film directors

How Quark Henares adapted a viral Twitter thread into a dark comedy

Ryan Oquiza
How Quark Henares adapted a viral Twitter thread into a dark comedy
Returning to the director's chair, Quark Henares plays with genre tropes while exploring the depths of online catfishing in ‘Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?)’

SAN DIEGO, United States – I interviewed Quark Henares virtually while he was in snowy Park City, Utah. He was, surprisingly, wearing a thin, plain blue shirt, while I was in California, bundled up in multiple layers of clothing. Warmly received, though, was his film, Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?), which premiered at the Treasure Mountain Inn Ballroom as a part of the Breakout Features Program of the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival. 

As Esquire Philippines’s 2022 Creative of the Year awardee, Henares definitely knows a thing or two about the film industry. His role as the head of Globe Studios, now ANIMA, would see him executive produce a range of different films, supporting avant-garde visions like Lav Diaz’s Ang Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil), crowd-pleasing fanfare such as LSS (Last Song Syndrome), and indie darlings such as last year’s Leonor Will Never Die

His new position as the Head of Originals, Philippines, at Prime Video & Amazon Studios further solidifies his place as one of the premier exponents of Filipino cinema. Just last week, Amazon Prime made a huge move in acquiring In My Mother’s Skin, which will premiere on the streaming platform later this year. 

“When Bianca [Balbuena] told me [In My Mother’s Skin] got in [to Sundance], I was like, ‘Panood nga (Let me watch),’” Henares shared. “It was unanimous among the whole team that, ‘Man, we have to take this film.’”

But, lest it be forgotten, Henares is also a fine director himself. He directed witty and comical films such as Keka (2003) and the timeless local classic Rakenrol (2011), which Quentin Tarantino called “a hell of a lot of fun.” Now, he returns to the director’s chair to tell a swirling story of catfishing, inspired by the true story of trans woman Jzan Tero, as recounted in a Twitter thread

I’d been so firmly placed behind desks for seven years that I forgot what it was actually like to be in my favorite place in the world: behind the camera.” Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?) represents a labor of love brought about by constant rewrites, unexpected castings, and new perspectives. It’s a playful film with countless twists and turns that you’d be hard-pressed to imagine actually happened (but it did).

EJ Jallorina stars as Janzen Torres, a hopeless romantic who unexpectedly finds love when she matches with the charming, seemingly perfect Theo Balmaceda (Royce Cabera) on a dating app. However, her hopes are crushed when Theo fails to show up for their planned meet-up, drawing her into a complex web of deception and lies orchestrated by the manipulative and sociopathic Beanie Landridos (Maris Racal).

I talked to Quark about his directing and writing process, the casting of his main leads, and how this particular catfishing story has connected with a Gen Z audience and opened up discussions about trans rights issues. 

Let’s set the scene. March 29, 2020. Jzan Tero released the-now viral Twitter thread that gripped the nation involving a very meticulously planned catfishing story. Do you remember where you were at that time and what your reaction was to it?

Yes, I remember where I was, and I remember where everyone was at that time. We were all at home, it was the height of lockdown. I remember it was Week 3, and how every week, may (there was) something. In the very first version of this film, si Janzen has a monologue and says basically: “In the beginning, March 2020, Duterte locked the Philippines down, nobody was allowed to go out, and the only thing bonding everyone together was chismis (gossip).” And I remember there was always the chismis of the week. Week 1 was Cat Arambulo, then Week 2 was Koko Pimentel, and then Week 3 was the catfishing incident. 

It was 2 am, and I had just finished watching a movie. I just saw Twitter ablaze, and then I was like, “Ano ‘to, ano ‘tong (What is this) ‘I got catfished?’” And then I remembered really reading it, and it was like 3:30 am when I finished. We cut and pasted everything, and it was 19 pages long; the whole thing was 19 pages long, single-spaced. And I just remembered talking to the creative director of ANIMA and basically saying there’s a story here, there’s really something that can be told and felt.

I wanna ask about the casting process, what made you want to cast EJ, Maris, and Royce for the film? And did you already have them in your mind beforehand?

No, we didn’t have anyone in mind. In fact, we had a long list of people for Beanie, and Maris really wasn’t one of them because if you look at her filmography, diba palagi siyang (isn’t she always like the) best friend of the lead in a rom-com and she’s always wholesome in films like The Breakup Playlist and Block Z. She’s always like the happy-girl character, so Maris wasn’t actually in our radar. 

And then, so when Maris finally read, I was blown away. We wrote Beanie to be more of a toughie and bully. One of the things we had her do during the audition was, “Okay, insult everyone in the room, including me.” And she destroyed everyone. The way she did it was like, “Ganda naman ng suot mo, hindi halata galing sa Rustans,” parang ganoon, “or galing sa Landmark (“I like your outfit, it doesn’t look like it comes from Rustans,” or “Looks like it came from Landmark).” She was smiling while doing that, and then I was like, “Oh my god, this is the character.” This is what Beanie should be, this very playful and impish character. 

For the Janzen role, we didn’t wanna pull off The Danish Girl or Dallas Buyers Club, we really wanted a trans actress. In fact, si Rod Singh, from Drag Den Philippines, who’s one of the creative consultants of the film, actually directed the love scene. We had EJ go to audition, and then she said a “Do you feel old now” moment to me. EJ was like, “Hi Kuya Quark, do you remember me?” And I’m like, “Ha, ano (What)? I don’t remember you.” And then she went like, “I was one of the child actors in Bagong Buwan.” Because I was a PA in Bagong Buwan, my job was to wrangle the kids and take care of them. So we had an immediate bond after that. She’s great, she’s an artist, a photographer. I mean, she’s really got this sensitive soul. 

And then, Royce, we wanted someone happy-go-lucky na medyo (who’s kind of a) bimbo, and the thing about Royce when watching Fuccbois and other stuff, there’s something behind the dumb jock look with him. There was a vulnerability. 

This film went through Full Circle Lab, right? How many rounds of edits did it go through? What was the most significant change it underwent?

My gosh, you will not recognize the first cut if you watch it. One of the mentors is the editor of Triangle of Sadness, and when we wrote it, John Bedia, my co-writer, and I wrote it like Rashomon. So the first part was Janzen, more of John’s writing, basically like a romantic comedy. Janzen falls in love, and then she chats with Theo, and then the twist is only revealed in the end. Then, Theo is the second part. The anchor for Theo was the interview with the Tulfo-type character, and then you see how Theo was in male pageants and how Beanie lured him and started abusing him as his boss. And then, finally, the third part was Beanie. 

All three parts were shot completely differently, and you can still kind of see that in the movie where Janzen’s story was more of a rom-com, Theo’s was more of a Cinemalaya, social-realist type, and then Beanie was more of a Gone Girl type, with the long-takes and everything. We workshopped the film with a lot of different writers and directors, not just the first cut. We had the skeleton of both versions already, and the mentors were like, the second cut is the better version. Marie Jamora, my best friend who came to Slamdance to watch it, said, “Oh my gosh, this is so much better.” But until now, I still weep for the Rashomon version (laughter). 

The film is branded as a dark comedy, and this decision is obviously informed by having a deeply unsympathetic point of view character in Beanie. What made you want to latch onto the perspective of the catfisher?

When reading the thread, I was like, “Why would people do that?” And it’s more than just, “Why would they be so mean?” because they bought her an expensive dinner, Beanie got Janzen a room in a hotel overnight, and she never conned Janzen off money, she never had any financial gain from it. And also, I guess what separates this from any other catfishing movie or story is parang siyang (it’s like an) organized effort, it was really like making a movie. You had a person for the voice, a person for the video, and a person for the pictures. So number one, the logistics of it, and number two, what the motivation was, and then number three, the obsession, because looking at the thread, there were many times where Beanie could’ve stopped, but she just kept on going. She ghosted her already at the airport, and then biglang (suddenly), “No, no, no, let’s keep it going. Let’s have her come to Manila.”  And then, after brineakan na siya ni (she was broken up with by) Theo, she still kept on going. That was what we wanted to understand. 

And, of course, Jzen was so helpful, and we had a two-hour conversation with her on Zoom. Even on set, I would text her, “Jzen, paano ‘to (how do we do this)?” and ask for advice while shooting. But, the perpetrator was the big question mark. And then, talking about Rashomon version, we really wanted to give all three of them equal footing, but it was the Triangle of Sadness editor who said that Beanie should be the protagonist. She is the interesting one. Of course, we all felt a bit of guilt. Kren Yap, one of my producers, is a trans male and, you know, one of ANIMA’s many advocacies, with Gaya Sa Pelikula and our films, is promoting LGBTQ+ advocacies. So we were like, “Do we really wanna make the aggressor the bida (the protagonist)?” So it was really another hurdle we had to get over.

Must Read

‘Cat Person’ review: A stressful look at modern dating and its follies

‘Cat Person’ review: A stressful look at modern dating and its follies

Speaking of that, the film also brings attention to other cases of trans rights issues, like the Pemberton case and discrimination in bathrooms. Can you tell me why you think Janzen and Beanie’s story in the film has been able to connect with people and become a conversation starter for these issues?

Talking to Jzen, one small detail John and I found very interesting was that she wasn’t really political. She’s just a girl living her life. We workshopped it also in a Sundance workshop last year, and the participants said, “We love that she has a mother who loves her, and it’s not a transition story, and that’s a good, different detail that sets Janzen apart from a lot of other trans characters.” What’s interesting is that when she was attacked, when she was bullied and catfished, biglang (suddenly), the whole community came out. 

They all cut ties with the catfisher, and they all came out to protect Jzen. I mean everybody, the gay community, the lesbian community, and what was so nice and touching about that was you don’t have to be political as a person, but when you need them, the community is there. They will appear and protect you. That was so touching for us. That’s why the post-script was so important. We could’ve ended earlier, but we still wanted to show the awakening of Janzen’s character. Parang, this is not gonna end, she can’t just keep her mouth shut. She can’t just keep not talking and enjoying her life. She has to speak up, she has to fight. John was like, “Oh my god, my favorite movie is Orapronobis,” and ‘yun nga nangyari sa ending (that is what happened in the end), this awakening to revolution. 

Must Watch

Meet Van Vincent Go, the trans man who documents his gender transition on YouTube

Meet Van Vincent Go, the trans man who documents his gender transition on YouTube

So I wanna talk about Maris. Maris, as Beanie, is just super charismatic and unexpectedly layered in that you depict her as having a sense of sympathy for Janzen. In the thread, I thought that wasn’t immediately available to readers, so why did you want to add that sympathy?

I think making the movie really was an inquiry, an attempt to understand. And at the end of the day, we can’t really understand the aggressor. But we did put in a few possible things. Number one, of course, is the control. I’m the director, this is my story, and then this is my behind-the-scenes, like I’m the boss here. The other one was the sexual frustration, like it wasn’t sensual for Beanie, there was an anger in it. Another one was obsession, she just kept on wanting to push it because she never thought she’d get caught. Maybe it was also internalized homophobia, maybe she’s angry at herself and afraid to admit that she herself has these sorts of feelings. 

A loose comparison would be like the Joker, yung “Do you know where I got these scars?” So telling a story, and then the next time, he tells it like it’s a different story. It’s enough mystery wherein you’re not sure talaga (really). And Maris played it really so well. She blew us away every time. 

This film is very Gen Z. It adapts a Twitter thread — very inspired by the film Zola — and there are TikToks, online buzzwords, and a pandemic setting near the end. So, aside from the Gen Z sector being a big sector of the moviegoing public, why do you want to focus on this particular generation as the audience for this film?

I didn’t naman ever set out to make a Gen Z movie, but I think a lot of what happened, such as displaying every aspect of your life on social media, it just so happened that this is Gen Z. I didn’t want this to make a judgment on Gen Z, but I wanted to make a judgment on that generally. How every aspect of our life, even the most painful stuff, has to be on display. Sometimes, it can be very cathartic and, I guess, confessional. And then other times, it can be treating this fake version of yourself. 

Even in the way they shot themselves, si Janzen, very raw and bad TikTok effects, and then Beanie had production design and para siyang (it’s like a) Netflix documentary. So, that was something we were trying to capture. I think it was one of the readers from Full Circle Lab who said, “This generation, they keep falling into traps, and then they keep trying to dig themselves out of traps, and then kind of going deeper sometimes.” I don’t think that’s a proper generalization of Gen Z, but I do feel that a lot of people in their early-20s, starting out with their jobs and finishing college today, tend to do that.

Here’s a “Chika Minute” question: Are there still people like Beanie in the local industry? You don’t have to name them, but if there are, what would your message be to them? 

You know what? There definitely are. I hear about them, and there are definitely homophobes, there are definitely transphobic people. What’s good about the film industry, though, is it’s very diverse, and there are a lot of allies. What we always want to do is kind of like create a safe environment on set because that’s when people feel like, “Okay, I can really play. I can really be myself. I can really spread my wings.” I don’t ever want it to be, “Oh, you act this way.” It’s always nice when it’s a collaboration, and my favorite kinds of films are really those where you feel the fun they had on set, and you can feel it ooze from the screen. 

So I guess, not only for those filmmakers but also for those who work with them, be aware of your power, that you can speak up, and that people will always back you up. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.


Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He has written for both PhilSTAR Life and CNN Philippines Life. He is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman.