Mike Alcazaren

Mike Alcazaren
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Mike Alcazaren
Director. Ideator.
Joanne B. Agbisit
Associate Editor, The ASEAN

Miguel “Mike” Alcazaren wears many artistic hats— animator, filmmaker, screenwriter, and comic book series creator. He began his career as an animator, co-founding a stop motion animation company with his brothers in 1989. The company is the first of its kind in the Philippines and produced experimental films, ads, and title sequences for TV shows, many of which earned national and international recognition, including the prestigious New York Festival Award.

Mike branched out into the world of live-action commercial directing in 1995, working mostly in a freelance capacity. He has since built an impressive portfolio of popular and award-winning television ads. In 2013, he wrote, directed, and produced his first feature film, "Puti" [White]. The film was screened at a national film festival and was also an entry at the 32nd Brussels International Film Festival.

Mike’s first foray into screenwriting, which focused on the incarceration and trial of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. during the Ferdinand Marcos regime, won him the country’s prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Literary Awards. He recently wrapped up a popular, self-published Filipino zombie comic book series, “Patay Kung Patay” [Death be Damned].

“I fell in love with movies at a very young age. Movies were very accessible because my doctor-father had a patient who owned a chain of cinemas and we would get to see the latest Hollywood films before their regular run. My father also was a company doctor of Meralco, which used to screen free movies every weekend for the families of employees. I fell in love with the magic of movies, especially those with special effects and I wanted to know how these were made. In the 70s, also, my older brothers had huge comic book collections (Marvel and DC) and so there was that influence too. Summer art classes were also mandatory for our family of six boys and two girls, mainly to keep us out of my mother’s hair. My father was also a great storyteller, mostly about how his family survived World War 2. I wasn’t very good academically but discovered some talent in the arts (drawing, animation and ideating).

“In college, I had the extreme luck of being able to apprentice under director Mike de Leon, one of the Philippines’ most acclaimed directors. It was an informal apprenticeship which led me to a deeper interest in film and an introduction to documentary filmmaking. He was a great influence and before advertising, I did want to get into movies and documentary filmmaking. I was also doing animated shorts (stop-motion) with my brothers and sister.

“My first regular job was in PTV 4 (television station) as a researcher for an aborted documentary series on the Marcos years by Mike de Leon. I moved on to stay as a unit producer for a tele-magazine show, ‘Foursight,’ directed by Maria Ressa who is now a Nobel Laureate. I eventually left PTV 4 and freelanced for a while, producing segments for Probe (a documentary television programme) until I decided to get into advertising. First as a copywriter, then establishing our stop- motion company, and finally shifting to directing live-action commercials. I would still get involved in documentary projects from time to time. My dream though was still to get involved in movies. It was only in 2013 that I realised this ambition.

“I have been in advertising for the last 32 years and still love the process but am looking to work outside my industry where I could stretch and challenge my creativity more. This is the reason why I write screenplays, get involved in documentaries and am still trying to get into filmmaking in whatever shape or form.

“The digital age, particularly the internet, has certainly democratised filmmaking or content creation which has been both good and bad. Good in the sense that there are more opportunities for filmmakers and storytellers to put out stories but in the end, success (whether financial or creative) still hinges on who curates and distributes your work. Globalisation has certainly made such a huge creative market but we are still in the infancy of the digital age, and the world wide web is still more like the ‘wild wild web.’ People are still making the rules as the digital platform is being developed.

My advocacy or what I think is the lynchpin for a creative industry’s success is in the protection of the artist as an individual. This relates to issues of intellectual property rights to fair labour practices and creating the proper ecosystem by which an artist can properly develop and grow.

“My advocacy or what I think is the lynchpin for a creative industry’s success is in the protection of the artist as an individual. This relates to issues of intellectual property rights to fair labour practices and creating the proper ecosystem by which an artist can properly develop and grow. So there is the intellectual and material aspect. Getting an idea realised involves a lot of moving parts from creation to distribution. The early drafts of the Philippine Creative Industry Bill I have read seems to have too much concentration on the bureaucracy of creating a ‘creative council’ instead of addressing the very basic needs for artists: the disadvantageous ‘exploitation’ of the artist’s works and even the access to the materials the artist needs for their work. The industry’s success is measured in the way it treats the individual artist.

As far as the advertising/production industry is concerned, the recovery is hinged on turning COVID-19 into an endemic. We cannot go back to normal unless the workplace is safe. Production, despite digital advances, is still mainly physical, on-the-ground and face-to-face interactions, and the virus has hit the industry hard. We have had to navigate a very high-risk environment to produce materials. The only positive outcome of this is that the industry has had to mandate ‘humane’ working conditions and safety protocols which in reality should have been implemented pre-pandemic. These include mandatory restricted working hours, turn-around times (the time allotted for rest in-between shoot days), and streamlining of personnel. Health and safety on the set should be pushed to the forefront in order to create a more sustainable working environment.

“I think we need a stronger ASEAN alliance that opens the market for supporting each country’s creative projects, not only in sourcing funds but in creating regional strategies to protect creative labour rights. Everyone is looking to the South Korean cultural juggernaut and its success and the take-away is always that it seems that they have found some magic formula to appeal to the global market. The mistake I feel is that we (particularly in the early discussion of the Philippine Creative Industry Bill) are focusing too much on the business model and not the development of the intrinsic cultural identities of each ASEAN Member State. In the end, it is about the story and how it is told, whether from a piece of art, music, architecture, a comic book, or film; its unique execution; and exquisite craftsmanship. These are possible only if the focus is on creating the best possible creative environment for the artist. This can only begin by supporting local development. The extended family would be ASEAN as we are more regionally interlocked by culture and history.”