The usually poised and perky Bela Padilla almost rambles once you get her going about her recent movie Last Night—you know, the one people easily recall either as the project that reunited stars Piolo Pascual and Toni Gonzaga or “the film that, OMG, Bela. Padilla. Wrote!”
“The first draft was the draft they used, so I’m very lucky,” the 26-year-old full-time actress tells us of her new sideline. She worked with the “very collaborative” Joyce Bernal for the project. “I thought I would faint at the premiere, even in the funny parts. It’s something you did kasi wholly, every letter in that project—it’s like giving birth to someone!”
Last Night, which premiered last September 26, features blockbuster royalty Piolo and Toni in a dark-themed rom-com. Instead of the usual hugot lines and laughter-inducing scenes that littered the plot of their previous Olivia Lamasan rom-com starrer Starting Over Again (2014), Star Cinema’s latest offering brings the two mainstream cinema hotshots to comparatively more interesting acting stylistics.
Last Night being Bela’s brainchild is enough to get her this excited and proud. See, she has always possessed a creative flair. Her “rewards” for any good deed at home growing up? Books. It was so much so she’d digest tailors of top thrillers like Dean Kootz and Stephen King, favor Chuck Palahniuk “bago pa sya nauso,” and prefer the Brits’ dry-humored detective stories. Bela has used this “imaginative” advantage to pursue writing for cinema, while the rest of herself immersed in acting. Unknown to many, she has already done sequences, storylines, and character sketches for other local films including the ones she’s starred in since 2014. Some of it she requested her name to be taken out of the credits “because I didn’t know I would take it seriously.”
And also unknown to many, that is until recently, Bela just graduated from Ricky Lee’s crash course in screenwriting.
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Of course, Lee, who’s been holding workshops since the 80s pro bono, is a living legend in the Filipino literary universe. He’s an award-winning (read: Filipino Film Critics, Palanca, Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas) screenwriter, author, journalist, and professor. He has worked with the likes of Brocka, Bernal, and Nora Aunor, and a figure so revered his films deserve a festival of its own.
But that, and the usual volume of workshop applicants initially cowed Bela to join the class. (In her batch, around 4,000 from all over the country enlisted!) With some encouragement from Star Cinema’s prized Kris Gazmen, she mustered the courage to apply. She finally earned a spot in the three month-long series. Her classmates formed a motley of 20+ aspirants—a director, a bank VP, even fellow actress Miles Ocampo, those from the province who had to rent apartments during the course, and more—“may mga iba-ibang mindset,” she says.
Bela graduated high school at the Colegio de San Agustin in Makati, but like many actors who'd stumble upon showbiz along the way, didn’t get to finish college. She’s just getting used to finding herself stuck between walls and corners again, while stuffing her nose in books and nodding to lectures. The venue—Lee's own home in Katipunan. The books and lectures—aplenty with interactive discussions and group works.
“By the way, Sir Ricky’s whole house was just books,” she lets us into the experience. “There’s even a room of DVDs you can borrow just by signing on a logbook. There are also source materials for music and anything that helps inspire and create. There are throw pillows and chairs pushed to the wall. Sir Ricky provided modules and assigned us weekly homework.”
Each workshop occupied a whole Sunday during the course, an undoubtedly exhausting move on Bela’s part who was then taping for My Dear Heart from Mondays to Saturdays.
“There were classes talaga na Sir Ricky would allow me to fall asleep na kasi di ko na kaya. Sumasabog na yung brain ko. Pinapayagan nya ko matulog sa gilid for a few hours,” she says. “I loved my classmates kasi paggising ko, they would hand me na the modules of what we studied that day, especially the parts that I skipped on (while asleep).”
Apart from that, Bela didn’t get any kind of special treatment. She particularly recalls an assignment that tested her creativity to the extreme. “There was one class where he gave us topics and asked us to come up with different interpretations for a possible script. We really maxed out various points of view! My team won, we came up with 86 ideas for that topic!” she says in glee. “He really pushes your brain. Minsan, literal na sya na masakit sa ulo, na ‘Ayoko na mag-isip!’”
Bela eventually survived Lee’s series of workshops, receiving a certificate for it. She doesn’t sound a bit feigned speaking of her new badge of honor—well, she deserved it, after braving intimidation and finally finding validation in this new venture. Yet, she is now more than ever humbled.
“Sir Ricky recently recommended me to a producer to apply as the film's writer. I’m very thankful, di ko akalain!” She then speaks faster. “I’m having Goosebumps right now just thinking how much I’ve learned from that class!”
She tries to convince us, “You should take it!”
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Last Night's script already fleshed out even before Lee’s workshops. (We could only get excited to see her future works that would have Lee’s stamp!) In the production, Bela tried to be as involved as she could, finding herself at the other end of the set, conversing with the actors about the depth of the story and its characters, an experience she recalls as “Sarap! Walang pressure!” She has yet to see the fruits of her labor, though, with Last Night.
So, is this a path she’d consider permanently detouring to?
“My best friend Dani (Barretto) was actually asking me about it. She got worried that I might be doing too many things all at the same time. But acting for me is my love, I’m married to that. I don’t even to think of it as a job, ‘cause it’s so rewarding for me! It’s not the compensation, it’s the actual feeling for me. Being on set is my comfort zone. It’s more natural thing.”
“But writing for me is something I can work on more.”
You gotta love Bela’s attitude when it comes to trying new things especially with the luxuries of her life now provides. There’s her youth, and then her influence, plus her being “woke” with how her social media-obsessed environment is shaping her thinking and imagination and style of writing.
You’re really a millennial, we tell her.
“Really?” she asks, her face left confused. The now bona fide screenwriter doesn’t think so.
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Photos taken from Padilla's Instagram: @belapadilla