(SPOT.ph) Ah, the Complicated Non-Relationship: If you haven't experienced it before, then you at least know someone who has. It's when two people really want to be together—they just don’t want to or can’t commit to being together. You know, kind of like the one (or ones) that you had in your 20s. (See also: "No Labels," "Just Talking," and "Not Looking for Anything Serious.")
For director Nestor Abrogena, this all-too-familiar set-up is what got fans hooked on the love story in his hit indie film Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa—so much so that after five years, its sequel, Tayo Sa Huling Buwan ng Taon is finally hitting theaters on May 8. In an exclusive interview with SPOT.ph, Abrogena shares how the story was being begged to be told—by the fans, mostly—and how he managed to continue a relationship that for him, already ended.
The Story of Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa
AKND follows just another day in Sam and Isa’s relationship. They meet up at the station, take a train, and walk to school together. While their day starts off all sweet—snack- and earphone-sharing and all—their relationship slowly unravels as the day goes on. Turns out, Sam has an offer to be a film fellow in Berlin while Isa is set to fly to the United States. Oh, and Isa has a boyfriend named Frank, too.
"They just don't want to be labeled together as boyfriend-girlfriend. It's a casual relationship and so basically, AKND is [based] on a premise that shows a day in the life of this couple, living out the day then eventually...bakit kailangan hindi pwede?" Abrogena explains.
It’s a slow but rewarding story that'll make sense when you reach the end. It’s the kind of story that makes you understand why things had to happen the way they did—but as a moviegoer, you also can’t help but think about what happened to the characters afterwards.
Continuing the End of the Story
What happens afterwards is what we'll see in Tayo Sa Huling Buwan ng Taon, which, Abrogena reveals, he never even planned on making. "After AKND, to be honest with you, I really didn’t want to do the sequel anymore." But TBA Studios (the production company behind hits like Heneral Luna and I’m Drunk, I Love You), asked him if he wanted to do a follow-up. They got him a writer to help with the sequel, but he wasn’t happy with the script and told them he needed a break. "Ang sign ko, if they still ask me a year after, I'd go for it. Pero kung di nila ako tinanong ulit, maybe it's a sign na I'm not gonna do it."
Sure enough, TBA Studios asked him again a year later. Now his next task was to figure out how to turn the next page on Sam and Isa's love story.
For Abrogena, the main difference between AKND and Tayo is that it became a collaboration. "In Tayo, you weigh in a lot of factors without really losing the heart of the first." He made it his goal to make Tayo a standalone film, but one of the biggest factors that affected his storywriting process is how devoted and passionate the fans of AKND are. "I’ll be honest with you, sobrang natatakot ako sa kanila," he says with a laugh.
"Ang sign ko, if they still ask me a year after, I'd go for it. Pero kung di nila ako tinanong ulit, maybe it's a sign na I'm not gonna do it."
You can’t blame him. Every time he posts about the sequel, he never fails to get messages from people asking for tickets and updates. And so, in a way, Tayo also became a collaboration between Abrogena and his fans who are dying to know what the heck happened to Sam and Isa.
"My biggest fear about sequels kasi is that sequels tend to be uglier than the first." So, he got a new co-writer and they pieced together the story for five months. "You're serving two different kinds of audiences: Those who haven't seen the film, so it should be structurally sound, and those who have seen AKND who know how to puzzle out what was left five years ago."
What they came up with is a story that sees Sam and Isa in their own respective relationships five years later. "They're figuring out themselves. They matured after college." Sam became a teacher in senior high school and started dating a fellow teacher. As for Isa, she got back together with her ex-boyfriend Frank. In the feels-ridden trailer, you can see the two separate couples living their own lives—well, at least until Sam and Isa run into each other.
Tayo...and a Few More People
In Tayo Sa Huling Buwan ng Taon, Anna Luna plays Sam’s new girlfriend Anna (who’s named after her, btw), while Alex Medina takes up the role of Frank. "The two characters are perfect additions," Abrogena says. He reveals he cast Luna because he’s always wanted to work with her and that he’s been friends with Medina since before he became an actor, so it was a great fit. "Ang saya lang na 'yong dalawa pang artista can challenge the whole narrative."
Abrogena knows that his characters are the heart of his films and hopes that his audience will fall in love with the new additions to the story, just like they did with Sam and Isa. "I have relatable characters. I think that the story of the four characters [is] very universal. While I still wish to duplicate the success of AKND in terms of relatability, I wish Tayo can transcend more to a bigger audience." He continues, "They can associate themselves with the same instances of the lives of my characters or the same emotions of my characters. That's where I'm banking the most."
"I have relatable characters. I think that the story of the four characters [is] very universal. While I still wish to duplicate the success of AKND in terms of relatability, I wish Tayo can transcend more to a bigger audience."
"I just hope people root for these characters. Let's be honest: My actors are not A-listers. They came from theater, they came from basically just supporting character roles." He wants the audience to champion the characters, not the people playing them. "Because that's how Sam and Isa got introduced to the public. And now, I want you to choose who among the four in Tayo you can relate the most with."
A New Point of View
The difference between the two films can also be seen in the locations chosen for the scenes. Those who've seen AKND would be familiar with the route that Sam takes to get from Katipunan to Taft and everywhere in between.
"It was my love letter to the city," Abrogena says of AKND. He took inspiration from his own everyday commute to build the scenes. "Sobrang monotonous and mundane na nakikita ko lang 'yong kung sa'n dumadaan 'yong line ng LRT-1." It came to a point when he just had to include it in AKND. "We create our own music videos when we're in LRTs kasi nga sa sobrang mundane na niya, we all just see the river, you see Escolta, you see El Hogar."
He explains that AKND is the story of two people who shut off everything around them. "Kwento kasi nilang dalawa 'yon, e. This is how they see each other—na parang walang pakialam sa ibang nakapalibot sa kanila."
In Tayo Sa Huling Buwan ng Taon, he decided to shift the focus of the story. "This time, actually, it’s about kung sino 'yong nakapalibot sa kanila. So, mas lumiit 'yong perspective from the city. Tayo is not about the city, but the people around, the people we interact with, and how we make decisions about the people we are with."
"Tayo is not about the city, but the people around, the people we interact with, and how we make decisions about the people we are with."
Tayo still takes place around Manila—around nostalgic old haunts in Escolta that Abrogena used to visit in his college days like the First United Building. Despite the historic locations and setting, he explains, "Tayo is more about how relationships work in different environments and how it doesn't work in different environments, too. So, it's more of that rather than dealing with the past. It's not about that anymore. It's more about the many factors why a relationship works and doesn't work."
The Final Chapter
It took quite some convincing to get Abrogena to work on the sequel, so it's not that surprising that he isn't keen on working on a third installment. "To be honest, ayoko na rin talaga. Para maka-move on na rin sila." He explains, "Kasi feeling ko natapos na siya ever since, e. It was a closed story already. But since we did Tayo—and Tayo is a more universal story than AKND—I think it opened another story that I don't know anymore."
He says he'll probably get someone else to write it. "Maybe five years after, we'll do the trilogy. May life check sila after every five years," he jokes. So, he isn't closing the book just yet. "But if given the opportunity...I mean, you never know. It's a possibility—even my actors are really asking for it."
Plus, he says, it seems that the audience isn't done with the story just yet—we guess you can say the relationship is a bit...complicated. As for now, we'll just have to wait and see if Sam and Isa's story has a few more pages left in it.
Photos by Kit Singson