Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Maja Blanca

So on the Monday after the epic Maja-Matteo-Coco brouhaha at the Star Magic Ball, this happened:

Evidently, I'm not so good about not commenting on anything to do with pop culture—even if no one's asking. So after a spirited response from Twitterverse—some appreciating my Maja standom, some accusing me of secretly being her PR—I decided to upload my unedited Maja Salvador profile for March 2011 Metro.

So yeah, let's all bask in the glory of the kakanin!


By Raymond Ang

As she stands outside the holding room, looking out at cloudy skies and a motionless Manila Bay, the full weight of her deceptively young 22 years seems to dawn upon Maja Salvador and she lets out a sigh.

It's quarter to eleven, the second hour of a full day shoot, and she has a long way to go. She makes her way back to the holding room and dutifully sits on the make-up chair. As the make-up artist puts the finishing touches on her face and the hairstylist adjusts her hair extensions, Maja looks every bit a woman transformed. A few minutes ago, she was a lost little girl-next-door, looking small and a little bit winded from what I would later learn was marathon taping and very few hours of sleep. But now, that girl is gone, replaced by a confident 22-year-old woman admiring her now long wavy hair in the mirror, admiring her transformation.

And then the illusion shatters, "Ateee, in fair, pwede!"

Twenty-two years old and seven years into showbiz and Maja Salvador has a long way to go. While her looks, and styling for this shoot, may suggest a mix of Suzie Wong and San Tropez, her enunciation and word choice, the endearingly broken English, the respectful "kuya" or "ate" she calls everyone, and later, the kakanin she whips out from her basket ("Kain tayo!") betrays her. For all her worldly beauty, Maja Salvador is a little girl playing dress-up in big girl clothes.

She stands up from her chair and an editor leads her out of the holding room and into the same balcony she was looking out at Manila Bay on. Someone, jokingly or not so jokingly, asks if we're walking to the boat or if the boat is coming to us and is answered with walking feet and discussions about the first set-up. To get to the boat where her photos will be taken, Maja will have to walk from the balcony through the Manila Yacht Club through the docks and onto the boat.

Maja Salvador has a long way to go.

Earlier, Maja's Busted co-star and rumored boyfriend Matteo Guidicelli was telling me about Maja's irrepressible work ethic. "If I tell her, 'Hey, relax and hang out first.' She's always like, 'No, I gotta work. I gotta read my scripts,'" he says. "She's super focused. She's just super hard-working."

If she seems obsessed with her career, it's because she is. Maja is that rarest of local actresses, one who takes her craft very seriously and seems to have a good idea of where she wants to take her career. "Sa lahat ng artistang nakakasama ko, lagi akong nakikipagkwentuhan at humihingi ng advice," she admits.

As a dramatic actress on the cusp of award show consideration, she asked the legendary Vilma Santos how she makes herself cry in dramatic scenes. "Sabi niya, 'Hindi ko iniisip kung paano ako iiyak, kung hindi kung paano ko papaiyakin ang mga nanonood.'"

Then there's what her "Tito Tirso" Cruz said, about seeing herself as a product. All actors should see themselves as products, according to the legendary actor. They should always keep in mind how to sell themselves and why their audience will buy them. "Yearly or after six months, dapat daw may nakikitang pagbabago sa isang artista. Dapat ibang atake, ibang image… Kapag parang di tinatanggap ng mga nanonood, try ka ulit ng iba."

A few minutes into this interview though, this seeming obsession with making it to the top, and staying on top, begins to unsettle. Maja's willingness to bend over backwards to her audience's desires, to do whatever it takes to achieve what her idols have achieved paints a picture of a girl led astray, a girl eaten up by showbiz, a local Lindsay Lohan waiting to happen. When she tells me that she has no back-up plan, I can't help but worry. "Ewan ko kung kaya ko iwanan ang work na ito," she admits. "Hindi ko alam kung kaya ko mag-stop kasi sobrang mahal ko ito."

The thing is, fame and Maja's psyche are inherently linked. In surprising ways, fame is a big part of who Maja Salvador is. In her younger years, she found escapism following the careers of love teams like Angelu de Leon and Bobby Andrews, John Prats and Heart Evangelista, and even future co-star John Lloyd Cruz and Kaye Abad. In high school, she found social salvation by being a magazine cover girl.

Like all the great stars, Maja had a tough childhood. Growing up in the province, she and her family lived on luck and the kindness of relatives. In high school, she would escape by imagining herself as the cover girl of teen mag Candy. "Gusto ko lang maging nasa cover ng Candy nun," Maja confesses. "Nagpatulong ako sa pinsan ko mag-apply sa cover girl contest." As luck would have it, she landed the cover. "Nung nag-cover ako ng Candy magazine, sikat ako sa school," she says triumphantly.

In a modeling clinic, she met her manager Chit Ramos, who eventually found out that Maja was the long lost daughter of actor Ross Rival. After Maja confessed longing to see her father, the enterprising manager cooked up a reunion on The Buzz. With a pivotal moment in her personal life played out for public consumption, fame and Maja would forever be inseparable. It only makes sense, then, that this was also her moment of discovery. Network executive Charo Santos-Concio saw potential in that teary Buzz segment and helped Maja on her way to becoming a star.

Soon, she found herself on teleseryes and then later, movies, where she quietly stole scenes from the leads and picked up awards and nominations for her supporting turns. "Simula nung nakatanggap ako ng awards, naisip ko, marunong pala ako umarte. Pagkatapos nun, pinahalagahan ko talaga." The passing of Gilbert Perez in 2008 only pushed her harder. "Siya yung first director ko, sa teleseryeng It Might Be You. Sa kanya ako talaga natuto. Sabi ko, mag-aaral ako umarte, gagawin ko itong mabuti."

When I warn that I'm going to do more prying into her personal life, she laughs and says, "Nako baka tungkol kay Matteo yan ah!" For a moment, I'm confused. She seems to be dangling the prospect of a relationship above my head, waiting for the inquisitive journalist to take the bait so she can play coy, deny, and then keep us guessing.

The thing with these artista profiles is in the end, everybody is not your ordinary artista. There are unexpected layers, compelling back stories, and unforeseen quirks that eventually nudge the writer (including this one on many occasions) into concluding that that artista is special, somehow better than the others, even if his or her filmography never really lives up to that claim.

Well, let me tell you something: Maja Salvador is an artista through and through. During the shoot, she will act coy and call photographer Xander Angeles "kuya," and then do a 360 and vamp it up for the cameras, mouthing the words to a Keri Hilson song (sample lyrics: "Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful"). She is an old-fashioned star, the type who has no qualms about her fame, who actually seems to revel in it. While looking at the photos on Xander's camera's LCD screen, she'll call her own pictures "taray" and pat herself on the back with an "emotera." Maja is a throwback to the Hollywood stars of yore, with a Marilyn Monroe-ready backstory to fuel her growing, Joan Crawford-sized ambitions. It's what makes her such a compelling screen presence. This one likes the attention and frankly, there's nothing wrong with that--she more than deserves it. She seems to have willed herself to fame, with luck and destiny on her side, of course, but sheer force of will paving the way.

"Maraming utang sa kamag-anak, laging may utang at problema, laging hindi sigurado--takot ako bumalik sa dati naming buhay, kaya siguro grabe ang pagpapahalaga ko sa trabaho ko at grabe ako mag-trabaho," she says. "Takot ako bumalik sa dati at ayoko ma-experience ng brother ko yung mga na-experience ko nung childhood ko."

Today, she finds herself at the edge of her leading-lady breakthrough, with two indie movies under Star Cinema sister company Skylight slated for this year. Thelma, directed by Paul Soriano, is a movie about a runner on track for the nationals, while Busted is her co-starring rom-com with Matteo, playing a girl unable to stay in a relationship. When I ask about the curious decision to go independent instead of big-budget to launch herself into leading lady status, she says, "Kahit maliit ang project, hindi maliit ang acting."

"She is considered as one of the finest young actresses of her generation," according to her IMDB page. It is not clear whether that assertion came from a zealous fan or Maja's team. With a seven-year-old filmography, it is not clear whether that assertion will even hold water a decade from now, after the ravages of time have taken their toll on Maja's career.

Maja, if tomorrow, the offers stop coming in and you lose everything--your fame, your career, your money--what will you do?

"Change image," she says, without batting an eyelash. Hindi ko papabayaang mangyayari yun. Dapat handa ka sa kung anong pwedeng mangyari say. Kung may kailangan ka ibago, ibago mo." At twenty-two, she sounds like a grizzled veteran twice her age. "Madami nakong napagdaanan kahit bata pa lang ako," she says, as if it needed any saying.

Soon, she stands up and walks out into a golden Manila Bay with Matteo on her arm. This Maja Salvador is a professional, a smooth operator, an artista through and through. Are they together? Are they just friends? Are they a Star Cinema-concocted love team acting out a marketing strategy? She flashes one last smile at the team, waves goodbye, and, wittingly or unwittingly, keeps us guessing.

Maja Salvador has a long way to go.


Pancit sa bilao is the new kakanin.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life update & an explanation

This blog thing is not as easy as it looks, let me tell you. I thought I'd be able to maintain it, since I tweet very regularly anyway. But, man, writing a cohesive entry every so often can feel like a chore, especially when you just came from hours and hours of writing and editing at work.

But here we go. Two months and six days later, it takes Tricia's blog pimpage to make me realize that this blog needs some updating. And I realize, I don't actually have to be the kind of blogger who puts together cohesive entries. Some text + photos make for a nice treat too, right? Anyway, there's always the paper and magazines for all that overintellectualizing I call writing. Twitter's for the stream of consciousness shit. Blogspot's for glorified Powerpoint presentations. So on today's menu, a life update of sorts.

Somewhere between my last entry and this one, I started working for Rogue, the magazine I wrote that Tweetie De Leon profile for I mentioned a few entries ago. Things happened pretty fast. They called me in for a meeting to discuss "future projects" and then they made the offer. It's nothing big—I'm editorial assistant which is industry jargon for "everyone's bitch"—but I love this magazine so I'm pretty happy about this. I've always been a fan of local magazines that cultivate their own culture. I think Rogue might be one of the very few magazines here who do that. What Rogue does for men, I believe, is what Preview does for women—a source of aspiration and sometimes, even inspiration. I could go on a long "support your local" rant but I'll save you that headache and take you for a tour around the office instead.

One of the great things about working for Rogue, aside from working with industry veterans like Vanni De Sequera (who current Metro magazine editor Mich Torres calls her mentor), is working in a cool office.

When you enter the door, there's a giant "R" in the hallway and a mini gallery of some of the magazine's most memorable shoots.

The office itself feels like an industrial loft, totally masculine and totally creative.

Here's R, O, G, and U from the logo.

That missing E, Vanni uses as a coffee table.

Here's editor-in-chief Jose Mari Ugarte's office.

Creative director Miguel Mari's:

This mood board is style editor LA Lopez's. Everyone gets a cork board but LA has the coolest one.

My desk is beside the bookshelf, where old issues of some of my favorites magazines reside. For example, this pre-reboot issue of Details, before it became homoerotic and developed a penchant for featuring pretty boys in compromising positions.

This is my desk. It's pretty bare. I just have a file sorter thing I got from Muji, my little box from Saizen, and a mold of my teeth (don't ask).

And here are my seatmates. Photos taken during closing so you probably won't see a lot of smiles.

I'm still not sure what I want to do with my cork board (yes, these things should be considered). Seeing Reggie's desk over at Summit makes me want to do something cool with it. Being the clutter-prone person I am, though, unfortunately, I doubt it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mercato Part 1: I keep forgetting this world is full of good people.

This morning, I went with Kim and Erik to Mercato Centrale at The Fort. If you didn't know, Mercato Centrale is the new-ish weekend market produced by RJ Ledesma, Anton Diaz, and company.

I had actually just come from Mercato Friday night, for the press launch. It's a little strange because the regular Mercato was tons better. For some reason, they didn't have too many stalls Friday night, which I don't get. Don't they want good write-ups? Isn't that the point of a press launch? Sigh. Anyway, the ones I tried weren't particularly impressive so I went back this morning not particularly enthusiastic.

One of the first few stalls I saw today was Risa Chocolates. I had actually written about bespoke chocolatier Pam Lim for Mega magazine last September, for a story called "Saints & Sinners," a rundown of the different little food movements in the city. I listed Risa with other "sinners" like Happy Bacon and Chocolate Fire. The story of Risa Chocolates (a snippet from Mega):

When nothing in Manila offered the kind of truffles she wanted, Pam decided to make her own. “These truffles, I shared with friends and family who also liked the way it tasted,” she says. “[They] asked me to make some for them.”

The idea has attracted a clientele of like-minded chocolate lovers. “Our usual customers are people who are very fond of chocolates and can tell a good quality chocolate from an average one,” she says. “They’re the types who go out of their way to buy delicious food to satisfy their cravings.”

Funny thing about this interview, I was email interviewing Pam while she was in labor. I had no idea that she was pregnant so me being my persnickety self, I kept reminding her to reply and send photos every few hours. Next day, she texted, "Hi Raymond! I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply yesterday. I was in labor. I'll send everything now. Thank you! :)" You can imagine my embarrassment.

Anyway, I had every intention of getting some of her bespoke chocolate as Valentine's gifts for my mom and sister. Pam, however, insisted on giving it to me for free, as a thank you for the write-up.

I was floored. Many interviewees will try to stroke your ego during the interview and before the article comes out. The moment it comes out and they get the exposure, they forget about you. I've never really desired any kind of thank you or anything, since I'm just doing my job, but I guess I was just struck by Pam's gesture because it was sincere. She was getting nothing out of my giving me free chocolates.

And if you know me, you know how much food means to me.

It's nice to know people will still say "thank you" and mean "thank you" and not expecting anything in return. So yeah. Those little chocolate bars really give me hope for humanity, you guys.

Risa Chocolates at http://risachocolates.wordpress.com/

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The life cycle of a Supreme shoot

Since blogs are all about life-sharing and making yourself the center of the universe, I'm giving you guys a peek into what is the center of my universe two out of the seven days of a week--The Philippine Star's Supreme section.

The work week usually begins with a lot of texting and BBMing (not on my part since I don't have a Blackberry). My fellow assistant ed David Milan puts together the shoot--booking the talent, the make-up artist, hairstylist, studio, and photographer. Milan takes care of the non-writing elements of the section, while I deal with all written material.

We text back and forth--with section head Tim Yap too, of course--and decide on a concept. And, especially because we are weekly and we work on a very tight schedule, we use a lot of pegs to help communicate with our collaborators better.

For the Lovi Poe shoot that came out last week, the main peg was Megan Fox's Wonderland shoot:

Using a peg, of course, doesn't mean we copy the photo exactly. It just serves as a sort of point of inspiration, a jump-off point, creatively, for the shoot. Milan was hit with the idea to portray Lovi as an Aztec goddess. He pulled-out (industry lingo for borrowing clothes from a store for shoots) from his spiritual mother Divine Lee's closet and found these:

Now, the thing with shoots is there is a lot of waiting...

Which is why I usually only do research for the interview at the shoot itself, since we end up killing one to two hours, waiting for everyone to get there anyway.

When the talent gets there, though, we work right away.

That's make-up artist Jake Galvez and hairstylist Buern Rodriguez working on Lovi.

From there, we shoot. For the Lovi Poe shoot, we worked with New York-based photog Lope Navo. My story on Lope here.

Most of the time, we shoot with Xander Angeles so we shoot at his studio in Makati. When we're not working with him though, we usually shoot at Pioneer studio. It's a nice studio, with interesting interiors and a cafe.

23, M, Ortigas (Just kidding, Milan!)

Shoots are usually on Wednesdays or Tuesdays. We close the section on Thursdays:

The page usually goes through a lot of changes--I'll make edits, Milan will change the layout etc etc etc.

I make marks like this (Yes, very much aware I have bad penmanship):

Here's the Lovi Poe page during closing:

And ta-da! The page you get in The Philippine Star every Saturday:

The Lovi Poe article I wrote for Supreme here.

I really look forward to work every week, which is, I guess, the point of it all. When you love what you're doing, nothing feels like work anyway.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CDs and things no one buys anymore

All it took was some particularly gruesome traffic to remind me just how magical the long form album is. It was a Wednesday. It was the lunch break traffic jam. And it was my Is This It CD.

Yes, a CD, the physical form album--and already, this feels somewhat archaic.

I guess, along with the dozens of articles that mourned the death of the album, my interest in the album as an art form to be experienced in full waned. "Why listen to the full 12 tracks when you only like six?" seemed to be the prevailing notion. Studies said that everyone listened to self-made mixes now, eschewing the filler, focusing on the killer. Why was I putting myself through artistic self-indulgence when I could just get to the single already?

And so I forgot about the importance of sequence and pacing, choosing instead to just go for the good stuff right away. Forget about context and storytelling, right? No foreplay, just jizz already. So I found myself listening to parts of an album, skipping some songs, listening to the songs I skipped later on, listening to the first batch I listened to, and so on and so forth.

Eventually, I was just making mixes, taking an album for a round or two or three, throwing all my choice cuts in a clusterfuck I then called a mix. And it got old fast.

The thing with well-thought-out album sequencing is it paces the listener properly and sets him up for the centerpieces. An endless barrage of centerpieces will numb you. It's the context of a song in a cohesive artistic statement that really makes it fly, a sort of punctuation mark to whatever statement the album is trying to make. I guess this is why I cling to the physical release--because there really is merit in the complete artistic thought.

I want to pose a question like: "Would you still enjoy a movie if you only saw one or two scenes from it?" But then I remember YouTube and I don't know what to say anymore.

I guess, in the end, it all boils down to how seriously you take your art. It all boils down to what you want from it. And if in the end, all you want is a nifty ringtone, then, by all means, go download that damn G6 song already.

(Not gonna lie. This is a really catchy song.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Three times Tweetie

Why is Tweetie De Leon-Gonzalez on so many magazine covers?

Rogue, Metro, Metro Society. I have no idea how these things happen but my theory is Pond's took out big ads in this month's issues and the magazines thought, "Well, why the hell not?"

I guess it's a perfect compromise between editorial direction and business savvy. By putting her on the cover, they make the advertisers happy while at the same time, not sacrificing editorial integrity. I mean, who doesn't want a legend like her on the cover anyway, right?

Well, that's my theory, at least.

Anyway, It's fun seeing how the three different magazines angled their Tweetie features. My friend and former boss Audrey Carpio wrote the Metro cover story as a profile on designer Jojie Lloren, with Tweetie featured as one of his muses. I really love this Mark Nicdao shot of Tweetie with Jojie and his assistants.

In my head, she is a haughty haciendera in an early 80s Peque Gallaga movie, posing with her farmers. There is something bizarrely (maybe bordering on insensitively?) opulent about this shot. Which is to say, I love it. A lot.

Former Preview editor-in-chief Leah Puyat wrote the Metro Society article. Funny thing about this, I was interviewing Randy Ortiz for my article when he casually mentioned that Leah Puyat also interviewed him about Tweetie a couple of days ago. I had a minor meltdown for a while after that, of course. I mean, dude, that's Leah Puyat.

I was lucky enough to write the Tweetie story for Rogue, which, obviously, was a big fucking deal to me. It's my first Rogue assignment and I'm really happy I was assigned a woman like Tweetie De Leon to write about, formidable and with a rich backstory. Rogue's my favorite local magazine so this whole assignment was a dream. Big thanks to James Gabrillo, Vanni de Sequerra, and the Rogue team for taking a chance on me for the Tweetie story.

(To be honest, aside from Rogue being my favorite local mag, I was doubly excited for this because I grew up watching Okey Ka Fairy Ko! on TV. These were pre-cable times and we didn't have too many options so I sometimes watched Vic Sotto and Tweetie play magical mommy and daddy to Aiza Seguerra.)

Honestly (and I am not fishing), I kind of hate the way I started the article. On hindsight, it was excessively descriptive and a bit heavy-handed. My writing professors always told me that my weakness is physical description so I think I overcompensated with those first few paragraphs, so much so that, in my opinion, my writing voice (whatever it is) only came out about seven paragraphs into the story. But, whatever, what's done is done. I'm still proud of it. I just have a long way to go is all... which is not necessarily a bad thing, I guess, at 22 years old.

Anyway, a snippet from the article:

"She talks about the glory days with feverish passion, belying the fact that it was her, at 28, at the peak of her modeling-to-showbiz transition, who walked away from it all, for her marriage, for her life. Many models in their late twenties and early thirties walk away from an industry that no longer wants them--they don't really have much choice, anyway. But Tweetie, still with the world at her feet and a career that seemed able to weather whatever conditions, walked away on her own. You'd be hard-pressed to think of another supermodel who'd been so content to let her moment pass.

'At that point, I wanted to move on. I just felt like I had no more to give,' she explains. 'I wanted a different direction in life. I wanted to do something else. I guess the flame is gone but the love's still there. I still do some stuff for the association. But for me to be there, it just wasn't me anymore… I just decided one day, this is my schedule and this will be my last show.'

'I'm glad I started early,' she continues. 'That career is for someone who's young. Something would give if I was doing that later in my life.'"

Pick up the February 2011 Rogue for the full story.

(Rogue scan courtesy of http://fashionmediaph.blogspot.com)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Are you there, blog? It's me, Raymond.

Don't worry. There won't be a lot of pictures of my face here. But since this is the official launch of my blog (we were just on dry run before this), I feel like I need to put one up. Isn't that what bloggers do anyway? Put up pictures of themselves then be apologetic about putting up the pictures?

Well, would you look at that? We got ourselves a blogger.

P.S. Ain't trying to be an asshole. I love my blogger friends and the pictures they post of themselves on their blogs.

P.P.S. Especially when they are cute bloggers.