When the movie “Hotshots” came out in August of 1984, it was expected to get a good fraction of the success “Bagets” earned earlier that year. After all, it had three of the “Bagets” actors in its cast. Add the hottest young male singer of the period to the mix—how can it not be a hit?
But for the then 28-year old Jeric Soriano, getting the gig as director of a movie was already a dream come true. It took a loooong time for the kid to get there.
If the young Jeric was under the influence of the magic movies make, it was perfectly understandable. He is the son of ‘50s icon and LVN actor Nestor de Villa, or Gines Francisco Soriano in real life. Unlike his father, though, Jeric wanted a job behind the camera. “I’ve always wanted to be a film director. That was my dream. I was a 20 year old boy and I said, my gosh, I want to be a director. It was a passion,” the now 64-year old recalls.
So the young man set a goal for himself. “When I’m 24, I should do my first film. I did not do my first film but I did my first commercial.”
Frustrated, he moved his deadline to four years later. Meanwhile, he continued working behind the scenes in the movies, doing production assistant duties for Marilou Diaz Abaya before moving on to the great Lino Brocka. He worked as the latter's assistant director for seven years, in films like “Bona,” “Angela Markado,” and “Kontrobersyal,” even appearing as an actor “for about five seconds” in the Gabby Concepcion-starrer “Burgis.”
While awaiting his break, the assistant director was approached one day by Lino’s famed lighting director Conrado Baltazar. He suggested they put up a film equipment rental business, and it sounded to Jeric like a good idea. They flew to L.A. to acquire second hand cameras, tripods, and lights, and soon after opened JB Film Services in Manila. Jeric even invested in a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite. It was all well and good. He was still chasing after his dream—and he took comfort in the thought these investments would serve him well when the right time came.
“I remember Lino Brocka always told me,” Jeric recalls. “‘You know, Jeric, the thing with movies is you don’t approach the producer to do a movie, they approach you. So you just be good at what you’re doing today and one day the phone will ring.”
So the young man continued working for Lino, even cutting trailers for his movies which, Jeric says, is a lot like putting together one’s own film: you choose the clips, you have the actors dub their lines, you score it and put it through post-production. “I was learning the ropes of making a movie,” he says, recalling his realization.
One fine day, the phone finally rang. Jeric picked it up, and there was Vic Del Rosario on the other line.
“Jeric, this is Vic del Rosario,” said the Viva Films boss.
“Yes, sir, how can I help you?"
“Well, I have a script here that requires a movie director. Would you like to meet with me? I want to hire you as a director for this movie.”
No matter how he may have wished it then, Jeric was not in a position to dictate the kind of film he wanted for a debut. Boss Vic demanded a musical. He wanted an offshoot of “Bagets.” Which is most likely why the cast is made up of almost the same actors: Aga Muhlach, Herbert Bautista, and Raymond Lauchengco.
The script by Jose Javier Reyes was already complete, too—which is to say it was only waiting for Jeric to choose where to drop the “musical” portions in. It fell on his lap to figure out how to go about making the characters, in the middle of a scene, burst into song.
But back to that meeting. Jeric knew his place in the movie-making world. He was not yet what you would call, well, a hotshot. So when he met with the Viva Films executive producer, he immediately said yes. “Sure, I’ll make that film for you.” He even made Boss Vic a brave promise. “What I can do for you, Mr. del Rosario, is I can make you the best musical you’ll ever have.”
And that’s exactly what Jeric Soriano gave Vic Del Rosario.
Not a stranger
When Viva hired Jeric, it didn’t only hire a director; it hired his crew and his equipment. It hired his company. “I was not foreign in that set. I knew the people. I knew the cameramen,” recalls Jeric of the “Hotshot” environment. “It worked out really well. I wasn’t scared.”
The confidence showed onscreen. “Hotshots,” even now, does not look like the work of a newbie second-guessing his moves. The story may have been a bit too lightweight for some people, the script a little predictable, but the bagito director gave it the pizzazz it needed. He gave it the youthful polish and style not exhibited by any other director in those days. He made it visually exciting, throwing in fantasy and animation to the pot, and action and adventure. He made eating at Jollibee look cool. He put the film together with the assuredness of a veteran, making the original material, in more ways than one, sing.
But even before the project was completed, Jeric had already actually won the Big Boss’s trust. “Producers like to see film rushes, di ba? We would have to provide rushes,” says the director, starting a story. Jeric’s predicament at that time was that he needed more film for the movie than what was budgeted. “It wasn’t enough. If they said your film stock is 25 rolls per movie, I needed ten more rolls!” he recalls.
It just so happened Boss Vic was due to watch rushes at the post-production house, Magnatech Omni. “I said to my editor, let us not make him watch rushes. Let us make him watch first edits.”
Which turned out to be the best idea. “How can you watch a musical in rushes? That’s crazy. So we cut those musical portions and we presented it to Mr. del Rosario. Mr. del Rosario was sitting there in Magnatech and he did not know I was at the very back row. We previewed the edits. After it was all over, I saw Mr. del Rosario stand up, and he said to his boys, ‘You know this Soriano guy, you give him what he wants ha.'”
And that’s how Jeric got his “ten more rolls.”
Working with the actors turned out to be a breeze. “They were all as excited about making the movie as I was,” he says. Gary, who was being introduced in the film, was a lot like his director: a confident first-timer. It helped that the singer was partly playing himself: a sought-after recording star whose fans just couldn’t get enough of their idol. “Gary was very accommodating,” remembers Jeric. “He could deliver his lines, he could emote. Show biz was second nature to this guy. Walang break-in break-in.” Besides, they weren’t exactly making a Lino Brocka movie, Jeric adds, laughing.
Aga Muhlach played himself, too: the handsome, baby-faced charmer who could get any girl he wanted. “He was a lady killer, that’s for sure,” Jeric recalls of watching Aga on the set. “The fans were crazy. Every time we have a shoot we have to move fans here and there.” Jeric describes the 15-year old Aga as a young boy who loved music. “He wanted to dance. He was just full of energy. All the ladies were crazy over this guy. With one snap of his finger, he could get any of those girls, but he kept his distance. He was very professional about it.”
Jeric remembers Herbert to be the comedian in the group. Unlike the Aga character, his was the one who didn't get the girls. He lives in a house as old as his doting grandparents and finds comfort in his room full of exotic animals. While shooting, Jeric wouldn’t exactly find Herbert's jokes funny himself but he let the guy tell his punchlines—which would turn out to be the smart choice. Herbert’s ad libs, Jeric later realized, killed inside the movie houses.
Of Raymond, the director remembers the melancholy songs, the serious actor whose roots was in theater. Raymond played the talented composer who needed to keep his musician dreams a secret from his father—who wanted a more practical pursuit for his son.
“Jeric was a perfectionist,” says Raymond. “Shooting took longer than usual because he shot [the movie] like he was shooting a glossy TVC. I liked Jeric very much because he was finicky but very nice. He knew what he wanted and didn’t stop until he got it. We both spent a lot of time talking about technical things like cinematography and lighting for film. I liked that.”
The singer says shooting the fantasy sequence featuring the song “Shadow of Time” at Hundred Islands, Pangasinan was a memorable moment. “It was filmed on a sand bar out in the sea. The scene called for a white baby grand piano so the production design team made one. All went well until the tide started to rise, and so did the prop piano. You’ll see a lot of close ups and medium shots in that scene because the bottom parts of our bodies were already underwater.”
The calling card
While Jeric worked well with his actors, it was really working with his crew that brought him joy. It's also what he remembers best about being in the “Hotshots” set. Lino Brocka taught him to value the people he worked with. “He did not show me how to make a movie. He showed me how to work behind the scenes with your crew and your people," Jeric explains. "You care for them. They are as important as your stars.” He gives special mention to the great cinematographer Rody Lacap who he says is both easygoing and a gentleman.
There are two compliments Jeric will always remember after the movie finally hit theaters. First, people were calling the film "five years ahead of its time." MTV had only become really big that year, and already here’s this neophyte letting it inform his film language—and yet was still able to make his film look innovative.
The second compliment was a little indirect. And just like the time he was first offered to helm a movie, this one came via a phone call. Make that many phone calls. “Advertising agencies started to call me and say, ‘You know, Jeric, that scene you had with Aga in that bathroom, can we do something like that for our project?’ ‘You know that scene in the carpark with Jobelle [Salvador, the love interest of Gary in the film] can we do a shampoo commercial na parang gano'n?’”
Long story short, his first movie would be Jeric Soriano’s last. It would, however, also open a new career for him. The film would prove to be a great calling card for his foray into the advertising world. The world that would pull the guy in and would not let go. "Hotshots" would clearly inspire the visuals of his two landmark achievements in the world of TVCs—Palmolive’s “I Can Feel It” ad and Sarsi’s “Angat sa Iba” ad—two of the most iconic commercials in Philippine advertising history, two little "Hotshots" which would in turn help influence the neon-bright aesthetics of its time.
[The digitally-enhanced 'Hotshots' premieres tonight, Saturday, on PBO.]