Bringing Out the Dead: An Interview With Neal Tan

Neal Tan is an independent filmmaker who started making movies in the Philippines in the early 1990s. His movie Ataul For Rent (Coffin for Rent), about the difficulties of arranging a decent wake and burial, is based on actual characters and situations.

Jessica Zafra: What sort of films do you enjoy watching, and what sort would you like
to make?

Neal Tan: I am a great admirer of good scripts with stories depicting the lives of ordinary people. I enjoy the films of the late Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, and Marilou Diaz Abaya. Their movies look into social and political issues. These are the types of films that I want to make. Ataul For Rent is a social satire and black comedy where people laugh because they recognise themselves. The bigger the laughs, the deeper the pain.

JZ: Where did the concept for Ataul come from?

NT: Ataul For Rent was supposed to play out as a horror film. It was planned as the follow-up to my movie, Barang (Hex), which Governor Chavit Singson produced for his Northern Star Productions. I changed it all when I went to the wake of the son of Tita Swarding, an AM radio host in Tondo, Manila. They used a rented coffin for their dead. Learning
about the hardships involved in organizing a decent wake and burial inspired me to make it into something else.

JZ: Ataul was produced independently. Did you consider offering it to a mainstream studio?

NT: No, because I believe that this type of film cannot make money. It has a very delicate subject matter and a lot of characters.

JZ: What is your next project?

NT: I just finished filming Tilti (The Tillers) starring Alma Moreno, Michael de Mesa and three newcomers. It tells the story of a family of stone tillers in Montalban. It’s another satire based on real life, exposing child labor, molestation and corruption of minors. For my next project I'd like to do Baklas, about the sale of human organs. It's the story of a neighborhood in Vitas, Tondo, where people make money by selling their own organs. I'm also planning Sabado De
Gloria (Holy Saturday), a look at the lives of slum-dwellers during the Lenten season.
Jessica Zafra