In this late afternoon encounter, direk Perci Intalan chats with the press and indeed he looks happy with more than four million views for the trailer of his latest film, My Fairy Tail Love Story.
The film location is in the high seas of Zambales and he admits he conquered his innate fear of water in this film, featuring a millennial who turned into a mermaid.
“I can’t swim so that’s quite difficult,” he admits. “My cinematographer, Mycko David, and I were lucky to work with the great Marissa Floirendo for the underwater sequences. Because I can’t physically direct under the water, I had to storyboard all the shots I needed so that Marissa and her team could look at them and ticked them off one by one while I waited above the surface. But to speed things up, I had to get off the boat and be in the water — floating on a life vest the whole day! But that was nothing compared to the physical challenge Janella (Salvador) and Elmo (Magalona) had to go through — swimming in and out of the water, diving deep again and again and again.”
Then he reflects: “You can’t do a project in the sea and not appreciate the beauty of it — and the fragility of it. You see the diversity of marine life and these beautiful coral formations, then you turn around and you see plastic bags and all sorts of garbage floating around and piling up on the shore. You can’t turn a blind eye. We knew it had to be in the film somehow. Nothing preachy, but you get the subtle hint that you have to do your part in saving the seas.”
With the beautiful singing by Janella, Fairy Tail is sometimes misconstrued for a musical. Direk Perci clarifies: “The singing comes only when she became a mermaid because of a curse and she can only communicate by singing. The song was suggested by fans of Janella. We looked at it and decided it was good for the film.”
There was a lot of brainstorming involved before the idea was finalized and of course, the Regal executives, Mother Lily and Roselle Monteverde, were always hands-on in the project. “Mother Lily and Ma’am Roselle are always open to new ideas and if they think it will be for the good of the project, they give their full support and cooperation,” he adds.
Why the long directorial hiatus after the widely acclaimed debut film, Dementia?
To be sure, other projects came in between like Flight 666 story of Shake Rattle & Roll XV, episodes of Ipaglaban Mo, Parang Normal Activity and LolaBasyang.com and the Moana music video of Janella for Disney Channel.
Indeed, he had long wanted to a full-length feature. The truth is he was waiting for the right material. “I wanted to do something totally different from Dementia. And it can’t get any more different than My Fairy Tail Love Story. The whole story happens in modern times. There have been so many successful mermaid stories in cinema and on TV. Jun (Robles) and I knew that not only did we have to do something different and that is to take the classic elements of a mermaid story and turn it around on its head. We also had the chance to tell a story with the youth of today in mind and that’s what gives our film a distinct personality from past mermaids.”
His six years with Walt Disney Company allowed him to harness all his experiences working in the family-children’s genre. “There’s a lot of visual comedy and touches of music in the film and I enjoyed it immensely. I think my experience there taught me to always put myself in the audience’s seat and anticipate not just what the viewer will think but how they will feel. We are not just telling stories, we are creating experiences.”
On the other hand, he believes Janella is born to be a real-life Disney Princess. “She has the talent, the looks, the personality and the sheer energy. Luckily, her onscreen partner, Elmo, also has a beautiful singing voice and complements her perfectly. And this allowed us to create a pivotal musical moment in the film where the audience will just know that this couple is meant to be together.”
Janella and Elmo say working with the director was sheer fun. “With all those underwater scenes and a lot of swimming and diving, we knew this is not going to be easy. Direk Perci made it all look like fun, not work,” they demur.
As for direk Perci, he has learned to trust his actors and to limit his task to guiding them. “After seeing how a Nora Aunor does her craft, I also realized that actors should be allowed to breathe life into their characters and my job as a director is not to tell them how, but to harness whatever they bring out of the role. As a director, their success is your success, their failure is your failure.”
It is a long way from Dementia which taught him a lot of things as a filmmaker. “I really got thrown into the deep end when I did Dementia. It was my first film. I was directing the greatest actress of our time, Nora Aunor. I was dealing with a genre that gave me nightmares. I was filming in Batanes, a location the beauty of which you cannot afford not to capture. The pressure was huge, and it took so much out of me. But that gave me courage. Now, I feel that I can handle any challenge.”
(P. Tariman, PS)