it. That’s why I used that real time method.
ME: When I was watching, I was like, “This is awesome.” The camera from my point of view is observational, not judgmental. I don’t want to say docu-drama but it is almost documentary-like, that’s the feel I get. It reminds me of the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles brothers. The style for me fits so well. This is your first movie, how did you prepare yourself as a director?
ERJ: The pre-production, I am very particular. There are meetings going on because of the location. There are a lot of limitations there. We want to be ready to shoot there, I mean when we go there we are 100% ready and to follow the rules and restrictions of the hospital. Actually, the docu-style is accidental because since we cannot mount it, like we don’t have the freedom to have a dolly or a crane or something because the hospital doesn’t permit us. So it feels like a docu-drama because we are not allowed to use lighting. It became more natural. It became more raw. And I think it was a good thing that it happened to the film.
ME: Honestly, I think it is a good thing. The stylistic choices you made, like how you follow the characters around, how the camera is just there and it just observes; a non-judgmental eye. I cannot emphasize it more because watching “Woman in a Septic Tank” and how it lampoons indie films, like the shakier the camera the better but this one it’s not. There is control. I commend you on that. Where you confident when you started making “Baby Factory”? I mean did you always know where to put the camera and the actors or were you still learning?
ERJ: It is very hard to have this confidence because first of all, we don’t follow the script during the production period. We really don’t follow the script anymore. So I am not quite sure how confident I was during the production and when we were in post-production I was quite nervous because I don’t know how to edit the film. So Bebs (Charliebebs Gohetia, the editor) helped me to sequence the film. I mean if you read the script and watch the film, it is very, very different. I have this mentor Bing Lao, who is also the mentor of Dante Mendoza, who is more into real time. Actually he is the author of real time mode. He helped me to restructure it and if I needed any additional scenes.
ME: So you just came up with the sequence you wanted to shoot.
ERJ: Yeah, you need to shoot; shoot whatever and you decide on post-production what to put in the film.
ME: I think you lucked out. One thing I find with real time and people forget this, which is why they came up with the term “poverty porn” is when the background which is the poverty gets pushed to the foreground, instead of the characters and the story. I find that in this movie the characters are in the forefront and I was surprised that there are a lot of characters in the movie but it feels like each one has been developed. For me, it caught my eye because the characters are really good.
ERJ: Who is your favorite character?
ME: Who is my favorite character? I would go with the lead Sarah. But then there are the quick scenes of the old nurse, that look on her face when she was being shouted at when she was late for the meeting, man that was awesome. Her expression spoke a lot. Was she an actress or an actual nurse?
ERJ: Yes, she was an actress.
ME: How many were the actual actresses in the movie? Did you cast actual nurses and the people there?
ERJ: There are only 3 actors who played the nurses. The mothers are all theatre actors. The rest are real mothers there. For example, the scene of teenage moms when they were talking about their boyfriends [and] their husbands, the girl Cathy was the only actor there. So the other two are the patients in the hospital. They are actual patients. After we have to shoot another for continuity, they’re gone. So we needed another set of friends for Cathy. If you remember the Charice Pempengco scene, supposedly those were the friends of Cathy but since we cannot find those two, they don’t have facebook, they don’t have cellphones, we could not locate them. We decided to change the friends of Cathy.
ME: So the majority are regular people.
ERJ: Yes and the patients too. We don’t get talent outside. They’re our talents. We just talk to them; this is what we are going to do, blah, blah, blah. They were all willing because of the money that we will give them.
ME: Are they all cooperative?
ERJ: Yes, they are all cooperative.
ME: How did you get full access to the hospital? You said you had a connection inside. Did they start to get annoyed with you as the production went on?
ERJ: At first they wanted to read the script, since it is in real time, they thought it’s not that good. So they let us shoot. They just don’t want us to harm the reputation of the hospital and they did not see any harm in the script. So they let us do our thing.
ME: What was their reaction when they saw the film?
ERJ: They were happy because they see what happens every day in Fabella [Hospital]. They’re quite happy but you know they are of course looking for a mainstream appeal. But I said, “It’s an artsy-fartsy film.”
ME: This is a Cinemalaya co-production, why did you decide to go that route and instead of making the movie on your own?
ERJ: It is easier to premier a film if it is under Cinemalaya. You don’t need to market your film, they market it for you and besides the fact that they will give you 500,000 pesos. So it is very easy for us to get the other half of it to produce the film. If you are going to produce it yourself, it is very expensive in the Philippines. It cost us 1 million pesos, so my producer just spent 500 thousand. Even if it doesn’t make money in the box office, it’s ok.
ME: So the budget was around 1 million?
ERJ: 1.2 million something.
ME: How were you able to raise the rest?
ERJ: There is a doctor who is my co-producer. It was easy for him.
ME: Did it add more pressure being involved with Cinemalaya, especially since there was a deadline?
ERJ: Yeah. Actually we were the first to finish the film because Freddy Lapuz who was my producer wanted to enter it to Cannes [Film Festival]. We’re targeting the Camera d’ Or, the prize for first time director. We submitted the rough cut to Cannes but it didn’t make it. That’s ok. We passed it without any sound, it was very terrible.
ME: Don’t do that. When you submit something to a festival, if you don’t have a name yet, you got to present it complete.
ERJ: Since my producer wants it, it’s ok to submit a rough cut. I said, “Ok. Sure.” We really don’t have enough time because of the deadline.
ME: How long was the editing process?
ERJ: It took me 5 days to edit. Well if you notice the shots are long scenes. It is only 68 sequences, so it is very easy. The one you saw is the third cut. I edit a lot of walking scenes of Sarah.
ME: Wow that is unheard of. 5 days to edit a feature film. The sound was also very good.
ERJ: Actually, the audio post is minimal, only 20 – 30%. And the rest is the real sound of the ward. We just added volume to the crying babies and that’s it. The ward is very quiet. So we didn’t have any problem with the audio.
ME: When you were directing the actors, where you very specific or did you just tell them this is the scene and we’ll just capture you?
ERJ: Yeah, that’s me. I wanted it to become raw. I mean my vision in this film is to feel the rawness of the film. So it helps not to give a lot of direction. For example, the teenage mom when they were talking, I just said, “You can talk whatever you want as long as it’s about your husbands.” That’s it, I will roll the camera and that’s take one. It’s very natural. I’m looking for what’s natural. I don’t have that beauty shot.
ME: It actually worked. Compared to other Filipino films, especially that has amateur actors, there is stiffness to the way they deliver the dialogue but this movie was very natural.
ERJ: Actually, the doctor in the delivery room, I let her read the script but she said, “I can give better dialogue.” I mean the dialogue was how to deliver a baby and what she says to the patient. So she already knows what to say to the patients. So I told her whatever you say to your patients in real life, that’s what you should say and that’s what she did. It came naturally to her.
ME: What is your most satisfying moment when making the movie?
ERJ: The first screening of the movie. I mean the satisfaction comes in the end if the audience will love it. Since Cinemalaya has this captured market already, so when I had the gala premier, the theater was jam packed and I feel the good reception that they really, really love the film. So for me, that is the bonus. For me that is where I was happy and fulfilled as a filmmaker. Not because I made people laugh or feel infatuated but because my film said something and they appreciated it. Knowing that they were able to see and experience something new, a new world and learn new information that this is what is happening in the Philippines, so I’m so happy. I am very fulfilled whatever I may have accomplished or achieved with my film.
ME: Did you use a lot of lights or was it all natural lighting?
ERJ: All the scenes in the ward are all natural lighting. Maybe a reflector, that’s pretty much in terms of lights. We just changed all the fluorescent tubes there because almost all of them were dead. That’s pretty much it for lights.
ME: Did you film it during Christmas time?
ERJ: No, it was filmed in February. The art director can create Christmas easily.
ME: That’s why I wondered why it was so sunny. Christmas time should be overcast. Anyway it still worked. Have you made any memorable blunders?
ERJ: Not me but an anecdote of Diana, since she is a mainstream actress, she asked me, “Direk, why am I always walking in the movie?”
ERJ: Even Cherie Pie Picache asked Dante Mendoza the same question and why is the camera always behind me. So Diana also asked the same thing to me. I just said, “You’re a nurse and you are doing your rounds and we are trying to capture reality. Most of the nurse’s job is to always walk around doing rounds. That’s why you are always walking.” There are also scenes where we stopped filming because someone died giving birth. Sometimes we get a talent, a mother, and then the assistant director sees her crying and we find out that her baby died.
ME: That’s heavy stuff. It reminds you of what’s real. You are not just there to make a movie.
ERJ: We also realize that it’s just not about making movies; you need to say something about your film regardless if it’s a comedy, drama or romance. In our case, it’s drama. The human condition of this people we are trying not to push it too far. Like what you just described as a poverty film. You know in your face. My intention was to be tender. Since the subject was babies, I want to treat it very subtle. Even if there is poverty, I wanted to present that subtly just like a baby. Even the scoring was like a lullaby. Oh ok, it’s about babies even if you see this poverty, you will forget it because of the drama behind it, like why one of the mother’s escaped or why the inmate mother can’t hold her baby.
ME: I love how there is no shouting like what Eugene Domingo described as “Elevator acting”. I love movies where people just look at each other and their look just says a lot. I was impressed by Diana Zubiri’s performance. Did you have a hard time working with her?
ERJ: No, not really. She is good. Maybe the hard part was her background as a mainstream actress and she was looking for very big scenes. Where is my big emotional scene? She didn’t even know that I already shot the abortion scenes. I shot her before taking the pills and after her breakdown. But I decided not to show her taking the pills.
ME: I find that mainstream actors think that acting is about crying or shouting; which is not. Acting is about subtlety. Like silent waters, run deep kind of thing. Did you do that on purpose when Sarah was looking at the mirror and how the mirror was dirty?
ERJ: Yeah. Actually there wasn’t a mirror there. So the crew looked for one and luckily the mirror they found was dirty and old, so I said, “Let’s make it a tad dirtier.” It is to foreshadow what Sarah is about to do.
ME: The scenes after that of shots of babies; did you ask the cinematographer to take the shots with a little shake?
ERJ: Yeah, actually it was an insert. I don’t direct them. Every time there is a break between shots, the DOP goes and shoots inserts of babies, sleeping mothers. I leave that up to the DOP. I later chose those shots. It is already understood the ambiguity of the scene that, “What did Sarah do?” Prior to that scene, I showed the post-abortion ward. It is the foreshadowing of what she is about to do.
ME: Which filmmakers past or present do you admire?
ERJ: At the start, it was Wong Kar Wai. My first short film was Wong Kar Wai-ish, the play of lighting and the colors of it. Wong Kar Wai and Pedro Almodovar.
ME: Do you have any favorite genres or a genre you would like to try?
ERJ: I would like to try comedy. I have a concept right now that is a comedy.
ME: How did this movie impacted your life and career?
ERJ: A lot of projects have been offered to me. In ABS-CBN, they wanted me to direct some soap operas. I’m still thinking about it. Most indie filmmakers in the Philippines are against mainstream/commercial cinema. There are people like that. As for me I never thought anything of it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making a mainstream movie. To each his own, right? So given a chance to direct a soap opera for a big network, why not? But I promised myself to do a film that is not released by a big film studio because you will be dictated on what you can do. Maybe I’ll do TV for money, I guess. But the movies, I’ll stay with what I like to do. I mean without restriction or compromise from a big network.
ME: Is that your goal? Do you want to be a film director?
ERJ: Yeah, I want to continue this. I want to direct again. In fact I should make another one right away.
ME: Are you working on anything to follow this up?
ERJ: I submitted my comedy concept to Cinemalaya. I hope that gets approved. I also have another concept that I am working on about fly by night cosmetic surgeons in the Philippines. I want to tackle the obsession of Filipinos on beauty. But it’s more underground.
ME: Finally, what is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
ERJ: The hard thing about other filmmakers is their ego. I learned from one filmmaker, “Every one of us on earth, we each have our own space.” So if this other filmmaker going abroad to this film festival, don’t be envious. Your time will come that you will also experience the same thing. As long as you are doing what you want to do and your passions. For example, I was accepted here in Vancouver, that’s a bonus for me. I’m happy.
For example, Francis Passion, the director of “Jay” is my friend, he advised me that I direct a film when I am 30 and I am 31 right now because at 30 you have the maturity to direct a movie. Both of us dreamed the same thing to become film directors. He was the one who made it first with his movie “Jay” and now he is working as a director. I’m happy for him and I am happy that I also got to make my film. There are a lot of filmmakers that get envious. So for me, I don’t get envious. There is a lot of space in this world. We should just support each other.
NOTE: Baby Factory was later awarded the Dragons and Tigers Award – Special Mention.