In BM Sagmit Enterprises, a stark compound in the center of Tondo, the strong smell of paint and thinner fills the air. Inside, William Mercenares, 35, sketches on the back of a tarpaulin. Because of budget cuts, this tarpaulin will be used at least three times, erasing each used layer with paint. In what used to be a booming industry of 20 painters, Mercenares is one of the few hand-painted billboard artists who continue to remain active.
In the decline of anything traditional and hand-made, everyone’s quick to blame technology. And they could have a point—it’s just easier to use computer programs than paint a huge billboard by hand. Plus, movie stars will patronize anything that will flatter their features, and with digital prints, imperfections vanish with a click of a button. With hand-painted billboards, it’s a rather hit-and-miss art: you could have a photorealistic Nora Aunor one day, a salmon-pink Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle the next. In a time where everyone is flawless thanks to Photoshop, some say these imperfections are part of the charm of bygone years. But movie companies would rather not have to deal with those (and the possibility of an angry film star or manager), thanks.
However, maybe technology is not the only one to blame. Maybe it’s not just the decline of hand-painted billboards and standalone Art Deco theaters (or “standies”)—maybe it’s the local film industry’s too. From 200 films in the ’80s, mainstream movies have dwindled down to approximately 30 movies a year. And these movies, let’s all admit it, are mostly regurgitations of the same tired old rom-com concept again and again. With the rise of piracy, YouTube, primetime teleseryes, and Hollywood, not many people are watching local mainstream movies in cinemas anymore. And if less people are watching in mall-based cinemas, well, practically no one watches movies in the remaining standies along Quiapo and Avenida.
In the face of all these, Benjie Sagmit, mustached manager of BM Sagmit Enterprises remains optimistic about the fate of hand-painted billboards. “Hand-made things always have a way of returning. In this digital age, people will always look for things made by hand. Maybe in the next five years, our client base will grow again. I can feel it.”
Source: Wincy Aquino Ong for Northern Living, “In Fading Glory,” August 2014