Lessons on ‘kilig’ from the director behind Kathniel, Kimxi, and Lizquen

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Director Mae Cruz-Alviar on Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla: "So together, tumatak sila sa ‘kin kasi nakita ko kung pano nila in-embrace yung pagiging artista, not just being celebrities, because there's a difference." Screencap from YOUTUBE/STAR CINEMA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For director Mae Cruz-Alviar, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” almost didn’t happen.

“I faced a major challenge doing that, kasi nasa crossroads ako ng life ko ngayon,” she tells the audience during a recent talk at the Film Development Council of the Philippines in Manila. “I need[ed] to take a leave for personal reasons because [my husband and I] wanted to start a family. And I could not get pregnant if I am working everyday like this.”

Contractual obligations, however, bound Alviar to make the picture. But more than that, she had to be in a mindset that allowed her to actually create it. Alviar has learned, from her Star Cinema executive producers Charo Santos-Concio and Malou Santos, to think of what's at stake.

“At the end of the day, you have a job to do, you have a commitment to the company, and you have to do this. Kailangan mong gawin ‘yang responsibility, so that's one thing that I had to overcome. It was difficult, very difficult. Hindi madaling dumating ‘dun sa place of kilig. Hindi naman ‘yan paggising mo na lang, [may] kilig na, hindi naman pagdating mo ng set, alam mo na, okay ganito gagawin na ‘tin ... You have to get there ... Parang artista, ‘diba? You internalize.”

The talk, set in time for Women’s Month, focused on the Filipina and the notion of 'kilig'. Budding filmmakers were eagerly asking Alviar questions about her profession, particularly the choices that she has had to make when she’s torn between her passion and her family.

“I have to hurry up because it’s my last chance. Hindi ka pwedeng [puro] career. Something’s gotta give. You make a choice between your love for this profession or for your love of your family. As a woman, na sa ’yo ‘yung burden na ‘yun. So for the women out there who want to be directors, learn na lang from this talk,” she laughs.

Kilig, the director says, is more than just pa-tweetums. When asked about one of her favorite moments in her films, she cites an unlikely example that doesn’t involve the biggest love teams she’s worked with — KathNiel, LizQuen, and KimXi — but rather an older couple being interviewed for a scene, played by Anita Linda and Tony Mabesa in the KimXi (Kim Chiu and Xian Lim) film, “Bride For Rent.”

“She was asked, ‘What is the secret to a long and lasting relationship?’ And her answer — she said it with so much sincerity — to have and to hold, for richer and for poorer. Talagang lahat kami sa set nag-iiyakan. ‘Yan ‘yung si Dan Villegas [the cinematographer], nag-iiyak. ‘Direk, ang ganda ng eksena.’ ‘Yun lang ‘yung dialogue, ‘yun lang ‘yung scene. They were just seated, hinawakan lang ‘yung kamay ni Tony Mabesa, and his only reply was ‘Sino ka?’ Meaning he has Alzheimer’s. Nadurog ang puso ko. It’s kilig but may lalim. That’s the kind of kilig I want.”

Alviar should know what kilig is. She’s one of the foremost filmmakers in the rom-com field, having helmed films such as “Because of You,” “She’s the One,” the LizQuen (Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil) movie “Everyday I Love You,” — as well as their TV show “Dolce Amore” — and the KathNiel (Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla) vehicles, “Crazy Beautiful You” and the latest, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Below are Alviar’s lessons on kilig and filmmaking — two concepts that largely play a role in the local film industry today.

1. Chemistry doesn’t happen by magic or stroke of luck — the actors and the director have to do their part too. 

“'If they are very good actors, they can make you believe that they are in love, even if they're not in love,' [Ms. Charo Santos-Concio told me]. And you, as a director, dapat mailabas mo sa kanila ‘yun. Trabaho mo ‘yun ... Siyempre, nung sinasabi niya ‘yun, [I was trying not to cry] ... pero wala akong nagawa, umiyak na ako. Sabi niya, 'Why are you crying? Have you ever been in love?' Of course! [I was heartbroken that time] so I had all these reasons again.

So pinatawag naman ako ng isa ko pang boss, si Ms. Malou Santos. And then she said, 'Kung makita niya ‘yung heartache na pinagdadaanan mo, baka kasi akala mo okay ka na pero ‘di ka pa okay,' so siyempre ang surreal, ‘yung boss mo nagbibigay ng advice [about] love. Pero ‘nung umiiyak-iyak akong ganun, I figured na, oo nga, ito ‘yung trabaho ko eh. Kailangan kong ma-in love, kailangan nilang ma-in love. So I need to feel that also. Hindi ako pwedeng mag-wallow in my pain, and then not be able to bring it out if it's gonna get in the way of my work.

Ang rule ko sa artista ko, ‘pag dumating kayo sa set, kahit ano pang problema ninyo, throw it out the window, because artista kayo. When you step on my set, ‘yung characters ninyo kayo. Kalimutan ninyo ‘yung problema ninyo. So, ako rin, as a director, kahit ano pang problema ko, the minute I get out of the car, pagbaba ko sa set, kalimutan ko dapat lahat ‘yun and focus on what I have to do.”

2. Know the right buttons to push to make the audience feel like they’re falling in love as well.

Paano mo napapakilig ‘yung audience? The first thing is I use myself as a gauge. ‘Pag kunwari nagshu-shoot ako, ‘pag hindi mo ko napakilig, ibig sabihin, hindi rin kikiligin ang audience.

Tapos sa paligid ko, nandun ‘yung staff … tinitignan ko ‘yung mga reactions nila, 'Okay ba?' Sasagutin nila, 'Okay naman po.' Ah hindi ‘yan okay. Kasi hindi mo na kailangang tanungin kapag okay talaga, you see it in their faces.

Ang gusto kasi nila for the movie was 'sabunutang kilig.' ‘Yung sabunutang kilig, tipong sa sobrang kilig nila, sinasabunutan nila ‘yung katabi nila. Ganun daw ang level of kilig that they want. ‘Eto ‘yung talagang pumapadyak ka na habang nanonood. So, again, my gauge is myself. I look back at the times na ... ayan nag-research na ako kasi wala akong love life noon, wala akong paghuhugutan na aktwal ... Before that, ang mga hugot ko lang, mga past experiences. And then of course, I come from a family [na] magkakapatid kaming babae, I use it to my advantage. I mean, I remember all the stories of my sisters at nakakuwentuhan ko silang lahat at alam ko ‘yung mga points na kinikilig sila.”

3. Most Filipinos are emotional, hence, prone to kilig.

“I read it on CNN Philippines [...] the Philippines is one of most emotional countries in the world. Ang hilig na ‘tin sa love songs. Kapag nag-videoke, kahit ‘yung siga sa kanto, ang kakantahin love song. Bibirit na siya ng ‘Sana Maulit Muli’ o kaya ‘My Way’ or whatever. We are melodramatic in general. Marami tayong pinagdaanan. Inapi tayo, sinakop tayo …. And the way we express it is we're very passionate, we're very expressive. Kaya meron tayong tinatawag na 'sabunutang kilig.' Sa ibang cultures, they're not into sabunutang kilig. Hindi sila ganun ka-expressive. Kilig is not even translated in English. Kilig is a unique Filipino word. Because tayo talaga ‘yung may kilig.

4. Kilig doesn’t have to be all fluff.

“I think ‘yung ‘Got 2 Believe’ na Rico Yan and Claudine Baretto [is my next marker on how to make rom-com movies] kasi malalim siya. Hindi siya ‘yung pa-tweetums-tweetums na cute. ‘Yung papaiyakin ka niya and you can relate to it.

One of my favorite films is ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ Meron din akong counterpart na favorite na ‘Cinema Paradiso,’ na umiyak din ako doon. It's a good mix na, magandang i-combine mo, na we can have something light pero in the end, meron siyang punch. Kumbaga ita-tug ‘yung heart mo. So it's not all fluff. It's not all, you're laughing ... At the end of the day, dapat maibigay mo sa audience mo. Dapat mapaisip sila or may take-home sila.”

5. She is most proud of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla in terms of their growth as actors.

Lahat naman [ng love teams I’ve worked with] tumatatak sa ’kin eh. It's just that, nagkataon, itong KathNiel, nag-grow sila sa harap ng mata ko. I first worked with Kathryn in 2004, in her first ever teleserye. Tapos I got to work with her in '24/7 in Love,' love team na sila ni DJ [Daniel Padilla].

DJ was a reluctant actor ... Si Piolo Pascual, after watching ‘Crazy Beautiful,’ sabi niya sa ‘kin, "Grabe ‘yang si Daniel Padilla. Lalampasuhin niya ako at ni John Lloyd [Cruz] combined sa isang upuan. Ganun siya kagaling, buti na lang hindi ko siya ka-generation." Ganun ang tingin sa kanya even ng other artistas. As in they all see the talent dun sa boy na ‘yan.

Kathryn naman kasi, nakita ko siya how she has evolved also, and how she's becoming a woman. So together, tumatak sila sa ‘kin kasi nakita ko kung pano nila in-embrace yung pagiging artista, not just being celebrities, because there's a difference. Kasi nung una, when they were KathNiel from "Princess and I," they were celebrities. But they were not actors. They didn't embrace the craft yet. They are embracing it now. Because now, the way they attack scenes, the way they prepare, makikita mo na nag-mature sila. Makikita mo na they take it seriously and that they see it as a craft. They don't see it as a job just so that they will remain popular.”


6. Kilig on TV is more fast-paced than in the movies.

“The challenge sa TV, aside from attention span sa audience [and] then very limited time to film it or to shoot it, [...] is mabilis ang pangyayari sa TV so you have to think fast, and it happens also that your script isn’t ready. That you get to the set and then your script isn’t ready, and then when you see the script, kailangan maka-isip ka na ng mounting mo for it, makaisip ka na ng ways to attack it. And then ‘yung mga writers pa, pinapagalitan ko sila, ‘Kayo talaga ...’ Ang nakalagay lang doon, they look at each other and then they smile and ganyan … hindi nila binibigyan ng description ng buong-buo. Na parang, direk bahala ka nang magpa-kilig ah. ‘Huh? Ano yan para akong vendo machine?’ ‘Di naman ‘yan basta lumalabas na lang. So they just rely on you na rin. TV has trained me to think fast.”

7. Her biggest challenge is when her actors aren’t allowed to kiss … but the script requires them to.

“I’ve learned the art of faking kisses in ‘Dolce Amore’ at nung time nung wedding nila hindi ko na sila alam kung pano sila ipapa-kiss, because we’ve done all the tricks na eh, ‘yung biglang pullout, biglang zoom out, dolly out, basta lahat na ng daya in the world, I’ve learned in this show. I’m so happy that KathNiel has started kissing na because now they can actually kiss. My first movie, ‘Bcuz of U,’ Heart Evangelista was not allowed to kiss. Ang tagal na ganon. Kailangan mo magpakilig tapos nandadaya ka pa. So parang may extra challenge for you. It’s not just emotions. Everything counts in achieving that emotion.”

8. Kilig also has to evolve with the audience and with the times.

Kung ang audience mo ngayon is more the millennials, kagaya nungVince and Kath and James,’ that’s why I appreciated it so much kasi ang relevant niya eh. Hindi na uso ‘yung ligawan na katok sa bahay and phone calls. It’s really text ligaw eh. And you find kilig in it, you get a text message mag-isa ka gumaganyan (makes a kilig gesture). It’s using what is current, we’re highly dependent on technology now.

You have to know kung ano ‘yung ginagalawang mundo nila. Even if these are old love teams, tapos ilalagay current situation, makaka-relate ‘yung bagong audience sa kanila. Like the Juday-Piolo [Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual], ‘pag nag-reunion project ‘yan, hindi mo na sila pwedeng ilagay sa kung anong nagpakilig sa mga tao dati. Kasi admittedly, they’re [in] their 40s na. You make it age-appropriate. Kilig for that age but universal enough so that even the younger audience can understand. ‘The Achy Breaky Hearts,’ ‘diba? That’s Ian Veneracion and Jodi Sta. Maria, [they’re] older [actors], a new love team, pero nakita mo meron silang scenes na nag-e-exchange sila ng text messages, [wrong send], mga ganyan.

Importantly, if the emotions are sincere, ‘yung message na binibigay ninyo is very clear, the audience of any age will relate to it. Meron ‘yung mga nagsasabi na, ‘Grabe nanay na ako, pero bakit kinikilig pa rin ako sa LizQuen?’ Ibig sabihin they’ve done something that [anyone] can relate to. It’s a matter of having pure and sincere scenes.”