'Jowable' director Darryl Yap courts controversy anew with LGBT online series

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 06 2020 11:58 AM | Updated as of Jun 06 2020 09:38 PM

Director Darryl Yap. Handout

MANILA -- Thirty-three-year-old director Darryl Yap, who made his mainstream directorial debut in 2019 with the box-office hit “Jowable,” starring Kim Molina, is no longer new to facing controversies when it comes to his work.

In “Jowable,” Yap readily answered to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) because of an altar scene that showed Molina holding a bottle of beer.

Yap’s new, eight-part series, “Sakristan,” is again laden with controversies even before the series debuted online last May 31.

Already, Yap pointed out there has been a strong smear campaign against him, especially with the release of “Sakristan.” He has been tagged as “pedophile” by bashers on social media.

There was even a petition filed by certain religious groups branding “Sakristan” as a serious offense to the teachings of the CBCP. The said petition tagged “Sakristan” as a film that promotes “homosexuality.”

Yet, Yap refuses to be thwarted by all the negative and malicious allegations.

“I’m ready for the backlash,” Yap told ABS-CBN News. “It’s just a matter of standing firm on your ground. If I don’t value the opinion of the ones who have been saying nasty things about my work, that means those people are not important to me. I’m not affected anymore. Those who get mad only bring negative attention to what you created.”

“Sweet, scandalous, sincere” is how Yap described “Sakristan” in his Facebook post. The new series was inspired by Thailand’s popular “Boys’ Love” (BL) stories.

“I’ve been reading the stories in the BL series and that was how ‘Sakristan’ came about,” Yap said. “I was asking myself what were the other aspects where two individuals in love might have a conflict and I was convinced religion is one of them.”

Clifford Pusing (front) and John Henry Villanueva in 'Sakristan.' Handout

“Boys’ Love” is a genre in fictional media that tackles the romantic relationship between two male characters. The trend started in Japan, where it was dubbed as “Yaoi” or “Boys’ Love.” Today, BL is also popular in Thailand, China, South Korea and Taiwan.
 
“The conflict in this BL series is that the church does not approve of the relationships between two male individuals,” Yap explained. “The script can talk about society accepting gays and falling in love with fellow gays. The church will definitely not accept it that there are gays who want to be good persons, despite the temptations.”

“Sakristan” is Yap’s audacious attempt to break the conservative norms of Philippine social media.

“A brave attempt of a Filipino filmmaker/online creator to break the conservative grounds of Philippine social media as he tackles Boys Love in a Catholic country,” Yap said in his Tweet prior to the start of the “Sakristan” shoot early May.

“This is not heavy drama,” Yap said. “A Catholic may be in love with an Iglesia Ni Cristo. Or one male is secretly in love with another male. Everybody deserves to love and be loved. Believe me, even girls can appreciate the story.”

Shot in Olongapo, Yap’s actual hometown, “Sakristan” finished its first two episodes while the city was in general community quarantine (GCQ) phase.

“When I learned that Olongapo was declared in GCQ because of the zero-COVID case, I gathered everyone who would work in the series,” Yap said. “From my apartment in Mandaluyong, I pulled out everything that we needed for the shoot in Olongapo. We started on May 15 and finished two episodes by May 29.”

Fortunately, Yap’s lead actors, Clifford Pusing and John Henry Villanueva, are both residents of Olongapo. His supporting cast all hailed from the city, too. “I only needed to bring in a few young actors from Manila to be in the series,” Yap said. “We rented an apartment. Some even came with their parents. They all stayed in the apartment during the shoot.”

John Henry Villanueva (left) and Clifford Pusing (right) in 'Sakristan.' Handout

Yap insisted his staff and the small production crew of less than 10 people strictly followed the norms in the quarantine period. They observed all the protocols while shooting.

The Catholic Church does not need to worry, too, about lewd or steamy scenes in the series. That was consciously observed not to happen throughout the shooting.

The story of “Sakristan” is “brave and liberating,” as Yap described it. 

“I’m known for being irreverent and edgy,” said Yap. “In the first three minutes of the series, you will instantly feel the theme that’s going to be tackled.”

The parents of his lead actors initially said no to certain scenes in the script. Yet, after Yap explained to them what would actually happen, they relented and gave their nod.

“The length of the quarantine period, I finished the script of the eight episodes,” Yap said. “The script of ‘Sakristan’ is far better than ‘Jowable.’ Nagka-quarantine ako dahil sa ‘Sakristan.’ I’m proud of this one.”

A Mass Communications graduate from the Centro Escolar University, Yap started doing short films only in 2017. He has been fortunate to receive grants and awards from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Film Development Council of the Philippines and Formosa Festival of International Filmmaker Awards, North Luzon Cinema Guild, Inc., Davao Ngilngig Festival and Cine Sambal.

“Sakristan’ is the journey of two young men in an online series that will make us question our notions of sacrifice, faith and the limitless power of the heart,” Yap said.

In the series, Pusing plays Zachary Vigo or Zach, who is ordered by the school board to become an altar server as a punishment for an offense he committed and to keep him away from other mischief. A triathlete but failing in academics, Zach is assigned as the sheep of the head of shepherds, Christian. 

Villanueva is Christian Cordero, an achiever in every way of his student life. He has been crowned Prom King, Mr. Nutrition Month, Ginoong Agham, Mr. Sportsfest, Campus King and even became president of the altar servers.

Villanueva previously appeared in “Perstaym Taympers” and “Cheating,” both works of Yap. Villanueva also plays a bit part in Yap’s upcoming film, “Tililing.” He is a theater actor from Olongapo’s independent theater company, Sawakas (Sa Aming Wagi ang Kultura at Sining) and a product of a Catholic school.

Villanueva played the lead in “Meteor Garden Reimagined” and “Super Gapo.” His passion for his craft led the director to entrust him with the lead role in “Sakristan.”

Pusing, meanwhile, got the role of Zach because he is a triathlete in real life, just like his character in the series. Pusing recently won three gold medals for the athletic events in the Prisaa Regional Meet 2020. His other achievements include IronKids champion in Davao City and 2018 medalist in Subic International Triathlon, medalist in 2018 National Age Group.

“Clifford was recommended to me by sports people,” said Yap. “I brought him and John Henry together to work in this series.”

“It is not a requirement for the actors in the series to be gays or bisexual,” Yap clarified. “I needed a moreno actor and triathlete to play the roles. There’s intimacy and man-to-man love. The story is not exclusive to gays only.”

An original series released by Viva Films, “Sakristan” has been screening the VinCentiments YouTube Channel since May 31. 

Marion Aunor’s “Delikado” is the official theme song of “Sakristan.” She also rendered “Akala.” Other songs used in the series are recorded by The Juans – “Atin ang Mundo,” “Prom” and “Pag-ibig Lang.”

Yap, who also wrote the script of “Sakristan,” felt it is imperative to include this LGBT reminder at the opening of the pilot episode. This series requires “Liberated thinking, Guidance for the youth, Benevolence and Truthfulness.”

A new episode of “Sakristan” will be shown every week. “Touch Move” is the pilot episode. The next one will be uploaded on June 7 and the succeeding Sundays thereafter.

“I hope the public will judge the series when it ends on the eighth episode,” Yap said. “I did not hesitate to do ‘Sakristan.’ The story showed no discrimination in the LGBT community. This is [my] freedom of expression.”