Earlier this month, we ran a story by Marivi Soliven called "Talunang Manok." At the end of the month, we will run an excerpt from a film adaptation of Marivi's story by Marissa Aroy. Here, Marivi and Marissa interview each other about the story and its adaptation.
MARIVI SOLIVEN INTERVIEWS MARISSA AROY
Marivi: Talunang Manok is just one of nine horror stories in my short fiction collection, Spooky Mo. How did you decide that this story out of all the others could be adapted to a film?
Marissa: My partner and husband, Niall McKay and I mostly make documentary films out of our production company, Media Factory but we’d been starting to dabble in fiction and it’s a nice change of pace from documentary work. I wanted to have it be something Filipino and a horror story sounded like great fun to produce and direct. Other than that, a lot of the decision was based on practical issues: producing a short film that wasn’t too costly, wouldn’t require a lot of special effects, or post-production work, or too much stunt work. The hardest thing was to grapple with how to have Amado die in the piece, if he died by car, would we show the accident? etc.
Marivi: Please describe the process of transforming a story into a screenplay. How do you decide which elements of the original piece can be retained, and which can be revised or left out entirely?
Marissa: The screenplay was written by Niall McKay my partner with a few ingredients that I wanted to add in. Of course, there were certain aspects of the piece we wanted to keep in,the relationship dynamics between Amado, Cassandra and Socorro, the infidelity, and of course the piece de resistance, the end scene with Socorro and Cassandra. But my actual experience of the Philippines comes from my relationships with my family members there who are all working class or at poverty level. We wanted to tap into the pain they go through of having to go abroad to work, of how the relationships between family members are deeply scarred and in some ways irrevocably changed by this distance. I was inspired particularly of a cousin who has worked most of her life outside of the Philippines as a maid, and nanny, and now a caregiver. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic who passed away while she was already working abroad. Now she sends all the money she earns to her adult children and grandchildren and none of them have used the money in the way it was intended. The didn’t finish school, one granddaughter lied about being in university. And my cousin has basically sacrificed her whole life to send them money. Putting in the characters in this socio-economic bracket felt more genuine to our story telling skills. And then adding in more of the cock-fighting was just really about being curious about this world. When you watch men’s faces in the coliseum, it’s as if the cock-fighting taps into some type of primal need for conflict and blood they are otherwise not acting out. For Amado, being a sabongero (cockfighter) stood in for the frustration of being the one to be left behind. There’s a sense of helplessness and emasculation there (not just in the obvious scene), of not being in control of your fate that I think cockfighting helped assuage.
Marivi You produced this short film while on a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines, but you've produced other documentary films in the past. Please describe how your experience filming in the Philippines differed from filming in the United States.
Marissa: We had a grand time filming this short film in the Philippines! The crew we have really know how to do things indie style, guerrilla even. When we didn’t have a coffin that fit the tall actor who plays Amado, they made one overnight! They were wonderful and were willing to go the extra mile for us. And our budgeted amount for the film, which basically was the money I had from the Fulbright went a really long way. I’m happy to say we were able to produce this and pay a decent wage, which considering the theme of the short film, was extremely important to me. I can’t wait for the next time we film a movie there.
MARISSA AROY INTERVIEWS MARIVI SOLIVEN
Marissa: Were there people you had in mind when you wrote this story?
Marivi: I had multiple people in mind! Mistresses and adulterous husbands are so common in Manila at all socioeconomic levels. I knew of uncles, cousins-in-law, friends, work colleagues who all had at one point or another indulged in affairs or maintained mistresses. When an older married man dies the running joke is how many widows will show up at the funeral.
Marissa: Did the short film get at the same vengeance you wanted for your Socorro?
Marivi: Yes. It was an earthier version of it. I like the way you transformed Socorro's character into an Overseas Contract Worker. Affairs are an almost inevitable consequence of a spouse working abroad.
Marissa: Do you have other stories you’ve written that you think could be adapted to a film?
Marivi: Several! I would love to see the title story Spooky Mo filmed, because of the Japanese entertainer rape scene with Tom Jones singing What's Up Pussycat in the videoke. Negotiations for the film adaptation of The Mango Bride have been going on for over a year now. It would be nice to get moving on that because it takes on the issue of domestic violence.
Marissa If you could have your dream cast who would the actors be?
Marivi: My dream cast for The Mango Bride film would be the marvelous Filipino actor Eugene Domingo in the role of Marcela, Chris Cooper as the abusive husband, Eddie Garcia as the Filipino old-timer Mang Floro, who befriends Amparo. I don't know who could play the other characters in the novel since I'm no longer familiar with younger actors in Philippine cinema.
Marissa: My husband was a little concerned with why I wanted to tell this story with the the cutting off of the husband’s penis as a major plot point. What did your husband think of the story?
Marivi: I can see how that would be sore issue for men, but the story wouldn't have worked with any other body part h. After all, the title (and the actual recipe that inspired it) is Talunang Manok - The Defeated Cock. I have no idea what my husband thinks of the story. He's a literature professor at UC San Diego and has taught some of my other essays and The Mango Bride in his Lit class but has never assigned this story. I should ask him why...