Aug 3, 2017

The first thing a regular viewer would notice in a movie is the actor. The second is how the scene is shot: its colors, movement, and framing. This is the responsibility of a cinematographer like Neil Daza.

Daza has been shooting movies and TV shows for the past 25 years. His name probably doesn’t ring a bell, especially to those who only paid attention to the names of popular actors like matinee idol Danilo Barrios in Spirit Warriors. Daza is the man behind the cameras of Spirit Warriors, Feng ShuiDekada ’70, Etiquette for Mistresses, and Bwaya, which won him a Gawad Urian for Best Cinematography. He also shot a couple of teleseryes like the Filipino adaptation of Lovers in Paris and Princess and I.

Before delving into full-feature films and teleseryes, Daza enjoyed shooting music videos for early 2000s bands like Rivermaya. The first music video he shot was Kung Ayaw Mo, Huwag Mo and Nerbyoso for Rivermaya. Working with Rivermaya opened the opportunity for Daza to finally shoot his first full-length film Laro sa Baga, whose director, Chito Roño, also happened to be the manager of the band at that time.

“We were the first filmmakers who did music videos on film,” he says, recalling shooting with a 16mm camera. “May thrill kasi ‘yung film. Nobody really knows kung may lalabas na image when you go into the viewing room. ‘Yun ‘yung wala na ngayon. Iba ‘yung excitement when you’re shooting film; mas may control ang cinematographer on what will be shown on screen dahil siya lang actually ‘yung nakakaalam ng lalabas.”

Shooting music video in film is an expensive endeavor. “Sometimes, in order to shoot on film, we get the whole project and we cut down our talent fees, so we can buy negatives and shoot the music video,” Daza recalls. In projects like Parokya ni Edgar’s Harana, they even used their production assistants like the late comedian Tado Jimenez as an extra in the music video.

“The music video format is very experimental. That’s why it’s easy to shoot. And you can do a lot of experiments and play around. I miss shooting music videos, but [artists] don’t get me now [to shoot their music videos],” he laughs.

Speaking of experimental style of shooting, what does he think of gritty and shaky camerawork?

“Lighting is one of the elements in cinematography that should enhance the narrative. It’s a creative decision. Camerawork is another element that should also be part of the whole narrative. If you do a handheld shot, there must be a reason why you do a handheld shot,” he says. “For me, it’s like abstract art. You can find a hundred reasons why you want to use a handheld shot. You can justify everything, but it all boils down to how it looks and how it helps the narrative. Just because you can’t understand it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.”

Neil Daza’s exhibit “25 Times: Images From Behind the Camera” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines will run from August 3 until September 10. Read the full story in Southern Living, August 2017.

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