AS THE REST of the world was sending off 2016 with fireworks and revelry, Rex Tiri was keeping to himself, excitedly reading through Eric Cabahug’s script for the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival entry Deadma Walking. He was rushing to meet a deadline: earlier that year, Tiri had told himself that if he couldn’t get ahold of a good script by December 31, then he would abandon film production once and for all. But by the time the fireworks were over, Tiri had decided to officially incorporate his fledgling production outfit, T-Rex Entertainment.
Tiri tells me this story in one of the private function rooms of Limbaga 77, his café and restaurant in Quezon City. Tiri is a businessman by trade—the proprietor of six companies, chief among them being Lifeline Diagnostic Supplies, Inc. Film production is something he just happens to have stumbled into. “I am not an artist,” he insists. “Sa [mga artist] sobra akong natutuwa. Sana ganoon din ako.” Still, he has a knack for storytelling; many of his responses are anecdotes told with detail and verve.
He launches into the story of how T-Rex began: how Tiri was introduced to director Elwood Perez and invited to fund Perez’s 2014 film, Esoterika: Maynila. Completely unfamiliar with the filmmaking process (but familiar with Perez’s stature in the industry) at the time, “Sabi ko, ‘How do you go about film production?’” he recounts. “Sabi [ni Elwood Perez], ‘We just need your money.’” After a year or so, Perez came back to Tiri with a DVD copy of the completed film. Someone had decided to credit him as “T-Rex Entertainment Productions.”
“I am not an artist,” he insists. “Sa [mga artist] sobra akong natutuwa. Sana ganoon din ako.”
Following Esoterika, word began to spread that a new producer had allowed Perez complete creative control over his latest film. Impressed, filmmakers began to visit Limbaga 77, which Tiri had turned to after swearing off of producing films. “Sabi nga nila, kung may galit ka raw sa isang tao, hayaan mo raw siya mag-produce ng pelikula, para maghirap,” he jokes. “Hindi siya murang gawin, and I have other businesses to protect.”
But even as Tiri was disheartened at the idea of infinitesimal returns on investment, part of him kept finding reasons to come back. When Gil Portes visited his café to pitch Ang Hapis at Himagsik ni Hermano Puli, Tiri began to feel a deeper calling. “Sabi ko, ‘[Hermano Puli] could be my contribution to the youth.’ It was not about making a film, it was about educating people,” he says. Once more, Tiri funded the film, gave Portes full creative control, lamented the lack of profit, and promised never to produce again.
“Sabi nga nila, kung may galit ka raw sa isang tao, hayaan mo raw siya mag-produce ng pelikula, para maghirap,”
It was only when Tiri read the first draft of the Cebuano comedy Patay Na si Hesus—and was blown away—that he admitted to himself that he had gotten attached to the industry. “That was the time I said, ‘I want to do more films again in support of the arts,’” he recalls. “Kasi grabe, andaming magagaling, pero bakit wala silang projects? Maybe I could, in my own little way, contribute. At least kahit papaano, matutupad ko ang pangarap ng ibang tao.”
Today, T-Rex Entertainment has around
15 full-time employees, including a creative team headed by director Petersen Vargas. Tiri still calls the final shots, but only after his team has whittled down the dozens of pitches to the very best. “I think what’s important is that you develop people, you trust people, you empower people to do their thing. Then ’pag nagawa mo ’yun, sila na ’yung bahala sa negosyo,” he says. Tiri claims not to feel overwhelmed by his six businesses, as he knows they’re all in capable hands apart from his own.
This is not to say that T-Rex, he has become complacent. On the contrary, given his awareness of his own inexperience, much of his attention now goes toward learning how to become a better film producer. For
the first time since he began, Tiri made sure
to be on set during the production of Deadma Walking, not to interfere with the filmmakers, but to more visibly signify his support. “I love the film. Gusto ko ’yung atake in the sense na it’s not a love story, it’s about friendship,” he explains. “Sinasabi kasi natin lagi, ‘Hinahanap ko ’yung soulmate ko.’ Pero hindi lagi ang soulmate mo ay may romance. Your soulmate can also be a friend.”
“I think what’s important is that you develop people, you trust people, you empower people to do their thing.”
While Tiri continues to acknowledge his own inexperience, he’s already anchored himself on the company’s tagline (“Productions that matter”) and is quickly becoming familiar with the current landscape of the industry. “Ang pinakamalaking challenge is audience development. Importante ’yung ma-educate ang audience natin. They have
to be given options,” he asserts. “Magaganda naman ’yung ibang pelikula, pero sana lang may variety. Lahat naman na pelikula ay importante.” He might still be learning the ropes, but he is in it for the long haul, this time for good.
This article was originally published in the December 2017 – January 2018 issue of Rogue.