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The unsung, ignored half of the Gallaga-Reyes movies

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“No matter how highly I think of myself, it’s humiliating to be ignored.” — director Lore Reyes, who has been accused of “ruining” Peque Gallaga’s career.

Words GREGORY PAUL Y. DAZA | Photography JOHANN BONA for At East | Jed Root

If you’ve been an avid patron of Pinoy movies since the late 1980s, chances are you’ve seen the words “Directed by Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes” on at least one film you’ve enjoyed. You may have seen these names in the opening credits of the 1988 box-office phenomenon Tiyanak, or perhaps in the second, third, or fourth installments (1990, 1991, and 1992, respectively) of the seemingly immortal Shake Rattle and Roll horror franchise. If adult dramas are more your cup of tea, you may have caught their steamy Ang Kabit Ni Mrs. Montero when it played to packed cinema houses in 1999.

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And though it’s safe to bet that you’ve seen at least one Gallaga-Reyes movie in your lifetime, it’s quite unlikely that you know the unsettling story of how Lore Reyes has been belittled by fellow directors, critics, and showbiz writers all these years. Reyes, who has been legendary filmmaker Peque Gallaga’s co-directing partner since 1985, has been alternately ignored and lambasted by the local movie press and film reviewers since then. There’s no story quite like it, and it may well be the only example of a movie director’s maltreatment by the media and his peers for such a prolonged period, not just in the Philippines, but in the world.

THE HUMILIATION OF BEING IGNORED

At age 62, Lore Reyes has accepted that there’s nothing that can be done about his persecution. But for Peque Gallaga, enough is enough. The director of the landmark films Oro Plata Mata and Scorpio Nights refuses to be silent about what he believes is a consistent and concerted effort to ignore Reyes. Gallaga laments, “It’s only now that I’m being honored and recognized (with lifetime achievement awards) for the work I’ve done—supposedly—that it’s being underlined very deeply that they are NOT willing to grant Lore any credit for the work he has done.”

The 71-year-old Gallaga offers an anecdote as an example of how Reyes is typically ignored: in interview questions about the manananggal and the tiyanak, a Canadian journalist kept referring to the creatures presented in Shake Rattle and Roll as the products of Gallaga’s imagination. Not a mention of Lore Reyes anywhere. Unable to contain his irritation, Gallaga interrupted the interviewer. “I said ‘No! It was Gallaga AND Reyes, okay? Here we go again!’” This sort of oversight is the norm and Gallaga is incensed by the shabby treatment Reyes has been enduring at the hands of critics, cineastes, the movie press, and fellow directors for decades.

He cites a particular critic who has been blogging for years that “Gallaga was ruined when he started making films with Lore Reyes.” Gallaga says this writer has no basis for saying this since he hasn’t visited the directors’ movie sets nor does he know how they work. Reyes, however, isn’t bothered by the blogger as much. “I don’t mind this guy because he writes stupid reviews,” says Reyes. “I’d feel bad if it was someone like Joel David, who writes scholarly reviews and should know better.”

What grates at Reyes is the way he’s treated by reporters at press conferences. He says going to a presscon for a Gallaga-Reyes film is always humiliating because hardly anyone talks to him or asks him a question when Gallaga is present. Though it’s clear in the movie’s poster, trailer, and press releases that the movie is directed by both men, Reyes is routinely ignored.

“It happens even with those who have known me for years,” reveals Reyes. “It’s embarrassing kasi konti lang ang nag-i-interview sa akin. Tinatarayan nga minsan ni Peque yung mga gustong mag one-on-one sa kanya. He’ll tell them, ‘hindi pwede ang one-on-one dahil dalawa ang direktor ng pelikula!’ It ALWAYS happens and it will never stop. No matter how highly I think of myself, it’s humiliating to be ignored. Some writers don’t even make eye contact with me, like they’re saying, ‘You’re of no interest to my readers.’ At the mini presscon for T’yanak, the 2014 reboot), no one asked me a question. I spoke out of turn to be quoted. Mukha akong tanga, walang kumakausap sa akin.”

Movie reviewers also ignore Reyes. “Critics generally tend to drop my name. It might be laziness—they have to type my name—or they simply refuse to acknowledge my contribution,” admits Reyes. A review of the hit sci-fi adventure Batang X (1995) still stings Reyes 20 years later. In the review, the critic praised Peque Gallaga for a scene that Reyes actually directed. Because of many such similarly misinformed pieces, Reyes claims that he stops reading the review if his name is omitted in the first paragraph.

Even Reyes’ fellow directors sometimes treat him like an invisible man. Gallaga narrates that in a meeting for an upcoming film festival, both he and Reyes faced the committee in charge of deciding which films would be given grants. One of the committee members was a well-known, multi-awarded director who is a friend of both Gallaga and Reyes. The director, however, kept talking to Gallaga as if he was the only director of the proposed project. Gallaga had to tell the him, “Excuse me, but you’re forgetting my partner Lore Reyes, who is right here!”

Reyes believes that the root of his maltreatment is colonial mentality, pure and simple. “Puti si Peque, so he must be the more intelligent one,” elaborates Reyes. “I must only be a glorified assistant with the pretentious title of co-director because you look at me and think, Indio.”

“I totally agree that Lore is ignored because of colonial mentality,” says Gallaga, who adds that those who ignore Reyes also do so out of “lazy thinking.” Gallaga explains: “They’ve already labelled Gallaga as an auteur because of Scorpio Nights and Oro Plata Mata and so therefore, there is nobody worthy to team up with him. So why bother explaining or acknowledging Lore’s contribution?”

A CRIPPLE IN NEED OF A PARTNER

Gallaga, in fact, considers Reyes his intellectual superior. Gallaga admits to having struggled with his studies from elementary to his college days. Reyes, on the other hand, was part of the very first batch of students who entered Philippine Science High School (“Pisay”) in 1964 and graduated in June 1969, one month before man walked on the moon. He then enrolled as a National Science Development Board (NSDB) scholar in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, taking Electrical Engineering, though he never graduated. It’s because of Lore’s academic background—“Pisay” for high school, Electrical Engineering in UP—that Gallaga sometimes refers to him as a “scientist.”

In a 2014 interview with UP Diliman MA student Raphael Ramirez (who made a short film about the Gallaga-Reyes collaboration for his Film Historiography class), Gallaga stated that given the chance to do a dream project with Hollywood resources, he’d be more likely to direct a film like the improvisatory ensemble American Hustle while Lore Reyes would devise something like the science-driven, technically complex Gravity.

Their respective choices for a dream project are clues to the inner workings of their creative collaboration, which began 30 years ago. For the record, of the 37 movies Peque Gallaga has directed, 28 of them were co-directed with Lore Reyes. And Reyes is not Gallaga’s assistant director, but a co-director. They are co-directors the way Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins were co-directors of West Side Story the first time the Academy Award for directing was awarded to two co-directors), and the way the Coen brothers were co-directors of the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men.

How and why did this uniquely Pinoy cinematic partnership come about? On December 4, 1984, shortly after dress rehearsals for a Tessie Tomas dinner comedy, Gallaga suffered a heart attack and had to be confined in a hospital. Five weeks later, prior to being officially discharged, Gallaga left the hospital to start filming what would become the notorious Scorpio Nights. Most of the film was set in the cramped room which represented the home of a security guard (Orestes Ojeda) and his wife (Anna Marie Gutierrez). Because he was a heart patient, Gallaga could not be in the same room with his actors—cigarette smoke always hung in the air of the main set—and so he directed the film while lying in a bonbon bed in an adjacent room.

The film’s production manager was Lore Reyes, serving Gallaga for the second time in that capacity. (The first time was on Virgin Forest, a period drama set in 1900 starring the late Miguel Rodriguez and Sarsi Emmanuel.) It was because he was in bad physical shape that Gallaga began thinking of asking someone to co-direct future films with him. “I looked for a partner primarily for help with the physicality of making a movie. I was a cripple and I couldn’t stay awake for 24 hours straight like I used to,” he says. Gallaga approached two close collaborators during the Scorpio Nights shoot- Don Escudero (who passed away in 2011) and Uro de la Cruz—both of whom turned him down.

While filming Unfaithful Wife, in which Reyes was again the production manager, Gallaga asked Reyes if he wanted the job. Reyes immediately said yes. “Of my choices for co-director, Lore was the weakest,” recalls Gallaga. “He didn’t have the dramaturgy that the others (Escudero and de la Cruz) had, which Lore brought up. I said, ‘let’s begin with the Tagalog’ because Lore is amazing with how Filipinos talk (except for the ones from high society).” “Peque said he needed help with the language,” seconds Reyes, “especially the siga terms I was familiar with because I grew up in Caloocan and Manila.”

But even before Gallaga asked Reyes to be his co-director, Reyes was already providing crucial script inputs in the films he was managing for Galllaga. The story for Scorpio Nights for example, is credited to T.E. Pagaspas—a pseudonym for a “brain trust” consisting of Don Escudero, Uro de la Cruz, Reyes and Gallaga that met nightly to work out projects from the angles of plot, character motivation, creative impetus, etc. As Gallaga explains, the T.E. Pagaspas process was “…not just about creating the script, but creating the movie.”

Even before his heart attack, Gallaga was already a fan of artistic collaboration. “My first movie, Binhi was co-directed with Butch Perez. I really enjoy the interplay of making a movie. It’s a great pleasure for an artist, getting people to come together to attack a concept. I do solitary work—painting and writing—but when it came to movies and theater I’m a collaborator. There’s an urge to throw an idea back and forth. It’s how I like making movies. Critics and other directors don’t understand this. Maybe they have a talent that I don’t. I don’t like to work alone.”

With a co-director now on board, Gallaga’s next project—and Reyes’ first as co-director—was Once Upon A Time, an extravagant fantasy comedy adventure starring the late Dolphy. Reyes recalls that Gallaga asked him to write entire sequences because they only had a rough sequence treatment as filming commenced in the summer of 1985. Gallaga also had “scientist” Reyes direct the more technical, time-consuming set-ups that involved visual effects, stop-motion animation, blue screens, and puppets.

Of course, Gallaga didn’t allow Reyes to “hide behind the technicals” forever. Reyes would eventually have to be comfortable directing the actors, since he was a co-director and not just a technical director. And so, Gallaga made Reyes direct Dolphy in the scene where the comedian was shackled to a wall and taunted by a villainous Pen Medina. This didn’t come easy for Reyes, who was completely intimidated by the Comedy King. As Gallaga recalls, “Lore crapped in his pants when I told him he’d have to direct Dolphy.” Reyes, however, survived the experience because Dolphy didn’t treat him like a first-time director. Because of production delays, political upheavals, and even a bomb threat, Once Upon A Timewas finally released on January 4, 1987, the first ever Gallaga-Reyes opus.

It also became apparent to Gallaga early on that Lore had great rapport with young people, an unexpected talent that added another hue to the partnership. “There’s an unwritten rule that action scenes are mine, while heavy drama scenes with the leads are Peque’s,” explains Reyes. “Teenagers and kids are mine by default unless they are Peque’s ‘babies’ (e.g. young actors like Junell Hernando and Jason Salcedo whom Gallaga discovered and was building up in the 1990s). I also take the lead when (the scene) is visual effects heavy because I’m more tech savvy than Peque.” Gallaga agrees, saying, “Actors who needed motivation and ‘monochromatic staccato’ were my job, while the kids were Lore’s.”

Here’s how the work in what became the 1988 box-office sensation Tiyanak was divided, per Gallaga’s recollection: “Most scenes of Monching Christopher and Lotlot de Leon were directed by Lore since Lore was into young love and courtship,” reveals Gallaga. “I was directing Janice de Belen and Mary Walter more.” What most moviegoers don’t realize is that all scenes involving the killer tiyanak—which was portrayed by three puppets (nicknamed Throwjob, Handjob, and Blowjob) and a real live baby girl—were brought to life onscreen by Lore Reyes. “All the tiyanak scenes and the little girl (who played the creature before it transformed into the horrific killer) were Lore’s all the way,” recalls Gallaga. “The stabbing of Mary Walter, her falling down the stairs… that was all Lore.”

Another Gallaga-Reyes box-office bullseye was the sci-fi adventure, Batang X (1995), which Gallaga calls “the first all-out Lore production… his graduation piece.” (Gallaga estimates that 85% of Batang X was directed by Reyes.) Gallaga remembers telling him early in the production, “Lore, Batang X is yours. I’ll just sleep.” Instead of agonizing over Gallaga’s reduced presence, Reyes says he was secretly happy whenever his partner wouldn’t show up for one reason or another. “Masaya ako pag hindi sumisipot si Peque,” says Reyes, “maybe because it was mostly kids and special effects. But when it was Aiko Melendez and Michael de Mesa, Peque directed them.” Indeed, if one reviews Batang X (the whole movie is on YouTube), the main elements that leap off the screen are the kids, the scientific techno-babble, and the many visual effects- all of which are the elements Reyes normally takes charge of.

Jo Macasa, who has been Gallaga and Reyes’ assistant director on every project since Magic Temple, says that aside from Tiyanak and Batang X, the two other films which the directors regularly get complimented on are the fantasy adventures Magic Temple (1996) and Magic Kingdom (1997). Magic Temple was the top-grosser of the 1996 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). To date, it is the only film in the Gallaga-Reyes canon for which they both won a directing prize, as Best Festival Directors of MMFF 1996.

According to Gallaga and Reyes, Temple was a 50-50 directorial split, with both of them contributing equally. Gallaga remembers directing the scene in the temple ruins where the kids (Jason Salcedo, Junell Hernando, and Marc Solis) are menaced by a bloody, decapitated head. The climactic fight in the temple, being an elaborate action sequence, was directed entirely by Reyes. One particularly memorable scene was the rap number which the boys—with Anna Laruccea as the ghost looking for her mortal remains—performed in an underground cave.

The entire scene, including the song’s main lyrics—“Buto kalansay, tabitabi po sa bangkay”—was conceived, written, and shot by Reyes. When Gallaga and Reyes gave a talk to film students at De La Salle University in Taft recently, they were pleasantly surprised to hear the students who attended the lecture singing “buto kalansay” in the corridor as they left the hall.

Magic Kingdom (1997), the fantasy film which introduced Anne Curtis, was another 50-50 split. Gallaga says he shot most of the scenes in the castle interior involving Maricel Laxa as the queen, and the late Mark Gil as her scheming brother. The picturesque shots showing the kids (Jason Salcedo, Junell Hernando, Janus del Prado, Anne Curtis) journeying across the mountains of Baguio and resting near a waterfall were all directed by Reyes because Gallaga’s doctors had forbidden him from climbing stairs. The sexually charged scene where a huge female plant attempts to seduce Junell Hernando—which Gallaga calls “the pedophile masturbation sequence”—was also directed by Reyes.

Following Magic Kingdom, the duo gave moviegoers a mixed bag of offerings among which were the Christmas fairy tale Puso Ng Pasko (1998), the daring Ang Kabit Ni Mrs. Montero (1999), the MMFF horror hit Sa Piling Ng Mga Aswang (1999), and the critically reviled Pinoy/Blonde (2005).

REMEMBER LORE

After an eight-year drought, the pair came back with 2013’s Sonata, a glowing gem that received rapturous reviews. It was the first Gallaga-Reyes film nominated for outstanding direction by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP). The story of an opera singer (Cherie Gil) who has lost her voice and the young boy (Chino Jalandoni) who helps her rediscover her passion for life and for her art, Sonata was filmed in Bacolod in eight days, almost like Regal’s quickie-cheapie pitopito films from the 1990s. Anyone who has seen Sonata, however, would be hard pressed to say that the film looked like a low-budget flick. Its secret? The tried and true Gallaga-Reyes tandem.

Reyes described the filming of Sonata as “very intense but also very rewarding. Everything outside the mansion was his, while Gallaga took command of the scenes in the mansion. Gallaga remembers the process fondly: “We were in full bloom making Sonata and were totally creating.” Because of the tight schedule, Gallaga didn’t even have time to watch the footage that Reyes was shooting and this way okay because of his “total trust” in his partner. “I was especially concentrating on the deterioration of Cherie,” he says. “All the scenes of Cherie and Chino were Lore. The show outside the window… that was dual.”

Gallaga is particularly proud of the softball game he and Reyes co-directed that appears near the end of the film. “There was a lovely chemistry going on,” he recalls. “That softball scene had more than 250 shots and we shot that in three hours. We shot the game and the reactions, pointing the camera at different things in full sunlight. Pinagyayabang namin yan… not many people can shoot that many shots. We were constantly switching cameras. He’d see something I did, like it and make a slight adjustment on his next shot because of what I did, etc. It was like a dance. That’s where the partnership comes in.”

Predictably, however, a couple of the reviews dropped Lore Reyes’ name. What consoles Reyes during such slights are the heartfelt expressions of appreciation and gratitude he and Gallaga regularly get from the students, strangers and fans who grew up watching the more family-friendly Gallaga-Reyes movies. Aside from the film students who sang “Buto Kalansay” after the lecture in DLSU, there are also the many fans who thank the pair for empowering them through their films. There was a mother, for example, who thanked the directors for Magic Temple. It was a film, she wrote, “which has shown us a Filipino superhero who, when he cries, makes flowers grow… I’m glad my son has been exposed to this.”

When it comes to their filmic legacy, the directors have clear ideas of what they want. “I want to be remembered the way Mars Ravelo is remembered. Our work, especially on Philippine lower mythology, is in the consciousness of our people, and it’s not a Hollywood consciousness. Lore and I have somewhat affected Philippine consciousness on a cultural level, hopefully like Ravelo. And in the case of fantasy and horror, the fact that we captured something more atavistic of the Filipino soul is something really important that I don’t think the critics or those who write about Philippine Cinema have acknowledged.”

Reyes echoes Gallaga’s sentiment and adds, “I also want our films to be remembered by the audience as having been directed by two directors. I hope they won’t just remember Gallaga.”

 

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