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‘Firefly’ steers GMA Pictures back to its roots

March 4 ------ More than the critical acclaim and box-office success, the other crucial thing “Firefly” has achieved, its producers said, is that it helped bring GMA Pictures “back to its roots” and winning ways. 


“The film reestablished us as a studio that focuses on stories that are beautiful, powerful and compelling … and created with quality production,” said Nessa Valdellon, first vice president of GMA Public Affairs, which coproduced the said movie with GMA Pictures. “Firefly,” a fantasy drama film that follows an orphaned boy’s poignant search for a fabled island of fireflies, won best picture, best screenplay for Angeli Atienza, and best child performer for Euwenn Mikaell at the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). 


At the inaugural Manila International Film Festival last month in Los Angeles, California, the film took home four trophies: best picture, best screenplay, best director for Zig Dulay and best supporting actress for Alessandra de Rossi. “It brought us back to the days when GMA Pictures (then called GMA Films) had all these award-winning movies at the MMFF,” Valdellon said of the studio’s early golden years, which gave birth to such iconic films as “Jose Rizal” (1998), “Muro Ami” (1999) and “Deathrow” (2000). The first two won best picture at the MMFF; and the last one, second best picure at their respective MMFF editions. “We’re bringing the brand back to its roots,” she told reporters in a recent roundtable interview. Several projects are already in the pipeline, including a big-screen adaptation of “Gabi ng Lagim,” the annual Halloween special of the television magazine show “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho.” Also in the works is a project with writer Enrico Santos (“Rewind”) and a potential MMFF entry to be penned by National Artist Ricky Lee. 


For streaming 

“GMA Pictures will be taking different paths. There will be projects for streaming, and movies that will hopefully be as groundbreaking as ‘Firefly,’” Valdellon said. “We have also started sourcing real-life stories for ‘Gabi ng Lagim,’ and gathering writers and directors. It will be shot cinematically, with a bigger budget.” While she didn’t give an exact figure, Valdellon said that “Firefly” did recoup its budget and earn a profit. “Nakabawi. Of course, it’s also important that you earn money because you can’t produce more films if you don’t,” pointed out Valdellon, who also revealed that “Firefly” will be available for streaming, perhaps in time for Mother’s Day in May. “I can’t say which yet, but it was bought as a concept by a streaming service as early as a year and a half ago. That was how convincing the pitch was,” she said. “Firefly” is as much of a triumph for GMA Public Affairs as it was for GMA Pictures. The former is primarily known for its expertise in documentaries and magazine shows. As such, the group’s foray into entertainment in the last couple of years raised some eyebrows. “It wasn’t just about the journey of the film, but of Public Affairs, too. Maraming ’di naniwala. They were like, ‘Why are you making a film?’ Kayo niyo ba ’yan? That’s not your skill set. You’re used to working with a small crew and limited days. What you know are documentaries,’” related Valdellon, who admitted that the naysayers almost made her doubt herself, too. “I started wondering if we could actually do this. But what I know and believe in is that we can tell stories,” she stressed. 



Fortunately, she and the rest of the team stuck with their guns. “And that’s what we did … Angeli is a program manager for ‘The Atom Araullo Specials’ and ‘Reporter’s Notebook.’ That’s why I was really proud when she won best screenplay. Because no matter who the jury was, they knew she had a good screenplay that deserved to win. Her transition from doing documentaries, from real-life stories to fiction was a triumph,” she said. Aside from “Firefly,” GMA Public Affairs also produced the romantic drama film “The Cheating Game,” as well as a number of soap operas, including “Black Rider” and “Makiling.” Asked by the Inquirer what she thought are the qualities of Public Affairs that proved beneficial in their crossover to entertainment, Valdellon cited the group’s competence in different aspects of television production. “Film crews are typically segmented; there’s the director, scriptwriter, actor, editor. But since documentaries and magazine shows don’t have big budgets, you have to be able to do different things. We direct our shoots on the field, we do the interviews, we write the stories and even do our editing. We can also budget, mount and organize a team. You create a holistic piece on your own,” Valdellon said. “And when you put together a group of people with those abilities, there’s so much you can accomplish,” she added. 




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