Text by Ellaine Marie Laureta
Interview by Rosselle Sison
Photos by Allen Esteban
“One last time para wala akong pagsisihan,” Jayson thought.
In a last ditch effort to revive his dying dream of becoming a scriptwriter, Jayson submitted his resume to ABS-CBN for the company’s vacant writer position.
He wasn’t expecting much. After all, it was his eleventh application to the country’s leading media and entertainment network. The last ten he sent over the span of eight years had been rejected. It wasn’t the result he had hoped for, but he was at peace knowing that he could say that he did everything for his dream before giving up. Writing was his passion but it seemed like his plan of turning it into a profession wasn’t meant to be.
He decided to return to the provincial life, back to his hometown in Cabarroguis, Quirino. It would be hard to leave Manila behind as well as his aspirations of breaking into the country’s writing scene, but at least the last few months of chasing his dream in the city were memorable.
The highlight was snapping a shameless selfie with Ricky Lee, the nation’s most-awarded scriptwriter. Jayson was one of the thousands of applicants for Lee’s scriptwriting workshop at the time. He tried his best but doubted that he would actually pass the workshop’s entrance examination. He reminded himself that it was all a good experience he could look back on when reminiscing his scriptwriting days.
Not too long after, he was called back for an interview at ABS-CBN. The sliver of hope he had for finally landing a job in the network was destroyed when the human resource personnel told him face-to-face that he wasn’t qualified to advance to the next level of screening.
The sting of rejection still hurt the eleventh time around and was enough to make him throw in the towel. Disheartened, Jayson headed to the bus station. He had just left the ticket counter when his phone rang.
“Kabibili ko ng ticket ng bus papauwi ng province when I got the call from Sir Ricky that I passed the examinations at magiging parte ako ng workshop niya. Akala ko pa noong una may nanloloko lang sa akin. Syempre ayoko na umasa. But it was the real deal,” Jayson recalls.
Despite the fact that he was accepted as one of the 33 fellows that made up Batch 17 of Ricky Lee’s Film Scriptwriting Workshop, Jayson remained hesitant to pursue his passion. “I still went home though, planning not to attend it anymore. Wala akong laptop, wala akong pera, wala akong kahit ano at that time.” But his support system wasn’t ready to let him give up on the dream he fought so long for.
During the first session, Jayson’s self-doubt grew even stronger as he found himself surrounded by fellows who were already established in their respective fields. “Nilamon ako ng insecurities ko. I really wanted to just go home. But then again, I told myself that it was my last chance.”
As if he could read Jayson’s mind, award winning director Arvin Belarmino approached Jayson and said, “Pare-pareho naman tayong nagsisimula pa lang.” These words of encouragement motivated him to get back on track and prove his potential. “Throughout the workshop, I had to prove na deserve kong matanggap doon. At nakita iyon ni Sir Ricky.”
Armed with sharpened skills, renewed determination, and support from Lee himself, Jayson knocked on the doors of ABS-CBN one more time and they finally opened for him.
Join us in picking the brain of scriptwriter Jayson Arvene Mondragon as he shares the journey of realizing his dream and the inspiration behind the hit TV series, Kadenang Ginto.
“Mumurahin mo talaga ang tadhana at times. Kung kelan suko ka na, saka ka biglang bibigyan ng pag-asa... Eh marupok ako.”
Has writing always been your dream or an acquired and growing passion? I used to write a lot of poems when I was younger so maybe you could say that writing had always been my passion. But I never really considered it as a dream or a goal until my last year of high school. We were asked to write a short story for our Filipino subject as one of the final requirements and for some reason, our teacher, Mrs. Daisy Vadil-Gracia, liked what I wrote.
I was made to write a script for my theatre organization in UPLB, and that’s when it finally clicked. That’s when I told myself, “Yup! Ito ang gusto kong gawin for the rest of my life.”
What were your jobs before becoming a television writer? I was a jack of all trades, master of none before I landed the job at ABS-CBN. I was 18 when I first started working as a call center agent because of financial difficulties. I’ve worked as a fast food chain crew, student librarian, student assistant, mall sales clerk, film production assistant, theatre scriptwriter, English language tutor, news correspondent, event organizer, graphic designer, marketing executive, and a lot more; anything that would pay the bill actually.
I kept on writing scripts during that time though. But I knew that if I wasn’t working for a big company like ABS-CBN, I’d die of hunger. Still, I kept on sending my application to ABS-CBN. For eight straight years, I got rejected twice a year. It would probably have been more if not for the fact that you have to wait for six months after being rejected to be able to apply again. And I’m sure that rejection would have continued if I didn’t get accepted as one of the fellows in the Ricky Lee Scriptwriting Workshop in 2017. That’s when the doors of ABS-CBN finally opened up for me.
I almost gave up at some point. Eight years of rejections can make anyone give up. The funny thing is I just got rejected by ABS-CBN yet again the day I got a call from Sir Ricky Lee that I got accepted to his workshop. I was already at the bus station with no plans of ever pursuing writing again when he told me that I got in.
Mumurahin mo talaga ang tadhana at times. Kung kailan suko ka na, saka ka biglang bibigyan ng pag-asa. Parang ex-jowa lang na kung kailan handa ka nang mag-move on, bigla na lang magpaparamdam ulit promising a happily ever after. Eh marupok ako. And here I am now. Minsan, may silbi rin ang karupukan.
Why did you choose to be a writer? Do you think writing is a talent or a skill? I’m not even sure who chose who, to be honest. All I know is that I wanted to write stories kahit na anong platform man iyan. It served as a therapy for me during my times of depression. And I just thought that if I can make a career out of it, then it would be great.
As for it being a talent or a skill, I’d say it’s a combination of both. Being able to come up with stories from the most mundane of things, I think, is a talent. But to be able to put those stories into written words, that’s a skill. It’s something that you have to learn how to do.
How did you develop your skills in scriptwriting? Unlike others na talagang may formal education bago sila magsimulang magsulat, I was more of a “Google Scholar.” Meaning, I’d Google anything that could help me become a better writer. Then I discovered Ricky Lee’s Trip to Quiapo which became my Bible.
Pero sabi nga ni Sir Ricky, buhay ang matuturo sa’yo kung paano magsulat. You learn a lot from experience and that’s where “continue writing even when no one is reading your work” comes in. And you have to fake it until you make it.
"You learn a lot from experience and that’s where 'continue writing even when no one is reading your work' comes in."
What was the inspiration behind Kadenang Ginto? The management directive for Kadenang Ginto was simple; create a Mara Clara story that isn’t a Mara Clara story. Hindi puwede ang kambal, magkapatid, anak na nawalay sa mga magulang, anak na nagkapalit, or anything na naipalabas na. That’s what the management said when it was time to pitch for another series. As for the inspiration, it came from a lot of things that the creative team members experienced personally or heard from someone. Halo-halong kuwento na lang kumbaga.
What were your expectations on being a writer of Kadenang Ginto and how did you prepare for it? How about the surprises or craziest moments? It scared the hell out of me to be honest. My last show was a romantic comedy which was more of a flow of life. Kadenang Ginto is a formula family drama. May template na sinusunod which is actually harder to do. Magkaibang universe iyon when it comes to writing.
So what did I expect when I was told that I’d be part of the team for Kadenang Ginto? That I would be fired not long after. I was a monkey out of the mountains back when the show started. Nagsisimula pa lang akong matuto kung paano ba talaga ang magsulat for TV.
As for the craziest moment that ever happened, I think the one that tops the list would be when I had to revise our pilot script while I was on vacation in Palawan. My friends and I were in a motorboat and everyone was starting to get nervous because of the strong wind and rain that caught us in the middle of the ocean. And while everyone was panicking for our lives, I was just sitting by the motorboat’s engine, typing away. I even had to ask the boatman to stop right in the middle of the ocean just so I can send the revisions. Wala kasing signal na maayos sa island na nagsisilbing camp site namin at that time. Everyone was looking at me with disbelief since our life was literally in danger, and I only told them one word: deadline.
I guess at that time, I loved my job more than my life. And you really get to that point at times, especially when you are passionate about what you do.
How did being part of the anticipated series change you? In terms of your perspective, your lifestyle, relationship, or even on your daily grind? The thing that dramatically changed since the show started is probably my schedule. Being part of an on-going television series is really demanding. Writers are on call 24/7. But if you are asking on how it changed me as a person, the change isn’t really that much. I’m more confident now, I guess, especially with the things that I write. But that’s just it.
It’s not like I’m doing the job for the fame anyway. If it’s up to me, I’d rather be invisible in this world where being visible is everything. Kaya nga ako naging writer at hindi nag-artista. But it does feel great when people recognize me because of the show. It means that I’m actually doing something right.
But to let it change who I am as a person, that’s something that I would never allow to happen. If it does and I become worse than I already am now as a person, then anyone who knows me well enough is free to slap me anytime. Not promising na hindi ako gaganti though. Because nobody hurts a Mondragon and gets away with it. Kidding.
How do you handle and respond to praises and criticisms? How do they affect your work? For both criticisms and praises, I take them both with a grain of salt. I’m a full-blooded Ilocano so I prefer everything salty. Besides, both are temporary things.
When I am praised for something at work, I make sure to take note of it. Papalibutan ko pa iyan ng hearts para hindi ko makakalimutan. Knowing what you have done right is a good thing in show business. And when I get criticized for something that I did wrong, I just make sure that I don’t ever do it again. Well, I do repeat it once or twice just to be sure but you get the drift.
Again, praises and criticisms are temporary. So don’t ever let it rule over your life.
For you, what are the do's and dont's of a television writer? The do’s and don’ts of television scriptwriting isn’t really set on stone. But the one thing that one should always remember is that respect is very important. You have to learn to respect each other even when your opinions clash. It will happen. It happens every single time actually. But that’s just how things work. So respecting someone’s opinion is a must. You don’t have to agree to it anyway. It won’t kill you to listen to somebody else’s voice aside from yourself at times. A stress ball is a good investment by the way. Just don’t throw it on someone’s face.
As for the don’ts, there’s a lot to list down but all that can be avoided by just being professional.
You are considered as one of the 'blue prints' of the series, where are your ideas coming from? Ideas could come from anywhere. From a conversation you overheard at a coffee shop, a show you’ve watched before, something you have read, anything actually.
There was this one incident when I had a fall out with someone who kept on playing the victim when everything that happened between us was mostly his fault. That’s where I got the inspiration for the scene where Cassie threw a cup of coffee to Marga’s face in the show and said the lines, “Ayan ang kape, Marga. Para mahimasmasan ka sa katotohanang hindi ikaw ang biktima sa ating dalawa.”
You can get inspiration from anything to be honest. So as to where my ideas are coming from, I have to thank the universe for that. And my friends who have really foul mouths. I’m not even kidding with that last part. They know who they are.
What are your favorite lines/scenes from Kadenang Ginto? One of my all-time favourite scenes in the show will always be Daniela’s helicopter ride just because of the traffic in EDSA. It’s bias since I was the one who wrote the line “Sa tingin mo, sinong mag-a-adjust?” but if I had been born rich and have had access to a helicopter, I would have probably done and said the same thing.
Next on my list would be the scene where Romina confronted Daniela and said the now viral line, “May mga heels akong mas mataas pa sa accomplishments mo.” I actually told a friend of mine a version of that line before I used it on the script.
What is your message to aspiring writers? Being a writer is a very lonely profession. Most times you are on your own. And recognition doesn’t really come often. So if that’s all you are aiming for, better get another dream.
If it is your passion, then continue no matter what other people say or how many rejections you get. There will be a lot, I tell you.
But it is worth it. Yes, it is totally worth it.
“...I loved my job more than my life. And you really get to that point at times, especially when you are passionate about what you do.”