A depiction of Eya on the cover of 'Diary ng Panget' and Nadine Lustre as the character in the film adaptation. PSICOM/Viva Films
Film adaptation to hit theaters on April 2
MANILA -- The inspiring story behind "Diary ng Panget," its author revealed, isn't that the bestselling book reflects a fairytale-like turn in her life, but that it has opened great opportunities for her since she uploaded the series online.
The 20-year-old student, who prefers to be known only as "Denny" -- this was how she was introduced even at press events -- said "Diary ng Panget" was simply a product of her boredom while at home in Italy.
That it became a huge hit on the online writing community Wattpad, reportedly with over 15 million reads since it was first published in 2011, was something Denny had not expected.
"Diary ng Panget" is just that -- a diary of a girl who believes she is ugly.
The book is written as a journal from the point of view of Eya, a poor but hard-working girl who lands a scholarship at Willford Academy, where the rich and famous study.
Here she meets Chad, who becomes her close friend and whom she helps to get the attention of another new-found friend, Lory. The situation turns complicated, however, when Lory enlists her help to be closer to Cross, the mischievous campus heartthrob who ends up being Eya's employer.
Due to its popularity, "Diary ng Panget" was eventually picked up by PSICOM for publishing in May last year. The print edition had Denny's username on Wattpad, HaveYouSeenThisGirL, as the author credited, and featured a manga-style depiction of Eya on its book cover.
The series' big readership online, it turned out, could translate to sales, as the first of four books became the No. 1 best-seller at National Bookstore during the month of its release.
The book cover of 'Diary ng Panget.' PSICOM
In September 2013, Denny made a stop in Manila to autograph copies of her book at a fair, but promptly returned to Imola in Italy where she currently studies.
But in a twist that Denny initially shrugged off as a joke, PSICOM contacted her about Viva Films' proposal to make a film adaptation of "Diary ng Panget." If she agreed, it meant having to make more trips back to the Philippines.
"Noong una, hindi nga po ako makapaniwala, e. Akala ko, joke lang," she said in an interview on radio DZMM on Tuesday.
How it started
Recalling how she started, stopped, and eventually decided to continue writing "Diary ng Panget," Denny said it never crossed her mind that the fictional journal would end up getting the big-screen treatment.
"Nasa Pilipinas po ako noon, sinulat ko 'yung prologue niya. Then nag-stop po ako, kasi na-adik po ako sa mga online games," she said, laughing. "Noong na sa Italy na ako, binalikan ko 'yung account ko sa forum na pinagsusulatan ko. Nakita ko po, may mga nagbabasa nang kaunti, so na-inspire ako. 'Ah, gusto ko simulan ulit.'"
Asked how writing became her passion, Denny related how as a young girl, she would imagine the continuation of shows that she thought had ended abruptly.
"Noong una po [hindi ako mahilig magsulat]. Kasi noong una po, mahilig lang po talaga ako manood ng anime, noong mga 10 to 13 ako," she said.
"May napanood po ako, gustung-gusto ko siya, tapos bigla siyang nag-end. Sabi ko, 'Gusto ko madagdagan pa.' So inisip ko, sabi ko, 'Bakit kulang? Gusto ko pa talaga.' Inisip ko, bawat gabi, bago ako matulog 'yung continuation! Doon na po siya nag-start."
A decade since, Denny is thrilled with the prospect of sharing her stories to a wider audience, happily with a say in the development of "Diary ng Panget" for the big screen.
Denny (middle) with the lead star of 'Diary ng Panget' (from left) James Reid, Nadine Lustre, Yassi Pressman, and Andrei Paras. Photo from the film's official Facebook page
Viva Films announced its deal with Denny in August, saying it has started work on "Diary ng Panget" under the direction of Andoy Ranay with a screenplay by Mel del Rosario.
Half a year later in February, the cast of the film adaptation was formally introduced. Showbiz newcomer Nadine Lustre was tapped to portray Eya, with "Pinoy Big Brother" winner James Reid clinching the role of Cross. Yassi Pressman and and Andrei Paras were given the roles of Lory and Chad, respectively.
"Actually, ako po 'yung pumili kay Nadine Lustre," Denny said. "Tapos 'yung iba po, sila na po 'yung pumili, pero pinaalam po nila sa akin. Tapos nagustuhan ko naman po sila."
Reid, Denny added, is a perfect fit as Cross. She didn't mind sharing she finds the actor "hot," and even referred to him as her crush in local showbiz.
"Actually, pinakilala po sa akin ng Viva. Sabi ko, 'Okay, ah! Sige, siya na gumanap!' Kasi angguwapo nga po," she said. "Hindi lang po siya guwapo. Bukod sa hot na 'yung katawan niya, may charm pa talaga. Crush ko siya!"
When the first teaser for "Diary ng Panget" hit the web, it only took overnight for it to garner hundreds of thousands of views. As if a testament to the series' number of fans, the full trailer easily got 1.5 million views on YouTube in less than a week.
Leading up to its April 2 release in theaters, "Diary ng Panget" has also become a trending topic on social media, particularly on Twitter where its cast members actively interact with their fans.
Denny, who took a one-month leave from her studies in Italy, has similarly been instrumental in promoting the movie. She has been a constant presence at press events for "Diary ng Panget," granting interviews left and right to share her excitement with the opportunities coming her way.
She is only happy with the apparent trend of books being adapted for the big screen, noting that a friend of hers also recently landed a deal with ABS-CBN's Star Cinema for the film version of "She's Dating the Gangster." (The romantic-comedy will star Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla.)
Prior to "Diary ng Panget," other movie adaptations of books -- "Bakit Hindi Ka Crush Ng Crush Mo?" and "ABNKKBSNPLAKo?!" -- also had high-profile runs early this year.
Already with four published books to her name, Denny said she is planning to write more stories in the coming years, and for a change, it will not be out of boredom.