How On the Job Franchise Went From Venice Competition Slot to HBO Series

The journey from franchise to a competition slot at the Venice Film Festival to HBO series was the subject of Thursday’s Venice Production Bridge conference, “From the Philippines to the World: The ‘On the Job’ Franchise and Exploring New Ways of Global Content Distribution.”

In good spirits in a market cocktail that followed on Thursday evening, Erik Matti, the director of “On the Job: The Missing 8,” as his new film is called, told Variety how he got to keep his film at three hours and 28 minutes, and show it at the festival, as well as divide this film, and his previous one, “On the Job,” into one six-part series for HBO.

The series premieres on HBO in Asia on Sunday, two days after the film is shown in Venice. A half dozen festival engagements follow for the film version, he said, with announcements due shortly.

“When sales companies saw it was that long, they were not interested,” he said. “But as soon as it was selected for Venice, they wanted to see it again. But we said we were keeping it.”

This innovative strategy of creating a series out of a long film happened, thanks to the pandemic, with the question looming of how to release a film in a country where theaters are closed. Not to mention recouping costs.

Paolo Bertolin, a programmer at the Venice Film Festival and a filmmaker, discussed the process at the morning panel with Matti, and the film’s producers, Quark Henares and Dondon Monteverde, in this get-together, presented by the Film Development Council of the Philippines.

“On the Job: The Missing 8” is the sixth Filipino film to show in competition in Venice.

A few films with Filipino participation are taking part in the Venice film market this year, and in the Miu Miu Tales section for shorts, which includes “Shangri-La” by Isabel Sandoval.

“The Missing 8” is set on a fictitious island and has different characters and storylines to “On the Job,” Matti’s hit film. Despite the part-shared title, it wasn’t seen as a sequel. When it was first submitted to the festival it was sent in as an entirely separate project called “The Missing 8.”

“It was important the film could be understood by people who hadn’t seen the first one,” said Matti.

“The Missing 8” was three years in the making to accommodate both researching journalism – a corrupt journalist is at the center of the new story – as well as navigating the pandemic and the question of what to do with a film that turned out to be more than three hours in length and completed with theaters closed.

Said Monteverde at the morning panel: “Over a year ago, we were sitting discussing how we were going to show the film with theaters still closed. We didn’t know if it would ever be shown and how long the pandemic was going to last. Now it’s not just going to be shown in the cinema and on HBO. It’s going to be shown in something as prestigious as Venice. We hope international audiences will enjoy the film.”

The filmmakers sent the project into HBO and the results are this innovative solution of a series and film made from the same material.

In order to create a six-part series for HBO, incorporating both the first and second films, Matti re-inserted cut material from the first film to create four main characters instead of one.

Matti’s “On the Job” premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes in 2013. Although audiences in the Philippines largely ignored it, he said: “It became a break-out hit once Netflix bought it for the U.S., and then the downloads started in the Philippines.”

Said Matti: “We made this as a film. It was never intended to be a series. When we finished it was March 28. Theaters were closed. We asked where we could send it. Venice responded well and it became a good negotiating tool for HBO. We were interested in the legacy of HBO even though a bidding war started after Venice took it, so we took it there.”

Meanwhile, in Venice to talk up the films here, as well as new incentives launched in the Philippines is Liza Diño, chair and CEO of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

“It’s a great platform to reach out to the international community,” she said.

New incentives include the Film Location Incentive program, offering a 20% rebate on eligible Philippines spend; a co-production fund; and an ASEAN co-production fund for filmmakers from the region.

Meanwhile, Matti’s next project is up in the air with his main actor running for president. “We will do the next one,” he said.

Pascal Diot, head of the Venice Production Bridge, told Variety: “The VPB is glad to welcome the FDCP for the first time in the market, and we are supporting the Filipino cinema industry with pleasure, as it is for us one of the most inventive, diverse and talented industries in Southeast Asia.”

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