Project Raincloud–consisting of a movie, a graphic novel, and a website–is one of the most ambitious Filipino creative projects I’ve seen in recent years, and the film, “Dagim”, has just been released as part of this year’s Cinema One Originals for screening at the Shangri-La Cineplex 4. (You can check the schedule here.) Speculative fiction author and komiks creator extraordinaire Andrew Drilon has been a part of the projection almost since its inception, and will be the pen behind the graphic novel component, called “Black Clouds”. He took a moment out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.
Can you tell us a bit about Project Raincloud, and the extent of your involvement in it?
Project Raincloud is a tri-media project comprised of a film, a graphic novel and a website, all working toward a single concept. It involves a lot of local folklore and re-examining it from a modern perspective, exploring what it might say about us. When I first got involved in this project, I basically sat down with the writer/director of Dagim, Joaquin Valdez; the curator of the website, Misha Lecaros; and Mark Dantes, one of our project coordinators, to hash out the concept, the framing story, the characters and the themes we wanted to explore. Part of this involved outlining a whole world–almost an alternate universe–that might exist between the cracks of the one we know.
The project has been an amazing multimedia exercise. My involvement in Dagim only goes so far as the story level—I mean, I attended the shoots and helped out with the legwork a bit, but the film is really the work of Joaquin and the wonderful cast and crew he’s assembled. They’ve taken full advantage of the medium, playing to the strengths of cinema and breathing life into the world. On my end, I’m doing the graphic novel and trying to push the limits of what comics can do. Our stories parallel, but the different mediums enable different approaches, so Dagim is taking a very beautiful, haunting, hi-res perspective of the story, while Black Clouds explores it from multiple angles and a sprawling overhead view. They each stand alone, but play off of each other in interesting, complimentary ways.
Meanwhile, Misha Lecaros is curating the website, Project Raincloud, which sits in the middle of the film and the graphic novel, tabulating the whole creative experiment and offering its own robust behind-the-scenes perspective. There’s this fantastic meta-narrative condensing above it all once you’ve digested each side. Everything’s rolling out in phases, and synchronizes in the end, so I think it’ll be a worthwhile experience.
Dagim, the movie which is the first “leg” of your project tripod. Can you tell us a bit more about it, and why it may appeal to genre fans?
Dagim is a quintessential Filipino horror film, tackling a genre specific to our country—“the aswang movie”. There are loads of predecessors to this kind of film, from Peque Gallaga’s ouvre of movies (“Sa Piling ng Aswang”, “Hiwaga sa Balete Drive”, “Tiyanak”) all the way to “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. What’s interesting about Dagim is how it turns the genre on its end, looking at it sideways and dealing with the horror obliquely. There’s a lot of implication in the movie, a lot of narrative going on in the shadows and spaces, which I’m certain will be clear to sharp viewers. And it’s a beautiful-looking film. I haven’t seen a local movie that’s pushed its visual aesthetic this far. The colors are mesmerizing.
The ground level of the story is about two boys who’ve lost their father. They decide to journey up a mountain and end up meeting a very unusual tribe of people. And as these things go, they discover scary things that happen in the dark… blood spilled, conversions, existential hunger, death and dreams. It’s like an elevator experience, in a way; as the altitude changes, perception shifts. A lot of elements layer upward as the film progresses. I’ll stop myself before I get into spoiler territory, but I think genre fans may want to see this, if only to experience the familiar in a strange new light.
Have you been involved in the creation of a movie before? How does the experience differ from creating a komik or a short story?
Back in college, I spent some time working in ABS-CBN as a brainstormer, so I got to know the medium a little bit from the corporate side of the local industry. Last year, I worked on the Bamboo video “Muli” with director Marie Jamora, doing a kind of comics/film/music fusion thing, and it was an amazing collaborative experience. Dagim itself proved to be an even bigger beast—the shoots were insanely long, intensive affairs, and I found myself commiserating with much of the crew for having almost zero sleep during the whole thing. There’s so much manpower and logistics involved in crafting a film—it’s like juggling a bunch of spinning plates while engaging in a public debate with your mom. There’s a lot of running around and shouting at each other and thinking on the fly. I’m really astonished by the work of Leeroy New and his production design crew—they built so much stuff for the movie, even an entire town!
With comics or prose, I feel like the creative process has a higher degree of control. It’s really just me and a piece of paper, and a computer. There aren’t too many moving parts to coordinate. I mean, in comics there’s the interdisciplinary aspect of it—juggling writing, drawing, coloring, lettering, pre-production and whatever—but it’s nowhere near the amount of disciplines required for film-making. You really need a lot of people; people who are good at what they’re doing. Luckily, the film had that in spades—from Marc Abaya to Martin del Rosario to Precious Medina and Kate Hernandez and Ice Idanan and so many more I could mention. Film also requires a budget, which seems to be the stickiest part for most people. I think the greatest advantage of prose and comics is that your budget is only limited by your imagination.
Speaking of komiks, you’re creating a graphic novel, “Black Clouds”, as part of the project. Can you tell us a bit about it, and how it relates to the movie?
Black Clouds is probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever attempted. I’m working on it right now, and it’s becoming a really big monster of a story. It explores a lot of local folklore that pertains to aswang, while viewing them from a different perspective than we’ve seen in the past. ‘Aswang’ seems to be a catch-all word for a whole Philippine pantheon of underworld horrors. The popular suspects are there–tikbalang, manananggal, tiyanak, kapre–but I’m also taking a look at some of the more interesting obscure ones which may have been overlooked in the past, such as the Maranao garuda–a terrifying flying ogre that kidnaps princesses and eats men whole–which I suspect to be a disambiguation of a Hindu divinity, making it a kind of an “ex-pat aswang”. There’s also the danag, who are vampiric former gods of the Isneg tribe in the Apayao province. They used to be very helpful agricultural spirits but one day they suddenly turn into these bloodsucking monsters. We’ll find out why in the graphic novel. There’s a ton of research going into this, and I’m pulling out all the stops to make it a really awesome comic book.
The overarching story is the same as the film, but along the way we’ll be dipping into some very interesting romances, comedies and tragedies pulled from various Filipino folk stories and spun in a new light. There’s a guerrilla war being fought, a monstrous courtship and a very strange haunting in the mountains. Folklore tends to reflect the culture and mindset of people, and because I’m taking from so many different regions in the Philippines, the various strands of thought are combining into a very complex narrative tapestry. I’m putting everything I can into this. It’s a ghost story, a weird monster comic and a coming-of-age tale all blended into one. It’s the last leg of the project, which I think is appropriate, because it’s where all the expansive areas of the story suddenly become apparent.
When can readers expect to find Black Clouds on the shelf?
We’re aiming for a Summer 2011 release for Black Clouds, so I’m knee-deep in production right now, but I can’t wait for people to read it. We have a publisher ready and a number of surprises in store for fans of the project, including a screening of the film and a couple of events, so watch out for that. In the meantime, go watch Dagim! It’s out in cinemas this week, and you can find out more (including the screening schedules) at the website, www.projectraincloud.com
[Image source for the Dagim poster - Project Raincloud facebook.]