In 2008, Direk Mark Meily went two for two as Best Director in the Metro Manila Film Festival with “Baler”. His feature film debut “Crying Ladies” had also won the major categories of the filmfest in 2003 and went on to win more awards in the Gawad Urian, FAMAS, and Film Academy of the Philippines.
But despite the 34 awards, including four best director awards for himself, “Baler” had harvested from the country’s most prestigious award-giving bodies, Mark Meily swore he would never do another historical film again.
“Wala na kong ginawang tama dun,” he exclaimed to InterAksyon as he recalled the backlash that also arose as a result of the film’s controversial casting of Jericho Rosales as a Spanish soldier and Anne Curtis as his native Filipina love interest.
Despite being stung by the criticism, Meily said he enjoyed doing “Baler”, particularly in the early pre-production stages when he pitched the project to Baler native Senator Edgardo Angara who was more than enthusiastic to get it made.
So when Jeorge “E.R.” Estregan approached him to do “El Presidente” after his second choice, Mario O’ Hara (“Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio”), also didn’t pan out, the director found himself being challenged by the project.
“Actually, the film had a 350-page script that was intended for the country’s Centennial Celebration in 1998 but that script was not the basis for this movie,” Meily revealed. “When Nora Aunor arrived, the original director, Tikoy Aguiluz, had shot her scenes for four days based on vignettes, not a working script but they needed to shoot Nora before her scheduled throat operation.”
As a result of the much ballyhooed falling out between E.R. and Aguiluz as a result of the former’s efforts to have “Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story” reshot and re-edited without the director’s permission, the two could no longer work together for “El Presidente”, their next scheduled project.
By the time Meily was brought on board, E.R. was still looking for a scriptwriter. “They asked me to bring in the writers that I want to work with but the ones I recommended were too busy, wala kaming makuha so I decided to write the screenplay myself and do all the necessary research.”
Unlike “Baler” which was a fictionalized love story set against a historical backdrop, Meily said the screenplay for “El Presidente” needed to be more factual, more accurate mainly because the characters are not just real people but a good number of them are in fact recognized as national heroes.
“Hindi ka pwedeng mag-imbento sa ganitong klaseng pelikula. After we finished the film, I can confidently say that 95 percent of what you’ll see in the screen is accurate to what really happened”, he declared.
Meily particularly remembers what “E.R.” himself told him before the start of the project: “Pag may questions ka, puntahan mo lang ang puntod ni Aguinaldo.”
“Three months later, pinuntahan ko ‘yung puntod and said, ‘General, ano ba ang gusto mong gawin ko sa pelikula n’yo? I heard a voice told me, ‘Salamat’. I guess that’s his way of thanking me for honoring him on film.”
“The approach that I wanted for this film is similar to ‘The Godfather’ where in addition to Emilio Aguinaldo that E.R. plays, pivotal characters like Antonio Luna (Christopher De Leon) and Andres Bonifacio (Cesar Montano) will also be tackled along with important, crucial events like the Tejeros Convention.”
Next: The conflict with Bonifacio