How did Shake, Rattle and Roll ever become a hit in 1984, and eventually one of Philippine cinema’s great movie franchises? How did its trilogy—Spirit-of-the-Glass, Frigidaire, and the Manananggal—define the Filipino’s collective memory of horror?
How did scenes in the film Heneral Luna rekindle our patriotic and nationalistic sensibilities? Or how did a line in the song “Bituing Walang Ningning” draw the Filipino audience to that showdown moment between Dorina and Lavinia in the movie of the same title?
Most moviegoers probably don’t know it, but it’s the music that gives depth to cinematic storytelling. It is essential to keeping the imaginative work afloat and to transforming dialogue and words into a field of image and sound.
Musical scoring may be underrated compared to directing, acting, and scriptwriting. But two of UP’s talents are at it in today’s Philippine cinema, and are paving the way for the bright future of musical scoring in the country.
TOFARM’s Best Musical Score for the film Tanabata’s Wife (2018)
Composing for the screen
UP Fine Arts alumni May-I Guia Padilla and Diwa de Leon have become staple names in the music scoring industry. It may be a puzzle how they wound up as music composers, given their visual arts backgrounds. But Padilla and de Leon both attribute their success to passion and a combination of talent and networking.
Both admit to initially hardly knowing anyone in the film industry. They started out small. Their first clients were film students who were also composing for radio and television, but whose works sometimes didn’t get to air.
With 30 original compositions, May-I Guia Padilla started composing at the young age of six. This year marks his breakthrough in the industry. “My major break in musical scoring is winning TOFARM’s Best Musical Score for the film Tanabata’s Wife. The goal was to compose a theme that moviegoers would leave the cinema singing, along with the film’s theme song. I feel that we have succeeded. This is our first win, and hopefully not the last.”
“We were also able to create a theme for every character in the film, which is not common in mainstream cinema. No offense, but theme songs are still seldom composed in mainstream movies today,” Padilla adds.
For Diwa de Leon, it was when he first saw Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and heard John Williams’ wonderful score in Betamax format as a child in the 1980s that implanted in him the idea of someday becoming a film composer.
“It was an easier journey for me because of my family’s musical background. National Artist Felipe Padilla de Leon is my grandfather, and everyone, from my uncles and aunts to my cousins, has some musical inclination. But I’m the only one in my family’s generation who decided to make music a full-time career.”
A Makiling band member, de Leon made it through from his first big break with Survivor Philippines, to scoring his first full-length composition Kolorete during the Cinema One 2008 Digital Film Festival.
“I was asked to compose in the style of Filipino sarswela, a style I know so well, thanks to my family’s roots in traditional music. It won me my first ever film scoring award, the Cinema One 2008 Best Original Score Award.”
Setting the mood
Just how important is music scoring? De Leon says that “Music sets the mood and atmosphere in films. It represents its emotional and the internal state. A scene in a film that has no dialogue can still be made to tell a coherent story through music.”
“Music is also the only aspect of films that can transcend a film’s life. There’s a reason why some film soundtracks become big on their own. It is because music has an enduring quality. I cannot say the same for cinematography, production design or even directing.”
Padilla points out the need to have more venues and platforms for, and forums on scoring. He believes that there are many brilliant Filipino musicians. “We are aware of that artist’s dilemma of having to choose between practicality and passion. I was at that crossroads long ago, but here we are talking about my breakthrough, eighteen years later. So, I encourage film music enthusiasts to strive and trust their art. There’s the thriving support for Filipino artists and the indie scene. I can see growth and confidence in this field.”
De Leon sees the boom in the independent film festivals, such as those of Cinemalaya and Cinema One, as auguring well for film music composers.
“My advice to aspiring film composers is for them to focus on the story. Film is a director’s vision. It is not the time and place to compose your next masterpiece. Your music exists to serve the vision of the script and the director. If you are okay with that, and have the ambition and the drive to succeed, then by all means, pursue a career in film music. It is a great opportunity to grow as a composer, to be versatile, and simply, to have fun,” concludes de Leon.
Listen to Diwa de Leon’s musical scores here: https://www.diwadeleon.com/