Treb has directed TV shows, commercials, live concerts and over 300 music videos. He has done album cover shoots for some of the Philippines’ best artists as well. A BFA- Advertising Arts Graduate from the University of Santo Tomas College of Fine Arts and Design. he pursued his passion for filmmaking, and studied at the Mowelfund Film Institute, and at the International Institute for Film and the Arts.
In 2016, he attended the American Society of Cinematographer’s Masterclass in Los Angeles, California.
His first feature film “Respeto”, received seven awards in the Cinemalaya Film Festival 2017 which includes Best Picture, NETPAC Jury Prize, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor and Audience Choice Award.
We spoke with him about the film, hip hop and poetry, violence, Filipino cinema and other topics.
What inspired you to combine hip-hop and Philippine poetry together?
The idea came to me when I saw a Balagtasan performance in UST in 2010.” It was my first time to witness “Balagtasan” performed live and I was blown away. I realized how it is very similar to rap battles. That same year, Fliptop, the biggest Rap Battle Leagu,e was just starting. It gave birth to hundreds of online rap battle superstars that includes our actors Abra and Loonie.
Two years after that, I saw our National Artist for Literature Bienvinedo Lumbera watching a Gloc 9 concert. That convinced me that Hiphop and Philippine poetry can be mixed and that I needed to make a film about it.
When talking about contemporary Philippine cinema, I think most of the people will think of Lav Diaz’s wonderful works, which gear more toward an international art-house audience. Your film has a stronger genre element in it. Is this a conscious decision from the beginning? Did you plan to use popular genre to tell a more serious story from the get-go ?
It was a conscious decision from the beginning because we wanted to connect to the audience, especially the young ones.
The rapper Abra is fantastic as the lead character Hendrix. I was surprised that he is not an experienced actor. Could you say more about how did you and Abra collaborate? How did you create this interesting character and a wonderful performance? In general, how was the casting process like for the film?
During the writing of the script, the characters of Loonie and Abra were based on their personalities. I’m so fortunate that they agreed to be part of the film. Since they are non-experienced actors, we surrounded them with talented theater actors. At first, they were very shy and consciou,s but soon enough they got comfortable with the help of their co-actors.
I was reading Bienvenido Lumbera’s essay (“Pelikula: An essay on the Philippine Film, 1961-1992”) on Philippine film recently, and I found a quote that is interesting. I would like to know what’s your opinion about it. At the end of the essay he says: “But if the artist is seeking feedback on how his film has touched the lives of the individuals whose concerns are more basic than simple appreciation for a finely-crafted object, then he should be looking to movie-making for the populace. He should recognize and be prepared for the compromises that commercial filmmaking demands and he should develop the will and the wile of working around them…[the filmmakers who follow these can]left Filipino viewers with certain moments of truth and beauty that only film can imprint and vivify in the people’s consciousness.” Do you think his judgment is still true for today’s Philippine cinema and society?
I think it is still true today but it’s about to change.
It seems to me the film has a nuanced view on the nature of violence and revenge, would you like to say more about that?
There is an unending cycle of violence in our communities that we need to address. Our government thinks that we can solve the problems of our country with violence but doing so makes our problems worse.
Can you tell us a bit about the locations the film was shot? Moreover, how was the shooting like? Any memorable episodes, good or bad?
On the first day of our filming, real undercover police agents entered our set, and walked in front of our cameras. They were pursuing a suspected drug dealer and he would have been gunned down had he not concealed himself behind an elderly woman. Community members told us that they are used to these kinds of situations and has become part of their daily lives.
What is your opinion about Filipino cinema at the moment?
It’s an exciting time for Filipino cinema, because somehow the line between mainstream and independent cinema is blurred.
Who are your favorite directors/filmmakers?
I love the works of Terry Gilliam, Jean- Pierre Jeunet, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Alan Parker, Wong Kar Wai, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher.
Any details on future projects?
I’m working on something right now under the mentorship of Ricky Lee. It’s a socio-political film still on it’s early stages. I’m hoping to shoot this early next year.