Though Cinema One Originals has already wrapped up a few weeks ago, people are still talking about 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, winner of this year’s Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor awards.
Unpredictable and memorable, 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten tells the life of Felix portrayed by Khalil Ramos, a 15-year-old sophomore whose life drastically changes after meeting and befriending the Snyder brothers, portrayed by Ethan Salvador and Jameson Blake.
Set in ’90s post-Pinatubo Pampanga, the film evokes nostalgia and heartbreak—two things that the film’s director, Petersen Vargas, has always perfectly captured in his works such as Lisyun Qng Geografia (Best Direction winner, Cinemalaya 2015) and his music videos for artists like Akira Medina and BP Valenzuela.
We got the talk with the 24-year-old filmmaker about his latest masterpiece, his inspirations, and what’s next for him.
How was it like working with fellow Kapampangan director, Jason Paul Laxamana (director of Mercury Is Mine, Cinemalaya 2015 Best Screenplay winner)?
I appreciate the creative freedom we gave each other throughout the entire process. It was a matter of giving full trust, and it’s exactly what we had for each other.
How did the idea of you guys working together for a film start?
At the start of 2016, I approached him in the hopes of collaborating with me, but for an entirely different story concept I had in mind. I specifically approached Jason Paul because I’m more than familiar with his body of work. It had a solid signature.
But even before hearing what I had to say, he already propositioned a better idea. During this particular conversation online, he instantly thought that a screenplay of his, then entitled Dos Mestizos, was something that was very fitting for me to direct. So he gave it to me. All I can say is that it was love at first… read. Ha ha! We’re lucky enough that it also impressed the Cinema One Originals screening committee to offer us a grant to finally make it.
How and why did you change the film’s name from Dos Mestizos to 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten? What does the title mean to you?
It was Dos Mestizos when Jason Paul was supposed to direct it. But when it was passed onto me, I had to figure out what kind of film I wanted it to be. The original title didn’t quite capture it [anymore].
Whereas Jason Paul’s Dos Mestizos was more about how two Fil-Am outsiders greatly affected an entire small community in Pampanga, my take focused more on how it changed the life of one single person, our hero Felix.
Ending up with 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten was a rather long journey. It was one of the most challenging things we had to figure out before we started shooting. We came up with a long list of mediocre alternatives to Dos Mestizos.
Until one night, I had a random conversation about this particular dilemma with the film’s creative consultant and my long-time mentor Jade Castro. We agreed that the film’s title, more than anything, had to have a youthful spirit. Jade brought up films like Fish Tank and we talked about how perfectly fitting that title was even if it wasn’t such a literal reference to the film.
I suddenly remembered Lilja 4-Ever, which coincidentally, just like Fish Tank and our film, were about youths experiencing cultural displacement and wanting to leave their small bubble in their respective hometowns where they felt like they didn’t belong. We talked about how smart it was to use “4-Ever” to instantly bring people back to a certain time, a certain feeling.
And then Jade brought up a song by Lucinda Williams, which is where the title is taken from: 2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten. He adds that the title of that song was actually taken from some random public vandal. I instantly fell in love with it. We knew people were going to be thrown off by the mere idea of it — and trust me, a lot were against it, ha ha! — but I knew that it was it. We fought hard for it, and I’m sort of proud that we were able to push for it.
Let’s talk about the cast. How did you find the three of them?
Even during the initial pitch to Cinema One Originals, I already had Khalil Ramos in mind for Felix.
Looking for the Magnus and Maxim, on the other hand, was a challenge. We had two rounds of auditions and a grueling callback session to decide who would be perfect to play the Snyder brothers. We even invited Khalil, who was already set to play Felix, to participate in the callbacks and give his own take and input. But after all that, it was very obvious that it had to be Ethan Salvador and Jameson Blake.
What made you decide on that unusual aspect ratio? It reminds us a lot of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy.
That’s not the first time someone mentioned that comparison! But to be technically specific about it, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy had a 1:1 perfect square ratio whereas ours had what people back then called the Academy ratio of 4:3.
It was brought up during my first meeting with the cinematographer of the film. We agreed to the aspect ratio mainly for two things: 1) it was perfect for a film that had to dwell so much on its characters;and 2) it sort of gave you that ’90s vibe. Films back then were shot in that aspect ratio, and we wanted to give back that feeling.
We really loved the journal-style narration, but the parts where we kind of get inside Felix’s mind was really interesting as well. How did this idea come about?
It was all in Jason Paul’s script! It was a matter of pinning down among ourselves what was the best way to translate it visually. It also helped that our producer Alemberg Ang actually taught Florante & Laura in high school.
What was the hardest part of making this film? And how different was the experience compared to making your award-winning short film, Lisyun Qng Geografia?
It’s funny how I ended up working with the same cinematographer, editor, and musical scorer back when I made Lisyun as my undergraduate thesis project. It’s lovely to see each of us grow, adding the fact that we were all doing this for the first time, working on a full-length feature.
We were there at the film’s premiere at Trinoma and the cinema was jam-packed. Did you expect this kind of reception?
It was crazy! I never thought that I would see something like that. Before we were called to introduce the film, Khalil and I were just wide-eyed and surprised, and he kept saying, ang daming tao! Ang dami! And that put a lot of pressure on us because honestly, it was going to be the first time I was going to see it in full. It’s something I’ll never, ever forget, that crazy night!
2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten won Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor—congratulations, BTW. What’s next? Is a nationwide release in the near future?
Thank you! The best I can say right now is we’re working on it. We want to reach more people, and expand our audience beyond Manila. And who knows, maybe even outside of the Philippines. *crossed fingers*
What’s next for you, personally? Do you already have an upcoming film in mind?
Rest and lots and lots of sleep, ha ha! Kidding aside, I’m pretty excited to be directing a web series made possible by Team Magazine.
Lisyun Qng Geografia and 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten both touch on LGBT relationships. Your works portray the LGBT community in such a raw and real way. Can you recommend more films, both local and international, that do the same?
Why, thank you. It’s always nice to know that your intentions somehow get noticed by others.
As for films, at the top of my head, I can think of these for now: Catherine Corsini’s sensual French romance Summertime (2015), Sean Baker’s rambunctious but sentimental Tangerine (2015), Siege Ledesma’s Cinema One Originals favorite Shift (2013), Andrew Haigh’s response to Richard Linklater’s Before series, Weekend (2011), and a short film! Daniel Ribeiro’s I Don’t Want To Go Back Alone (2010).
Lastly, do you have any advice for people like Felix who loved someone, and then lost them forever?
Just keep loving them forever. So you don’t forget.
With additional reporting from Marjoria Sia
Header: Madel Crudo
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