Arts & Entertainment

How Director Paul Soriano's Love for Siargao Became a Picturesque Indie Movie

The director-producer walks us through this MMFF entryâs two-year history.
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A talented female athlete who must overcome the odds for her family. A 20-year relationship on the verge of falling apart. The complicated and intersecting lives of OFWs in Israel. A search for the missing body of Andres Bonifacio. A kidnapped boy who must be rescued by his estranged father.

These are all wildly different films, varying in plot, genre, and star power. What they all have in common, however, is TEN17P, an award-winning independent production company helmed by Paul Soriano. Sometimes, he directs his films (2011's Thelma, 2015's Kid Kulafu, 2016's Dukot), and other times, he acts as producer (2013's Transit, 2014's Dagitab, and 2016's Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis). When he can, he does both at the same time.


"If I can't sleep at night because I need to tell this story, then that's the story I tell," he tells SPOT.ph in an exclusive interview. "Whether it's a biopic or a suspense thriller or a movie about Philippine history, whatever gets me up at 5 a.m. to go and shoot, that's the story I want to tell."

The same holds true for his latest project, a love story entitled Siargao, which he admits is the "most fun" he's ever had on set.


Like a Paid Vacation
The film's journey to the big screen began about two years ago, when Soriano was approached by friends and Siargao's local government to make a movie there. "Those were the magic words. It's almost like a paid vacation, di ba?" He says.

The story was developed for a year, and scriptwriter Anj Pessumal even went as far as to live on the island for a couple of weeks to understand the vibe and culture, and get to know the locals.


The film now stars Jericho Rosales, Erich Gonzales, and Jasmine Curtis-Smith in a love triangle of sorts. Jericho plays Diego, a musician who gets tired of the hectic Manila life and decides to fly back home to Siargao. On the plane ride, he meets Laura (Gonzales), who is still reeling from a bad breakup and is hoping the picturesque island could be a distraction. Their stories intersect with Curtis-Smith's character, who also happens to be Diego's childhood friend and first love.

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Soriano tells us that he's been good friends with Rosales for years and although they've always had plans to work together, the right project never came until now. "He was my first and top choice [for the role]," he admits. "I wouldn't have known who else to cast if he wasn't available."


He adds that this is the first time he's ever worked with Gonzales ("I've always wanted to work with her") and he was thrilled to work with Curtis-Smith as a director after being her producer for Transit ("She takes her craft very seriously and it really shows in the movie").

After assembling the rest of his cast, which also includes Luke Landrigan, Roxanne Barcelo, and Wil Dasovich, the TEN17P crew jet off to Siargao to shoot for six weeks on location during the summer. They also flew back in July to film the surfing scenes. "The hardest thing about Siargao was actually having to work," Soriano admits with a laugh.


And for a curious Siargao newbie who has never stepped foot on the island, the movie helpfully highlights everything you need to know, from majestic surfing spots like Cloud 9 and Jacking Horse to must-see places like Daku Island and Guyam Island.

Third Time's the Charm
This isn't the first time Soriano has tried his luck in the Metro Manila Film Festival. As with any other independent production company, it hasn't been easy. He previously submitted two films to the festival and didn't get in. "Third timeâs the charm for TEN17P," he adds with a smile.


Siargao was initially submitted to the Finished Script category, but failed to make the cut. Although Soriano had plans to release the movie for summer 2018, they took the plunge and tried their hand at the Finished Films category. "Who doesn't want to be a part of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF)? You get the biggest Filipino audience for two straight weeks," he says.

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When asked how he feels about the infamous " first day-last day" MMFF rule where less-profitable entries are pulled from cinemas without warning, Soriano remains optimistic. "I just hope that the cinema owners will give all eight entries a chance and a fair share of cinemas all throughout," he answers. "I'm all about story first, and the next would be the financial success. I want all my films to make money so I can make more; thatâs kind of the whole purpose." He adds, "Not all my films have financially made it, but I'm proud of each and every one of them."

He admits that he's just grateful for the opportunity to open to a much wider audience than what he is used to. "I'm excited because it's the first time where one of my films will hopefully be watched by a lot of people. Most of my films have a niche audience," he says. "Siargao is my first film to really embody the true essence of a wider audience [and] hopefully, the curiosity surrounding [the island] as an 'It Destination' will draw people to watch."

A Love for Siargao
As much as his film will likely draw plenty of tourists to the island, he also hopes that it can promote the preservation of Siargao. The studio even released an advocacy video where the stars of the film encourage visitors to leave no traces. "Hopefully, we won't make the same mistakes that other islands have made and we can preserve the true identity of Siargao."


Siargao is filled with sun-kissed cinematography and beautiful people, but more than its eye candy, the movie is clearly personal to Soriano. For one, he tells us that he's been going to the island for years, even going as far as building a resort there and flying there just to write and conceptualize future projects.

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"What I love about Siargao is that it's a very quiet place, if you choose it to be. My industry, like other professions, can be very hectic and when I go [to Siargao], it reminds me of who I really am and allows me to be quiet and really listen to myself," he explains. "Siargao is an escape, the same way its namesake is an escape film."


It's a concept that permeates the handful of characters that fill its laid-back and breathtaking scenery, and Soriano hopes it's a message that will resonate with audiences, too.

"Sometimes, you need to escape to find yourself. Or you need to lose yourself to find yourself. And sometimes, you need to do something you've never done before to be able to do the things you love to do," says Soriano. "I want people to go back to that placeâa sanctuary, a refuge, whatever it isâwhere they can really listen to themselves. Find that Siargao in your life."

This story originally appeared on Spot.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Aimee Dacanay for Spot.ph
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