IN THE thick of the pandemic, IdeaFirst, the production company behind the successful LGBTQ-themed films Die Beautiful (2016) and The Panti Sisters (2019), has dipped its hands into producing web series. The result? Gameboys, which is about two boys finding love and companionship despite seeing each other only virtually thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. It is the country’s first boys love (BL) series.

The series, directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal, will span 10 episodes (eight have already been released) and follows the story of Cairo (Kokoy de Santos) and Gavreel (Elijah Canlas) who meet each other while playing a popular mobile game. The episodes run between 10 to 27 minutes and were shot remotely. Each episode released so far has garnered an average of 500,000 views, with the pilot episode surpassing a million views.

Boys Love or BL is a genre depicting a love story between two men. The genre was first introduced in Japan by way of manga (comics) and anime.

While the show’s creators admitted that the show was inspired by the success of other BL series, especially 2Gether The Series whose episodes are also on YouTube, Mr. Payawal said that they wanted to do a BL series “the way Filipinos tell their stories.”

“Direk Jun Lana called me and shared his idea of making a BL series set in this time of pandemic,” Mr. Payawal told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview. “Direk Jun was really excited about the idea about doing a BL series in the country because apparently, there was none at the time that is classified in this genre. Why not make a BL series the way Filipinos tell stories?”

Many credited the success of the Thai romantic comedy 2gether to people looking for things to watch while stuck in quarantine, and Mr. Payawal agreed. He said that Gameboys came out “at a time where people are looking for an escape but at the same time can be able to relate with the times.”

“I believe they were looking for a story that mirrors their own experiences in this time of pandemic,” he added.

Gameboys is ultimately about love overcoming all boundaries — even physical ones set by our new reality,” Jun Robles Lana, the show’s executive producer, said in a statement.

“It is about two people who find each other at a time when they can only connect with one another virtually. I think that is what makes it so resonant with audiences around the world. We want to believe that you can still find love and companionship even in the middle of a pandemic,” he explained.

The success of Gameboys isn’t only local as a cursory look at the series’ comment section shows it has viewers from Europe, the US, and South America.

Aside from being a successful pandemic series, the series also makes a point about the importance of LBGTQ representation in media.

“People need to see characters that reflect their struggles, their experiences, their wins, their achievements. People should feel that their stories are being told,” Mr. Payawal said.

The success of Gameboys has led its producers to greenlight a movie based on the series, which they are already planning for. A sequel to their family comedy film The Panti Sisters will be planned once “all the chaos is over.”

Gameboys is set — and was shot — during the COVID-19 pandemic and relied mostly on video calls. This, its director said, presented a new challenge and was indicative of how the industry will be while the pandemic rages.

“It’s very challenging doing a series in this state of pandemic because we are all just trying to survive… Shooting Gameboys is another challenge. Since we weren’t allowed to see each other and shoot, we had to adjust to the times and relied very much with technology, the use of the internet, use of Zoom for me and my team to communicate and collaborate,” he said.

The entertainment industry is among the hardest hit in the pandemic, and with movie houses still closed and health and safety regulations making producing a film or TV series more expensive — during the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival digital conference last week, director Jose Javier Reyes posited that the additional health and safety measures will add P2 million to the cost of production — Mr. Payawal said he foresees that fewer films and series will be made.

The decrease is not solely because of the pandemic as the shut down and eventual denial of a franchise for ABS-CBN will also affect how fast the industry will recover since ABS-CBN is one of the two major networks in the country.

“Our means of distribution will surely get affected, which means producers are going to be discouraged to produce content because the truth is, there is a big chance of them not getting their investment back. Sadly, that’s what’s happening now,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean the industry will keel over and die, as Mr. Payawal thinks that a lot of people and production companies are taking the chance to continue producing — with some adjustments.

“Definitely, stories will be different. Probably characters are going to be limited to two or three people in one scene. Stories will be more intimate, I believe. Stories now wouldn’t be so extravagant or would not require big scenes that will require a lot of people because resources and manpower on set will be limited,” he said before adding that regardless of all the concerns, he believes the Filipino storyteller is creative and adaptable.

“[O]ur audience will [also] evolve and adapt to the stories that we will tell in this time,” he said.

Gameboys can be viewed on the IdeaFirst YouTube Channel. — Zsarlene B. Chua