Meet the director behind ‘Kita Kita,’ the Philippines' highest grossing indie film

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

Director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo has had two critically acclaimed films — both of which could be categorized as “rom-coms” — prior to “Kita Kita,” (which stars Empoy Marquez and Alessandra de Rossi) which has been enjoying huge success for an independent film. Screencap from SPRING FILMS

Editor's note: As of August 08, 2017, "Kita Kita" has reached over ₱300 million in box office gross, making it the most successful independently produced film in Philippine cinema.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, the director of “Kita Kita,” expected that the film would be pulled out from the theaters after its opening day. “Akala ko makikiusap na ako, ‘yung ‘Please,’ ‘di ba ganun usually?” says Bernardo. The producers were hoping that the film, made on a  ₱10 million budget, would at least break even.

But they had no idea that the opening week would rake in ₱90 million and that it would remain in theaters for several weeks, with some theater chains even giving additional cinemas for “Kita Kita.” In 12 days, it would hit the  ₱200 million mark, close enough to potentially overtake “Heneral Luna,” which earned ₱256 million, making “Luna” the highest grossing independently-produced film in the Philippines. [Update: By August 8, it breached ₱300 million].

So what made “Kita Kita” a success?

Ewan ko ba. Hindi ko rin alam, eh!” says Bernardo with a laugh. The success still remains a surprise to her and the producers, Spring Films (which includes director Bb. Joyce Bernal and actor Piolo Pascual). Although Bernardo has a few ideas why. There’s word of mouth, social media reviews, the unconventional love story, and the unlikely pairing of Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez.

Sigrid Andrea Bernardo "Even if I didn’t direct 'Kita Kita,' I want to support that film kasi iba siya eh," says director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. "It’s unconventional and may ibang putahe lang. If you support that, big studios will take chance ng ganitong kind of concept." Photo by JL JAVIER

Kita Kita” was originally pitched by co-producer Lucky Blanco as a three-starrer love story, but when Bernardo received the script, she chose to focus on de Rossi and Marquez instead.

“They had an existing script which he had been pitching it to producers for a year,” says Bernardo. “But when they gave me the script, I realized I couldn't do it because it was not my style in filmmaking. But it was interesting to have an unlikely couple to be your lead. So I pitched a totally different story, concept and of course a different title. But still with the same actors, only this time I decided to get two actors only, Alessandra and Empoy. I really wrote the script for them.”

The original idea focused on the idea of unattractive people and their love stories but while writing the script, Bernardo had a realization.

Parang ako, hindi ako napapangitan kay Alex … hindi ba model siya? Hiyang-hiya naman ako!  [Laughs] ‘Tapos si Empoy hindi naman siya for me, sa totoo lang, pangit ‘yung hair niya, siguro sinasadya niya magmukhang bao. Alam niyo ba na ang ganda ganda ng skin ni Empoy? Oo! So ako … ‘Ah, perspective pala ‘to,’ pwedeng pangit sa kanila, sa akin hindi.

Kita Kita” isn’t that far from Bernardo’s first two films. “Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita,” which is about a 12-year-old girl who falls in love with a 30-year-old woman; and “Lorna,” which is about a 60-year-old’s quest to find true love. “Kita Kita” is still a love story, something Bernardo is fond of telling in her cinematic forays.

One major factor in “Kita Kita” is its setting. As two lonely people in Sapporo, Japan, the characters of de Rossi and Empoy, Lea and Tonyo respectively, their isolation from their homeland would be what would bring them together. And it wouldn’t have worked as well if it were set in the Philippines.

Says Bernardo, “Alam mo naman tayo,Hoy kumare, ano nang nangyari sa ’yo?Kung sa Pilipinas ‘yun, maraming magsasabi na Huy alam mo pangit ‘yung [lalake] na ‘yan, ‘wag kang masyadong ano diyan.’ Pero ‘yung nagwork sa Japan, dalawa lang silang Pinoy dun, eh.”

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Bernardo to talk about the film’s success, the audience reaction, and shooting “Kita Kita” with de Rossi and Marquez. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

How is “Kita Kita” different from your first two films?

‘Yung ‘Cha-Cha,’ it’s a love story naman. Nagkataon lang na it’s a 12-year-old girl who falls in love with a 30-year-old woman — it’s still a love story. ‘Yung “Lorna” naman about seniors, so it’s still a love story. Kung tutuusin rom-com din siya eh. Merong comedy din sa “Lorna” [and] “Cha-Cha”. It’s still the same. Dito lang sa “Kita Kita” same age sila, it’s really about their love story. Wala lang masyadong … social issues. “Cha-Cha” is about giving birth, abortion, different faces of women. “Lorna” is about senior love, aging, and falling in love again. Dito naman it’s having an ability rather than focusing on your disability, so meron pa rin, konti. [Laughs] Mas light lang ‘yung treatment.

Kita Kita “Parang ako, hindi ako napapangitan kay Alex … hindi ba model siya?." says "Kita Kita" director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. "Hiyang-hiya naman ako!  [Laughs] ‘Tapos si Empoy hindi naman siya for me." Screencap from SPRING FILMS

How did you talk to Alex and Empoy about the emphasis on being ‘pangit’ in the film?

Alam nila! [Laughs] Alam ni Alex, alam ni Empoy, pero si Alex naku hindi ‘yan papayag. Pero alam nila ‘yung take ng Filipinos sa pagiging beautiful, kailangan maputi, ‘pag leading lady ka maputi, matuwid ang buhok mahaba ang pilikmata mo, tisay, half-breed. [Laughs]

If you watch the movie, it’s not only about being ugly. It’s about perspective. Nagkataon lang na kilala natin si Alex and Empoy, pero kapag pinalabas siya sa ibang bansa, hindi nila kilala ‘yung dalawa, it’s still about their love story and their perspectives in life and love.

The film premiered in Osaka Asian Film Festival last March. How different was the audience reaction there compared to Filipinos?

Sanay na ako sa mga hapon, [na modest lang]. Gaya nung pinalabas ‘yung “Cha-Cha” sa Japan, akala ko talaga hindi nila na-appreciate kasi ang hina ng tawa. Tapos ‘pag tumatawa sila, sinasabi sa akin ng translator, “Good job, good job, they’re laughing.” Eh dito sa Philippines [malakas] talaga. Sa culture kasi [ng mga Japanese], before the screening may sinasabi na bawal mag-istorbo ng mga tao, don’t make unnecessary sounds during the movie. Wow, okay, kaya pala ganun.

So nung pinalabas ‘yungKita Kita,” tumatawa naman sila pero hindi grabe dito na ‘WAAAHH!’

After the movie, merong autograph signing, nakapila sila tapos may mga nagsasabi umiiyak sila, na-touch [daw sila]. Hindi naisip ‘yung about being pangit kasi hindi nila kilala ‘yung dalawang actors, so for them it’s about two people who are alone in another country and falls in love with each other. It’s about compassion and helping each other.

I noticed in some parts of the movie it looks like they were doing improv, because Alex just kept on laughing. Did you ask them to do improv in some scenes?

May part na parang bloopers lang, no? Oo. Merong improvisation din dun. Nung binigay kasi sina Alex and Empoy, kailangan kong pag-aralan din yung acting nila. Like si Alex, kilala ko naman siya. Magaling siya. Sa drama, award-winning na siya pero wala pa akong nakikita na light lang, light comedy, lagi na lang meron siyang sampung anak, ganyan. [Laughs] Or parang hindi naliligo. So ang goal for her character ayusan siya, na hindi naman sobra.

Si Empoy naman nung nakita ko ‘yung videos and films niya, talaga naman over the top. Pero nung nakilala ko sina Alex and Empoy, pareho silang may sense of humor. ‘Yung nakaktawa sila na hindi nila ma-translate on-screen, sa mga projects nila. Si Empoy kasi sobrang tahimik siya eh…

Really?

Ang weird talaga parang hindi siya si Empoy. ‘Pag sa screen parang [kengkoy] pero sa personal, sobrang tahimik.

So binalance ko lang silang dalawa. Nagkaron kami ng bonding. Pagdating sa Japan may mga scenes na okay na merong improvisation kasi nakakatawa talaga sila sa personal. Maganda na ilabas ‘yun, na natural sila. So may mga ad libs, lalo na ‘yung sa Otaru na boat, talagang ad lib na ‘yun, sobra. Saka hindi ko na rin tinanggal ‘yung natural laugh ni Alex. Mas natatawa ka kasi totoo eh.

Like ‘yung ‘similarities,’ “I think click tayo, we have similarities,” hindi masabi [ni Empoy] ‘yung “similarities,” paulit-ulit kami. So nung last, “I think click tayo, we have similar….ities.” [Laughs] Nakaktawa talaga siya, ginamit ko na rin.

What do you think made the movie so successful?

Siguro ‘yung word of mouth din. Ang sinasabi sa amin, kapag ‘yung promotions, successful, dapat on your first day, ang daming nanood. But we earned only ₱2 million. Siyempre for me, akala ko blockbuster na! [Laughs] “Oh my god guys, we earned ₱2 million!” Hindi sila natuwa, sabi ko, shucks, maliit pala ‘yun. The second day, number one ‘yungKita Kitasa lahat ng mga nag-open, may “Dunkirk,” may “Spiderman” pa ‘nun, “Bloody Crayons,” ang dami pa. Pero hindi blockbuster, but we earned ₱4 milllion.

‘Yung common naman sa lahat ng films ko, love story talaga. Gusto kong gumawa na ako mismo, papanoorin, and makaka-relate ako.

Sa tingin mo it’s because “Kita Kita’ is an unusual rom-com, medyo curious ‘yung mga tao?

Siguro kasi, una, Alempoy … [Laughs] Hindi siya sikat na KathNiel, Bea-John Lloyd … first nila ‘to. So pa’no mo papanoorin ‘yun? Kahit ako na viewer, ba’t ko papanoorin ‘tong Alempoy na ‘to? Pero siguro naging interesting kasi dalawa lang sila, it’s about their love story, walang ibang friends.

Coming into the movie, what was your idea of a rom-com and did you try to subvert it in some way while writing the movie?

Well, if there’s romance and comedy, I think rom-com siya. [Laughs] ‘Yung common naman sa lahat ng films ko, love story talaga. Gusto kong gumawa na ako mismo, papanoorin, and makaka-relate ako. ‘Yung abot kaya. [Laughs] ‘Yung kaya kong maintindihan ‘yung romance na … okay may fairy tale pero grounded pa din, na pwede itong mangyari sa atin.

Sigrid Andrea Bernardo "If you watch the movie, it’s not only about being ugly. It’s about perspective," says Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. "Nagkataon lang na kilala natin si Alex and Empoy, pero kapag pinalabas siya sa ibang bansa, hindi nila kilala ‘yung dalawa." Photo by JL JAVIER  

How does it feel that you have a ₱230 million movie?

Sa bulsa ko parang wala ‘yung ₱230 million, wait lang. [Laughs] Hindi ko siya ma-feel! [Laughs] Pero I’ve been telling this to people na even if I didn’t direct “Kita Kita,” I want to support that film kasi iba siya eh, it’s unconventional and may ibang putahe lang. If you support that, big studios will take chance ng ganitong kind of concept.

Kasi ‘yun ‘yung problema eh, iniisip ng mga big studios na, yes, you have a good film pero kumikita ba? At the end of the day business pa din naman. So ngayon, may okay na film and kumita, pano na? [Laughs] Ang na-feel ko dun sa ₱230 million is ‘yung trust ng big studios sa akin, that’s very important for a director, lalo na kung papasok ng mainstream, na ‘yun ‘yung lagi kong pangarap nun eh, na pag pumasok sila sa big studios, mabigyan sila ng trust [and] full creative control.

***

“Kita Kita” is still in theaters.

Update: The article has been edited to clarify that the original pitch for "Kita Kita" is different from the version that made it to film.