Sober Talk with JP Habac

I’m Drunk, I Love You director JP Habac discusses filmmaking, soul searching, and drinking on set.

by Emil Hofileña

The modern local romantic comedy changed forever with Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman getting onto a bus together, Baguio-bound. Ever since Antoinette Jadaone’s 2014 indie darling That Thing Called Tadhana, more and more Filipino filmmakers have started using the genre as a way to explore not just emotional territory, but geographical space as well. The farther from home a cinematic couple travels, the clearer their relationship becomes, while the world around them opens up to accommodate their feelings for one another. It’s a trope that works for a reason: apart from the kilig and the emotional catharsis that most rom-coms aim to deliver, audiences also get to travel the Philippines from the comfort of the cinema — the rose-tinted nature of the story reflected in the beauty of our country, drone shots be damned.

But perhaps more importantly, the travel-themed rom-com is also a journey for the filmmaker. It presents unique logistical challenges, and forces them to think about their plot in terms of setting — a storytelling element frequently neglected by other writers and directors. TBA’s latest production, I’m Drunk, I Love You, sees Maja Salvador and Paulo Avelino as college students going on one last road trip — this time to La Union — to figure out where they stand with one another, before graduation tears them apart.

We sat down with JP Habac, director of the new film, to chat about his experience working on his first full-length feature.

How was I’m Drunk, I Love You conceived? Any previous drafts that didn’t get to see the light of day? It all began with the title.

Four years ago, I was drinking with friends, and yes, everyone was so drunk. A friend suddenly shouted out of nowhere, “Nasaan siya? Hoy, [name]! I’m drunk, I love you!”A few days later, when she was back to her rational self, I asked her if I could use the words she shouted that night as a title for a film. I wrote the initial script two years ago. But I felt that there was something missing in the story, so I asked my friend, Giancarlo Abrahan, if he could write the script with me. Everything else kicked off from there.

 

How has the process of co-writing and directing a feature-length film been different from your experiences with short films? People may think that a short film is easier to make than a full feature, but each poses its own challenges. The past short films that I did made me realize that telling a story within twenty minutes or less is rather difficult. Short filmmaking is definitely a good training ground.

When I make short films, almost the whole process is done fast – from conceptualization, to actual production, to mastering. I can do it right away just as long as budget is settled. But when we started planning production for I’m Drunk, I Love You, I told my producer that I wanted everything to be planned out, and not to rush things. Actually, be it a short or a feature film, things should be taken in stride for better output.

Travel-themed romantic comedies are a very modern trend in local cinema. What is it about this approach to the genre that you found appealing? When you go out of your comfort zone, you always discover something new. The concept of soul searching almost always involves going someplace else or isolating one’s self. I find traveling helpful in terms of dealing with problems and personal issues, as well as conceiving new stories. Given that Carson’s character in the film is confronted with feelings that need to be settled, I considered taking her someplace where she could find courage to do what she needs to do and say what she needs to say.

Filipinos have always had a penchant for the funny and the light. Despite comedy being a staple in our local films, it is seldom that we encounter comedy films that make us ponder deeper what is presented to us. So I took it as a challenge. The short films I have done have always had that comedic touch, and they work (at least for me). I have had a heart for the genre since.

Why La Union as the main location of the film? Is it special in any particular way to you? There are two main locations in the film

– La Union and Quezon City. Quezon City is crucial to my growth and maturity. There is a certain sense of familiarity that I have attached to it.In the first draft of the script, I just wanted to have one scene by the beach. But when we rewrote the script, the scenes became bigger! So I integrated them into the storyline, and we chose La Union because it has that perfect vibe of warmth and fun.

 

How do you direct actors who are already familiar with working with each other? Do you just trust in their chemistry, or do you try to bring something completely new out of them? I had worked with Paulo before when I did AD jobs for Sana Dati and Heneral Luna. So working with him now was relatively easy. This is the first project on which I have worked with Maja, but we actually built rapport quick, so there was minimal adjustment. And I learned that they previously had a TV project together, so setting both of them up for scenes was rather comfortable for the three of us. I trusted in their chemistry, but as a director I wanted to extract something that audiences familiar with their work had not seen yet.

I’m Drunk, I Love You features a lot of music from both established musicians and up-and-coming acts. What was the process of compiling the soundtrack to the film like? What kind of tone or vibe were you aiming for? I’m a huge fan of musical films and it is my dream to make a Pinoy musical film featuring our own artists. Then came the wave of films that feature music but do not necessarily require its characters to sing and dance out of nowhere. I had the intent of doing something like Begin Again and Once, but featuring OPM, especially songs from my favorite artists. It was difficult to choose which songs to include since there were many factors to consider. But it definitely helped that we knew how we wanted the film to sound like, so when decisions needed to be made – what to drop and what could be used – compromise was

easy. We made sure that the quality of the film and the storytelling, with the help of music, was still intact and true to intent.

 

Did alcohol come in handy during production? Was there even time to pop open bottles in between takes? (We’re not accusing you of getting drunk at work.) It would be pious (and weird, to say the least) if we told a story about getting drunk and professing love without the people behind that story having a taste of the experience. But everything was done in moderation and in good fun. We just used it to lighten the mood on set and get our actors in character.

Is there any movie romance or cinematic story about love that you most closely identify with? Happy Together by Wong Kar-wai. Yes, it is about queer love, but it generally tackles moving on and finding yourself. As Shakespeare beautifully said, “Journeys end in lovers meeting.”
Do you already have any plans or ideas in mind for your next feature-length project? I have ideas in mind. But let’s see the reception of our local audience to I’m Drunk, I Love You. Then we’ll pick up from there.

I’m Drunk, I Love You opens in theaters on February 15.