Some days ago I met ABS-CBN’s maverick Business Unit Head Enrico Santos over dinner at some snazzy restaurant in the Podium. Okay, his is not exactly a household name so I can't really claim fame by virtue of proximity or through the process of osmosis (except maybe if that time when I was suspected to be his lover counts). If you're in the entertainment business, though, you probably have met him. Or have heard of his reputation, at least. I'll get to that soon. For those who aren't in the business, he's a guy with a very long shadow indeed. !okA tokaT, the Nginiiig! shows, Nagmamahal Kapamilya, Wazzup Wazzup!, Super Inggo, Star Records, Star Cinema, yadada, yadada... the list goes on and on but you probably get the point. The man is a walking, talking TV show demiurge.
Needless to say, he treated. I couldn’t afford shit like that. There was a time when I could, sure enough-- but a writer’s financial state is a beast of many faces. Some days the money pours in the way the Human Condition pours into Ernest Hemingway’s scotch glass. These days the money is barely a trickle of piss from a gigolo’s infected pecker.
“I’m here to liberate your mind,” the man said.
Now one thing you must understand about Enrico Santos is that he’s not an easy man to work with. He’s got a brain in a perpetual state of creative seizure and he expects his people to keep up. Oh no, he’s not an easy man to work with. In fact, it’s downright suicide trying to keep up with that brain. I’d leave his unit if not for the fact that the man’s a fucking genius. And in that snazzy resto he verbalized his desire to liberate my mind. That’s easily the most frightening thing he’s said to me in all the seven years I’ve worked under him.
The dinner wasn’t for the pleasure of my company. I don’t think he does anything for the mere pleasure of it. Rather, it was because he wanted to discuss one of the episodes of a cartoon show under his unit-- a cartoon show I am head writing, God have mercy on my everlasting soul.
My first thought was: “Ohmygod, Enrico’s gone Jack Kerouac with this mind liberation jive.”
People who know him, work with him, love him, or utterly loathe him would say that Enrico Santos is as far from the beat generation’s reluctant avatar as a fish is to a bird. Jack is a hippie prototype who flies on the air currents of spontaneous mind trip writing while Enrico is a TV executive who swims with teeth bared and fists clenched in the shark-infested cesspool of mainstream Pinoy television.
My opinion is a bit different. The way I’ve seen his mind works, I think Enrico could have been a Filipino Jack Kerouac if he chose the path of the hungry young writer. As it is, he didn’t. He chose to entertain Filipinos with an insane, almost demonic passion-- and make oodles of money while doing so. Money is a big factor in it, I suspect, but not the entirety of it. If he just wanted to get rich he’d have achieved it with a mere fraction of how he does his job in ABS-CBN.
“We’re lucky,” he said once after viewing the animatics of our pilot episode. “The company invests huge amounts of money on us for doing what we love: telling stories. You can’t get this on the indie scene where a man has to borrow his parents’ pension to shoot a single sequence.”
And that leads me to my current situation. I stand upon a crossroad, gentlemen.
On one hand I see the path of the beatnik. I see an open road filled with adventure and mind-altering substances and stream-of-consciousness poetry and writing as a mystical experience and jive and anti-materialism-- things I stood for when I was an excitable teenager. I see the liberation of my mind.
On the other hand I see a more sober path-- a path that reminds me how much I like having money, how much I loathe the excesses of artists who look upon themselves as a priestly caste who alone have the power too look into the eyes of God, and how much of my lifespan I have left to relish. I see myself enjoying being a whore. Hell, most of us who have jobs are whores, right?
I remember how some years ago Enrico met me in a coffee shop in some lame-ass mall in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (never mind that wagging tongues in ABS-CBN were pointing to me as his lover the next day... that’s not really the point). On an escalator, as I was wondering why one of the deities of ABS-CBN’s pantheon would go out of his way to meet up with some shmuck of a writer to discuss a script, he asked me: “What do you really want, Squid? Is writing all you want to do with your life?”
“Until they hammer the last nail into my goddam coffin,” I said.
And so there we were in another mall. “I am going to liberate your mind.”
Some days later I presented my script to him in ABS-CBN’s Starbuck’s branch. He shot it full of holes. “Writing is rewriting,” he said. “Go ye forth and do thou the same.”
Story of my life, I thought. You’re preaching to the converted, man.
Here’s the thing, see. Writing is largely about taste. I have my taste, you have yours (hopefully), and Enrico has his. I may not agree to some of the things he says but I’m not too daft to understand that he’s in that position because his taste works on the Filipino audience. His taste pulls in the ratings most times. More than mine ever will if I’m left alone to write whatever I want to write exactly the way I want to write it. It’s that simple. He’s not here to hold anyone’s hand. He’s not even here to judge the artistic merit of one’s work. He’s here to ensure that the script rates. And that’s why I concede to his taste. I’m a craftsman hired to make a product that will sell.
What about immortality? I can learn whatever it is I have to learn to ensure that everything that comes out of my asshole gets eaten up by a populace hungry for entertainment but it will not ensure that I will leave anything of value to humanity for when I die. Jack Kerouac left something. It’s a rambling, artsy-fartsy, self-absorbed mystical mumbo-jumbo of an animal but he’s definitely got something there. Something that inspired a generation and changed the face of the world. That’s immortality, man. Lord knows I won’t do anything near that while writing for television.
“Jack Kerouac was all about spontaneous writing,” Enrico said. The man could be a fucking psychic, I swear. “Stream of consciousness, all that. Legend has it that he wrote On the Road-- the seminal novel that began the beat generation-- on an explosion of creativity. It is said that he wrote it within a span of three weeks under the influence of drugs and coffee and had it published without revisions. A romantic way of thinking about writing but not at all true. The fact is Jack had outlined the novel in his notebooks for several years before he started writing it. And he was not averse to revisions. The novel underwent several drafts before it found its way to the goateed, beret-wearing, bongo drum-thumping multitude.”
Hey, I never said I bought the magic of Jack Kerouac without suspecting there were strings.
What Enrico said didn’t resolve my artistic crisis, but it made the path a bit clearer. Everyone compromises. Even Jack Kerouac. He didn’t compromise as much as other writers but he did just the same. This is not a choice between the Blue Pill and the Red Pill. I can mix and match various aspects of both paths to suit my sensibilities. But I have to make a choice on where my life is going to lean. Jack chose his. So did Enrico once upon a time.
“So much for spontaneous writing,” I finally said. “And the myth of Kerouac as a man without pretensions.”
“We all have pretensions, Squid,” Enrico replied. “We accept that. We accept, for instance, the fact that you’re pretending that you’re not a faggot.”
Har dee har.