Movie Spotlight: Fago

Fago (2018)

Running Time: 30 minutes and 18 seconds

Genre/s: Biopic, Drama, Religion

Released on November 12, 2018 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Nodus Productions, and St. John Bosco Parish and Center for Young Workers

Based on the true life story of Abp. Francesco "Fago" Panfilo, SDB.

Based on the archived interview of Mrs. Corita Ramos

Writer: Reuben Pio Martinez

Director: Ryan Termoso

  • Eduardo "Dandin" Prats, Jr. as Abp. Francesco "Fago" Panfilo, SDB.
  • Reuben Pio Martinez as Angelo Andres
  • Fr. Richard Varela, SDB. as Fr. Caesar Capella
  • Mika Jacinto as Young Fago
  • Assistant Direction by Mika Jacinto
  • Photography Direction by Andre Ponce
  • Produced by Ryan Termoso
  • Executive Produced by Fr. Richard Varela, SDB., and Sr. Wency Sagun, SCG.
  • Production Management by Janette Calub
  • Boom Operated and Sound Recorded by Ravi Angeles
  • Make-Up by Cielo Arnisto
  • Second Camera Operated by Karl Rocha and Francis de Guzman

In case you guys were wondering where have we been all this time, this one post will answer that question. After several days of missing-out on school, after going home around nine in the evening for about two weeks, and after days of balancing time to act, to study, and to rest, we have finally finished our newest short film. God calls him by one name, and that name is none other than Fago. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is our spotlight on our entry for the Don Bosco Film Festival (DBFF), as well as to my actual surprise, the first time in my life for me to give an in-depth commentary on something that I actually worked on.

What is the movie about?

The year is 1993, and Archbishop Francesco "Fago" Panfilo, SDB., played by Prats, Jr., has been assigned to become the new provincial superior of the Philippines. Though quite homesick and almost completely nostalgic about his hometown of Vilminore in Italy, Fago becomes a highly appreciated presence in the seminary that he resides in, even forming a friendship with a young Filipino seminarian named Angelo Andres, played by Martinez (actors.). 

As he grows more and more accustomed to his new environment, Fago's initially pleasant stay in the seminary slowly begins to fade away because of the arrival of his replacement, provincial superior, Father Caesar Capella, played by Varela. Capella then assigns Fago to Papua New Guinea, which convinces Fago to reevaluate his past life choices, including the mischievous things that his younger self, played by Jacinto (The Manual), did. With limited time at his disposal, Fago decides to spend his remaining days in the seminary to be with his friends, while also gaining the courage to embrace his new mission.

Screenwriter's Commentary:

Believe it or not, about 99% of this somewhat short flick was improvised. Yes, as in "student film" level of improvisation, as in almost every single scene, dialogue, and even shot was only added on the spot.

You see, prior to having the final product that you see right now, we had another story in mind. I wrote the story and script, titled "Grace + Faith", and it revolved around a priest coming to terms with the realization that his sister has skeletons in her closet after hearing her confession. The plot would explore the struggles of modern day priests, including not being able to report to the police any wrongdoing due to church rules, and not being able to have an intimate relationship with anyone. While I was doing my research for the topic, the story coincidentally had a similar premise as Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess, with the differences being that Grace + Faith revolved a little bit more on drugs and personal scandals, as well as the limits of a priest's relationship with people outside the church.

It was a decent experience working on the pre-production of the film. By the time that we were all set for the official production last August, Dad decided to read the rules and regulation of the competition, because why not. He noticed that apparently the contest is looking for "true stories" about people serving the church. I thought he misread the details, but after reading again, and after telling my colleagues about it, we were all thrown at a frenzy.

Yes, after casting the leads, doing the ocular inspections, and accomplishing the numerous, and I mean, numerous script rewrites, we had to put everything to a halt after discovering that our work will be too fictional for the contest.

We lost two weeks of production time, and we asked our cast members to take a break until further notice. We searched for plenty of alternative stories. Some of which were actually pretty cool, including this one true story about a priest accidentally killing a fellow seminarian with an air-soft gun while bird hunting. Aside from the potentially fun old school, 70s-inspired aesthetic that we would be applying, the one thing that really struck us the most, especially our director Ryan Termoso, was this small but meaningful instance of all of the seminarian's family telling the priest that they forgive him, and that they are proud at least that they had a son who was following a path involving service to God. Man, just imagine the cinematic possibilities.

Aside from another true story about one of my teachers being a former priest, who left the service to marry his wife, which did not fly by due to personal reasons, we were originally more or less set. That is, until one of our executive producer, Fr. Richard Varela, SDB., stated that it would be quite questionable for a priest to have an air-soft gun, which makes sense in hindsight. Finally, we stumbled upon Absp. Francesco Panfilo, SDB.'s life story. So, you think that is the end of the story? Think again.

Since we all still wanted to take the mystery drama route, we wanted to talk about how the accidental deaths of two of Absp. Panfilo's fellow seminarians, with both of which taking place in the same year. One died when a malfunctioning weed cutter's blade went through the man's torso, and the other passed away when a large wooden branch fell on top him of while Absp. Panfilo was trimming the trees, despite asking the seminarian to keep his distance. Based on these findings, we wanted the film to be about him coping with the deaths of his two fellow seminarians, as well as finding it in himself to continue his church work and to clarify things in the midst of confusion.

Surprise, surprise. As confirmed by him through one of our Facebook interviews, neither of the two seminarians were exactly that close to him, outside of the one who died from the tree branch, who was slightly closer. In addition, although the two "novices", young men studying more about the inner workings of the church, might have had controversial deaths, neither had sparked controversy, and Absp. Panfilo's faith remained intact.

Now forced to have a radical change in genre, we decided to go with the more straightforward option, and that is by telling his entire life story. Since we found that part about him cleaning toilets as a means to "practice his humility" pretty interesting, we decided to focus on that one instance that even the priests in our neighborhood know about (Apparently Fr. Richard knew of him  way back when). In this moment, according to our sources, the new provincial superior of the area did not allow him to join an important meeting after being jealous of Absp. Panfilo's local popularity. We decided to expand it further, and finally decided to focus on him spending his last weeks here in the Philippines, coping with homesickness, and the fact that he might never see his friends here again. Think of Spike Lee's The 25th Hour, but this one had a priest, and it did not revolve on crime.

No, the story did not end there. On my part as the screenwriter, it was pretty difficult trying to establish a clear conflict for our main protagonist, which is very important for every story in existence. For one thing, the provincial superior in question was not all that hostile towards Absp. Panfilo, and his remaining weeks here was not all that turbulent or depressing to talk about. Though his stories about his time here was inspiring for me, for the audiences at large, it might be too preachy, and that is something that we wanted to avoid at all costs. What made it a little bit more challenging for all of us was our attempts at coming-up with an original presentation. We did not want to present a type of short film that bombards audiences with exposition. We wanted a character-driven memoir that inspires viewers. Add to the concoction all of our college entrance tests (CETs), as well as other school-related commitments, and the ever approaching deadline, and we had ourselves a very hectic timetable.

Even with a finalized (?) screenplay, production was still quite a hassle to manage. For 2-3 days a week, we had to always fill-up a few forms so we can have permission to leave school at around 12 nn., and we would normally be shooting at the church until 6 pm., with the latest being 9 pm. Memorizing the lines that I made for the script was also taking too much of our time, so we had to improvise some of our lines on the spot, and we even had to conceptualize some shots. Numerous scenes came and went, including a camping scene by our suburbs' grass field, and two portions of the backstory montage sequence. If they were not removed, some of them were reduced. Catching-up with our academic duties was the icing on the cake, as every single time we came home from work, most of us would be too tired to fulfill them. Oh, and let us not forget the second biggest challenge of all, and that is ensuring that we did not lose any of our shooting equipment. We nearly lost one of our lapel microphones during the meeting scene, and thus was the reason why the original audio for that scene was a tad bit off if you observed the final scene closely.

You know ... despite all of the obstacles that we all had, despite the cramming, and despite the improvisation, this small aspect of my life will forever be a major milestone. For one thing, representing the school with this short film was sort-of a dream come true for all of us, and for me, I just wanted to flex my beginner's screenwriting skills, while also getting the chance to do a little acting. 

I am thankful for being able to work with a bunch of talented people, including Sir Ryan Termoso for mentoring me on how to create a proper screenplay, and our lead actor Coach Dandin Prats, who was the coach for our school's basketball team not so long ago. On Coach Dandin, he is truly a spot-on actor, and a very good friend as well. On the set, he is quite the joker, as he usually gets to deliver the punchline almost everyday, and quite the wise man also, as he shared a lot about his life, giving me a few decent pieces of life advice in the process.

He even does look quite a lot like our main protagonist back in his heyday, and the similarities even stretch to some aspects of Coach Dandin's personality, from their down-to-Earth natures, to their nostalgic and mature reminiscing of their respective pasts. On a similar note, the fact that my character, Angelo Andres, and his character have a mild student-mentor connection, much like I and Coach Dandin had behind-the-scenes, was quite a fun parallel, and it did help us more with our respective performances.

The rest of the church company were cool to hang-out with as well. Fr. Richard always provided us with free food and drinks, and man, was it really cozy to have a cup of coffee at Fr. Richard's main office. Exploring the beyond areas of the church was practically intriguing, and seeing their bedrooms, their study halls, and their dining rooms were insight-giving for me. There was actually this one instance when Fr. Richard invited all of us to a personal dinner, because almost none of us, with the exception of Sir Ryan, were able to attend his birthday party a few days before. Not much happened there, except I had myself quite a "placebo" effect after having two sips of non-alcoholic red wine. Trust me, you should have seen how suddenly loud and bombastic I was after having a sip of something that barely has any alcoholic content in it, despite being moderately quiet almost the entire evening.

As of this moment, we are still waiting for the announcement of the official winners sometime late January or early February 2019, if I am not mistaken. Currently, we have about 550 views on YouTube, and we are still actively promoting this film in the hopes that we could even bag the People's Choice Award, because every award is a potential career game-changer, after all. Watching this film in front of our entire HUMSS classroom, with some of my classmates who acted as extras, and later, with my parents and little sister, was originally awkward for me. I mean, it was the first time I actually did something like this, so I tend to nitpick my own output. Eventually, the film became a precious memory of mine. A personal stepping stone. Boy, I am just looking forward for our team's next project, and I am optimistic that it will be somewhat grander and more ambitious, if time would permit us to be.

That concludes our latest movie spotlight. Be sure to like and share Fago to your friends, your family, your neighbors, and to everyone else around you, and be sure to stay tuned for more projects from us at Nodus Productions. Before you officially leave, do check my colleagues' earlier work, titled Congrats! This follows the story of a man struggling with immense academic pressure. I was not able to participate in this film due to my then commitments to my entrance exam reviews. Believe me when I say that the team placed tremendous effort in putting this project to life, despite a then hectic deadline. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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