How Wenn Deramas stays on top

Marga Deona
Box-office filmmaker of 'Bekikang' and 'Sisterakas' says he has no formula, likes taking risks

BOX-OFFICE DIRECTOR. Wenn Deramas thrives on spontaneity. Photo: Mark Quimpo-Demayo/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – To any fan of celebrity, a movie star’s life is the stuff dreams are made of. The stunning looks, the confidence and performance on stage and on screen, the red-carpet premieres, the photo shoots, the parties – all that glamour and fame and fortune.

But everyone knows, too, the cutthroat competition behind the entertainment industry, where the limelight can be glaring and its talents, actors and filmmakers alike, must feel like a wreck at the end of each day, after the sheer volume of work while keeping up the appearance of celebrity. All that in exchange for privacy and a healthy dose of anonymity – you really have to love this line of work to stay in it.

Director Wenn V. Deramas knows this world inside out – as a longtime fan of showbiz and now its box-office director. He remembers already being a cinephile as early as 3, and aspiring to be a film director during his teens. The 45-year-old filmmaker remembers half his life being on the other side of celebrity, as part of the adoring public. But his adoration was more erudite, shall we say, because he also idolized the masters of Philippine cinema and quite meticulously studied their obras.

Icons of cinema

Deramas remembers saving his precious pabaon as a child, so he could buy a ticket at the box office he would later dominate. Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos were the reigning queens of cinema in his youth, but he went further and began to admire their film directors. 

“Sobra akong fan ng mga obra ni Lino Brocka, ni Ishmael Bernal,” he said, gleefully enumerating the directorial icons of the ’70s and ’80s whom he looked up to. “Danny Zialcita, Mike Relon Makiling, Ben Feleo…meron mga ganun!”

(I was a big fan of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal. Danny Zialcita, Mike Relon Makiling, Ben Feleo…there were these guys!)

Some may wonder how Deramas, with his brand of light comedies, can relate to the filmmakers he mentioned. And yet the entire community of filmmakers regards them as its role models. And there is still a connection somehow between the movies today and the cinema of the recent past – which has its equal share of the serious and the comic (e.g. Brocka’s rom-com “Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister,” Mike de Leon’s comedy-musical “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?”).

Deramas himself affirms his film’s connection with the past. “Siguro lang, ang mga ginagawa kong mga pelikula ay yung mga tipong ine-enjoy ko nung kabataan ko,” he said. (I guess the films I make are the kind I would enjoy when I was younger.)

Comedy

A Deramas movie is part nostalgic, part hybrid – the type that will make you laugh one minute and cry the next. He prides himself with his comic timing, and this sense of humor is a “gift” that he earnestly wishes to share with the moviegoing public. Comedy has certainly become his strongest suit, going by the consistent success of his work. But like most filmmakers operating in the mainstream industry, Deramas has tried a variety of entertainment, especially in his early years as a scriptwriter and TV director during the Nineties.

And then came the new millennium when he hit his stride with a string of comedy hits – notable, among other things, for quirky Taglish titles like “Sisterakas” and “This Guy’s in Love with U Mare!” and taking off from the star quality of his leads (Ai-Ai de las Alas, Vice Ganda) which he has wielded well. 

But for all the gut-busting humor of his movies, Deramas’ comedy is hardly irreverent, and therefore somewhat conventional in that sense, because of the moments of family drama and romance that he also handles deftly and with care.

With all the box-office hits he has directed, one might be led to believe that Deramas has found his formula and stuck with it. But he is quick to say he has no formula. And it shows in the spontaneity of his comedies, which moviegoers may look forward to in the upcoming “Bekikang” and “Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy.”

‘Calculated risk’

“Bekikang,” loosely based on Lino Brocka’s “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay,” revolves around the story of a gay man who takes another man’s son as his own. Deramas is launching theater actor and Cinemalaya winner Joey Paras through the titular role of Bekikang, and Tom Rodriguez plays Bekikang’s object of affection who is also the father of the child Bekikang adopts.

Both actors each already have a considerable body of work in cinema. Paras is already a familiar name in the indie world. The curious thing about Tom Rodriguez is that he has had quite a filmography as well, even before his widespread fame via “My Husband’s Lover.”

No matter Paras’ considerable resume, Deramas makes another gamble by launching him as a star.

“Calculated risk ito,” he said, “because meron kang talent na pagbabasehan [because you have a talent you can build on].” Deramas has shown his knack for finding talent through such stars as Vice Ganda. And he is quite oblivious as to how his gamble will pay off.

“Kahit gaano kakaunti, kahit hindi ganun kadami sa first day, sabihin natin yung sampung nanood ng pelikula mo ikakalat nila na nagustuhan nila,” he said. “Pinakamababang kita yang unang araw. Pataas nang pataas lagi ang kita. It means word of mouth yan.”

(No matter how small the audience on the first day [of my movie’s screening], let’s just say that the 10 moviegoers who see your film will spread the word that they like it. It’s the first day that doesn’t do well, but it gets better. That means word of mouth.)

Talent

The film industry may not be as prolific as it used to be when Deramas was just starting out in cinema.

“200 pesos na ang sine ngayon [Watching a movie costs P200],” he said. “Challenge, napakalaking challenge para sa aming mga direktor, mga nasa sining na ito, ang siguraduhing laksa-laksa ulit manood ng pelikula ang mga tao kasi mahal na.”

(It’s a big challenge for us film directors to entice people to the cinemas because it’s expensive nowadays.)

Nevertheless, Deramas invests on talent. Paras, Vice Ganda, and Eugene Domingo may well be his blue chips. “Talent, hindi pa-cute, ang puhunan ng isang artista,” he said. (Talent, not playing cute, is what makes an actor.)

“Binase ko ang career ko mula sa mga inspirasyon ko noong aking kabataan, and I’m glad to say na hindi ako nagkamali.”

(My career has thrived on my early inspirations, and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t wrong.) 

Deramas may have found his niche in family-friendly comedies, yet, true to his risk-taking fashion, he now plans to venture further into a genre he endeavored before – horror – thus picking up from the “Maligno” teleserye he did with Claudine Barretto some years back. “May concept akong kaka-pitch lang sa Star Cinema,” he said. “Gustong-gusto nila.” (I just pitched a concept to Star Cinema, and they really liked it.)

But for the time being, it’s “Bekikang,” followed by the intriguingly titled “Boy, Girl, Bakla, Tomboy” to cap the year 2013.

Deramas’ return on investment can be found in his audience’s laughter. Hearing that is music to his ears, makes it well worth the risks. – Rappler.com

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Marga Deona

Marga leads digital and product management for Rappler’s multimedia expansion. Sometimes, she writes about the intersection of technology, culture, and business, as well as the occasional sports and music features.