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A Very Good Filmmaker

Words by: Mariel Abanes

The Chosen One

“When my producers first introduced the project – I straight up bawled like a baby. I,” filmmaker Petersen Vargas recalls, “Was going to direct Kathryn Bernardo?”

It’s a delightful surprise more than something unexpected, we say, that the “A Very Good Girl” director was handpicked by Kathryn herself to spearhead the Box Office Queen’s boldest project yet. Similar to his genius showcases in earlier works like “2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten” and “An Inconvenient Love”, Petersen gamely wore the director’s hat and owned it – producing a fatal dark comedy starring two females who match his unwavering passion and creative vision. The result? A bloody, mind-blowing collaboration that the unassuming audience never predicted, but happened – and surpassed.

Two Aries's And A Leo

Flames grow more ablaze and brighter put together – an unstoppable force that brought him, Kathryn, and Dolly together naturally. “I loved it when our trio tandem clicked effortlessly,” he shares. “It's exactly what happens when you put two Aries ladies (them) and a Leo (me) in a room: explosive energies with a committed passion to make a film we all wanted to be proud of.”

Thus, a smooth and productive ride, with the director admitting how he’s learned a bunch from the leads-slash-collaborators. “These were two actors who had full control of their talent. And yet I witnessed the trust and respect they gave to their collaborators as well. Not just from me, but in all areas of production they could offer their two cents,” Petersen reveals.

He went on to share how Kathryn and Dolly contributed to the overall looks and persona of Philo and Molly – from makeup details to dialogue revision recommendations. “I loved that every shooting day felt like a creative jamming session with these two,” he adds. “It wasn't just, ‘What did I think of this scene?’ It was also, “What did you and I think? And how do we make it better together?’”

Suffice to say that the fire glowed, with all three of them not just killing it from start to finish and beyond, but also paving way for their own individual growth – together. “All this felt like a leap of faith, but with the three of us holding each other's hands,” the director opens up. “I say it like that because I feel like everyone involved in this project is turning things around for themselves.”

In Kathryn’s case, deciding to break away from her previous roles and wearing a new character that will stamp her name further as a full-fledged artist. “I looked forward to getting to know the Kathryn Bernardo behind, or beyond, the movie characters I grew up watching, the way we've all come to know her. I've always wanted to pick her brain, and kind of break open the myth of her long-standing stardom and see what's there inside,” Petersen comments on working with the 27-year-old actress.

In Dolly’s case, meanwhile, taking on a lead role in a Star Cinema film, etching a legacy to remember in this pivotal season of her career. And for the filmmaker, landing this kind of break. “It feels like winning the Grand Lotto jackpot prize. Something that comes out of nowhere, but then you do find yourself living the dream. Like it's a dream – until you accept that it's real.”

He’s even more grateful of the fact that such huge trust was put on his shoulders, with two big names along with a script that braves the norm included in the picture. While this kind of responsibility can make anyone tremble with pressure, Petersen faced the challenge with excitement – even more so as he confronted the material.

“I knew there was an opportunity to pivot the story towards something that felt current and timely, in the way we could uncover what it means to be a young, powerless Filipino living today, and what kind of feelings that sort of pushed-to-the-edge frustration and anger can be elucidated onscreen,” he relates. With this in mind, they took an approach he described as “not a total downer and all too defeatist”, treading dark comedy in ways they have never done before.

A Very Good Filmmaker

Petersen’s works, applauded from his debut film to present, are a string of various genres that continues to win viewers. He takes each project with fresh eyes, deep-diving into the stories as if it’s his first time, and plays around with it. “It keeps things new and fresh for me,” the 31-year-old tells BLNC. “And so the next thing I already know is unchartered territory. And I like it that way.”

We could say this approach is his secret in standing out in the creative field, but he also credits the way he injects a brand of “intimacy” – a piece of himself – in his work. He remembers his beginnings as a budding director, showcasing stories that concerned and reflected is own personal queer experiences reflected in the story content and through lines.

However, as he further stretched his wings, Petersen also reached new heights, finding discoveries that grounded him most as the filmmaker that he is today. “My youth is full of those mostly unrequited, ultimately cathartic queer desires, or stories that demanded acceptance for the community. As I grew up, I felt like these queer devotions kept expanding into something else.”

He adds, “I've navigated my twenties building a lot of precious relationships out of my queer experience. This particular concept of 'found families', in the way we bind ourselves with another and forming a complex unit of unlikely ties, for better or for worse, found its way constantly at the core of my narrative works.”

Petersen made this apparent in his concept of makeshift brotherhoods seen in “2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten”, the make-believe couple-hood in “An Inconvenient Love”, barkada as second families in “Hello Stranger”, and the sticky, ambiguous mother-daughter dance “A Very Good Girl”. “I just really feel like whatever I am asked to do, this queer stamp will still be very much felt in any work I do,” he asserts. This will also be evident in his six-year project, the upcoming “Some Nights I Feel Like Walking” – a film that he puts as the most personal he’s done throughout his career.

The director supplies another trick in his directorial and creative power. “It seems like a simple question, but I find that it's the hardest question to answer all throughout the filmmaking process,” Petersen shares. That apart from the “how”, it’s as – or even more – important to know “why” you want to tell your story.

You know where to find his answers.

Art Direction @jobonacpil

Special Thanks

Star Cinema:

Mico Del Rosario

Keia Inciong

Dhar Chavez

Patricia Rigodon


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