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Creatives on Q: Joshua Medroso is, well, a tour de force – and there’s no denying that

Film ⬝ Real Jhon Castillon

Behind a quirky and funny personality lies a hardworking and true enough, a tour de force filmmaker who never stops reaping triumphs from then and there. Just recently, his film “Here Are Flowers” bagged first place for another short filmmaking competition in Mindanao. This is his third winning streak since 2019’s Mindanao Film Festival and Davao Kilig Film Festival for his films “Trabungko” and “Eyes With Wonder” respectively.

See our on-going Creatives on Q featuring artists during quarantine

It seems like he’s never planning on putting things on hold despite the ongoing health crisis. Apparently, he’s working nonstop on other materials for his next film projects. As of writing, he has written three short film scripts and two full-length feature scripts. He is also one of the chosen few to be part of Sir Ricky Lee’s Writing Workshop.

Joshua Medroso, or “Wowa” to his close friends, is a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication graduate from Ateneo de Davao University. He is currently finishing his thesis for his Master’s Degree in Literature at University of the Southeastern Philippines. He works as a graphic designer for an international company for five years now. He is also, as he claimed, the lost fifth member of the Korean Pop girl band, BlackPink.

For Joshua, there’s actually no secret to success except practice. Sure he has won a lot of awards from several film festivals before but that still doesn’t change the fact that he, too, still has a lot of things to learn. You just really have to keep on practicing in order to hone your craft, he said. 

With filmmakers like him in a film festival lineup, budding filmmakers and storytellers would really be up for a huge challenge. Looking at his filmography, you know at a first glance that he means business and he’s never ever going to settle for less.

Mediocrity? He doesn’t even know him. He only knows excellence and that’s just the tea. 

In this special feature with The Middle Mag PH, Joshua shares with us his favorite filmmakers and their respective films, his plans for this year’s Mindanao Film Festival, and more.

Can you tell us a little (or more) about yourself?

Hi, I’m Josh, but everyone calls me Wowa. I am the lost 5th member of BlackPink. Charot! I am 25. I have been working as a graphic designer for an international company for five years now. Aside from that, I do films. I am the director of the critically-acclaimed, tour de force, historic, 100% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, fantasy epic, “Trabungko”, which is the winner of last year’s Mindanao Film Festival. I also made two other films, one romance short film, “Eyes With Wonder”, also a winner, from Davao’s first ever Kilig Film Festival, and “Here Are Flowers”, winner of Panag-ambit: Stories of Courage Short Film Competition, which concluded recently. I am a huge fan of sci-fi and dystopian literature… Okay, this feels like a profile description that I would write for a dating app. Char!

But with that said, I am single, and I am a father of a very makulit dachshund who I named ‘Vegeta’.

Since when did you realize that you want to become a filmmaker? How?

Before I loved filmmaking particularly, I loved the art of storytelling first. I’ve always been a huge fan of films and TV shows and fairytale books since I was young. I could still remember back in the day… I think I was six back then, and it’s during those times when, you know, only one household owns a DVD player and the neighborhood is huddled there everytime something new comes up. I would be watching films with the adults. Most of them, for some reason, are horror films like Pumpkinhead, Sleepy Hollow, Species, Anaconda, and Resident Evil. And I would be watching with my cousins too, after school or on the weekends, some anime shows like Dragon Ball Z, Ghost Fighter, and Flame of Recca, also live action shows like Power Rangers and animated shows like Beast Wars. I’m sure every 90s kid would relate to this. I think during those times, for me, these things didn’t just stick to me as this form of non meaningful entertainment. It’s always this curiosity and this questioning mindset of, “How did they do that? Why? Why did the story lead to that?” I was always fascinated with how the writers and the creators of these stories were able to build these massive worlds and inspirational characters that we, as kids, would be so thrilled to role-play. It was an escape. At that time, I would draw and write about people and otherworldly places, you know, in trying to invent something, in trying to tell my own fictional universe, and it just went on and on as time went by. 

But I guess the incitement towards filmmaking, and taking filmmaking seriously as an actual career, really came about last year with the opportunity to direct Trabungko. That really gave me this doorway, an opportunity to tell the stories I’ve cooked since my younger years. Although, technically, my life during my college years – doing all these school projects, little photoshoots and music videos that I do for fun with friends – that was the part that exposed me to the world of film and production initially. So, I guess, I would consider that as my practice phase. All things that I’ve learned from our Film Appreciation and Non-linear Editing classes.

So it’s like… I’m this little child with a bagful of stories and the learned knack for telling them, and I had just unlocked this door to a bigger realm, and Trabungko was my little key. Now I have all these stories on paper and I just can’t wait to show them to the world.

Any local or international filmmakers you're looking up to? Why? And what's your favorite film/s of these directors?

Well, I’m not sure if it’s noticeable but I put quite a bit of an effort in the aesthetics of my films. Char! I’d like to believe I am influenced by visual storytellers. I am a huge fan of Edgar Wright, and his incredible style of visual comedy like in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Mexican directors also inspired me a lot as well, especially Alfonso Cuaron, with Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien and Roma. Those films are still etched onto my mind, how the background is forayed into the telling of the story, how the building of the world itself has become a character of its own, a central theme to the story, how it forces us to ‘look around’. It would be such an honor to do films like that. I am also a huge Akira Kurosawa fan. His films like Rashomon and Dreams will always have a place in my heart.

If I really would talk about other influences, I would go to a specific genre as well, and not of a single director. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed watching retro sci-fi. Major film influences for me would have to be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Enemy Mine, A Clockwork Orange, Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, Metropolis, Forbidden Planet, and many others in that field. The matte-paintings, the design of their technology, how fantasy is justified through their science, it’s something that I would like to delve into with my films in the future, of course with this mixture of local Mindanao flair.

But if there’s someone that I really look up to as of today, it would have to be Denis Villeneuve. He’s the one director I would like to mirror myself to. Char! His delicate treatment to cinema is just remarkable. The play of morality, of mystery… I am still to this day floored with his films.

You already have three films that have won or emerged as the best films in their respective festivals, how do you feel about this? Any secrets on how to actually pull off this kind of feat?

I think my friends already know this, and also the people that I’ve worked with… I am an incredibly competitive person, and I don’t actually sleep until the thing is done. I know it may sound detrimental or what but my mind really just refuses to rest whenever there is work to do. And until such time when we can finally say, “Okay, human na. This is it guys.” That’s the only time when I would actually sleep properly. It’s like I’m a machine and I just keep on humming and humming for days nonstop. So it’s like this, “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done,” kind of approach.

When I’m making something, I always keep on asking myself, “What more can I do? What else is there for me to do to elevate the value of this project?” Trabungko was a long, demanding process, and I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t expect and wish for it to be recognized in MFF. The initial purpose of Trabungko really is just to elevate the audio-visual presentations that we have in our barangay events especially in our Hiyas and Lakan pageant, but more to that there’s a certain depth to it that was unearthed as we went along with filming. I learned so much in the time we were filming Trabungko, and I think that lifted the value of the project. You know, there’s this sense of awareness and gentleness to it.

"And I think the heart of your film really is what makes it stand above the rest. What is your film trying to say? Who is it for? How was it told?"

So, yeah, to answer the question really is just to think of your craft as a product you intend to show because this is the way you think is best for this story to be told. We all have something to say, but the way we say it, and where and when we say it are important factors too, otherwise we won’t be heard enough. Your creation wouldn’t make a ripple.

But more to this… somehow, for me, a measure of a great film is how personal it is to its creator, how it mirrors to its creator’s life experiences. This quote from Blade Runner 2049 I guess would fit to this: “There’s a bit of every artist in their work.” That’s very true in every sense. Trabungko was a gift from me and my friends to my community. Eyes With Wonder is a love story that I have scoured from my heartaches in the past. So yeah, knowing who you are and finding your own unique method of showing it through your films is a great deal and would make, I guess, a winner for the books. Char!

As a filmmaker, how do you hone your craft?

You know what they say about ‘practice’? It’s true. Charot! No, really. It’s true. Behind all great works are hours and hours spent on learning and practicing and disappointments and heartbreaks and failing. Sounds cliché, but success isn’t a success-failure-success-failure path. It’s more of a failure-failure-failure-success path. 

I think what really worked for me in terms of honing my craft and practicing is reading and trying to watch films and film essays everyday. Knowing the do’s and the don'ts and what works for me and what doesn’t. But above all that, really, if you dream of becoming a filmmaker, dream of becoming a storyteller first. Find ways to be able to learn about stories by reading, and subsequently, learn to write. Learn the process of writing people, of writing worlds and writing events. Just write. Write. Write. And when you have mastered that, you have learned how to rewrite and rebuild and re-engineer these stories in any given circumstances. Because filmmaking and production is another thing. You know, when you create a film, and unexpected things happen -- it may rain, actors or essential crew are unavailable and deadline is nigh -- what matters most is how you rewrite this certain scene that would be applicable and achievable given the availability of things at the moment, but still remain true to your vision and to you as an artist. Because, at the end of the day, filmmaking is an art of constant rewriting. If you’re happy and inspired, write about it. If you’re heartbroken, write about it. “Does this scene work? This character’s line feels off. Okay, let’s change it.” So really, before you take your stand behind the lens, take your stand before the desk first, and prepare with your pen or your keyboard or whatever works for you.

Aside from filmmaking, anything that you want to explore doing or passionate about?

Well, most of my friends and family keeps on reiterating this to me: vlogging. So that’s something I am checking on for now. I’m thinking maybe I’ll do this channel and regularly upload reaction videos and commentary of movies. But I guess vlogging requires this kind of vigor and energy and I’m at this part of my life where I’m quite not as animated as I was before. Char! I just wanted to wallow into my sadness for a moment, a recharge in a way. So, for now curating and writing my stories on paper would be the proper endeavor, something that calls for solitude.

But aside from that, I also do photography stuff just to get my creative juices flowing. I’m planning on doing a photo series soon inspired by astronomy, so I hope people would check that out.

What's keeping you busy in these unprecedented times?

Well, as of now, work keeps me busy. But aside from that, I am writing non-stop. I am very grateful to be a part of Sir Ricky Lee’s Writing Workshop. His classes have been the most amazing part of my quarantine. I have made about three short film scripts and two feature film treatments. And since right now, me and my team are still unable to shoot stuff, so these things just keep on piling up, my scripts. As much as I want to share about these things I think it’s best that I keep mum about it for now. I also keep myself busy with watching shows and films online, reading, watching video essays on YouTube, practicing and learning. So yeah, I think I’m having a productive time so far. We were also able to shoot this little video with TM, which had won. So the hustle never really stops.

Are we expecting an entry from you in this year's virtual Mindanao Film Festival?

That is something that I really can’t answer for now though… because as much as I want to film something this year, I am just really scared to go out and do stuff. I don’t want naman to jeopardize my friends’ health, and allow complacency to become our enemy. But right now, we are still talking about what we can do with the time because honestly, more than we care to admit, me and my friends are now itching to shoot something and some of the ideas that we want to pursue are impossible for the time, given how production, most of the time, thrives on mass gatherings and require manpower. So we’re still trying to see what we can stretch and adjust for the circumstance. But, best case scenario, hopefully we can do something for this year’s MFF, given how it’s the festival’s ‘debut’ year. It’s the 18th year so that’s quite special.

Why should they (government agencies) invest in filmmakers like you from the region?

I’m really not sure what to say about this but the fact that more than anything, regional filmmakers need to create and be able to tell stories from the region because there are various, diverse narratives that had been tucked away, untold and forgotten and buried under all these commercialized stories, you know, cultural stories that deserve more recognition. And no other storytellers could tell these Mindanao stories but Mindanaons. You know, we people are built through our different cultures, and one way in learning about them is through film. Film teaches culture. Film is culture. We’ll know about Philippine history, if not with books, with Oro, Plata, Mata, Heneral Luna, and Goyo and many more. We learn about other countries as well, about their struggles and victories through the films created there.

Mindanao is extremely rich with mystical stories that even I didn’t know existed until my class in MA Literature. We have stories from the Maranaos like Darangen and the accounts of Pilandok, and the Epic of Tudbulul by the T’Bolis, and Agyu from the Manobos. Some of the lumad stories that we have just simply vanishes because we haven’t seen so much of them and there’s very little effort with trying to sustain this feature that makes us a society. And nothing is ever more heartbreaking than an irrecoverable culture. It’s something that I have tried to emphasize with Trabungko: History forgotten repeats itself, but heritage forgotten is gone forever.

And I think I’m speaking for all of the film industry when I say that although we try very hard to create these stories through the very little things that we have, some support from the government would be instrumental to the proliferation of culture through this artform. So hopefully, in the future, we gain more support and assistance.

With Trabungko, how did you pull off such film with an amazing production design on a limited budget?

First of all, that’s one thing that I’m actually proud with Trabungko -- the production design, the world itself and how it was built. It’s like every time someone watches the film they would immediately ask me how much I have spent in it. It’s always like, “Magkano gastos n’yo dito?” And I would always just offer this shy-proud smile, like, “Mmm… just a little.” Well, because relatively, it is little. We didn’t have any support from any big production houses. I have to rely on my salary and from the small financial solicitations from friends. I even had to sell some of my books just to get by and to actualize the Trabungko vision.

But more to this, despite the kakulangan sa budget, it’s the resourcefulness and the creativity that we have rendered over the project that made it look like the way it looks. There’s a term for this actually that me and my best friend would always joke about, it’s this “barangayan” agility. You know, how people, especially from the LGBT community, how they are able to create extravagant costumes from scratch when they join a barangayan pageant, how they make things out of nothing. And it’s effective. It’s beautiful. That’s the behavior that I tried to emulate with Trabungko, given how Trabungko is a fantasy epic and most of the things we have today aren’t available for the period, so we really have to create everything from scratch. If you may have noticed, some of the props and costumes in Trabungko are simply trash that we have just redesigned to be something else. The witch’s doll was made out of a plastic bottle, which we covered with coconut shreds and twigs and other things. The Hiyas’ headdress was made out of an electric fan cover, and her bed was made out of a discarded table my friend had thrown away outside their house. And the slanted pillars of wood that we see when Lakan and the witch meet, they were all just wooden benches that we propped up. Curtains were also a huge part of Trabungko’s grandeur. My mother and my friends would joke around saying, “O unsa napud na kurtina na nang imong giwakli.” So yeah, filmmaking is an expensive effort but improvisation and a little bit of a child-like risk-taking is essential as well.

But honestly, what made Trabungko a magical success is this sense of volunteerism with all the people who were involved in it. The cast and the crew are all just friends and family who offered to help without this thought of getting anything in return, especially with finance. Everyone knew they wouldn’t be getting paid, but they were still there in support wholeheartedly. I guess, I’m also speaking din with all of regional cinema when I talk about this because this is what separates us from the rest, how we do stuff the guerilla way and how we do it because we simply just want to make films. 

So like what I’ve always been saying, Trabungko is made for Tibungco, by Tibungco. The spirit of that film lies with the unseen help and the laughter and the struggles and I wouldn’t be any more grateful. You know, they believed in my vision, and they helped me actualize it. So for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Advice to those who want to pursue filmmaking.

That’s a great question, although it’s not a question. Char! Well, because… before, I would say I don’t have any advice since I am still also an aspirant. I am still starting out. But I think now I have an answer. And it’s just simply this: If it doesn’t terrify you, then that’s not it. Whatever it is that you make must give you this feeling of uncertainty, as if you are standing on a beam about to fall somewhere, and then there’s some kind of force pushing you forward, but you have to keep you balance on the beam. Don’t be somewhere safe. Put yourself into this scary battlefield and fight for what you are trying to say. When you create something, there has to be this kind of rush that makes you feel giddy and excited and nervous and tired and inspired, literally feels like you are pregnant, as if you are creating life itself. Because when you recognize this certain type of fear, or whatever this kind of feeling is, this vertigo, you’ll know how to overcome it. And when it is done, when the dust has settled and then you can rest.

There’s this saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.” In a way, you must be ready to experience death-like struggles for heaven to open. If you know what you are fighting against, what you are fighting for and how it’s worth it, go for it. Mistakes are inevitable, but so should you. But on the flip side, enjoy the process. Be silly! Art is fun, and society is a hoax, so don’t let this sense of serious-mindedness kill your drive. 

© The Middle Mag PH