The Philippine heat reigned warm and humid, and the sounds of bustling human life rang blurred in the background as the executive producer narrated his experiences to eager ears. Mr. Alemberg Ang (’95) served as a former Xavier School Filipino Department Chairperson, while at the same time being a self-acknowledged terror teacher, and is now the executive producer of Titser, a Filipino miniseries on the plight of the public school and the corruption in its context. He is a well-accomplished and esteemed member of the film community as well, having won awards in international events with his work, the most successful of which was Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, which garnered a total of seven film awards. In this interview, Mr. Ang shares with us his experiences throughout his life, and nuggets of advice as well.
Life as a Xaverian and as a teacher, after Xavier
Stallion: How has your being a teacher helped you with handling stress?
Mr. Ang: A lot of the training I got, both as a Xavier student and as a Xavier teacher, helped me a lot. The way I ran the set was how I ran the classroom, or how I ran the department. I was part of several committees: the Christmas Drive, and others, so I had experiences in planning those things; even as Stallion EIC—they’ve all helped me with the training on how to manage people, schedule things, how to be efficient—all those things, I learned while I was in Xavier, as either a student or as part of the faculty.
Stallion: How has your personal life and context affected your projects, such as Titser?
Mr. Ang: That one was very, very interesting because of course, I put in my own experiences as a teacher—kaso lang, public school siya eh, so it’s still what I know, or what we’ve heard, but not generally from personal experience. And then nakakatuwa lang because of the pork barrel thing, so each episode is somehow linked to it, like something’s happening. Like recently, there’s someone who said, “O, don’t ask stuff from us; you want to take away our pork barrel. I give away 7,000 scholars,” or whatever. But in the next episode of Titser, fake yung scholarship na binigay ng governor, so pupunta siya ng Manila from their province, only to find out na hindi siya enrolled, na wala siyang money, and then she was forced to become a maid. May link na agad.
Challenges and how he surmounted them
Stallion: I don’t think we need to ask if the experience has been difficult?
Mr. Ang: Oh, yeah, it’s been difficult; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. (laughs) It is because it’s independent—like in the start, struggle talaga kasi I was told that I only need to raise x amount, so I said, okay, my savings from teaching, pwede na ‘yan, if I wasn’t able to get sponsors. But I wasn’t able to get sponsors—or a little bit; we were able to get some sponsors. Eh in the set, naaksidente yung lead actress, so we had to pack up; pack up meaning that we had to stop shooting and go home or wherever. So nang na-pack up siya, sinugod namin yung ospital, and we were in Porac, so we had to bring her to the city because there were no x-ray machines in the clinic in Porac. But we had to go back, so we had to raise enough money to go back. And then talaga, I used everything that I can; all my friends, and the like, and then somebody I work with was very generous, and he helped me out, as in they sponsored. Sobrang nakakahiya kasi kinulit ko siya, na “Uy, we’re shooting na in three days, we need your money.” (laughs) Pero Wednesday ‘yun; sabi namin on Thursday, pag Friday, before lunch, we don’t get the money, we’ll have to cancel the shoot [because the shoot was on Saturday]. So we were able to get it on Friday morning. Mga ganoong stresses, like in Sayaw: we used kasi students, but since [the setting] was a debut, some of them didn’t have gowns, kaya nagka-source ako ng gowns, at nagka-source ako ng barong from contacts, pero di pala uso sa kanila yung high heels, so I had to post on Facebook, “I need to borrow your high-heeled shoes.” (laughs)
Stallion: So it’s basically learning how to think on your feet?
Mr. Ang: Yes! And to be very honest, user. As in talaga, gagamitin mo talaga ang lahat ng mga meron mo, sa buong buhay mo. Like for example, we were going to have a math quiz bee [for the show], but the director wasn’t able to put any questions. So I was texting Mr. Pinlac, “Can you send me math questions?” and he was like, “Huh?” (laughs) So I was able to ask from all the math teacher friends that I had.
Stallion: What were other challenges you had to go through?
Mr. Ang: [The Right to Heal] was my first documentary, and it felt like an immersion again. Pero ang ganda talaga; indie kasi. Hindi naman kasi pang mayaman [yung shoot]. And then the house of Michelle—of Lovi Poe’s character—is super maputik. Kasi it’s super maputik talaga doon. Sobra! As in like ganyan kalalim yung putik talaga siya after each week. When we do it in the house, talagang I told the writer, “Can we not do any more house scenes?” (laughs) But the house was so nice! It was so cinematic, the house that we chose! I told him “Please, let’s not shoot in the house anymore?” And then the drivers are sometimes so maarte because they didn’t want to clean the car tires when they got stuck, and so, sometimes we had to wade talaga through the mud.
Stallion: What are some of the compromises that you had to make in your experiences?
Mr. Ang: I had a lot. For example, [the director] would want this location, pero the location is very far or masyadong mahal—then I’ll talk to the him. The director has some “non-negotiables.” Meron siyang “I really have to have this” [requirements], and there are some that he can adjust. Like for example: once, he wanted a white carabao. Cows kasi are white, and carabaos are black—but there’s what you call an albino carabao. So we had to look for a carabao. They found it in Tarlac in Central Luzon and we had to transport it all the way to Boracay for just one scene! The carabao carrying the supernatural being would cross the screen and that’s it.
Words from the wise
Stallion: As a final note, do you have any word of advice for the Xaverians? Secrets of success or anything for Xaverians to follow?
Mr. Ang: The number one thing that I want to tell you is, as cliché as it may sound, it’s really good to follow your heart. In other words, gawin mo ang gusto mong gawin pero alamin mo rin kung hanggang saan yung kaya ng personal taste mo, personal experience mo. If you want, for example: I really wanted to teach, but I know that I will not be paid the same amount as my friends who are in the corporate world. Kaya ko rin mabuhay nang ayon sa gusto kong mangyari. So parang be willing to accept whatever are the consequences of your actions. I had an experience kasi: one of the turning points was when one of my friends was complaining, “Oh my god my credit card reached over P20,000 plus!” Tapos sabi ko ang laki-laki naman niyan. And then my friend said “Ha?! that’s the lowest I have!” So parang ganoon. You have to be able to accept if you are going to be able to take it into account. So it’s good to follow whatever you want. I have friends or students who just work, and some of them are happy. In fact, I know someone who is very, very happy because he got to go to Japan, to the UK, and to Singapore. He’s very, very happy and very settled; then good for him. But I have other students and friends who are not; na hindi lang enough. That’s why some of them are looking for an alternative or something to do and at the same time they would quit their jobs or mag-iipon then do something else. So it’s good to know what you want, and knowing if you can live with that decision. Happiness does not always revolve around money and doing what you just want to do. There are consequences and responsibilities attached to it. There is a certain balance.
Stallion: What can you say about managing time and stress?
Mr. Ang: Basically, I hate wasting time, and being efficient is a matter of foresight; foreseeing what will happen and then preparing for it. For example, you’re on the set. You kind of foresee already what are the possible problems that you will encounter, and then from there you are already trying to find ways to solve the possible problems that may happen sometime two to three sequences away. Or, you already know for example na walang nangyayari ngayon so maybe you can start preparing already for the future sequences. So it entails a lot of foresight and preparation so that all bases are covered, more so if you are working with actors. Especially on the first day, you will make mistakes. After the first day, you really have to step up and then you have to be able to solve all the problems and foresee any future problems that you will encounter. Cover all the bases so that you won’t make mistakes. And then what I see kasi, is that some people really love what they are doing and they’re the ones who tend to be better in terms of efficiency, in terms of problem solving, because they love what they are doing, so they really think of what they are doing as compared to others who just know enough to do the basic minimum. So at the end of the day, malaki yung kinalaman ng how much you love what you are doing with how good you are at it. It is good to have some sort of passion for what you are doing. For example if you want to be a businessman then go, but you should choose something that you are passionate about. If not, then you should try to be passionate also and find an aspect in that job that you can enjoy so that you don’t feel like you’re dragging yourself to work. This is because one of the turning points I had in Xavier was when I read this book entitled something like “Four-Day Work Week,” wherein [the author’s] concept was that “I will earn, then after I earn, I will take a vacation,” unlike the others who save, save, and save, and then take a vacation after retiring. This is because you will enjoy something more when you are younger compared to when you are older. But then of course there is still the aspect of “you have to earn.” Mali rin naman ung walang kita. Learn to enjoy what you are doing.