How can two people find each other when they can only connect virtually? Finding romance in online spaces these days may not be ideal, but it’s all we have now that the current situation calls for us to stay at home.
It’s this connection that the new Philippine Boys Love series Gameboys explores. Produced by the IdeaFirst Company, the series follows a streamer named Cai (Elijah Canlas) after he meets unlikely opponent Gav (Kokoy de Santos). The resulting exchanges between the two boys play out entirely through video calls, instant messenger chats, and social media posts filmed straight from the actors’ homes.
Since premiering last May 22 on YouTube, the series has garnered a combined reach of over a million views, as well as a devoted global following. It’s kind of hard to believe that Gameboys comes to life thanks to a small team consisting of the actors, executive producers Jun Robles Lana and Perci Intalan, a production designer, an editor, a VFX supervisor, and a musical scorer.
Director Ivan Payawal tells us that the idea stemmed from the production company challenging themselves to create a series that could be filmed remotely. “Direk Jun and Perci really just wanted to give jobs at a time when a lot of people are losing jobs,” he says.
We talk to Elijah, Kokoy, and direk Ivan about what it’s like filming under lockdown and get their thoughts on the BL genre.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
Hi guys! So what made you decide to take on the [Gameboys] project?
Ivan: I think it was around like the first month of our lockdown, [our bosses] direk Jun Lana and direk Perci Intalan called me and I found out they were pitching a concept about two boys trying to find connection in this time. That’s basically the germ and then they were thinking, since pumatok nga yung Boys Love genre, parang hindi pa nagagawa dito sa Pilipinas. So naisip nila, why not put a Filipino flavor/spin to it?
Elijah: I just said yes eh, no hesitations. Kasi in the middle of the quarantine, of the pandemic, there was an offer for a job, and I was just down for it because really I was excited kasi may blessing of work. I was still iffy, I was wondering how we would do it. Like, if in our homes lang, tapos homemade filmmaking process, but I accepted it kasi management natin yung IdeaFirst company and I’m friends with Kokoy and I’ve worked with Direk Ivan before. There’s no problem, I knew I had complete trust in the whole team.
Kokoy: Yun nga, hindi naman lahat nabibigyan ng project sa ganitong klaseng panahon. Tapos maganda pa yung materyal, tapos mismo tingin ko na kaya naman po. And kung exciting siya, bakit natin tatanggihin? Game na. Gameboys (laughs).
What is this production process usually like?
Ivan: In the beginning it was really hard dahil the process itself is, parang for me, ‘how am I going to direct my actors who I’m so used to going to locations and meeting with in person and instructing them, blocking them?’. I have this physical personal relationship with my actors and then biglang ganito yung process natin.
[On a typical shooting day], I’m just going to face the computer and collaborate with them via Zoom. We have a production designer, si Nestor Abrogena. Before the shoot, magpapadala na siya ng props, and then our actors — sina Elijah, si Kokoy, si Adriana, sila yung nagse-set up. So via Zoom, ini-instruct naming sila na, “O, lagay mo yan diyan, lagay mo yan dun.” Actually with the help of their families as well. Tapos pag nagse-set up ng frames, ng camera, they also do their own set-ups. Sila din yung parang cinematographers ng show kasi sila yung in charge, sila yung nagche-check kung nag-focus. Dahil wala naman akong monitors, I don’t have the final luxury of playbacks and checking on the bigger screen kung focused ba yung footage. So ang mangyayari, after yung shoot, they’re going to send it, they’re going to upload it online, and then tsaka ko lang ipe-preview.
If may technical difficulty yung mga footage na shinoot namin, the next day we’re going to have to reshoot it. You have to do it all over again and then so that’s what happened to us nung first, the pilot episode. We shot it about five times because naga-adjust pa kami, which phones ang dapat gamitin kasi we’re just using their camera phones. And then me, para makapasok kami via Zoom so that we can see them, nasa laptops naman nila kami. And then there’s another phone to record their voices, their dialogue para separate na yung sound.
What about for Kokoy and Elijah?
Kokoy: Kung baga, hindi talaga kami sanay dito, eh. Kasi siyempre diba, sanay kami darating kami sa set, pagkamapaaga pa, tulog ka, kakain ka, aarte ka. Yun naman yung trabaho mo. Pero kumbaga ngayon nakaka-excite kasi kasama kami sa mga pre-prod meeting na narinig ko lang sa set [dati]. Ngayon, may schedule kami.
Elijah: Also add ko lang, acting wise. At the start it was really a challenge kasi diba nga acting is reacting and ang tinitingnan lang namin is our phones. Yung lenses of our phones. While all we have to react to is the voice of our co-actor. Sobrang hirap dun mag-adjust kasi nung una, nanghu-hula pa kami na parang, ‘anong mukha kaya ni Kokoy’ or something like that. But nakaka-adjust na naman now.
Well, in terms of representation, have you been seeing the discourse on Twitter about the representation of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the context of BL?
Ivan: Siguro if we’re going to talk about representation I’m not going to say that it’s a complete representation of the LGBTQ community because it’s so diverse. Being a member of the community, kaya ko laging sinasabi na it’s somehow a representation of other members of the LGBT community, but to claim that it is a full representation is, I think, not that accurate. I believe that the Boys Love genre is a start. It’s entering mainstream media, it’s being more accepted by people. It’s a start for mga upcoming generations to have more open minds about it [LGBTQ relationships]. Na hindi na sila magkakaroon ng, “Ah, it’s a gay film or it’s a gay series.” Yung mga ganung labels. It’s really just two people falling in love. And I think, you know, nagsisimula [sa Boys Love genre]. Kailangan may magsimula.
Elijah: Yun talaga yun eh. Like recently, yung 2gether, ita-tagalize siya sa Kapamilya Channel. I think that’s a good step [para] sa mga tao sa probinsya, na makita nila themselves on the screen, na nare-represent sila nang maayos. They’ll think that it’s possible for them to be an actor, to be a storyteller. So I think this BL genre is a start. It’s a big step to go towards better representation and diversity.
To open up the floodgates.
Direk: Yes. To different types of stories that can be told.
Did you consider conducting SOGIE workshops or sensitivity workshops for the team before coming into production? Or, have the producers considered anything in terms of education?
Ivan: Sa script naman we’re very sensitive. And since most of us in the production are from the LGBTQ community. We made sure na sensitive kami sa mga issues or concerns regarding the community. Very maingat naman kami kasi of course, our producers [are part of the LGBTQ community] Direk Jun, Direk Perci, a married couple, and our writer Ash is also a member of the community so I think we’re very, very careful. And not just with the LGBTQ community, but also [with] women. We made sure that Pearl is not going to be the kontrabida. We made sure that even women characters should be very diverse or three-dimensional and not become just a character na ia-add mo in a way.
What can we expect from Cai and Gav in the coming episodes?
Elijah: Within the script pa lang, grabe hindi ko makapaniwala. Maganda yung takbo ng storya in fairness talaga.
Kokoy: Napakadami. Galing ng takbo ng storya.
Ivan: I think yung friendship ni Gav and Kai will go on a deeper level in the coming episodes. They will have to face more difficult challenges that will test their friendship or their connection with each other. Madami pang mangyayari talaga and kailangan nilang abangan yun.
New episodes of Gameboys: The Series are uploaded every Friday night on the IdeaFirst Company YouTube page.
Header art by Kitty Jardenil
Gaby is the full-time Editor of Underdog and part-time (ok, also full-time) stan. Her brother says that she is only cool on paper and much of her time is spent trying to get her dog to notice her. More of her work can be found in Young STAR, CNN Philippines Life, Rookie, and Twitter publication @tybutdisagree.
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