From Justice League to Trese: Why Fil-Am Showrunner Jay Oliva Was Still Nervous to Take on The World of Trese
One week after its release, Trese is No. 1 on Netflix Philippines’ rankings. Since its debut, it’s breached the top 10 Netflix TV show charts in 19 countries. This global impact was unexpected to say the least, but Trese’s Filipino-American showrunner and executive producer Jay Oliva is no stranger to international attention.
Fans of the DC animated and cinematic universes have known who Oliva is for over a decade. The artist behind most of your favorite DC animated movies—and a frequent collaborator of Zack Snyder—Oliva was instrumental in shaping the DC animated universe. In the role of director, Oliva has gifted DC fans with Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 & 1, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War, Justice League Dark, and much, much more.
With such an impressive resume, Oliva brought over 20 years of experience to the table when he joined Netflix’s Trese production, but even he was nervous taking on such a beloved universe, not to mention being the first person to adapt the comics to the screen versus working on DC or Marvel IPs that have already been established.
“It was a little terrifying because with Batman and all the other characters, there's been a ton of versions, so if I messed up, there's always other versions that people can still point back to it like, ‘Well, I like this one better’,” joked Oliva. “For [Trese], it's been great that KaJo and Budjette have held it close to their chest, in terms of like, no one else has done versions of Trese. So, for me to do it. It was a little scary.”
In his previous work with DC, Oliva built on characters that had already been adapted, and even explored live-action storyboarding. In 2013, Oliva collaborated with Snyder to storyboard his first live-action feature film, which was none other than Man of Steel, and went on to work as the storyboard artist for Snyder’s other DCEU films: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. Before his years at Warner Bros. working on DC’s IP, Oliva worked with Marvel and Lionsgate to direct The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. He’s even worked with Disney on a Winnie-the-Pooh series, a child-friendly animated show that’s as far from his Rated-R DC films. Now that’s range.
But Trese still presented a whole new challenge for the veteran storyboard artist and director.
“I remember telling my art director, Jojo [Aguilar], when we were on the plane—I turned to him and I was like, ‘If we mess this up, we won't be able to show our faces again in Manila.’ They’ll be like, ‘You messed up Trese!’” joked Oliva.
Despite his all of experience dealing with DC fans, he was still conscious of the fans who have followed the komiks since the first issue was published in 2005.
“I know there's going to be purists who say, ‘they didn't follow the comic.’ I'm used to them because I adapted a lot of Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman projects before,” shared Oliva. “But because this is something from the Philippines and something that I really hold close to my heart, I was like, I have to represent for the Filipinos.”
And represent he did. Trese and Philippine mythology have now gone global, with viewers from the U.S.A. to the U.A.E. and reviews coming in from international outlets—something atypical for a Filipino production. Just a week after its release, Trese has evolved into a point of pride for Filipinos who can know show non-Filipino friends and neighbors the diversity and complexity of Filipino mythology.
“It didn't really hit me how important the show would be until we started doing the press junkets and I realized that this is taking Filipino mythology and folklore to a bigger stage,” said Oliva.
What’s next for Jay Oliva?
After leaving Warner Bros. in 2017, Oliva went on to open his own animation studio, Lex and Otis, in 2018. It's the first and only Filipino-owned animation studio in Hollywood. He's also worked on the storyboards of Snyder’s zombie epic Army of the Dead, which is now streaming on Netflix, and upcoming Lebron James-led film Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Following the completion of the first season of Trese, Oliva will executive produce Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, an upcoming anime show on Netflix that will act as the prequel to Army of the Dead. He’s also set to produce Twilight of the Gods, another Netflix anime series that will reimagine Norse mythology.
But the project we’re most excited to see him take on? Trese. Season 2.
Trese is now streaming on Netflix.
Don't forget to subscribe to the Esquire Philippines YouTube channel.
Esquire Philippines is now on Quento.