MANILA, Philippines — Veering away from Manila-centric themed shows, Viva and Project 8 Projects’ latest youth drama series titled The Seniors tells the story of four students in a public high school in the province who must face life and love problems in their final year in high school.

According to the media release, in Pacaque Rural High School, “The Certifieds” is the well-known it-trio. Jennifer (Ella Cruz) is the overachiever Student Council president who leads “The Certifieds,” along with the school’s “Muse” Nicole (Andrea Babierra) and the school Volleyball Team captain Fifi (Awra Briguela).

Being consistent in the star section, the three of them believe that they are elite students and that they should stick together no matter what.

But as they face their senior year, major changes are about to happen. One of these changes is the arrival of Diana (Julia Barretto), a smart and pretty transferee from Manila.

With Diana’s arrival, the four students’ final year in high school will be twice the fun and also twice the trouble as they struggle to juggle good grades, friendships and relationships.

The Seniors is created and produced by box-office directors Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone and helmed by the budding and award-winning Mindanaoan short filmmaker Shaira Advincula-Antonio, who also directed Tembong.

A proud probinsyana from South Cotabato, direk Shai accepted the project when it was offered to her because she wants to push narratives about the lives of students in the province, which was something she can relate to.

“I belong to the eldest Gen Z, I believe,” shared the 25-year-old director in a virtual call. “I’ve also told them (direk Dan and Tonette) na maganda din yung gagawin na story kasi I grow up watching teen shows na Pinoy that’s always set in the city or laging nasa Metro Manila but never in a place where I can truly identify with as a probinsyano. So sabi ko, ‘Sige direk, let’s do this. Isulat na natin.’”

From left: Awra Briguela, Julia Barretto, Ella Cruz and Andrea Babierra are ‘star section’ students at the Pacaque Rural High School.

“I’ve never really watched a Pinoy teen show na I can identify with growing up as a high school student,” she reasoned out when asked why there is a need to chronicle the stories of these students. “So parang naghanap lang ako ng something na mas relatable for us considering na ang Pilipinas, majority of its land is rural but most shows that are produced are Manila-centric. So siyempre dahil galing probinsya, we want to push that narrative about the probinsyanas. And now that I have the chance to change that, I want my fellow Gen Z at siyemre yung mga kapwa ko probinsyana or probinsyano to identify with a show na they can finally say na, ‘Atin ‘to, kami ‘to. Kami yan growing up.” And that’s what they did for The Seniors.

Direk Tonette concurred: “Most of the teen shows that we have are Manila-centric.” But, “Actually, pagtitingnan natin, naipapakita dito sa The Seniors na kahit na probinsya ang setting nito, pare-pareho lang pala ang pinagdadaanan na problema ng mga kabataan. Ang pinagkaiba lang, magkaibang lugar.”

In essence, regardless of the setting, the students deal with exploring their sexuality, they are shy to talk about teenage pregnancy and they have issues with their family, added direk Tonette. “Like what was shown in the trailer, hindi porke taga-Maynila ka, mas nakaka-angat ka. Actually, in real life, wherever you are, kapag bata ka, kapag Gen Z ka, iisa lang talaga kayo ng pinagdaraanan na problema. The difference is we have various support system. Not everyone is lucky to have a family na nandiyan, buo ang family or laging may group of friends na nakaalalay sa kanila.”

Moreover, direk Dan and Tonette hailed the newbie director for her talent and passion for making films. Direk Shai was their apprentice, intern, and writer before handing her The Seniors, which is her debut series.

Aside from her talent, they also saw how direk Shai had put on the hard work in the projects that they’ve been in.

“Talagang todo yung trabaho niya. Talagang kumakayod talaga. We realized that these are the traits of someone who could be a great filmmaker. I mean talent kasi is honestly, common eh. Pero yung grit and willingness to do hard work plus discipline, that I think are rare. At meron si Shai nun. I think she deserves more projects honestly. Bigger projects in the future,” shared direk Dan.

“Nung kinuha namin si Shai, we only wanted what’s best for the series and ganun din yung iniisip namin when we were choosing the cast for the roles of Diana and Jennifer and Fifi. Parang lahat yun nag-come together sa pagbuo ng isang kwento,” added direk Tonette.

The Seniors is Shaira Advincula-Antonio’s debut series as a director.

Photo from director’s Instagram

Meanwhile, longtime couple direk Dan and Tonette who got engaged in 2020 both laughed when queried when they would tie the knot. “Kapag wala na pong pandemic. Kapag meron na pong pera. Marami pa pong dapat pagkagastusan at pagkaabalahan,” replied direk Tonette.

(The Seniors starts streaming on March 20 on Vivamax).

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