EXCLUSIVE: "Eerie" Director Mikhail Red On Pushing Boundaries And Combining Different Ideas To Create Something New
Acclaimed indie filmmaker Mikhail Red is poised to be the next big thing in Philippine cinema. After the success of Birdshot and Neo Manila, the director has set his sights on reaching a wider audience through his latest movie, Eerie, which was showcased in the recently culminated Singapore International Film Festival. The horror film, which was co-produced by Star Cinema, was received positively in the international film circuit.
In an exclusive interview with Metro.Style, the 27-year-old director talks about his new movie, his artistic process, and his thoughts about the film industry in the Philippines.
This is your first horror movie. What made you want to do a genre film?
"At the very core, it’s simply because I want to do an homage to many Asian horror films, something very familiar, which is the myth of a haunted restroom or haunted school—something that’s an urban legend and very universal. It’s the kind of film that we hope to be able to export as well. But then again, whenever I make a film, it’s layered, so on the surface, it looks like something familiar but it’s simply a vehicle to talk about something much deeper. If you watch the film, slowly, you’ll see that it’s actually about mental health and it pushes you to be aware.
"We all grew up in a lot of these conservative Catholic schools—these institutions where, let's face it, some of them are not as progressive or as more modern in school of thought. And the way they handle a lot of these repressed children is a bit traditional and a bit harsh. It started from that idea, and we decided that maybe the best way to tell that story is through genre. I wanted to go into horror, so it became the perfect culmination of that message, of what we wanted to say."
"Whenever I make a film, it’s layered, so on the surface, it looks like something familiar but it’s simply a vehicle to talk about something much deeper"
This is also the first time you worked with a major studio or film production company. How exactly is it different from the indie route?
"When I was writing Eerie, I wanted to go into horror. I thought that we would have to go through the same process. We actually pitched it at an international festival in Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) in South Korea, which specializes in genre cinema in Asia. And we were thinking that we were able to secure financing through foreign grants. It was because of chance encounter with Star Cinema—I think they were promoting Barcelona—that we got to pitch to them. And they took in the project, surprisingly. I wasn’t expecting a local and major studio from the Philippines to fund it. And I think that’s where it started, that partnership. As soon as Star Cinema was involved and we got funding from Singapore, it became an international co-production; the script evolved and went through several drafts."
"I wasn’t expecting a local and major studio from the Philippines to fund [Eerie]"
What was it like working with Bea Alonzo and Charo Santos?
"Working with Bea and Charo was a big jump for me. Because independently, I never really thought of showbusiness or celebrities. And because of that chance encounter, I got to work with Star Cinema. They decided to finance Eerie and of course, I got my dream cast because they asked me, 'Who do you want to cast now that you’re working with us? You can get anyone from our roster.' So, okay, I said, I needed a Meryl Streep character from Doubt—that’s Charo Santos. Then I needed someone who can sort of balance that grace and that control, and at the same time has that look that shows angst, and I thought Bea could represent that character.
"I was lucky they agreed to do the project. And you know, at first, you think you’re going to be intimidated, it’s something new for me, working with such big stars, you get starstruck. I was really surprised that on set, during pre-production and the look test, they were very approachable, easy to work with. Ma’am Charo was very playful and fun. It’s very challenging for a young filmmaker, you must have the authority to show that you know what you’re doing, and that you’re not just playing around, you have a vision. I was lucky that came across easily and eventually, we finished the film with no complications."
"I needed a Meryl Streep character from Doubt—that’s Charo Santos. Then I needed someone who can sort of balance that grace and that control, and at the same time has that look that shows angst, and I thought Bea could represent that character"
How did you get into filmmaking?
"I’m a second generation artist. My dad is also a filmmaker and a TV commercial director. I was very fortunate that I grew up exposed to cinema at a very early age. I was watching movies as a child and I got to be on film sets. My dad never really forced me into filmmaking. But it was only natural that I became curious and I tried doing it myself.
"So when I was in high school, I did a lot of video projects. I did a lot with a camera, I edited on Movie Maker, I did amateur short films with my classmates. Eventually, I wanted to attend a workshop, just so I’d get the fundamentals, the basic film language. I enrolled in the school of Marilou Diaz-Abaya and that’s where I made my first legitimate short film, and that short film was able to travel, it went to festivals. That’s what started it. It’s almost like a chain reaction; whenever I somehow win prize money, I use that to finance my next short film. These are very small microbudget short films and then they got into Cinemalaya, the feature films started from there. I was very lucky that I started early, because it takes a while to break into the industry."
"I was very fortunate that I grew up exposed to cinema at a very early age. I was watching movies as a child and I got to be on film sets"
Wasn't able to attend the @fdcpofficial Film Ambassadors night because I was busy working on the set of #DeadKids. Luckily, @timoicastillo , my actor and fellow awardee from #NEOMANILA (showing this March 13 ??), was there to claim my trophy. Thanks so much Tim, see you soon on the set of #BlockZ ??. Thanks FDCP and chair @lizadino for the recognition!! #filmambassadorsnight2019
As an independent filmmaker, what are your motivations?
"It wasn’t a job for me. It was more of passion projects and something you really wanted to say, so you’re highly motivated to do it. And that’s what kind of forces you to learn on your own and make mistakes."
"Learn on your own and make mistakes"
What are your thoughts about indie filmmaking in the Philippines?
"I guess as independent filmmakers, our stories are more avant garde. We like pushing the boundaries, the limits of what Philippine cinema could be. Now that the studios are finally opening up to collaborating with independent filmmakers, I think we are able to make films that sort of break the mold. We’re not just targeting the local audience anymore. There’s this push of trying to make a movie that has, at least, legs internationally—something that we can actually export. Going international really helps as you now have to think of a more sophisticated audience that sort of forces you to push your stories. If this trend continues and the studios invest on things like this, hopefully, you can cultivate an audience here that, at least, appreciates that kind of cinema."
"I guess as independent filmmakers, our stories are more avant garde. We like pushing the boundaries, the limits of what Philippine cinema could be"
What can you say about storytelling today?
"Well, I feel like everything has already been done, nothing’s original anymore. They say everything’s a remix. For me, it’s all about fusion, it’s a combination of different ideas to make something new. It’s combining elements from western or even European influneces. You bring them home here and add Filipino characters, put it in a Filipino milieu, and you create something new. It introduces local audience to ideas maybe they won’t have the chance to see if they’re not really a film buff, but we get to reach a mass audience and their eyes, it’s something fresh."
"I feel like everything has already been done, nothing’s original anymore. They say everything’s a remix. For me, it’s all about fusion, it’s a combination of different ideas to make something new"
Eerie is now showing in Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Photography by Rxandy Capinpin
Creative direction by Chookie Cruz