Real Time Writers (RTW)!

Dino Manrique's picture
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Last month, June 17, 2007, I, together with seven other students, graduated from Armando 'Bing' Lao's Advanced Scriptwriting Class held by the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI). For six weeks starting, April 28, every Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 6pm, we sweated it out, learning Bing's new methods and writing and submitting exercises in the hope that these lessons would make us better scriptwriters. At the end of it all, I think me and my classmates would agree that, indeed, we achieved our goal.

But initially, there were some obstacles to hurdle. During the first weekend, Bing correctly sensed, as he later told us over bottles of beer after the workshop, that there was some resistance from us students. So instead of discussing the module 'top-level' (general) Bing decided to go more 'bottom-level' or (more specific). (Top-level and bottom-level were just a few of the terminologies we would learn in Bing's class that summer. Bing called this learning the 'code'. One of my literary criticism teachers in U.P. Diliman referred to this as learning 'the jargon.' Once you've learned the jargon, she said, it's smooth sailing afterwards.) And there were all kinds of resistance. On my part, I thought that perhaps Bing system's was akin to structural and/or post-structural criticism, which was too detached and cold for my taste. Others like, Ana, an actor, came from a more humanist background and was thus resisting Bing's more structured approach. (Bing is a former accountant and scrabble champion, thus his left-brained approach to scriptwriting. This is not to say his method is mechanical. As I observed it at work, his method is a way of balancing right-brain and left-brain approaches to writing. As Bing is wont to say, we can't always rely on our intuition.)


Indeed, we all later learned that Bing's screenwriting module and his methods were all just a way of organizing a kind of writing that would make it easy for us -- a kind of scriptwriting whose final output would be easy-to-produce movies, thus fit for independent filmmaking, and which, at the same time, could compete in the international arena. Bing calls this kind of writing, Real Time Scriptwriting. I learned at the outset of the workshop that it was only recently that Bing had fully developed this method. When I attended his workshop in the past (around 2000 or 2001) in his house -- I didn't finish it because of my financial situation then -- there was no Real Time Scriptwriting yet. And even his more Real Time films, like Pila Balde, my personal favorite, were actually not real time yet, according to Bing.

To understand what Real Time Scriptwriting is all about, I guess it is better to come up with an example. Kubrador I guess is the best prototype of Real Time Scriptwriting. Written by Ralston 'Joel' Jover, a Bing Lao protegé who works at ABS-CBN, Kubrador takes place in a span of less than a week. The main character played by Gina Pareño is representative of the system. In this case, the system is jueteng. Bing calls this quality of Real Time, Power of the Place. In other words, the system, the place, or the milieu, is actually the main character in Real Time, and that the literal main character -- the character played by Gina Pareño -- is just representative of what the place or system is all about. Bing believes that if you write the truth of what your country is all about, a foreign audience - and thus, programmers of foreign festivals -- will definitely appreciate your movie.


But isn't this just pandering to the foreign audience instead of trying to communicate to the greater Filipino masses? Isn't this elitist, for that matter? For Bing, this is more in the realm of pragmatic matters. It will take time for the majority of the Filipinos to appreciate Real Time movies because he or she has been trained to watch Dramatic Time movies (think Star Cinema) but in the meantime, the artist -- the filmmaker -- should try first to depict the reality of his people's situation. If a filmmaker needs to be recognized abroad, like a prophet, before he can be recognized in his own country then so be it. And practically speaking, the filmmaker can earn from the numerous foreign distribution rights.

What about the usual criticism that filmmaking hasn't transcended the Social Realist tradition -- in other words what others would call the 'Lino Brocka syndrome' of filming topics about poverty? Bing says that that's the reality of the majority of the Filipinos -- that we are poor -- and we cannot do anything about it. As long as majority of the Filipinos are poor, then we must write about what is generally reflective of our society and our culture. (Of course, this is not to say that one cannot write about the middle-class or the elite, or the rich minority.)

My personal insight, however, is that Real Time Scriptwriting is more of a method which you can apply to any kind of writing you want to do. But what exactly is the Real Time Method?

Real Time writing, in a nutshell, is composed of the following steps:

  1. Research. Try to find out as much of your subject matter as possible via inspection, observation, reading, and interviews.
  2. Mapping. Write down the Chain of Events. Put down what happened or what is likely to happen in an event, or in your character's life.
  3. Framing. In the timeline of your character's life, determine which part you are going to write about. At which point will the narrative start? At which instance will it end?
  4. Blocking. Divide your chosen Frame into Acts.
  5. Writing the Treatment. Expand the Chain of Events into a treatment. Always bear in mind to make the scenes or sequences Conjunct or continuous.
  6. Writing the Script. Expand the treatment into a script by adding dialogue, description, more details, etc.

To train us with this method, Bing handed out a collection of Supreme Court decisions downloaded from the Internet, and made us create a treatment from a case of our choice. Some of my classmates had an easier time doing this exercise, but for me it was more of a challenge because I was used to what Bing would call 'disjunct' writing which is a trademark of the aforementioned Dramatic Time Scriptwriting. Dramatic Time is the opposite of Real Time. There is more emphasis on the story of a character (Power of the Ego) and it is Disjunct (takes place in a longer span of time: a season or a year, for example). (There's actually a third time mode or narrative approach called Poetic Time -- Power of the Universe, philosophical, symbolic: think post-modern films -- but that's better reserved for another post.)

I had to learn to write more Conjunct scenes. In layman's terms, this means that the scenes are continuous and set in the same time-space continuum. In cinematic terms, instead of jump-cutting, you shoot a sequence in one take -- what is called, in local film parlance as ‘Tuhog' (incidentally, the title of another Bing Lao masterpiece). My first draft was disjunct, but after forcing myself to think of scenes in a more conjunct manner, I was finally able to nail it down in my second draft, and what a good feeling it was to finally earn the approval of our teacher. Smile

The great thing about Bing's workshop was that Bing provided us with a lot of tools that we can use in our writing. We learned about Narrative Idioms. In the world of Scriptwriting language and grammar, these are narrative conventions we can use to expand our stories. There are the Behavioral Idioms mainly used for Dramatic Time; these are mainly psychological strategies focusing on the behavior of a character. Then there are the Social Idioms usually used for Real Time. Social Idioms are narrative conventions drawn from the society at large and its corollary culture. Other narrative tools are Plot Idioms (Dramatic Time), Ironic Idioms, and Rhetorical Idioms, which are figurative devices (usually used as editing techniques).

We also tried to learn the different kinds of philosophies developed throughout the ages like Hinduism, the Greek philosophies, Buddhism, etc. This is to help us with our Narrative Voice. And what is Narrative Voice? In lay terms, let us just say that it is the more specific or 'bottom-level' incarnation of a theme, which is more general or 'top-level'. An example of a theme is Love, but the Narrative Voice of your screenplay can be 'Love is blind'. Of course, this is a very simplistic example, but you know what I'm getting at.

Most of these concepts we really had to struggle to learn, but when we finally did learn them, it was well worth it. We had acquired more tools to becoming better scriptwriters.

Bing would later imply that his Real Time method is another form of the Neo-Realist tradition (at the tail-end of the workshop he would show The Bicycle Thief by Vittorio DeSica), which I already somehow sensed, because even before I had this class, I already pegged ‘Kubrador' in the neo-realist category. Speaking of Real Time films, one of the more underrated films in Cinamalaya 2006, In Da Red Korner, was influenced, I was amused to learn, by Bing Lao. Bing would tell us that he was assigned as the consultant/supervisor of In Da Red Korner and he did a crash course on Real Time with its filmmakers. Although the film could still be improved, especially in the application and implementation of the script, one can see Bing's fingerprints all over the movie.

 (Standing) Catherine So-Tiong, Risa Jopson, Ana Agabin, Bing Lao, Raymund Cruz; (Seated) Miguel Escaño, Dino Manrique, Mark Angos

It is great that Bing is teaching Real Time because we need more films which are disciplined in its creation. Without a doubt, me and my classmates took with us invaluable tools which will make it easier for us to achieve our cinematic goals. And I'm sure of the success we will attain down the road because it was indeed a very intelligent group of individuals we had in our class. There's Catherine So-Tiong who is a freelance video editor; there's Mark Duane Angos, writer for ABS-CBN and Director of Photography of the Cinemalaya 2006 film Mudraks; there's Raymund Cruz, writer for GMA-7 and co-owner of their production house Kino Eye; there's Risa Jopson, daughter of the late activist Ed Jopson, and a documentarist at Kodao Productions; there's Miguel 'Miggy' Escaño, English teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University, fictionist, poet, and currently writing on spec a horror screenplay for Unitel Productions; there's Veronica 'Ron' Velasco, who works at Unitel and is the writer and co-director of Inang Yaya (Ronnie already took one of Bing's earlier workshops); and finally, there's Ana Agabin, stage acting teacher -- a very good singer to boot -- who also works for a production house (I was surprised to learn during our first bonding session at Kopi Roti at Tomas Morato that she was the wife of my older schoolmate and kababayan from Iriga City in Bicol, the lawyer Teddy Rigoroso).

Speaking of bonding sessions, our second one was a videoke session at Music 21 in Timog and it was a hoot. Indeed, my classmates were not just smart; they also knew how to have fun. It is noteworthy that that videoke session was a catalyst for Bing -- who for more than twenty years didn't sing in a public setting (he was a church choirmaster in their province before) -- to buy a keyboard and take up piano and voice lessons. And he's now commuting (transforming) the music theories he's learning into their narrative equivalent in the Real Time context. (This is also another of the exercises we had to do in class -- to commute or to transform theories or principles from another field such as Physics into scriptwriting principles. Cool, huh?Laughing)


It was one great summer. We learned a lot and had great tons of fun. Incidentally, we bonded so well that we came up with a name for our group -- Real Time Writers or its acronym RTW! (I coined it by the way, hehe. Wink) Although we aren't, strictly speaking, the original Real Time Writers because there were others who came before us (though our module I think is the more complete one) and they meet with Bing regularly every Friday. This group includes the likes of Director Brillante Mendoza, Scriptwriters Boots Agbayani Pastor and Ralston ‘Joel' Jover. Their group has come up with such films as Masahista, Kaleldo, Manoro, Foster Child, and the latest Tirador, which is currently being edited. I think there are more Real Time Writers out there, products of Bing Lao's earlier workshops like Sherad Anthony Sanchez, filmmaker of Huling Balyan ng Buhi, and Jim Libiran, who made the Cinemalaya 2007 movie, Tribu.

I will try to write more about Real Time Scriptwriting in my future posts. But if you want to experience Real Time Scriptwriting first-hand and learn to produce Real Time screenplays, Bing is going to hold a Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP)-sponsored scriptwriting workshop during or after the Cinemanila Film Festival. Watch out for further announcements on this site or in your favorite film e-group.


thank you

Very informative and interesting, Dino. :) Thank you for writing it.  It took me a while to get what RTM really means because -- and I'm embarrassed to admit this -- I haven't seen the movies that you mentioned as examples.  I do have a copy of The Bicycle Thief so that helped me understand it better.  I have a question, though.  You mentioned Gina Pareno and how her character is just a representative of the place or the system that she moves around in.  Aren't all characters like that?  Aren't we all representatives of a larger whole?  I'm sure that I'm missing something since I haven't seen the film. :( 

I'm wondering now if RTM can be applied to writing short stories or novels as well.  The steps that you wrote down are quite helpful even as exercises for writing stories. Thanks again.  :) 

 

Dino Manrique's picture

You're welcome

Quote:

You mentioned Gina Pareño and how her character is just a representative of the place or the system that she moves around in. Aren't all characters like that? Aren't we all representatives of a larger whole?

The way Bing explains it, in a Real Time Film, Gina Pareño's character is not totally unique because her character can be any kubrador or bet collector. The emphasis on a Real Time film is actually the place, thus Power of the Place. But to answer your question, I guess all characters are -- hardly, in a Dramatic Time film, but very much in a Real Time Film.

Personally though, I adhere more to the creation of characters as individuals who have unique traits. I'm really not a subscriber to the notion of characters as metaphors or representatives of their culture of society. I'm more of an aesthetic pragmatist, if you will. Wink

Quote:

I'm wondering now if RTM can be applied to writing short stories or novels as well. The steps that you wrote down are quite helpful even as exercises for writing stories.

Absolutely. Bing told us of a novelist in Filipino (Luna Sicat if I'm not mistaken) who told Bing that after learning Real Time Writing, it immediately gave her an idea of how to continue her stalled novel. So you can apply Real Time Writing to any kind of writing.

And if you really think about it, deep down, we already know Real Time Writing. It's just that Bing, the left-brained freak that he is, made it easier for us by organizing its components and then labeling it.

Real Time Writing!

Hey Dino! Great post!

I do feel that the real time mode is a way of writing suited for the Filipino culture. This is how I understood RTM -- the place is what shapes up the character. It is the state of the nation/community that is making the decisions for them. And if you do want to focus on the place’s sociology, then the RTM is the perfect time mode for you. I always said that our culture is very dynamic and colorful. Why focus on one character when you have the whole place to show. This will definitely add DEPTH to your story and make your film much more significant. But if you want to focus more on the progression of a character, then good ahead with the Dramatic Time Mode. Bing has done great DTM films, like Pila Balde and Tuhog, so using this time mode is effective as well. Just try to incorporate outside events around the scenes to give it syntax.

The Real Time Mode is also perfect for Dogme95. I think the style of the Dogme95 (its rawness and edginess) will compliment the suggested treatment of the real time mode. So I can’t wait to mix these to types of elements together.

To anyone who is thinking of challenging themselves as writers/filmmakers, I suggest you take Bing Lao’s writing workshop. We often joke that the workshop is not only a scriptwriting class, it is a directing, cinematography and acting class all rolled into one. We are very serious individuals, hehe! If you think the time mode won't work, take a look at the films that made it big abroad. You can't go wrong with that.

Hoy Dino, When will you start your Period piece? I can’t wait to read it. I’ll help you for free pare basta gawin na natin yan! Hehe! Ingat dude!

-- Raymund Cruz

Dino Manrique's picture

Hey Raymund!

Hey Raymund!

Very good rejoinder. It's good that you elaborated on my post because it reminded me of things about Real Time which I already forgot. Smile I wish I can comment more on what you said but I can't right now, because I'm already revising the period piece. Wink

Later! Laughing

 

Getting in touch with Bing Lao

How do we contact Armando Bing Lao? Does he have an email address he regularly checks? Thank you.

Dino Manrique's picture

I'll ask Bing if can give

I'll ask Bing if can give out his e-mail address.

Dino Manrique's picture

Bing contact info; FDCP Scriptwriting Workshop details

Just talked to Bing over the phone. And he said you can reach him via his e-mail at armando_lao at yahoo dot com or his phone number at 924-9413 (he doesn't have a cell phone btw ).

Re the workshop, here are the tentative details:

The starting date for the workshop is Sept. 15, and will be held for seven weekends, every Saturday and Sunday -- fourteen meetings in all -- from 1pm to 6pm. Venue will be in UP -- no specific place yet. Just like the summer workshop, it will be an Advanced Scriptwriting Workshop. 

Interested writers will be asked to submit a video or a script to gauge their screenwriting skills. Around 20-30 applicants will be accepted.

The workshop is sponsored by FDCP. Watch out for press releases starting around August 8. Bing told me that Seymour Sanchez is also involved in the preparations.

THANKS

Hello Dino,

Thanks for that detailed summary of our summer workshop.
Ang galing mong magsynthesize. While I was reading it, I
kept reacting to myself--Gano'n pala 'yun. lol.

I believe the workshop was my best experience.
To put it on record, 6 out of 8 had successfully achieved
what the workshop was trying to achieve. That's quite high.
Maybe mas malinaw na ngayon ang code ng mga Time Modes.
But then again, maybe mas magagaling ang participants.
As I told a foreign film organizer at the CineMalaya occasion, the teacher is just as good as the student.

Just to add my 5-cents tidbit here:
Films processed according to the Realist Mode will always be
as diverse as the filmamakers. Each one will bring to their film their own unique personalities, style and worldview.
Not mentioning innovations which are the hallmark of originality. Kubrador, Foster Child and Tribu were all processed according to the same code and yet each of them somehow looks and feels different.

You are right. The workshop modules provided tools which are universal and with which the writer is free to use, underuse or abuse. Experience and maturity will teach us how to use them more judiciously.

Cheers.

Bing Lao

Dino Manrique's picture

Welcome!

Hey Bing!

Welcome to the site! Laughing

Sorry for the delayed reply. Been busy applying what you taught us hehe.

Thank you too, for taking the time to comment.

It was indeed an honor and a pleasure to be taught by a person of your experience and insight.

Quote:

Not mentioning innovations which are the hallmark of originality.

Your method will definitely continue to evolve and serve the needs of Filipino filmmaking because you taught us well. Smile

Keep up the great work, and may the 'Tribu' of Real Time Writers increase! Laughing

I AGREE

I agree with Bing na ang real time mode seems to have a type of chameleon effect na bumabagay sa isang filmmaker. It is a method na nag-e-evolve sa bawat kwento at sa bawat atake na gawin ng isang writer or filmmaker. Kaya kahit na realist time mode, it seems like na iba-iba siya. From kubrador to tribu to foster child to tirador. Siguro dahil this method is about life and what can be more diversed than life itself di ba?

I also agree with Bing na ang galing mag-synthesize ni Dino hehe.

After the real time mode, comes the poetic time. With real time pa lang nga e the possiblities of telling a story e endless na,  e paano pa kaya kung poetic pa, I am dying with excitement! Sana hindi pa kami pagsarhan ng pinto ng bahay ni Bing! Lol! Laughing  mark

 

Dino Manrique's picture

Thanks, Mark, and welcome

Thanks, Mark, and welcome to the site!

Indeed, the best way to be unique/original is to simply tell one's truths. Smile

My personal truth about your comment

Very well said Dino.

ART becomes easy and nothing without TRUTH.

-- Raymund Cruz