In 2019, Rae Red came up with the idea for a spooky TV series that took the form of family horror with a third world perspective. “The idea was: how do you do Strange things in a slum in the Philippines? »The screenwriter and director tells NME. But filming pre-teen actors in multiple locations under COVID restrictions posed several hurdles, so she reworked the idea.
The result is Building 66, an 84-minute thriller set in the titular apartment block. A trio of teenagers (Francine Diaz, Francis Magundayao, Noel Comia Jr.) plan to rob an elderly neighbor, but more seedy characters step in and the plot thickens, taking us on a vicious journey. It is the only Filipino film competing in the Bucheon Choice category at South Korea’s Bucheon Film Festival, where it made its debut ahead of its world premiere this weekend.
Now streaming on iWantTFC, KTX.ph and other platforms, Building 66 is Red’s third directorial feature since the 2017 Dark Comedy Si Chedeng to Si Apple (co-directed with Fatrick Tabada). But you wouldn’t have considered the 31-year-old filmmaker a novice judging by the strength of her solo debut. Baba in Baril won several awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the 43rd Gawad Urian, and is now streaming on Netflix. Before that, Red had written his way into the industry with a bang after scripting the acclaimed 2016 Birdshot, which won the award for best screenplay at the Asia-Pacific festival.
Rae has a strong cinematic pedigree. His father Jon Red is one of the pioneering filmmakers of independent Pinoy cinema, along with his uncle Raymond Red, who happens to be the country’s first Palme d’Or winner. And young moviegoers have probably heard of Rae’s cousin Mikhail Red (Birdshot, Dead children).
NME spoke to the author about the politics of his films, the expectations imposed by his last name, and Building 66. If you haven’t already paid attention to Rae Red, here’s why you should.
There is a line in which you wrote Baba in Baril where a character says, “everything is personal”. Can you explain this in terms of your choice of storytelling and the type of movies you’ve made so far?
“It was Elijah Canlas’ character, Jun who said that. I wrote the line to sum up the whole theme of Baba in Baril. My intention was not to make a revenge film but to describe why this system of violence exists – how the patriarchal system and the capitalist system interconnect in society and how it even affects our love lives. Which I guess is a lot to sum up [laughs]. I would say all of my films are personal.
And they tend to have political comments. Is this something that you are aiming for, especially as a Filipino filmmaker at this time?
“I think it has to come naturally because you can still feel if it’s forced. I guess the reason it’s always political for me is that I always felt like something was wrong, even at a young age. My dad loves to watch Scorsese movies and gangster movies. As a child, I could feel the disconnect between watching [inequalities] portrayed in those movies and then watching, say, the Miss Universe pageant.
“I also went to a school with classmates who were children of celebrities or politicians. We’re not rich and I’m not conventionally pretty, so early on I sort of felt like I was a “minority” in quotes. I think the common misconception is that when your dad is a filmmaker, you’re rich and we really aren’t. It wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered oh, there are terms for this social structure that I felt as a kid. So I guess that’s why it’s always important for me to inject this into everything I do. Although I have to admit that sometimes I write just for entertainment too.
“Screenwriting is a lonely activity, with directing you are bound to be an extrovert. I love that I can be both “
Has been Building 66 intended to be purely entertaining?
“It was born from me and [Tenement writing partner] Kenneth Dagatan’s love for the thriller, suspense and coming of age genre. We wanted to make a frenzy viewable TV series that we would love to do. So the inspirations were movies like Support me and family horrors like Hereditary and German series Dark. The idea was, how do you do Strange things in a slum in the Philippines?
“But with the pandemic and the closure of ABS-CBN [the broadcaster owns Dreamscape Entertainment, which produced Tenement 66], we had to make so many changes to tell a really good story with more stringent requirements. For Babae… and Chedeng, the comment there was very intentional. With Building we wanted to do it just for entertainment, but I guess some [politics] slipped into it. Writing a story about people who belong to the lower class, it’s kind of your responsibility to include politics. It’s part of their truth as characters, it’s part of their everyday life, so you can’t avoid that at all.
Where did you end up filming and do you have any interesting filming stories?
“We first went to the Tenement de Pasay, the one with the Kobe Bryant fresco. Me and Kenneth spent time and talked with some children who lived there. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to shoot there because COVID cases were high. We ended up shooting in a half-abandoned building, a convent in Cogeo, Antipolo. This is the same place they shot Sinister [2018 horror co-written by Red]. There were dorms there so this is where we slept and filmed for 11 days.
What’s the trickiest thing about creating on-screen suspense?
“I feel like creating suspense challenges creativity. Like OK, you made a silhouette appear behind the characters, what do you do next? You kind of go back to your favorite horror or dread scenes for inspiration, but you don’t want to be predictable either. We had a lot of fun orchestrating it right down to camera angles and character blocking.
What do you like about directing that you don’t get by scripting?
“I really like composing the image. Someone once said that writing a screenplay is also directing, but on paper. If you are an effective screenwriter, the director can easily figure out how to direct the film. But screenwriting is a lonely activity, and with directing you are bound to be outgoing. I like the balance where I can be both.
“I feel like the collaboration opens up a lot of things that you aren’t able to think of as you write it. The story maximizes its full potential if you are surrounded by a reliable team. As a director, you need to know a bit of acting, a bit of editing, a bit of cinematography and design. I really like that there is more to the directing than the writing. I can’t make one, I need both.
“Building suspense challenges creativity. Like OK, you made a figure appear behind the characters – what do you do next? “
But initially, you were afraid to get into the cinema. Did it have to do with the expectations that come with being a red?
“To be honest, my main goal was really to have financial security. My siblings and father are all Fine Arts graduates and my mother is a ballet dancer. So I wanted to move away from the arts. I started medical technology in college with the intention of becoming a doctor [laughs]. But I did a semester and gave up. Then my Filipino high school teacher recommended me to take a talent test at UP [University of the Philippines] in creative writing. This is what I ended up finishing.
“There was never a turning point where I was like ‘Oh, I want to achieve.’ It was just, ‘Oh I wanna try to make this short about this little girl on her period [Luna]. ‘ And after doing that, I thought of the concept for Baba in Baril which was a passion project that I didn’t think would come true. Then my friend Fatrick Tabada asked me if I wanted to co-direct Chedeng, which led me to pursue Babae thinking that I’m still going to be primarily a screenwriter, I just want to direct this particular movie. But it just continued.
“I think the clearest thing is that I really want to tell stories. Having a family that makes movies, I feel luckier than rushing to have people to turn to for advice if I need it. It’s a privilege and I hope I can tell more stories.
What kind of stories do you see yourself exploring more?
“I am currently working on two horrors, one is a supernatural series and the other is a prequel to Sinister. But above all, the passage to adulthood is very close and dear to my heart. There are very few TV shows and movies that I could relate to growing up, so my next goal is to make a coming-of-age movie that can potentially address the misfits. It will be a challenge for me to dig deep and tell a heartfelt story, but it’s a challenge I want to take on.
Building 66 now streams on iWantTFC, KTX.ph and TFC IPTV, as well as SKY Pay-Per-View and Cignal Cable Pay-Per-View