When film director Marla Ancheta began shooting the Netflix Original “Doll House,” her only hope was that viewers would like the film. She knew they have a beautiful story and message to share. They had the scenic Rotterdam for a backdrop. She had an amazing cast led by the immensely gifted actor Baron Geisler and a winsome little girl who could melt anyone’s heart.
But the director of “Finding Agnes” and “Ikaw” didn’t expect her third feature film to skyrocket to the No. 1 spot on Netflix’s Top Movies in the Philippines list only two days after its premiere. Amid a wealth of K-dramas and Hollywood films on the platform, her little movie found its audience, and “Doll House” claimed the No. 1 spot in the streaming platform for a good 10 days. It also made it to Number 17 on Netflix’s Top Movies list worldwide.
When Ancheta saw the rankings, she posted the good news on her Facebook page and tagged all her actors and staff. “Sobrang grateful ako sa viewers, lalo na mga kababayan natin worldwide. Sila talaga yan,” says the UP Film Institute alumna who’s still over the moon with her film’s success.
Even Geisler himself didn’t expect “Doll House” to become a massive hit. “I believe I've been saying this so many times na si God lang talaga ang nag-o-orchestrate ng lahat ng ito, lahat ng biyaya,” he told Teleradyo. “Kung walang suporta sa kababayans natin here in the Philippines and abroad—kasi nag-top 10 tayo in 10 different countries. I owe it all sa kababayans natin there...Ibinabalik ko po ang lahat ng honor, praise kay God sa lahat ng blessings na ito. Maraming salamat sa mga Kapamilya natin out there.”
“Dolll House” is a tearjerker with a father-daughter bond at its center. The film revolves around Rustin (Geisler), a musician battling drug addiction, who wants to reconnect with his daughter Yumi (Althea Ruedas), whom he left in the Netherlands. It is, no doubt, Geisler’s movie, and his colleagues in the entertainment industry have been very generous in their praise for the actor. Paolo Contis and Aga Muhlach have even posted messages of congratulations and admiration for Geisler’s performance on social media.
Based on Ancheta’s recollection, the story idea for “Doll House” was first brought up by actress Faye Lorenzo to MAVX Film Productions CEO Erwin “Lucky” Blanco during the shooting of the movie “Ikaw” in Bicol in February of 2021. It revolved around a child recalling the beautiful memories she shared with her father. Shortly after wrapping up “Ikaw,” Blanco developed the story with writer Rona Lean Sales. When Blanco got Ancheta on board for the project, the script was already made.
“It was Lucky who suggested Baron for the role. Tinawagan niya ako, ano daw ang tingin ko kay Baron [for ‘Doll House’],” Ancheta recalls to ANCX. Without any hesitation, the director said, “Ay, go!” Knowing Geisler would play the lead role got her even more excited to do the project. She’s aware of the setbacks the actor had gone thru in the past, yes, but Ancheta says she saw them as an opportunity for him to realistically play Rustin. “Mas malalim ang hugot kumbaga,” she tells us.
“Naisip ko na pwede niyang gamitin [ang mga pinagdaanan niya sa buhay] as motivation and inspiration for the role. Naisip ko, mas may mako-contribute siya for the character, kung paano ito i-develop at i-improve. True enough yun nga ang nangyari. Marami siyang naibigay sa character,” adds Ancheta who’s been working as a commercial director since 2008. She’s done TVCs for Coke, Ariel, BPI, Cebu Pacific, Palmolive, Ceelin, and Colgate. In the 2000s, she directed music videos for the likes of Rico Blanco, Moonstar88, Bamboo, Mayonnaise, Up Dharma Down, Hale, and Nina.
It was Ancheta’s first time to be working with Geisler, so they really started out on a fresh slate. “Wala akong bitbit na issues or anything. First time tayong magwo-work, eto yung concept, focus lang tayo sa story natin, sa role mo at sa kung ano ang pwede mong ibigay as an actor,” she recalls telling the actor in the beginning.
After their initial meeting to discuss the script, Geisler, who’s based with his family in Cebu, would update Ancheta how he’d been preparing for the role. “To help him internalize his character, Baron took workshops in Cebu and he would send me videos. He would even update me about his diet. Nakakatuwa.”
It was in November 2021 when Ancheta and company flew to Rotterdam to make the movie. The setting proved as poignant as the story. “Yung itsura ng lugar, even the season na ang lamig bumagay sa kuwento,” the director says. “I know that it will help convey the message, kasi ang lungkot ng story kahit masaya ang moments nilang mag-ama. Malaking bagay ang backdrop sa theme.”
The 43-year-old director is grateful for the cooperation of the film’s cast and crew, which made it possible for them to finish the shoot in a short period of time. “Everyone’s very professional. Especially Baron,” offers Ancheta. “Seryoso [si Baron]. On time yan lagi. Walang antayang nagaganap sa set. Pag shoot na, seryoso talaga kaming lahat. Walang playtime o chikahan time. Pag nag-uusap kami sa set, it’s more of ano ang magiging atake niya sa next scene. Yung chikahan, nangyayari na lang sa service pag pauwi na.”
Ancheta was well aware of Geisler’s capabilities as an actor, so she only needed to guide him on the kind or level of intensity required in a particular scene, or rein him in where necessary. Their relationship was very collaborative. “Si Baron kasi may sarili siyang [acting] method. Kanya na yun, technical na yun e. Pero pag nasa shoot, ang basis lang naman ng emosyon is his character. Although minsan sinusundutan ko siya ng, ‘Baron, alam mo na to ha. Pinagdaanan mo yan. Hugutin mo yan, gamitin natin yan sa eksena.’”
Her favorite parts in the movie, says Ancheta, are the scenes of Rustin and Yumi. The child actress was a finalist in Little Miss Philippines and previously starred in the movies “Silly Red Shoes” and “The Haunted.”
“Favorite ko talaga kapag sila ni Yumi ang magkasama sa scene kasi most of the time pinapabayaan ko silang maglaro,” she offers. There would be scenes when Ancheta and Geisler purposely wouldn’t tell Ruedas what to do or how to react. “Para kung matawa yung bata sa eksena, at least natural siyang lalabas. Ganun yung nangyari sa mga montage scenes nila, natural ang tawa ni Althea doon. Totoong nag-e-enjoy siya.”
For the most part, what made the making of the film challenging was the unpredictable weather in the Netherlands. There were times when it would be sunny for an hour, then hail or rain would drop the next. “Ang lamig-lamig dun. Pag aarte ang artista, nakikita mong nanginginig sila. Lalo na si Althea. Yung scene na naglalakad sila sa swan lake, napakalamig nun,” the director recalls.
They braved the Rotterdam cold and what they got in return was the warmest reception from audiences from different parts of the world. Ancheta says that if this is indeed Geisler’s second wind, as what many people say, it’s because the actor deserves it. Her only wish is for him to relish the moment and for there to be more meaningful projects to come his way as well as for the rest of the film’s cast and crew.