By Ana Valenzuela
Boxes of donuts, that was one thing that Palanca winner F.H. Batacan always had with her each time she would visit the set of the film adaptation of her novel Smaller and Smaller Circles.
Even though Batacan is now based in Singapore, the author managed to squeeze in some time just to show support and see how things are doing. Ria Limjap, one of the producers and screenwriters, revealed, “Ms. Batacan came to visit us a few times over our 20-day shoot. She always had boxes of donuts for us, which made a lot of people on set happy. She’s very low key, but she has such great energy. It always felt like a special day on set when she came to visit.” Some, of course, would not let this opportunity pass, and even had their copies signed.
Last year, news that the award-winning novel would be turned into a movie got around. It had some bookworms and film buffs excited. Smaller and Smaller Circles is about two Jesuit priests who solve a series of murders in Payatas. Now, the film is in post-production and the producers are getting ready to show us the finished work.
Batacan was supportive and gave the director and writers creative freedom with this adaptation. “She provided us with details and back stories. Essentially, she gave us a deeper glimpse into the characters that she wrote. She also asked us questions that forced us to make the story clearer to the viewer,” Limjap, who served as associate producer for the much lauded film Heneral Luna imparted. She read the novel in 2015, after hearing about it from friends, and set to work with director Raya Martin and producer, co-screenwriter Moira Lang.
“We had a great collaboration among the three of us,” said Limjap. “Raya did the outline first. Then I did the ‘transposing’ from book to screen play format. I wrote it in English, as the novel is in English. Once we had the main body, Moira came in and refined a lot of the dialogue.” Lang, Limjap told us, would tweak scenes and revise lines for scenes that were next on the list.
She added, “Also, Raya Martin, Moira Lang, and I all love the book so we really wanted to stay true to it, which, I hope, we have done in the final version of the film.”
As they were writing the screenplay “the main challenge was not to get too attached to anything we wrote,” Limjap said. “A screenplay is constantly changing, and you hope it’s something cohesive and organic and compelling.”
“It’s understanding that in a film adaptation you cannot put 100 percent of the book into the screen play,” the screenwriter and producer said. “It’s impossible. Literature and cinema are not the same—different conventions, different ways of conveying the story. So we had to decide on what to keep, and what not to include and keep in mind that we want to tell a cohesive story and make a good film.”
There were certain changes from the source material, not because they were hard to bring to life, but because, as she said, “they had to be made more appropriate for the medium—for instance, some details had to be changed to make them more visual, more cinematic.”
Luckily, Limjap disclosed some of the changes. “We made some male characters female, and some female characters male. Also, we changed one ‘clue’ (which I cannot disclose here as it will be a spoiler!) Other than that, we stuck to the source material.”
They also incorporated some favorite lines into the screenplay. “Top of mind,” she said. “I love it when Father Jerome says to Father Gus, ‘I’m no crusader, Gus’—and Gus says, ‘No, you’re an ordinary man.’ That’s in the film.”
As for the casting, Nonie Buencamino will breathe life into Fr. Gus Saenz. “We handpicked all our actors for the film,” Limjap said. “When Raya and I were first discussing actors for certain roles (a process we both enjoy) we immediately thought of Nonie Buencamino, who is really one of the best actors we have around today. We had both worked with him before, and we felt that no one else could bring the right gravitas, sensitivity, and intelligence to the role.”
The other lead, Saenz’s friend Fr. Jerome Lucero, they only had one actor in mind. “Sid Lucero is an amazing actor, one of the best in his generation, and we love the way he’s intense and yet totally natural. Raya had worked with Sid in his acclaimed film Independencia and we had just seen him in the wonderful Apocalypse Child where he played a surfer. We also thought Sid would make a really hot priest!”
Although there is no definite date yet of release, producers said that it would be this year. Limjap had this to say, “We hope the audience will be receptive to a film like Smaller and Smaller Circles, the first Filipino crime story, a Western-style procedural set within the Philippine context. We hope it will make people sit up and pay attention, look closely, listen carefully, and realize things about society that we’ve chosen to ignore.”