This blog entry will feature the article of guest blogger and Fully Booked Zine contributor, Dodo Dayao, who also happens to be a film critic and blogger (Visit his blog “PILING PILING PELIKULA!” )!

Dodo Dayao (photo courtesy of Dodo Dayao)

The purpose of this blog entry is to introduce Fully Booked film ambassador, director Lyle Sacris.

Lyle Sacris surrounded by…uhhh…countless Sailor Moons! (Photo by Ody Flores; Post by Fabo)

Why a film ambassador when Fully Booked is a bookstore? Think about it. Fully Booked has a film section and carries DVDs (as well as CDs). Fully Booked also has U-View, a 62-seater theater in the flagship branch in Bonifacio High Street. Fully Booked also describes itself as “…a shop that brews inspiration. With a cozy atmosphere and a well-informed staff, Fully Booked is not merely a bookshop but a lifestyle destination.” 

There are many stories to be lived out. Lyle Sacris’s story is an interesting one, and is one of film in both the advertising and cinematic aspect.

Film, as an important aspect of  culture, is something that Fully Booked would like to highlight for the months of April to June 2011, and most especially the significance and potential of Philippine Cinema. Watch out for a barrage of exciting film-related classes and activities!

Lyle Sacris has long been a much valued customer of Fully Booked. I’ve been a longtime fan of his, and have had the opportunity to meet him on two occasions. He is an awesome dude who drives a Harley and he just adores books. I’ve spotted him many times skulking in the film and children’s sections of the stores, while  myself skulking in the store’s various sections. Spotting his unconventional hairstyle and warm, friendly smile always puts me in a good mood.

Here is Dodo Dayao’s article on Lyle Sacris, as it appears in the 17th issue of the Fully Booked Zine. Enjoy! 

Light Chaser

His parents wanted Lyle Sacris to be a doctor. He really wanted to be a photographer. Terry Gilliam changed all their minds

Words by Dodo Dayao


“Nothing beats God’s lighting rig.” We are, Lyle Sacris and myself, talking about his philosophies as a cinematographer, and I’ve asked him, out of curiosity, what his stance on available light is. Lyle is, of course, talking about the good ol’ sun, the HMI of HMIs, such as it were. “After all, natural light is what every cinematographer goes to all the trouble of simulating artificially.” Not to say that Lyle is himself above going to all that trouble. He has, in fact, developed a rather unorthodox madness to his method. “I ask for two, three hours from the director to light the set. I consider the entire area, all the angles of coverage, all the scenes. After I’m done, you don’t have to move the lights anymore every time you change a shot. It actually makes shoots go faster.” It’s a process that factors in time and budget and entails much rigor and science, drawing, as it does, not only from Lyle’s film school tutelage, but from his days of putting in pre-med college toil. That’s no typo. Medical practice really was what lay at the end of his educational path.

The mental image of Lyle Sacris as a doctor doesn’t cohere easy, not even if you think of it as a prank or some wild alternate world scenario, both of which it isn’t, coming this close to finishing up as real world fact. Much as it was at the behest of his parents, Lyle wasn’t exactly disgruntled about becoming a doctor, but he did have this niggling infatuation with capturing images and making them mean something, an art gland, if you will, starved of nutrients and spoiling for discharge, breathing down his neck. This is what usually happens when you stray off your right track. And then he stumbled onto three movies, three very disparate movies at that. And got assaulted thrice by epiphany. After which, he didn’t want to be a photographer anymore.

Terry Gilliam’s urban dystopia Brazil showed Lyle how far you could push the envelope of moviemaking. Peque Gallaga’s lavish period saga Oro Plata Mata showed him how far you could push the envelope of local moviemaking. But Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealist hand grenade Un Chien Andalou showed him you could actually set fire to the envelope and make a film from the cinders, and what had been a dormant strain of avant garde in his blood emerged in heat. This last was what Lyle wanted to do. Set fire on everything and film the conflagration. These films and the volatile paradigm shifts they set into motion, this became the collective map by which he got here. The burgeoning doctor inside him didn’t have a prayer, falling into the cracks and dying a messy death.

I admit to having never seen Lyle’s first two major studio features, outside of random half-remembered fragments on cable. And I’m not sure he wants me to either. I do know that one is a rom-com and the other had the Viva Hot Babes in it, and that both hardly qualify as mortal locks for the experimentalism Lyle was leaning towards. I know, too, that like most films wrung through the local studio system, not all of Lyle was up there on the films. A degree of anonymity and a truckload of compromise are such givens of working in the mainstream that they’re not caveats anymore but a territorial imperative almost. And it’s not as if Lyle was oblivious of this. But much as it didn’t exactly disillusion him, the experience still disheartened him enough that a self-imposed exile in the States and a swearing off filmmaking seemed, at that time, the only salve. But life, as the cliché goes, had other plans. And his filmmaking jones was not about to go quietly into the night. After a serendipitous bumping into with independent filmmaker friends Keith Sicat and Sari Dalena, at that time thick into making what would be their revered feature Rigodon. And before long, Lyle was back in the production grind, helping them finish their film, pulsing the endorphin rush. It was enough vitamin and propellant to make him go back home and back to filmmaking. But this time he wore a new hat. His first work as a cinematographer was on Erik Matti’s sprawling fantasy Exodus. He knew enough to ally himself with friends. Since then he’s felt no need to exile himself again. It was also Erik who gave him a taste of what it was like to make commercials.

“If I can make a living from music videos, or better yet, from making the kind of films I want to make, which are not necessarily commercial, if I can make a living from art, why not?  But we’re not in Hollywood. And in the Philippines, advertising is where you can do that.” Lyle harbors no illusions about his advertising career. He understands that directing commercials is a function of craft, not of art. That it’s a living, not a calling. That the client is king, and there is no room for auteurs, and that to maintain his sanity, he needs to separate one from the other. It’s the sort of wisdom that only someone who has managed to cross over from one opponent discipline to the other with ease and balance can receive and impart. It’s difficult enough as it is for anyone to break into commercials. And he’s not reckless enough to squander the gift. “There are a lot of people with a lot of talent out there but talent isn’t enough, or at least is not the most important virtue. Above all else, you must have a very sound work ethic. Of course, a little luck goes a long way.”  And without being falsely humble, Lyle feels that luck played more of a part than anything else in his crossing over. You could trace it all back, he says, to how two of his early, and best, commercials─Riles and Habagat─received a tsunami of industry awards here and abroad, effectively boosting his cred, cementing his rep and putting him on the map. He’s since settled comfortably into the contours of his new career.

Not that he’s turned his back on film and on making. His last film was a 5-minute segment for Jon Red’s omnibus project Imahe Nasyon back in 2006, and he knows he has a few longer films in him. There’s one script by a friend that he wants to turn into a feature and almost shot a couple of years back. He promises to return to it someday soon. Right now what he’s fiddling with and trying to finish is a short, slightly surreal and very funny one that would double as viral ad for his store, Sputnik. He’s also been teaching film at his alma mater. “Sometimes, you give someone total freedom and they get lost but put them in a box and they find themselves.”  The box he put his students in, the box he’s proud enough to call his baby, is an exercise involving a common script, without the mandatory qualifiers and descriptors, just words on a piece of paper, seemingly random, almost shapeless. These words are what his students make their thesis films from. He’s very pleased with the results. “No two films made were alike. There was a love story, a horror story, all from the same set of words. It’s amazing. Each and every one managed to find its own voice.”

One of his future plans is to parlay the exercise into a film contest for Fully Booked. “I’ve been an avid customer of theirs for a long time, and in fact, it was from one of the books I bought there that I got the inspiration for the exercise, but that’s not the reason I’m bringing it to them. Fully Booked, over the years, has become very supportive of independent filmmakers and independent filmmaking and local cinema in general. They’ve been holding film events at U-View for years. They’re not only very open to things like this, but they’re very serious and very enthusiastic about pursuing them.” The film contest, in fact, is just one of many activities in what Lyle calls an ongoing film campaign. On one hand, it’s an extension of his teaching, a giving back, a paying forward, not just to film students but to film enthusiasts, too, and to those who aren’t yet but have the potential and the desire to be. But ultimately it’s his way of staying in touch with his first love, with the very thing that made him quit his medical dreams. “The itch is still there. The commercials, they’re work. This isn’t. This is love.”-Dodo Dayao

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