In Conversation With Talented Filipino Filmmaker, Shandii Bacolod

“If you don’t want me now, I don’t want you later.”

Shandii Bacolod’s mantra will probably tug at your heartstrings, as it depicts the brutal reality faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Best known for his directorial works: Ben & Sam,Fidel, and the short film 5 Minutes, Shandii was an acclaimed Filipino director, producer, and talent manager. He recently made a comeback with GagaOOLala’s highest grossing entertainer, Love at the End of the World. With its shocking display of pragmatic tropes, the show garnered a major fan following all over the world and Shandii was applauded for his daring portrayal of love, loss, and redemption. We are truly saddened by his sudden demise, and this interview is our ardent attempt to commemorate his last thoughts. Join us as we strike a conversation with this remarkable Director about his filmmaking style and much more!

1) You have worked as a Director, Producer and also as a Talent Manager. Did you always aspire to become a filmmaker? Who has been your biggest inspiration?

As a child, I’ve always been into arts. In grade school and high school, I joined the school theater and dance group. In college, between studies and extracurricular, I chose to dance more than theater. I developed a creative mind and obsession with soap operas at an early age. I began dissecting them, asking about their process and all. I have always been fascinated with film and TV production, but most particularly with the acting process. Growing up, I have always wanted to be an actor. But one afternoon (I think I was around 16 or 17 this time) changed everything. My cousins left a VHS tape at home. It was a classic movie called SCORPIO NIGHTS by Filipino Master Director Peque Gallaga. I was home alone and I watched the entire film by myself. IT TOTALLY CHANGED MY LIFE and fucked my brains out. It was my baptism of fire and my coming of age as a filmmaker. I knew right there that I was going to be a Filmmaker. So yes, Peque Gallaga and his film – Scorpio Nights – are my biggest inspiration.

2) Your first directorial work “Fidel” depicts the painful reality of an Overseas Filipino Worker, who is on death row for killing his Arab male employer for raping him. What drove you to talk about these traumatic experience?

FIDEL was a life-changing accident for me. I was initially employed to be the film’s Production Designer. After around 3 days of shoot, the Director dropped out of the project due to creative differences. But because I have been working in the industry as an Assistant Director also, the Producers decided to pass the baton to me. Instead of hiring a new director, they chose me to finish the project as a director. I mean I know the script by heart and that time, they all felt I was the best choice for the job. Haha! It was nerve-wracking and scary to direct it because it talks about a Filipino overseas worker who killed his Arab employer for raping him. The premise was just so big and heavy for me as first-time director. But after the countless talks with the writer and producers and reading all those case studies, I eventually had the courage to do it. I remember, I even got the chance to interview two real-life cases. It was very depressing and very emotional. I think Fidel started my so-called drive and liking to “controversial projects”.

3) Your next film “Ben & Sam” is about two campus kings who are in love, both of them struggling through personal grievances. What did you have in mind while you were directing this movie?

I came out very late. I was in my 2nd year in college when I finally came out of the closet. And it was all because of this boy that kept my heart jumping. Ben & Sam was my 2nd directorial film. It was during these years that gay films were being celebrated in our country. Gay films with lots of sex are available everywhere. Haha. My best friend, Jazmin Trinidad, finally decided to produce her first feature film after taking a break from real estate. When she approached me on making a gay love story, I knew right then that I wanted a bittersweet love story between two college boys – a smart transferee and a famous college jock. Ben & Sam was a like an homage to my love story in college. It’s candid, pure and bittersweet. Haha.

4) In “Sponsor” you choose to focus on the universal theme of “Hope”. Explain your vision behind this film?

Sponsor came about during the rise of poverty porn in the Philippines. I fell in love with master directors Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz and their style of filmmaking. I wanted to incorporate their style and wanted to pay homage to Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights. Sponsor is all about poverty and sex, and it is also about hope and love. The film was shot with so many long takes and one-shot camera technique, totally improvised with no script for the actors and it was released in black and white. It was only shown once in our country, during the Cinemalaya Film Festival. I am actually proud of this film.

5) Let’s talk about your directorial comeback “Love at the End of the World”. The show addresses issues like suicide, gay love, drug addiction, and family acceptance. How did you correlate the storyline with your own circumstances?

Love at the End of the World came about during the first year of the pandemic. Locked in my house with just my dogs as company, being alone during a crucial year, I decided to go over a screenplay I had 3 years ago. So from a film script, it evolved into a miniseries. I think as human beings, during our darkest moments, we reflect and assess our lives. We look back to past mistakes, struggles, traumas that changed our lives forever, crossroads and lessons in life. LATEOTW (Love at The end of the World) is very personal to me because it is a culmination of my life story, love life and all the shit that came about leading to who I am and where I am right now. This is like me going totally naked to the world, baring my soul and saying FUCK YOU! This is my life’s work, my heart and my soul.

6) Your current on- air drama “Papa, What is Love?” is fast gaining positive responses. What kind of thought process was involved in the making of this age-gap romance?

Oh my god! So after LATEOTW, I wanted to take a break from all the heavy drama and controversies. Haha! Papa, What Is Love? is a romantic comedy. I took all the elements of a romcom series and made sure I stick to the formula. Light, funny, romantic, hilarious, and some over the top moments. Fun series = Fun shoot!

7) You also spoke about your own “Coming Out” experience and the ensuing rejection by your mother. We would love to know how you overcame these differences?

Coming out was not easy for me. I grew up in an uptight Catholic family. So when I came out to my Mom, she didn’t really take it well. My journey was crazy. I was rejected by my own mother. That’s when I decided to leave home. I learned to overcome my inner saboteur by doing everything to live my authentic self. I chose my own path and discovered and learned about my sexuality and it was not easy, but it was the sweetest thing. I surrounded myself with good friends and always reminded myself to be kind to everyone. Accepting who I really am paved the way to forgiving my Mom. As I always said, just because she doesn’t understand does not mean she’s a bad person. Now, we have a very beautiful relationship as mother and child and we are practically the best of friends.

8) Love at the End of the World is rather a rustic yet daring portrayal of sex and sensuality. What kind of challenges and difficulties did you face during the initial stages of production?

During the initial stage of production for LATEOTW, the hardest that we had to endure was the casting process. The series is an ensemble. Getting the right actors was the challenge. My vision in terms of the sex scenes was quite challenging and very bold and daring so it was really hard to convince some actors to believe in my vision. Haha! They get scared every time I discuss how I will shoot the sex scenes. Hahaha!

9) Love at the End of the World is also one of the few Pinoy BLs with ginormous cast full of talented actors. How did you choose them and decide on the specific pairings?

Rex Lantano, Yam Mercado and Nico Locco are the first set of actors to get casted because they also served as Executive Producers of the series. Yam had the hardest decision to make because I initially offered him the role of Ben, which eventually went to Kristof Garcia. Yam chose the role of drug addict Cris. The role of Kristof was the hardest to cast, we talked to 5 different actors before finally casting Kristof. Elijah Filamor was not also the first choice but because I know him personally and I have worked with him before, making him say yes was easy. Gold Azeron was a dream cast. I wrote the role specifically for him. Markki Stroem was the last actor to be cast. He said yes during our story conference. Haha! All actors had to undergo a series of workshops, readings, character study sessions and even compatibility and sensuality workshops. Despite of the casting hiccups, this process is still fun!

10) Philippines is majorly seen as a “Gay Friendly” nation, despite that same- sex marriages are still not legalized in your country. What is your opinion about the same?

The Filipinos are known for being resilient, super friendly, lovable, and always putting grace even under so much pressure. Haha! Yes, we are very friendly with the LGBTQIA+ community, but the problem lies on the acceptance. It is deeply rooted in our culture. As a gay person, you will be accepted when you are funny and can make people laugh. For the longest time, this is how Philippine cinema portrayed homosexuals in films. A gay character should be funny, he should dress funny, he should talk funny, but once you start to portray a gay role with seriousness and decency and do not make people laugh anymore, it becomes a problem. You should get a gay friend because gay friends are fun to be with and they’re hilarious BUT when you start a discussion with a family who has a gay child, things get serious and the topic becomes offensive. It’s like saying, you love partying with your gay friends, you trust your gay hair stylist; but you don’t support gay marriage. I mean, what the fuck right? We are a majority of Catholics and this has been a huge problem. Facts are facts. This sickness, called selective discrimination, is evil.

11) If you had to choose between directing films or dramas, which one would you choose? Which form of art is closer to your heart?

TV dramas have always been very close to my heart because I am a proud scholar of ABS-CBN Channel 2. I was trained to write for television by the legend himself- Mr. Ricky Lee. But if I have to choose between the two, I would always choose films. Directing and producing films are more profound for me. It speaks volume in my heart. They are like food to my soul. And they aren’t easy; it takes lots of hard work, sleepless nights, sweat and tears and failed friendships and relationships BUT seeing your film on the screen for the first time is a life-changing feeling. It’s addictive and fulfilling.

12) Have you watched BL/LGBTQ dramas or movies directed by others?

My bible is Wong Kar Wai’s HAPPY TOGETHER. It is painful, piercing and beautiful. Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” is also a personal favorite. I am a die-hard fan of GAMEBOYS. This BL series started the BL Mania in the Philippines. I also love Easy Ferrer’s BEN X JIM. The Netflix show HEARTSTOPPER made me cry so many times and made me fall in love all over again. I also love Jun Robles Lana’s “Die Beautiful” and of course how can I forget Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal in “Y Tu Mama Tambien”. Haha!

13) Talk to us about your upcoming future projects related to queer culture?

I am currently working on a new queer series called NEON LOVE. We are working on the script as of now and in the process of locking our cast. Neon Love puts the spotlight on the Trans community in our country. It is a love story between a trans sex worker in Makati and an American serial killer roaming around the red-light district. It is an erotic, suspense thriller and my social commentary on the plight of my trans sisters.

14) We have a lot of BL fans and members of the LGBTQ+ community as our avid readers. Do you have any advice or message to share with them?

“In the end… LOVE is all that matters.” We, as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, are faced with struggles and so many challenges at an early age. But believe me when I say it gets better in time. Continue to fight as so many have fought for us and, no matter how hard, choose to live your authentic life and choose love and kindness. Be kind to one another. And remember HATE is not the opposite of LOVE, it is INDIFFERENCE.

The BL Xpress would like to express their gratitude to Mr. Shandii Bacolod for this Exclusive. May his soul rest in peace!

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