Altar Boy: An Interview With Rico Ilarde

Rico Ilarde is the writer and director of Altar. His previous movies Aquarium and Beneath The Cogon (Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon) were shown in FEFF 2006.

How would you describe the present state of the Philippine film industry?

I try not to think too much about what other people are doing or thinking. After spending some years in the industry, you understand pretty well, at a certain juncture, that you can't really change how other people think or behave. The best thing for me is to try and grow as a filmmaker. Develop skills, improve my craft, and be physically healthy enough that I have the stamina to try and achieve my goals in front of the camera, regardless of time and budget constraints. It's like practicing your kung fu alone inside a room. It's thankless in that there's no immediate pat in the back, but the results can speak volumes.

How did you come up with the concept for Altar?

A bunch of places - one of them a TV show I wrote and directed about a pair of carpenters being haunted by the spectre of a young girl. Then I came up with a back-story for the hero, added a basement with a weird altar and then tried to add a twist to a twist that led to another twist. I also wanted to make the piece have a "noirish" feel with a tough guy foreman character in the back-center of it, created in the mold of a Lee Marvin or a Warren Oates or a George Raft.

How long does it take you to make a movie?

I have a lot of scripts and stories, assembled through the years, just lying around, waiting for a producer to fund them. It's a brutal process. El Kapitan: Blood Of The Virgin (1999), my first mainstream film, took six years from the first draft of the script to the eventual first day of shooting. By comparison, Altar happened fairly quickly- two years.

Is box office appeal a factor when you make your movies?

Personally, I always hope that my films make some money back for the producer, cause it could mean more films for me down the road. It also helps promote the notion that you're a bankable director - or one who can at least "open" a film - and this way, you hope other producers won't shy away from you. Like the famous scriptwriter William Goldman said, it's all about the next film. Then again, the local box office of Filipino films in recent years has taken such a dramatic dive that expectations aren't too high, and that sometimes, it’s far more important for your film to be talked about and remembered for a unique or special quality. Case in point, my film Woman Of Mud (2001), didn't do all that great at the local box office, but gained a measure of popularity after repeated screenings on cable TV. I guess there was some truth to what "Mother" Lily Monteverde the producer said after she screened the first print: that the movie would age well and wouldn't look "dated" any time soon.
Jessica Zafra