Who would have thought that two acquaintances—whose family and friends went around in the same circles for years—would eventually become “brothers” all because of one groundbreaking movie script?
Certainly not two businessmen by the names of E.A. Rocha and Fernando Ortigas, who by now have become household names as film producers behind Artikulo Uno, thanks to 2015’s highly-acclaimed box office biopic Heneral Luna.
True, they have many similarities beginning with well-to-do backgrounds as their surnames suggest. They each inherited their family’s respective and varied business ventures as well, before finally and fully heeding their artistic callings. But, during Rocha and Ortigas’ exclusive interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, it became apparent that fate brought them together for a specific purpose, because really, at their very core, these gentlemen are poles apart.
For the 64-year-old Eduardo Alfredo Rocha, movies have always been part of his growing-up years. He recalled, “My family loved films and when I was small, when we lived in Mandaluyong, we had a screening room. We would watch movies—16mm films that came from directly from the ships. Every weekend, my father would have screenings for friends and family.”
Somehow too, it can be said that artistic blood had long been running in his veins. “My great grand uncle Lorenzo Rocha, one of the mentors of [Filipino painting masters] Juan Luna and Hidalgo, and he was the one who got them scholarships to go to Spain. His work is also very well respected. He painted the murals inside the San Sebastian Church.”
On closer affinity, Rocha’s sister is also an artist while his late father was a tenor.
“He was a businessman, yes, but when he could, he would perform in shows during summer in Spain where he would act and sing.” The proud son then added—this time in a self-deprecating manner—it was also in Spain where he made his stage debut at age eight.
As The Sunday Times Magazine prodded him for details, he laughed heartily and confessed his first role to be a naval officer. “I was just one of the small kids dancing and going after Dutch girls.”
Growing up in a highly artistic environment then, it came as no surprise when he ultimately revealed that he had dreamt of one day becoming an actor, director, or a writer.
And as fate would have it, he became all of them. As an actor Rocha first landed a role in the Eddie Romero’s Filipino classic Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? He also made a special appearance in Peque Gallaga’s Virgin Forest and Huwag Kang Susuko, and as well as an episode the director handled for television’s Wansapanataym. He furthered played eatured roles in independent films, Villega and Bayaning Third World.
Rocha then occasionally directed theater productions in between acting and running the family’s business in shipping line services.
And finally, by now, everyone knows that he wrote the original script of Heneral Luna that was later picked up by the biopic’s co-writer and director Jerrold Tarog.
But while it seems he lived an ideal artistic life, Rocha admitted that there had been a time when he prioritized his late father’s wishes over the call of the stage.
“I actually turned down a lot of roles a lot of times. I turned down [Lino] Brocka and [Ishmael] Bernal because I had to working. That was my commitment to my family. I will give [the business]my 21 years and then I will let it go [and pursue my real passion]. I eventually became 22,” Rocha recalled.
Ortigas, meanwhile, had a totally different start in his path to moviemaking.
Coming from a prominent family whose familiar surname refers a major thoroughfare and Pasig City’s central business district, Ortigas admitted that he only has one cousin who has embraced art as a way of living. Everyone else was immersed in their varied business interests.
“I didn’t want to say it was a choice between films and being a priest, but if you are a Catholic kid, you are thinking of going to the seminary,” Ortigas said in jest when asked if he had ever imagined himself to be involved in show business.
He further pondered, “I think every kid imagines they want to be a great artist, singer, dancer, or actor. Early on in life, I knew that I wouldn’t be any of them. I couldn’t sing, I didn’t want to dance, and I couldn’t act.”
To which Rocha mischievously quipped, “He wanted to hear confession actually.”
Recovering from a good laugh, Ortigas continued, “Somebody once told me that everybody’s got one good story to tell; whereas there are five million people in this world, there are five million stories to tell. I picked up writing later on in life and that’s something I just thought I wanted to do.”
Like Rocha, Ortigas had to prioritize business and family before eventually giving the movies a try. He pointed out, though, that he is thankful he concentrated in the family-owned Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership because it was the very company that afforded him to break through the business of making movies.
“I tell people that when you want to produce a movie, you either need to be a good writer, know somebody who is in the business, or have the money [to invest]. The first two I was kind of slowly trying to develop, but it was the third one that the family business gave me. That’s simply how I got into the movie business,” he laughed again.
When The Sunday Times Magazine pointed out that to him that is more than just a producer, having appeared in several movies like Artikulo Uno’s Gayuma and Bonifacio and—believe it or not—in a promotional photograph for the Hollywood wartime movie Apocalypse Now, the very reserved Ortigas humbled himself all the more and declared he is far from being an actor.
“I’m not even close to a frustrated actor,” he smiled. “I know my limits and I’m still trying to get to come out in a part where I can say my first sentence.”
Apparently, in Bonifacio, he had no spoken part, while he only needed to say, “Ha?” for his cameo in Gayuma.
“Just like anybody, I’m terrified once the camera starts rolling. I guess it’s just like anything that you have to get used to. But I don’t foresee myself coming out as an actor. I mean, in my head I want to but that’s the difference between your head and after you deliver it,” Ortigas continued.
Two men and a general
Living in their own spheres but crossing paths once in a while in social occasions, where their conversations would always be about their shared love for movies, it was only a matter of time before Rocha and Ortigas actually decided to work on a project together.
In 1996, Rocha, with his fascination for history began to write a script about the temperamental General Antonio Luna. Together with Henry Francia, the foundation for Heneral Luna was set.
“[The movie] was almost made three times—the closest one was with Canadian financiers and it was going to Raymond Bagatsing playing Luna. But on the third day of the pre-production [the financers]pulled back,” Rocha recalled.
Getting fed up with “almost making the movie,” Rocha admitted reaching the point of throwing out the script. “I had already 11 rewrites to cater to people’s [preferences and requirements]so I just threw it in the baul.”
That act of exasperation could have been the end of Luna but thankfully, thespian Leo Martinez talked sense to Rocha.
“Leo Martinez was the one who never let up. When there was a writing competition in FDCP [Film Development Council of the Philippines] about heroes, he called up and said, ‘Submit your Luna script.’ I said, ‘OK’ so I got it out and did some rewriting. It won third prize. And that’s how Jerrold [Tarog], who has always wanted to do Luna, heard about it.”
Things took a different turn though when the young Tarog, who Rocha thought was only interested to collaborate with the script, said he would like to direct the movie. The hesitant Rocha said he would do some research first and check out Tarog’s body of work.
“I went on a Jerrold Tarog movie marathon and realized that this kid is a genius!” Rocha happily recalled.
He finally gave his wholehearted “yes” to Tarog. “He put a lot of elements back [into the script]that were removed by other producers and added a lot more. So actually, it was a great process all in all.”
Agreeing with to their setup, the next challenge was to find funding for the movie, which they had already envisioned to be grandiose.
And that was when Ortigas, who had longed to be involved in movies stepped in.
“I’m not sure how long it took me, whether or not I told myself to read [the script]one more time but in less than a week I got hold of it, I told them to meet and talk more about it because I was really interested,” Heneral Luna’s very willing and generous benefactor said.
Ensured they all had the same vision, Ortigas switched on the green light after a few meetings but gave Tarog a condition. “One thing I told him is that I didn’t want this movie to be [done]quick. ‘Take your time, let’s do it really good, I don’t want it like the pito-pito, where you come up with the idea in seven days, write it out, and in another seven days shoot and sell.’ I also said, ‘If we need special effects later on, let’s do it.’ So, we took our time with Heneral Luna.’
Nine months into planning, another three months of auditioning (where they shared two pieces of trivia: that John Arcilla came in full military regalia when he bagged his audition; and that Jericho Rosales and Marc Abaya almost got the role), and several more months of marketing, the film finally took off.
Two years later on September 9, 2015, Heneral Luna—an epic borne out of trust, friendship, and mutual respect for everyone involved—made history as one of the highest grossing and longest running movies in Philippine cinema history.
For most people Heneral Luna reestablished the value in taking time to make a good movie, and inspired future filmmakers to patiently develop a story. But for the two men behind Artikulo Uno, the movie meant so much more—it totally changed and elevated their relationship from mere friends to brothers.
“We knew each other but superficially. My wife and his sister are friends, I knew him and his parents since I was kid, and I knew he was interested in film and in animation.
Somehow, by fate and the right time, everything fell into place,” Rocha related.
“It was the script that got us both together,” Ortigas summed up. “But prior to that, as he had said, his wife and my sister were friends. His wife even invited me to their first graduation ball.”
“Oh, they were dates!” Rocha realized, and they both broke into another hearty laugh.
Asked to talk more about their bond today since establishing Artikulo Uno in 2013, Rocha unabashedly said, “I can put it this way, I have siblings but he is my brother.”
“And I can say the same thing too, I like him more than my brothers. That’s true!” Ortigas laughed again.
“[That’s] off the record,” Rocha quickly requested. But just as quickly, Ortigas hushed his “brother” and said to him, “I don’t give a shit about that!”
The scene only showed their high regard for each other, which proved their claim that had never had any major arguments over work.
Now with their newly minted brotherhood, the two share the same love and passion for Philippine cinema.
“We have the same ideals—we both want to bring back Filipinos to the movie theaters and come up with good products, good storylines,” Rocha said.
To further strengthen this goal, the two exclusively The Sunday Times Magazine that they have TBA an umbrella production that ties Ortigas’ first production company Tuko Films, Rocha’s Butchi Boy and three-way production company with Tarog, which they named after the wartime military rule, Artikulo Uno.
“We realized that Jerrold has his own projects not necessarily involving us—his commitments with other players and other studios—and at the same time, we also have projects between ourselves that doesn’t involve Jerrold. So I said, ‘OK, TBA would be the blanket that connects us all’,” Ortigas explained.
Reflecting on how far they have come as actual movie producers, the two shared a newfound source of fulfillment.
“As an actor, it’s fulfilling in one way and as a producer, it’s fulfilling another way; when you see the whole machinery working as one—with the crew, the actors, everyone—when you have a happy set, that’s a fulfilling. And you form a family! I run my set like family,” enthused Rocha.
“With me personally, once we get into a project, I like seeing the assembly of all the people getting there. I didn’t mind getting up at three o’clock in the morning, driving to Tarlac or to any set at six o’clock in the morning and coming home at two or three o’clock in the morning. It was fulfilling. I’ve said this before, it’s a great break, and a great distraction from all the family business and things,” Ortigas expressed.
Finally, they reiterated the promise that with every movie they produce, their ultimate goal is to encourage Filipinos to go to the cinema and see something that is unforgettable.
“I would like them to walk out of the cinema—whether it is a comedy or a drama—with emotions, with something that would carry on through. I want the movie to stay with them,” Rocha shared.
Ortigas agreed. “For me, I want them to come out and say that that was a damn good film regardless if it’s a comedy. It would be a reward if they say that it’s really good, that it’s got good actors, a great theme, and they come out laughing, crying. And definitely, if they say, ‘Next time this guy produces a film, I would watch it.”
Admirably, Rocha and Ortigas are still committed to their vision despite the fact that their most recent outing, Tandem, starring JM de Guzman and Nico Antonio—an action-drama reflecting the culture of crime in Philippine society—failed to make it good in its commercial run in mid-February. This despite the fact that it had a successful run as a New Wave entry in the 2015 Metro Manila Film Festival, and was graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board.
Getting more sentimental, Ortigas expressed he can only hope to stay in the business of making great movies. “I hopefully found my niche and, God willing, still come out with a lot of good movies and projects.”
Rocha, meanwhile, was more certain about making movies for the rest of his life despite the odds. “We are in the latter part of our lives, so I don’t know how long that’s going to be, but until I go, you betcha! I’ll keep making good Filipino movies.”