Photography: Stephen Capuchino
It had been a long, tiring, busy day for Piolo Pascual.
But the actor-singer-film producer-product endorser shows no signs of slowing down this Thursday evening as he joined his fellow Spring Films executives Joyce Bernal (a sought-after film and TV director) and Erickson Raymundo (president of Cornerstone Entertainment, Inc.) for a photo shoot, exclusively covered by StarStudio.ph.
The trio are having their photos taken for a project in celebration of their film production house Spring Films’ 10th anniversary.
As he settles down for an interview, Piolo continues brimming with energy and enthusiasm. He can’t help grinning when asked to compare his showbiz career then and now.
“Sobrang iba, sobrang iba.” he says. “I was so shy. I was so insecure. But I would say I’m more comfortable in my own skin [now]. I know how to kind of work my way in front of the camera, but I’m still hungry, I’m still learning, and there was never a time that I felt as if it’s perfect already. I always feel that there’s something more I could give, something more I can learn, something else I could do, you know? So, that’s my motivation in life. I never settle.”
LOVE FOR ACTING
The hunger to learn more (and yes, never settling for less) has served Piolo well in achieving success in all the fields that he’s in.
He recalls that back in grade school, he was fond of attending acting workings, which then became an avenue for him to discover what he really wanted to do in life. He fell in love with the art and craft of acting when he joined theater groups in high school and in college. As a freshman at the University of Santo Tomas, he played major roles in Teatro Tomasino’s productions.
“It was comfortable for me,” he remembers his early forays into acting. “When I go onstage, I get excited. I get pumped—and little did I know that it was going to be my job. One thing led to another, and I became an actor. So when I became an actor, [I realized] na, ‘Heto pala ang gusto ko, bata pa lang ako.’ I was never able to point it out, but I was always inclined towards acting.”
Working on-cam was another story, though. Piolo became part of the teen variety show, That’s Entertainment, and the kiddie program, A.T.B.P. as Kuya Miguel. He got more acting gigs through his Teatro Tomasino colleagues who’ve become directors at ABS-CBN, such as the late Wenn Deramas, Erick Salud, and Don Cuaresma.
The showbiz newbie played bit roles in shows like Maalaala Mo Kaya, F.L.A.M.E.S, and Ipaglaban Mo. Eventually, he was taken in by the network’s talent-management arm, Talent Center (now called Star Magic), and joined the roster of promising stars collectively called Star Circle, Batch 3. His batchmates included Kaye Abad, Paolo Contis, Antoinette Taus, and Cheska Garcia.
Photo from StarStudio - March 2012 issue.
Piolo remembers having mixed feelings during his first years in showbiz. “I was always scared,” he says. “[I had] sleepless nights, I was always on my toes, and I was the most insecure and ill-equipped. I was hungry and, at the same time, excited to work, to learn. Hungry in the most literal way—to learn new things, get work, save, everything. But I was really scared to face the camera, to do work. I was shy, but I was just really excited to work."
However, during this phase in his youth, when he was still actually undecided what to do with his life, he decided to move to the United States, where some of his family members lived. He took on various jobs, such as an admitting officer at Garfield Medical Center, a guard at Pinkerton Agency, and a salesman at a Beverly Hills shop.
Still, he longed to act again.
Photo from StarStudio - March 2012 issue.
“Even before, when I was in the States, I would save up so I could attend workshops,” Piolo points out, and goes on explaining why. “Iba ’yung binibigay sa akin na pakiramdam. Sabi ko, ‘Ang sarap naman nito.’ Nakaka-release ako ng emotions ko and, at the same time, ang sarap sa pakiramdam na kaya ko pala umarte. I can be a different person. I can portray a different character. So, nae-enjoy ko siya, sa mga workshops pa lang. So, that really sparked my interest because of the workshops I’ve gone through. It was always therapeutic for me.”
That’s why when Piolo turned 21, he asked his mother, Amy, if he could go back to the Philippines to give show business another try. He recalls sensing Mommy Amy’s reservations, but he got her blessing nonetheless.
This time around, Piolo’s career took off.
It all began when he auditioned for a new weekly series coproduced by ABS-CBN and Star Cinema. At the audition, he got the shock of his life when director Olivia Lamasan instructed him to express profanity in different ways.
In the February 2012 issue of StarStudio Magazine, he recalled the director, who’s fondly called in the industry as Inang, telling him: “Murahin mo ako na galit ka! Murahin mo ako na natutuwa ka! Magalit ka sa akin! Batuhin mo ako!” That’s exactly what he did—and more!
Inang was impressed and gave him a major role in Sa Sandaling Kailangan Mo Ako (1998), as a villain to Marvin Agustin’s lead character. It was the big break that he was waiting for.
Photo from StarStudio - March 2012 issue.
“Natuwa ako na may trabaho ako!” Piolo shared. “At least masasabi ko sa Mommy ko na hindi ako umuwi sa Pilipinas para magbakasyon. Nagkaroon ako ng trabaho.”
The actor gave an outstanding performance in the drama series, thus impressing other producers and directors to give him more and bigger assignments. Then he was promoted to lead roles, playing opposite Teleserye Queen Judy Ann Santos in Esperanza (1998-1999) and Esperanza, the Movie (1999).
The following year, Piolo bagged the titular role in the acclaimed drama Lagarista, directed by Mel Chionglo.
He then joined the all-male group The Hunks, with the likes of Jericho Rosales and Diether Ocampo, and together they performed in the Sunday musical program, ASAP.
Looking back now, Piolo tells us that he felt he’s made it in the industry when he scored a Best Supporting Award grand slam for his remarkable performance of a student activist in Dekada ’70.
The 2002 film adaptation of Lualhati Bautista’s bestselling novel of the same title was directed by Chito Roño, and it starred Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon.
“Finally, I can safely say that I belong to a community, because of all the awards I got,” he beams. “Artista na pala ko!”
Then again, Piolo is not the one to sit on his laurels. He continues to challenge and remind himself that the best is yet to come.
“For me, the highlight of my career is still happening.” he explains. “When you reach a milestone, you go from there, and you go up again. So, I appreciate, of course, all the milestones that have been happening in my life through the course of my career. But I never settle, I never dwell on that. So, if I reach that pinnacle of success, ayoko isipin ’yun because once I dwell on that, I’d be stagnant already.”
The drive to avoid getting stagnant has led Piolo to engage in other businesses. He co-founded Spring Films in 2009 and he recently opened his own franchise of Turks Shawarma, which he also endorses.
Growth is another motivation.
“Not just as a person, but as a businessman,” he points out. “Nag-ipon ka, nagtrabaho ka, pinaghirapan mo ’yan—blood, sweat, and tears. Make use of it. Be wise on how you handle your money. So, because of that, I had to diversify. So, it’s just a practical way of growing up and being a better person, becoming better in the business that you choose. Just stem from one opportunity to another. I just make use of the kinds of breaks that I’m given.”
Piolo recalls that while attending a huge Christian event at the Ultra Sports Center (now known as the PhilSports complex) back in his 20s, a pastor ‘prophesied’ to him that he was going to produce films, and become an international star.
“I never thought I would be a producer, but I held on to that prophecy,” he says—and he did!
In 2009, he starred and co-produced the indie flick Manila, which inspired him to put up Spring Films. A few months later, Spring Films released its first movie, Kimmy Dora: Kambal Sa Kiyeme, starring Eugene Domingo in a dual role of disparate twins Kimmy and Dora. It was a big hit, and spawned a sequel in 2012 and a prequel in 2013.
“That kind of experience where you get to create something out of nothing, it’s a magical experience,” Piolo says in awe. “To be able to produce and then be watched by a lot of people. You make business and you change people’s lives because of the experience. Ang sarap ng ganoong opportunity, that you are able to give and share with other people.”
Piolo admits that producing movies is no easy feat, as it requires the risk of gambling your own money. But seeing how a movie script turns into a motion picture gives him a reassuring feel that taking risks is all worth it. He gets that feeling each time he does spring cleaning at home and he sees scripts of past Spring Films movies like the blockbusters Meet Me in St. Gallen and Kita-Kita. He can’t help but smile and reminisce how his “happy projects” have come a long way.
Producing movies, Piolo says, “is a kind of experience that I really appreciate because you share it with other people.” He adds, “A lot of people are able to also experience and go through that journey of the kind of senses you elicit.”
“It’s a calculated risk,” he points out. “Natatalo kami sa ibang pelikula, nananalo naman kami sa iba. But it’s all part and parcel of the whole thing. It’s a business, so wala tayong magagawa doon. It’s risky, riskier than acting, but I won’t have it any other way.”
When asked what’s in store for him, the multi-hyphenate, in turn, asks himself this question: “What purpose do I have for this year?”
He then tells us that he constantly reminds himself that he has a lot on his plate, namely shooting for endorsements every week, taping the weekly sitcom Home Sweetie Home, doing concerts from time to time, recording an album, and making movies for Spring Films. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Piolo says that the film outfit that he co-founded with Direk Joyce and Erickson will release one movie every month.
With a lot of things happening around him, Piolo remains hungry for more.
“I just want constant change,” he declares, sharing with the public probably his best-kept secret to become truly successful: that incessant hunger to explore the unknown.
“There’s so much to be grateful for. But there’s that constant search for something I have not done—something bigger than me, something greater than me—that always serves as my motivation.”
THE BEGINNING OF SPRING
In 2009, Piolo had been launched through Star Circle, Batch 3, for 13 years, and he has since become both an award-winning actor and an A-list star. That year alone, he starred in Lovers in Paris, ABS-CBN’s adaptation of the hit Koreanovela of the same title, and in the movies Love Me Again and Manila.
Piolo coproduced Manila, a venture that inspired him to sink his teeth into film production. He then linked up with his good friends Joyce Bernal and Erickson Raymundo to put up Spring Films that same year.
The actor formed a strong bond with Direk Joyce after they worked together in the movies Till There Was You (2003), Don’t Give Up On Us (2006), and Paano Kita Iibigin (2007). On the other hand, Erickson is the founder and president of Cornerstone Entertainment, a full-service talent agency that also produces concerts and recording albums. He was also named president of Spring Films.
“It all started with Eugene Domingo,” Piolo tells us. “We wanted to launch her as a lead star, so we commissioned Chris Martinez to write the script [of] Kimmy Dora and, of course, we have to name the production. So, that gave birth to Spring Films.”
Photo from CineMaterial.com
Direk Joyce recalls that at that time, Eugene was known for playing supporting characters, such as Simang from the primetime teleserye Sa Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan and Rowena from the Ang Tanging Ina film franchise.
Piolo narrates,” We were coming from the movie Paano Kita Iibigin, and we saw how brilliant, how intelligent an actress she was.”
Direk Joyce adds, “Eugene Domingo needed to be launched as a lead star.”
Thus Spring Films was formed not because the people behind it just wanted to make money, but also to provide the platform for a deserving actor like Eugene to shine even more.
The newbie film producers soon realized that their joint venture was no walk in the park. Piolo now admits that Kimmy Dora was rejected by film distributors, so they had to sit down with every theatre owner just to get their film shown.
“’Tapos a few weeks before our theatrical release, hindi kami ni-release.” Piolo says. “Wala kaming distributor. But after that, when Kimmy Dora broke out, nagkaroon ng trust from the audience and from production companies. So, that’s why nagkaroon kami ng lakas ng loob to carry on.”
Three years later, Spring Films followed up their debut project with Kimmy Dora: The Temple of Kiyeme and, in the following year, Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel. Then came Relaks, It’s Just Pag-Ibig (starring Piolo’s son Inigo Pascual and directed by Antoinette Jadaone) and Northern Lights (starring Piolo and Yen Santos).
Piolo reminisces on how he got the name for the film outfit. “With all my travels, ang pinaka-anticipated season is spring,” he says of one of the four conventional seasons (the three others being summer, fall or autumn, and winter).
“People can’t wait for spring, to go out. They can interact again with people [that’s why] it’s most anticipated. So, nag-usap-usap kami. Spring…very positive. It connotes the anticipated season.”
Photo from YouTube (Spring Films Inc).
He then thinks of flowering plants that bloom during spring time. “It’s all about blossoming,” he points out. “Kaya ’yung logo namin [ay] ’yung tree na parang pa-blossom ’cause it’s all about positivity, something new, something different. So, ayun ’yung parallelism niya sa Spring Films.”
Erickson interjects: “Initially, ang gusto naming gawing pelikula ay mainstream na kakaiba. Mainstream, na may tapang nang kaunti. Nagbabago siya every year.”
For Direk Joyce, Spring Films could not have come at the right time, as she was looking beyond the romantic-comedies that she’s been making then. She really wanted the film production to get into a more alternative approach to making movies.
Erickson agrees, adding: “Hindi nauuna ’yung artista when we do movies. We are story-centric.” Meaning, the movie’s story comes first and everything else, including casting, follows and revolves around it.
However, after Relaks. It’s Just Pag-Ibig, the film producers went on a three-year hiatus. While being busy with their respective jobs, they would always be asked by people they met why they had not made another movie.
“We were always waiting for the right concept, the right material, and it just never came along.” Piolo explains now.
A SPRING REVIVAL
Enter Kita Kita. Shot entirely in Japan, the funny/bittersweet romantic flick starring comedian Empoy and dramatic actress Alessandra de Rossi under the direction of Sigrid Andrea Bernardo got Spring Films back to its feet stronger than ever. Kita Kita premiered at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in March 2017, and four months later, it opened in Philippine cinemas. Through word of mouth from satisfied moviegoers, it grossed more than P300 million during its month-long run.
Photo from IMDb.
Looking back at the first 10 years of Spring Films, its founders ponder on their biggest achievement as film producers.
“For me, the greatest achievement of Spring Films is the opportunity to provide work sa mga hindi nabibigyan madalas ng work,” Erickson says.
Piolo puts it simply: “Ako, in the most literal sense of the word, to be able to come up with a film, every time we get to finish a film, it’s an achievement.”
He adds that working with a team like Joyce and Erickson—who share the same vision, the same goal, and the same love for the craft—is another highlight that he is proud of.
For her part, Direk Joyce says she is thankful for people who opened doors for her to make a name in her chosen craft, mentioning the likes of esteemed filmmakers Chito Roño, Lino Brocka, and Marilou Diaz-Abaya. “Salamat naman. Meron silang cinema na kailangan pag-usapan sa ngayon,” she says of the cinematic gems that they’ve created.
Piolo is likewise thankful to those who believe in and support Philippine cinema.
“Ang cinema, alternative ’yan ng preaching, ng Gospel, ng classroom,” he explains. “It teaches you something. So, that one-hour-and-half or two hours na ibibigay mo as a person, grateful ako doon sa ’bibigay mong experience sa Spring Films. So, sa lahat ng naniniwala sa materyal, sa konsepto ng isang cinema, nagpapasalamat ako.”
That is why to pay back and in celebration of their tenth year, Spring Films will be releasing ten different films this 2019, with each showing uniqueness.
Kuya Wes, the first of ten movies Spring Films will release nationwide this year. Photo from IMDb.
“It’s a celebration of filmmakers.” Erickson says. “We invited ten filmmakers na kung ano ’yung gusto nilang gawin at pag nagustuhan namin, we’ll support them. Sana suportahan din kami ng tadhana.”
In closing, Piolo sums up his life as film producer thus far: “It’s a good experience. It made me experience something, it made me appreciate life.”
Art Direction: Alfred Amado
Photographer's Associates: Ryan Dela Cruz, Tony Valete
Additional information from StarStudio - March 2012 issue