“Firefly” Creators Recall Journey From Being MMFF Underdog To Best Picture

“Financially, bawing-bawi,” says GMA Pictures SVP Nessa Valdellon

The success of GMA Pictures’ Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry, “Firefly,” has brought in a lot of opportunities for the Kapuso network’s film outfit.

From being the festival’s underdog—with less than 40 cinemas dedicated to its initial screening—the film became one of the most-awarded films in MMFF, including the Best Picture award.

With awards and good reviews coming in, “Firefly” had more screenings and ticket sales.

In the recently concluded Metro International Film Festival (MIFF), it won the top awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Zig Dulay, Best Supporting Actress for Alessandra de Rossi, and Best Screenplay for Angeli “Anj” Atienza.

‘Firefly is 2024 Manila International Film Festival Best Picture

In a recent intimate press conference to celebrate the film’s success, GMA Pictures Senior Vice President and GMA Public Affairs First VP Nessa Valdellon emphasizes the big impact of the movie on the film outfit’s standing in the industry.

She explains, “As a producer, it really achieved something for GMA Pictures. This reestablishes us a film studio na hindi lang credible but focuses on stories that are powerful, it tells stories well, has quality in production and it values a compelling story overall.

“It brings us back to the days of GMA Films when we started, when we had ‘Jose Rizal,’ ‘Muro Ami,’ ‘Death Row,’ all of these quality films, sunud-sunod na MMFF wins yun, 1998 and 1999.

“So, we’re bringing the brand back to its roots, yun yung what ‘Firefly’ did [for the film outfit].”

Firefly creators
The team behind “Firefly”: (L-R) Screenwriter Angeli Atienza, Director Zig Dulay, Actress Alessandra de Rossi, and SVP for GMA Pictures and First VP for GMA Public Affairs Nessa Valdellon

Nessa shares that “Firefly” has also raked in good sales for GMA Pictures.

“Financially, bawing-bawi. The studio has been negative for some years, this is the first one. Pambawi siya.”

But more than that, what Nessa is proud of is how “Firefly” established GMA Public Affairs as effective fiction storytellers—coming from their background of doing documentaries and public affairs programs.

She explains, “Sa amin kasi, it’s not just the journey of the film, it’s the journey of Public Affairs. Ang daming hindi naniniwala.

Nagtatanong sila, ‘Bakit kayo gumagawa ng pelikula? Kaya niyo ba yan? Ang alam niyong gawin ay dokyu, you’ve been doing ‘i-Witness’ for 25 years, ‘Unang Hirit’ for 24 years.’

“Si Anj is a producer of ‘Born To Be Wild,’ ‘Reporters’ Notebook,’ and she’s the production manager of ‘Atom Araullo Specials’ up to now, so yun talaga yung pinanggalingan niya.

“So, sobra talaga akong proud noong nanalo siya and no matter who the jury was, they knew that this was a beautiful screenplay that it deserves to win and she was able to transition from doing documentary na based on real life story.

Ito, based din on case studies ng mga taong nakilala before, but it’s a fictional story. It’s so tight, hindi siya yung story na maraming loopholes na marami kang matatanong, ang ganda ng pagkakasulat.

“The victory is that of the entire department, the profit is just icing on the cake for us kasi ang goal talaga namin is to create a new set of Philippine classics in film pero kailangan kumita kasi hindi ka makakagawa ng more films if you don’t earn. So, thank God na may kaunti siyang kinita.

Unexpected success

Meanwhile, Direk Zig Dulay admits that he did not expect “Firefly” to win these much awards.

For him, the movie has already achieved its purpose when it sparked discussions and reviews where people share personal stories and how they were able to relate to the film.

He then looks back at the whole process where “Firefly” was still hoping to make it to the Magic 8 films.

He shares, “Unang-una, noong ginawa namin, siyempre nilalaban namin kasi unfair sa pelikula na hindi ka umasa na hindi siya makapasok ng MMFF kasi lahat kami naniniwala doon sa ginawa namin, di ba?

“’Tapos umaasa kami na sana, makapasok ‘tapos noong nakapasok, parang isang mahabang journey ng pakikipagbakbakan yung ‘Firefly.’

“So, noong nakapasok ng ganyan, sa part nila lalo na sa production, paano siya ipo-promote. So, ibang klase ng buhay din yun kasi ang lalaki ng mga artista, it feels like pinaghandaan talaga.

First time ko na ganito pala yung MMFF, super event pala talaga siya!”

Zig Dulay won Best Director
Director Zig Dulay is Best Director at MIFF

The biggest challenge came when they found out the number of cinemas they would be shown during the first day of the festival.

Zig continues, “Pagkatapos noon, nalaman namin na, ‘Hala, kaunti lang sinehan namin.’

“So, alam mo yun, para kaming si Tonton na makakaabot ba kami sa isla ng alitaptap o hindi na?

Kapag nagkakaroon ng barrier, nagkakaroon ng balakid, siyempre, normal lang naman, tao lang naman tayo, nawawalan ka, mauupos ka kaunti pero lalaban ka pa rin, na parang, ‘Hindi, kaya yan!’

Kasi noong kakaunti yung sinehan, ‘Anong pwede natin gawin?’”

To further help spread the good word, Direk Zig’s friends and some fans of his work posted and even started a campaign on how good the film is.

It even led to Alessandra de Rossi telling him, “Bakit ang dami mong minions online?”

Word of mouth—aside from the awards—largely contributed to the success of the film, especially since most reviews are based on their personal experiences upon watching the movie.

Direk Zig continues, “Parang naging community na siya in a way na kapag may mga sinehan na, ‘Uy, wala kayong poster dito!’ Nalalaman namin kasi ito yung mga tao na hindi ko alam natutuwa sila na kasama sila sa paglalakbay ng pelikula.

“’Tapos after noon, dumami yung mga sinehan, first day ang daming sold out, tuwang-tuwa kami. ‘Tapos second day, dahil maraming sold out, dumami yung sinehan ‘tapos noong nanalo pa, that’s another one!

Natapos namin yung pelikula, nakapasok sa MMFF, dumami yung sinehan, nanalo, ‘tapos I think nabalik naman yung pera.

“’Tapos hanggang ngayon, may mga lumalabas pa rin na reviews kasi napapanood pa rin nila, sobra-sobra yung naibalik, sobra-sobra yung nagawa ng ‘Firefly’ kaya noong nanalo sa MIFF, sobrang bonus yun sa totoong buhay.

Hindi ko na nga ine-expect, e, pero thankful ako kasi unang-una, noong nalaman kong nanalo si Alex, sobrang saya ko kasi yun yung isa sa mga wish ko noong ginawa yung pelikula.

Noong nanalo ako sa MIFF, sobra-sobra na yun, hindi ko na alam kung paano ko yun maibabalik ulit. Siguro, bawi sa next pelikula.”

Impact to Filipinos here and abroad

“Firefly” screenwriter Anj Atienza was the only representative of the movie’s team at the MIFF in Hollywood, California.

There, she witnessed how Filipino-Americans fell in love with the story of their film.

She shares, “Nakakatuwa na yung Filipino-American community, even non-Filipinos, naintindihan nila. Well, may subtitles naman pero naka-relate pa rin sila.

“So, kumbaga, sabi namin, pwede pala siyang maka-connect kahit sa hindi Pinoy audience.

“And then, yung mga Filipino na nandun, parang feeling ko, na-nostalgic sila. Very emotional sila after the screening. Nagulat ako na after noong dalawang panood, nakikipag-usap sila sa amin, nagli-linger sila sa cinema, hindi sila umaalis agad.”

Firefly continued its victorious streak abroad as it won the most awards at the inaugural Manila International Film Festival MIFF in Hollywood California
(L-R) GMA Public Affairs SAVP and Firefly creator Angeli Atienza; Firefly actress Ysabel Ortega; GMA Network’s Senior Vice President for Programming, Talent Management, Worldwide, and Support Group, and President of GMA Films Atty. Annette Gozon-Valdes; and Sparkle GMA Artist Center Vice President Joy Marcelo at the MIFF awarding ceremonies

But even before the MIFF screening, Anj already felt fulfilled with their work upon reading people’s reviews and reactions about the film.

Siguro, for me, yung pinaka-rewarding sa tingin namin ni Zig, yung Pasko pa lang, even before the awarding, yung nag-e-essay writing yung mga tao about ano yung naramdaman nila or ano yung nakuha nila from the film, or yung mga sobrang emotional and strong responses nila na naka-relate sila, or they found themselves in the story or in the characters.

Doon pa lang, ano na kami, e, wagi na, tanggal pagod na noong time na yun kasi siyempre, grabe yung pagod and stress noong December pero noong nakikita na namin yung mga reactions ng mga tao, may analysis, may summary, may interpretation sila, yun pa lang parang nagawa na natin yung purpose natin.

Sa tingin namin, yung film should start discussions or inspire, kumbaga impact sa audience primarily. So, doon pa lang sa audience side, sobra na siyang fulfilling. Kumbaga, nagawa na namin yung trabaho namin.”

In the end, Anj is just thankful that viewers took the time and spent money to watch their film.

Siguro, we are so grateful, gratitude lang talaga yung word that describes how I feel personally right now for the viewers’ response.

“Gratitude lang ito sa lahat ng nagbayad. Nakakakilabot, nagra-rounds kami sa mga malls to see people bringing out money from their wallets for the movie and being satisfied after. So, nagpapasalamat kami sa lahat.”

MIFF Best Supporting Actress

Meanwhile, Alessandra de Rossi snagged the Best Supporting Actress award for “Firefly” at MIFF.

When asked about her reaction, she quips, “Binili ko lang ‘yon! Kaya nga hindi ako nakapunta, e. Yung ticket, sige doon na lang!”

She then explains, “Hindi, busy ako noong araw na yun. May sinusulat kaming script ‘tapos nagulat ako sa Viber, may 47 messages. 47? What’s happening?

“’Tapos ayun, tumatawag na si Miss Nessa, ang taas, e! ‘Alex, nanalo ka dito!’ ‘Ah, talaga ba?’ Parang, sino kayang tumanggap? Ano sinabi?

Pero nakakatuwa, siyempre, sayang wala ako doon. Pero thank you very much.”

Alessandra de Rossi won Best Supporting Actress

Alex is also happy that the audience was able to accept the film despite it not having a romance angle—especially that her past films were all of the genre.

Sa akin, parang personal experience ko lang, siyempre, ang tagal kong puro romance romance romance, di ba, na pinapanood din naman ng mga tao with essay contest din?

Pero yung iba naman yung i-offer and pinanood pa rin nila at nagustuhan pa rin nila ng walang love angle. Salamat, e, pwede naman pala tayong mag-offer.”

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