Translacion 2016

A few years ago, I joined Maita’s family in their devotion to the Black Nazarene.  I had only seen it on television, photos and in Jim Libiran’s film Tribu.  It has always intrigued me and I still remember the very first time I witnessed the carriage pass in front of me. I got up on the fence and waited.  You knew when it would come. You could feel and hear the energy of the people as it came closer. First you hear a loud bang, it is a signal that it is near.  You see it 500 meters away, it is tiny, turning the corner, thousands of people up on their feet, and most of them carrying a white good morning towelette waving them in the air.  Everyone is cheering it. The feeling in the air is palpable. I don’t know what it is. I imagine it to be the same energy when you attend a famous iconic musician and they play their biggest hit and the stadium explodes and you feel that energy, you can almost touch it.  I remember being teary-eyed when the carriage passed. Whatever that is, it is both real and surreal. Again, I don’t know what it is.

When Maita was born, she was premature and the short of it is that she was in danger. Her dad, who grew up in Quiapo pledged his devotion to the Black Nazarene promising to be part of the carrying masses all his life, as long as he is physically able, if God spared Maita.  It’s been 30 straight years their family has kept this devotion. I joined them 2 years ago so this year was my 3rd.  No, I just take pictures and watch.  Ofcourse for me, I love Quiapo. It’s always a great side trip.  It’s one of my most favourite places in Metro Manila.  Apart from Hidalgo and the camera equipment, I love buying fruits and vegetables there and visiting Raon street.  So many gems in Quiapo, actually. But that is another blog.

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I had given up on photography for a few years.  When the DSLR’s took the independent film movement by storm, I would change cameras every 5-6 months. That went on for years. Then the Lumix series of Panasonic arrived and I loved that series. Bought one, then changed every 4-5 months.  Eventually I said enough.  Stop. I started taking photographs with my iPhone the last 2 years. Until the Sony a7 series came out.  One year I waited and looked from afar how the series would develop.  So this Christmas, I got my Sony a7r primarily because I wanted to go back to photography.

This is my very first series of photos.

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The Flotsam Story… (Part 7 of 10)

There is a place in Luzon called Surf-town and up until I started to surf 3 years ago, I didn’t know there was this place.  You can ride a bus at midnight and wake up just before the sun rises and be on the main highway fronting the surf, walk less than 3 minutes and the waves are waiting.  Yep, there is a place called Surf-town and it is in San Juan, La Union.

La Union was a place my parents would bring us going down from Baguio when we were small. It was a beach town. And coming from the cold Baguio weather, swimming in the beach was such a treat. And back then, Baguio was an 8-hr trip from Manila so La Union was a great stopover.  But it was always just that, a stopover.

I learned surfing on a wave pool. Lorraine Lapus taught me how to surf so it was easy, you wanted to go to class because you had a hot teacher in a bikini. I never went out into the ocean until 2 years later but every year, I’d go back to the wave pool until one day, a friend and I were both nursing a heartache bad enough we just wanted to run away and surf. Being in the water and away from Manila gave me great energy and perspective. It literally healed me.  There’s nothing deep about it, no secret formula there actually, it’s a simple equation really—one chick or a hundred… in bikinis?

On my first few trips out to surf, I remember, I wanted to do a documentary on surfing and I remember distinctly that it was the story about the locals that I found the most interesting. I always had the impression that surfing is for the rich and the affluent. But the real rock stars of surfing are the locals. They are. And they are neither rich nor affluent.  And then there is this cultural phenomenon that happens between male locals and these white foreigner chicks that to me was the main story. They were for me the most fascinating thing about surfing in the Philippines.  Let me leave that for all you readers to discover for yourselves, this is not the right medium for it.  It makes for a great documentary film actually. I wish someone would find the time to do that.

It is important to be reminded that the waves are free and the locals live right next to it, they grew up in it. How lucky are they?  I grew up in two very small towns called Isabela and Silay in Negros island.  In Isabela, the view I had outside our window was the mountain, up-close. Literally, a front view of a mountain. Theirs is the ocean, the waves. I get that. I get why that is priceless because for the 2nd half of my life I have since lived in Manila where my nearest neighbor is either traffic or a mall. For a probinshano, you miss the fresh air and the sound of a tricycle.

Learning about surfing and getting out there, making new friends in the surf community has given me a way out of Manila, a way to survive the toxic nature of Manila. So I feel lucky and yet torn. I know I want to move back to the province but how? And then you meet and girl like Mia and a guy like Kiddo who actually have done it, uprooted themselves in Manila and moved up North… and so you plan and dream for that day and muster enough guts to eventually do so. But yes, I believe in living in the province. Fresh air, fresh food, lower cost and higher standard of living. Free surf, every single day.

When I started surfing, I have to admit that I found it quite odd that most of the surfing season were in the rainy months. I don’t particularly like being under the rain. But it didn’t take long, once you got stoked, everything didn’t matter anymore, you just wanted to get in the water.  What was interesting is that it made me appreciate the beach year-round. Where as before, I only appreciated the beach in the summer. Now, there are 2 reasons to go and enjoy the beach.

Even when we discussed when to release the film, my first instinct was Febuary preparing for the summer months. And surf season ends a little after Febuary. But a lot of people might think November is a cold month to be surfing. That also what I thought before trying it out. But the water is fine and warm. We are blessed to be a tropical country. Our waters are perfect.  And that is the beauty of it all. You can surf in December and you won’t have to wear a wetsuit to keep you warm. Now that is special.

We filmed for 12 days straight and we were mostly filming outdoors. Even when we would be in the hostel, Flotsam design being mostly open, in the middle of May, your best hours would be early in the mornings and late in the afternoons. From 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, the sun would be brutal. But then the sunset would come and it would change everything. The La Union sunsets are magical.   For 11 straight days, we had perfect sunsets.

We would set up for our scenes for the sunset by 4:30 and behind us there’d be dark clouds and rain moving in from the mountains. And we’d ready our umbrellas and it would approach but it would never fall on us. Not even a drop.  11 days straight. On the 12th day, we had readied a scene with Marcus Adorro and the Stoked Land Rover by 4:30pm but I didn’t want to shoot it because the sun was still high. Then it drizzled.  I wanted to wait for the sunset.  But then the rain really came and dropped on us.  It rained hard till past 10pm straight.  We never got to shoot the Land Rover.  But we had 11 glorious days of sunsets. I think God just wanted to remind us of how much he’d sparred us from the rainy season. I stayed another 2 days in Flotsam right after the 12-day shoot and it was already rainy season—it din’t even feel like the same month.  We were spared and it was perfectly fine.  Time to wrap the film I guess.  That was the last day of May.

The Flotsam Story… (Part 6 of 10)

When Joncy decided in his head that he wanted to do this film, that was 3rd week of December.  He wanted to shoot the film in March. I said earliest would be middle of May. Ok, he said, May 15.  Then he set that on stone and we moved forward. Mind you, we didn’t have a script yet in December. I arrived in Bacolod December 25, Christmas day.  I spoke to our writer December 26.  We had our first meeting about the script and our writer had a hangover.  Why not, we were in Bacolod in the middle of the holidays. Ha, what did I expect asking for a 9am meeting?!

Five months later and we were shooting Flotsam, exactly May 17th.  It was a 12-day straight shoot and initially, I asked for breaks in between every 3 days because by my experience, people start getting antsy from cabin fever but our producer Darlene said we couldn’t afford it and so I agreed, crossed my fingers and said, okay, lets try this without loosing our minds.  Interestingly, it was the opposite, and saying that the shoot was fun is such an understatement. Sometimes it felt like we weren’t even shooting.

Every day, every night, people jammed. Music was constantly playing except near the set and on takes.  And it was built in because we had over 8 songs performed within the film, so actors and actresses needed to rehearse the songs with the songwriters Mia, Kiddo and Bo Bismark, it was such a sweet sight to behold, and everyone was in light spirits because of the music within the set. It really was and is the heart of the movie Flotsam.

Mind you, the songs were not only going to be sung live, they were going to be recorded… live.

Here is one of those jam sessions slash rehearsals Joncy shot of Solenn singing Seagulls (Kai’s song). She sings it live in the movie.

And live din’t mean only the voices were going to be recorded live, even the instruments, so we could only have one good take because it would be very difficult to mix different takes as they were played live and in the true jamming fashion.  And if my memory serves me right, they actors/actresses rehearsed so well that they nailed it at first take. I remember Solenn had 3 takes but only because we wanted a different rendition for the recording and the one to be used for the film.  Carla did 2 takes, one for the film and one for the soundtrack.  Because Julia was only recording for the film, she did it in one take. Mark Abaya’s solo was also done on one take. Franco Daza’s solo was done a couple of times but it was a technical problem, he was moving and the camera focusing was tricky so we did a few takes. But he was great.

We had a dry set meaning I mandated a “no alcohol” on the set rule. It seems like a simple rule every film person understands but not when you’re in an artistic hostel by the beach shooting a film in a surf town. Was I asking too much? It was I think the only way we would get it done. And later on, Mia, Kiddo and other people would commend me for being unwavering on this rule because it could have gone out of control, people were having so much fun, a drop of alcohol would have been deadly for us.  So all these jamming at night would extend till early morning for some, were all done without alcohol, there was this natural high at Flotsam.

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Just to give you an idea of what jamming is in Flotsam, here’s the best version of Eraserhead’s Elesi you will find out there, bar none, I kid you not.

MUST-Watch, MUST-Click!

Ok, there was this one exception. Solenn asked if we could have a small celebration for her last shooting day, I think this was day 10th and I knew that we would end around 9-ish so I agreed.  Solenn made camembert and some guest brought food and for this one night exemption for everyone, we did Jeff Ortega’s genius 5-minute drink and had a small, short but crazy and intense party.

The whole celebration only lasted for 3 hours. I gave a curfew and limit. By midnight, there was to be no more drinking and we pack up the party, that was the deal and everyone agreed.

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It was intense, it felt like everyone was running after time, it felt like we were sprinting for fun and it was also exactly what everyone needed on the 10th day, people were already sort of feeling the pressure and fatigue.  That was such a wild night, everyone was singing. Everyone.

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On the left is my gaffer Buboy. He was singing with Eraserheads’ Marcus Adoro and Bo Bismark. And he rocked it that night.

And just before midnight, we all sang Hey Jude and called it a night. Watch this!

Watch carefully by the middle of the song, Joncy who was shooting this passed the camera to me so he could join in, so we switched and this was live and the energy was so high I just accepted the camera and started framing and focusing but couldn’t get a focus and why? Because I didn’t have my glasses and as some of you might now know, I’m really not a snob when I don’t wave at you, I just can’t see. I have a 250/250 vision. So there I was summoning all my eye power and concentration to get the sharpest out of focus shot my limited vision could make sense of. Haha, like I said, it was crazy and intense fun!

My only real fear coming in the shoot was the intense summer heat.  I was scared it would cripple us because shoots are long hours, and we had lots of outdoor scenes and I remember distinctly worrying about Solenn and when we met before the shoot, I told her and she reassured me that she loved the heat, she loved the sun and that helped me relax a lot. Once again, I was wrong. And because we were shooting in the summer and beside the beach, everyone was dressed accordingly—bikinis, shorts, flip flops and a tan.

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For those in production, having a pretty girl on the set is the best energy drink you can give the crew. In Flotsam, we had plenty, in bikinis. So we had the sharpest and most enthusiastic crew. The boys of CMB were all happy kids.

Speaking about CMB, I had worked with these boys since 11 years ago when I used to do floor directing for soap operas for GMA-7.  And the thing about soaps is the long hours and the show running for months per season.  I did 3 soaps, 2 of which ran a couple of seasons.  So the CMB and it’s boys have always been my go-to partner in shoots. If they could hack the long hours of tv soaps, film shoots would be a breeze. And so it was.

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Flotsam is the first film I shot and directed myself.  It was one of those materials that I wanted to hold really close to my chest and be hands-on from writing to shooting all the way to the very end.  I wanted to hold the camera all the time, even all the handheld, even the water scenes, I wanted to shoot everything.  It was the only way I knew how.

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Mind you, we were an indie film. If you look at the photos, it felt like this was a big production. Maybe it was, but we were a small budgeted film. We wanted to do it that way. We stayed within P4.2M and we really did everything to stay within budget.  By the end of the shoot, we went back to shoot some pick-up shots and some surfing and we were back to shooting with DSLR’s and I was the driver and camera crew to myself.

Of-course, what makes the film look bigger than it really is is because of 2 things: 1.  CMB owner Mr Jim Baltazar’s belief in the project and  2.  We had a set.

One day I get a text from our producer that the owner of CMB,  Mr Jim Baltazar wanted to call and speak to me. So we spoke. He wanted to help us out. We ordered lights and a smaller camera based on our limited budget but he wanted us to use a bigger camera, one we couldn’t afford, and he didn’t want us to worry about it. The following day I paid him a visit and there were trying to humbly put together a film and here was Mr Jim telling us to focus our energies on doing a good film and not to worry about the equipment too much.  Then he brought us his camera department and brought out the big guns and made us choose which camera we wanted, it was for him, that simple. Another game-changer for us as we now went from being shot with small DSLR’s to the same camera used in Game of Thrones.  When we say that this film was built on a lot of heart, these moments are what we mean.

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Every day I would wake up at 4am and be out in front of the beach by 5am and shoot early morning scenes. It somehow felt as if the camera was one important person on the set and I had to make sure we weren’t wasting its time.

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Another special circumstance I like sharing to people is the fact that Flotsam movie was set in the real Flotsam and Jetsam hostel.  Joncy, Mia and Carla basically built us a beautiful set over a year ago where it was easy enough to shoot at any angle you wanted to shoot from. It was almost like shooting in a studio set but with real trees and a real beach beside it.

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(To be continued…)

 

 

 

The Flotsam Story… (Part 5 of 10)

When we started this film, we were just going to invite friends and shoot away. But as soon as we got professional producers to come in, they got excited and treated it like a real maindie film. Yeah, that’s what they referred to it.  Of-course, deep down, I knew we were doing this weird film that had mostly English dialogue and some very quirky scenes that we just enjoyed writing, with the main characters being so flawed and amoral, it was such a toss up between being hated and being liked.  At that time, we didn’t care. I can’t say that now. Of-course I care. I care because everyone in the film cared and put in their hearts worth…especially the cast.

Casting is always the easiest and the hardest.  You know who you want but there are so many forces in the world that make it more complicated than it should be. But the universe is right in that it made you love your cast more because you fought for them. And now that we finished shooting the film, I can say that they also fought for me and the film.

So how did casting begin?

I remember the very first person we casted was Mara.  She was automatic and tailored-fit, it was almost like we wrote it with her in mind. I think we did. I remember sending her the script and her reaction was “this is me!” and I was just thrilled that she was excited to take it on.  She’s our legitimate surfer chick. I had always wanted to work with her as an actress even before I knew she was a surfer and everyone I talk to says the same thing about her as a surfer, “ang tapang nyan, she’ll charge big waves…”  I think that’ll have to be another film as we shot Flotsam in the midst of summer and we hardly caught big waves.

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The second one I was sure of was Adrian Cabido for the character of the local boy named Angelo. I had worked with Angelo once and briefly but he also auditioned for my last film Red and I was always confident in him, it was a no-brainer. He’s my favorite character in the film. I find myself smiling in all of his scenes every single time we view it during editing.

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And he killed it in the movie, saludo Adrian! I can’t wait to do another film with this kid.

And then we threw around many names for the Kai character which was sort of the main character in the movie in that she’s the only one who’s not a surfer in the film.  And I remember one of the producers throwing in Solenn’s name and I dismissed it right away, because I didn’t believe it was possible, given her schedule.  But the producers prodded to try. Why not?

But to be honest, suntok sa buwan.  I humored them and said I’d message her on Facebook.

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I had worked with Solenn the year before she entered Philippine showbiz. Her Dad’s friend was the producer of the show I was part of, Camera Café. And Solenn had just gotten back from France I think and she was our make-up artist. We were all smitten by this Filipina-French nicest of all beauties.  We did a couple of seasons. When the director Mark Meily needed passers-by as background office workers, Solenn and I would walk across the back hallway of the office because we could, we were working behind the camera so we played default crowd a couple of times on that show, it was a fun show.  A year or so later, she became an actress and the rest is history.

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I messaged her on Facebook, she read the script and luckily, her May schedule opened up and she said yes. Having her in the film opened up a lot of things for Flotsam. Before Solenn, Flotsam was this small obscure film 2 crazy people thought of doing.  When Solenn came on board, suddenly, it was sort of a real movie being shot. It sort of had that effect. Working with Solenn is one whole blog to follow, too many words.

How would I describe her? A class act.

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What makes me a fan of Solenn? Her stellar work ethic. She hustles. I love a girl who loves their work. You can see it in anything and everything they do. (I almost fell on my own trap of talking too much about her, let that be in another blog)

Where was I?

Then Rocco came on board. We had to cast our Kai before we could decide on our Tisoy because chicks came first.  But as soon as we got Solenn, I knew Rocco was our guy. I really really wanted Rocco. I had worked with him on a film years ago and I really liked working with him. This was a guy, an actor you wanted to root for because he was always nice to work with, intense, extremely focused and he knew what he was doing.  Of-course this film had a few producers so everyone had their bet but I only fought for 2 actors in this film and Rocco was the first.

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The hardest part about his role was that he had very little dialogue and very few scenes. So we needed someone to fill the gap even when he wasn’t in the scene, to have such a strong presence. And I remember one of our producers coming to me and telling me “wow, you’re right, that’s an actor” after a shot where he didn’t have to say anything, you just saw it in his eyes. And then you feel you made the right decision, not that I ever doubted it. Not one bit.

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You know you really like working with someone when on the last day, you are already thinking of another film you want to cast them in and just work with them. By his last night which was a pick-up day, we drank a few beers before heading home and I was already talking to Rocco about another film I was writing.

The next big decision was our Mia character. Mia had the most number of days because Mia runs the hostel Flotsam and Jetsam so she’s always there in most of the scenes.  And she had to sing well because she carried the theme song “Our Love”.  Thankfully, Solenn recommended her best friend Carla Humphries to audition for the role. She went in, she read, she had everything we needed for the part except that she didn’t look the part. I remember giving everyone grief about her look because I wanted to cut her hair off, do something, because I had a very specific look I wanted.  But she blew us away and sang us a French song and the rest as they say is, again, history. We got our Mia.

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In fairness to Carla, I don’t think we made her sing enough in the film. So we need to hear more of her sing.  And one of the things I specifically asked every singer and songer in the film to NOT do is to sing their songs like they would in a performance and to undo everything they’ve learned from singing. We wanted more raw performances. If they made mistakes, then it would be fine, like any jamming session, everything is organic.  And I think that was the harder part for the professional singers in the cast.

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Marc Abaya was another no-brainer. Since this had lots of music, we needed someone who was a real musician but also a real actor. One of those easy decisions. And his character was one I defended the most from people who we read the script. And you’ll know why. He’s there but he’s not there. But his voice is there. He guides us into this world.  One of my favorite roles to write and defend. He plays Kiddo, one of the most important characters of the real-life Flotsam and Jetsam. And Marc is probably the most intense actor in the cast and it’s great to have his energy on the set especially during early morning runs and late night crowd scenes, he never runs out of energy.

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One question I always ask big movie stars I become close to is:  if given a chance, what would they choose—to be the biggest and most important actor in the world or the biggest and important rockstar? And everyone answers rock star. A rockstar always gets away with anything. They can trash a hotel room and get infamous for it even.  But I always had my own definition of a rockstar. It’s those that can go out there and rock a whole stadium but keep everything together. I think that that’s ultimately the harder classier act to follow. And this guy has both–  a legitimate rock star and an actor.

Then there is Audrey played by Julia Quisumbing.  I remember seeing Julia’s audition on video sent thru my email because I was already in America and everyone was unanimous about her and rightly so, once again, a no-brainer. I think the only thing we were all concerned was her strong American accent but we also found it rather cute so we gave that 2 seconds thought and moved on.  I never saw her till 2 days before our first day of shoot. We met and rehearsed her song and talked about her role. Another work-horse this girl!

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And what a beauty!  I think everyone had a secret crush on her on-set.

 

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The biggest risk we took in the film were casting 2 locals from La Union, Jeff and Lemon, both non-actors. We wrote them in and let them play themselves.  I think we rehearsed them 3 times before the actual shoot.  They did the whole nine yards, they auditioned, they rehearsed, they came on time for the shoots, they stayed long hours with us, and later they even did some dubbing.  They were troopers, they owned their characters and so you be the judge.

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And then we had Franco Daza playing the character named Stevie. Franco is an actor but also a real musician.  Check out his solo song which will also come out I the film.

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Another hard worker, always comes to the set early, always enthusiastic, genuinely nice and not yet completely jaded about making films.  His role was a very tricky role because it hinged on 2 other people, the character of Mara Yokohama and our Greek actor named Zach Varkaris.  Stevie doesn’t work if his relationship with Mara and Zach don’t work. And even as it’s written, admittedly, every time I read his scenes, it felt a weak but as the scenes were edited, you could see how he made it all work side by side with Mara and Zach and that’s very hard to do—do everything in tiny bits to make a whole.  That’s Franco.

Ok, so who is this Greek actor. Well, Zach is our foreigner on the set. He is 6 foot 4 inches tall and supposedly the smallest in his family.  One time I was sitting on the dining area in Flotsam while he went into the kitchen to get something from the chef and he literally stood in the doorway and I wondered why the door was just his height and said, why is the door of the kitchen short?  And that led on to me asking about his height and family. He is a scientist who later became a writer. Don’t ask me why or how but this is the only guy who can carry hours of conversation with Joncy Sumulong with Joncy coming back saying “this guy’s smart ha… he is.”  That is very rare.

How was it working with Zach? He’s a gentle giant, to me.  He always asks me “director, director… am I doing ok?” And quite genuinely.  I think this role was the toughest thing he’s ever done. He had to play a foreigner who was taken by a girl to the point of being a little bit unsure of himself and sort of having their legs cut off because of love.  And he’s nothing but the opposite, he’s Greek. He’s born to be the total opposite. I have to say I enjoyed the torture of Zach.

Then you have the other half of our kids, Barbara Miguel playing the other half of Angelo and Marie (from the real Angel and Marie in San Juan, La Union).  Another pretty amazing kid, a true professional actress, she’s under 15 years old but has the work ethic better than most it’s very inspiring.  First mark of a born actor or actress is when they can memorize a page of dialogue in under 3 minutes. This girl can do it in less than that. And picks up instructions in a snap. It’s such a pleasure working with trained but still instinctive talents like Barbara, it’s talent plus training and experience all rolled into one, you come to the set ready to play around because they’ve got you covered.

When I casted her, I just told our production manager to find her and get her. They called her in, I was in America and they all gasped at her talent. But I didn’t ask her to audition. I just asked for her. I knew she was already good and could deliver, I didn’t need to see it again.

The kids for me are the unanimous favorite characters in the film. Have I said that already? Well, they are. I guess everyone loves kids.

A few years ago my son told me, “Daddy, when are you going to do a movie that I can watch, a movie for me, for kids?”  And I said, by the time Ethan, you’ll no longer be a kid.  So this one is just right. Angelo and Marie are just about the age of my son which is why I always laughed every single time I watched their scenes in the editing room. Every single time, I laughed and enjoyed it like it was the very first time. I guess it also reminds me of my son and that age, that playful innocence when you sort of see the world for the very first time. When you start to look at girls and women for the very first time.

And you fall in love… for the very first time.

And then last of the characters is Allen, my favorite character that’s why I saved it for last.  This is the second actor I fought for, Jun King Austria.  I’ve had him in my mind but never asked him because I thought he’d be too busy.  So we looked. Then we met this handsome big guy actor and everyone liked him. Even I liked him. But I wasn’t 100% sure and I knew why—he was too handsome.  See, the Allen character is not only based on a real person but it came with a very specific look, the actor needed to be plump.  And the other guy was more of a big man than plump. He didn’t really represent the “plump”.  But everyone wanted him and it was a battle versus him and everyone else that auditioned.  They wanted him. And it was very hard to undo something we’d sort of opened up to because he was handsome and the favorite scene of most in the film was their “scene by the door” and since it is a love story, handsome became such a compelling reason to stick with this choice versus my “plump” requirement.  It was tempting. Because it would have worked as well.  Yeah, I imagine it would have. But it was not the Allen we had written.

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And I was already in America, we had casted everyone except I couldn’t and wouldn’t let this one go. I even searched myself and we auditioned so many, nobody satisfied both parties, producers and me.

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Until one day, I decided, as with Solenn, why not just ask Jun King, suntok sa buwan, I messaged him, Jun King said yes and we called him in.  But no auditions already. I just put my foot down and said this was our guy.

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Of-course, everyone was with that other guy who turned out to be Jun King’s apprentice, who would have thought?!

Everyone who’s seen the film in the editing room loves the Allen character, it’s everyone’s favorite after the kids.  But also because in real life, Allen is the most loveable character as well.

Yes, I’m guilty for playing favorites. I had favorite characters in the script but no favorite actors and actresses. Well, ok, maybe the kids, yes, I admit they were my favorite. But I love our cast.

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The Flotsam Story… (Part 4 of 10)

THE MUSIC.  (And because it’s about music, there won’t be any photos this time.)

1 surftown.

8 love stories.

10 original songs.

Which one is yours?

The most exciting part about Flotsam is the music.  Joncy always referred to it as a musical and that always threw me off and frightened me because when I hear the term musical, it would bring me back to Chorus Line, Fame and Moulin Rouge.  Is Flotsam a musical? I guess so. It is a musical in that it has lots of original music sung live by the actresses and actors.

To be honest, I didn’t know how much music there would really be in the film because we only really had Marcus Adoro’s songs when we started.  Joncy was the music person between the 2 of us and he had already pegged Marcus’ 3 songs as part of the film.

Marcus (aka Surfernando) is the Jack Sparrow of arguably the best Filipino band ever, the Eraserheads.  But more than that, Marcus is also a storyteller slash filmmaker who’s been surfing before resorts filled up what is now known as surftown in San Juan, La Union.   So if anybody claims they have the first surf film in the country, they better check first because this guy was way ahead of everyone.

Musicians would regularly jam at Flotsam and I was a fan. So writing in music within the film was crucial because music was a big part of the Flotsam experience.

I had a slight aversion in dealing with rockstars. I knew that they were a different breed of people.  In my mind, if film people had their quirks, what more musicians. As much as I knew that I was not a music person, I also knew that music people were geniuses.  I know the value and power of music and working with geniuses was something I feared in this whole production. Usually, you’d finish your shoot, and then bring in someone to put music into the film. I was very familiar with that. But to work with music people way before, and then during–have live music performed and sang within the film—this was unfamiliar territory for me.

I remember having the first meeting on the long table at Flotsam. Half of the table were production people and the other half were music people.  And there I was…with all my assumptions making my preamble: “… I don’t want to deal with rockstars. I wouldn’t know how.”   I explained that I wouldn’t know how to tell if a song was great or not but what I can only tell is if it works for me or not. So to avoid hurting anyone, lets work putting the movie in front of the music—because that’s really what we’re trying to do here. So there I was trying to do the most sensible thing a leader of the band so-to-speak should do, trying to set up the most democratic way of being undemocratic because at the end of the day, what didn’t work for me and Joncy, was not going to be part of the film.

This was the music I listened to whenever I worked on the script of Flotsam. This kind of music, and don’t ask me how or why, worked for me.  This would be my beginning inspiration. Rachel Yamagata’s Meet Me By The Water–

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Mia Sebastian, Kiddo Cosio and Bo Bismark were heart and soul of the musical team.  Wendell the wiz drummer was always on-board whenever needed, such a great and generous artist (and cooks great garlic shrimps!).  There were others and forgive me but I do not remember their names and I shall go thank them personally before this whole thing is over.   The music group was solid because they knew the music of the film better than anyone because they live it. They are Flotsam. So they own the music of Flotsam only now it will have to fit the modest confines of the story we wrote and whether or not it’ll work, we were about to find out.

After the meeting, I went to the US for a full month. So this was a rather strange movie production set up because I had left for America in April and prep the film that would begin principal photography on the 2nd week of May using Viber, Skype and Facebook as well as emails. Good luck, right?

I would wake up at 4:30 in the morning every day to a slew of messages asking for my opinion on something followed by chat sessions with the staff and the producers.  I would be 15 hours ahead of Philippine time.  There were always 2 concerns that we were always trying to figure out—casting and the music.  (Casting will be next blog entry.)

We started with 3 songs and we needed 10 so we basically had asked for 7 songs in 3 weeks. A little crazy? Yep.  As a person who does not appreciate cramming, I had to believe in it this time around.

They sent us demos and you have to understand it’s very hard to judge a song by it’s demo. For me at least. I don’t know how music producers do it. I guess that is their talent. I do not have that. So I trusted Joncy unless I felt really strongly about something, then I’d have it rearranged. I think there was just one song where we disagreed but Joncy wins, he is the music person and that’s that.

The music is inspired.  Of-course later on, I’d learn how much work they’ve put into writing these songs which I think is the more interesting story about Flotsam—and Mia, Kiddo and Bo have to write and talk about that.  I say inspired because I’m a relatively simple-minded person and they work for me but they also work for a person like Joncy who unlike me, is very sophisticated and choosy when it comes to music.  And then they work for everyone, the actors, even the crew on set. They just work. Every single song.

We sent the actors and actresses their songs and they all came early to the set to rehearse with Kiddo, Mia and Bo, Bo being the premiere music coach, and that was a whole movie happening behind the scenes as these songs came to life–from demo to on-set rehearsals and onto actual take, the actors and actresses owned the songs, used their character to interpret the songs and it was wonderful to watch.

One of the most important instructions I gave to our actors and actresses was to not perform the songs, this is not a concert, this is a movie that depicts what happens in Flotsam. And for me, the great thing about jamming sessions is that nobody judges you, everyone is there in the spirit of fun, generosity, community, storytelling and just being real. So this is what I wanted to see, a more real environment with all it’s imperfections and nuances. And that became fun to shoot.

Here are excerpts from the song Seagulls Fly, written by Kiddo and Mia.

Maybe you could be the swell in my symphony

Or I could be the biggest joke in your comedy

Secret signals in the club only I could see

Laughing at your lines all over again

 

City streets in the night with a drink in hand

Losing count of cigarettes and forgetting plans

Like a child running through a fountain 

I’d chase you through that park all over again

 

When the winds from the north put a chill in the air

You can look over your shoulder, and I’ll still be there

With our feet in the sand and your fingers

Tangled up in mine

All over again

Up until the last week coming into principal photography (shooting), they were still writing songs for us. I think Joncy asked for a specific sounding song and they delivered.  The music guided me in the filming as it served as the soul of the film. I always say that Flotsam is the movie and the music. We have great musical talents in the cast: Marcus Adoro, Solenn Heussaff,  Marc Abaya, Carla Humphries, and Franco Daza.  There really are two products.  Movie. Music. Way before filming, there was already an original soundtrack. There was the music.

 

The Flotsam Story… (Part 3 of 10)

Films can’t be infatuations. They’ve got to be relationships. 

…the difference between having a good idea for a film and a finished film that you like is the same as seeing a pretty girl at a party and being there when you’re wife delivers the 3rd baby.”   (Richard Curtis)

Finding characters for the film was easy, limiting it was the tricky part, because there are too many interesting characters and stories that happens in a surf-town. So some we ended up combining and others we had to let go of.

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I have no other way to describe it other than the script was a work-in-progress. If you want to know how the film was written, you need to know the characters behind the writing.  I wrote the premise and the first act and finalized all the characters and gave Mickeygirl a month to write it and she took it to town.

For those who don’t know Mickeygirl, this is my version of her story. I had met Mickeygirl on Facebook. I was looking for a writer with a friend Chef, we wanted to do a surf and food show years back. We all spoke the same language as we were all from Negros island.  So when this thing came up and Joncy wanted it written and I wasn’t available, she was the first person I thought of. Why? Well, she was a writer, a film student and because…

A friend sold Mickeygirl a surfboard and she bought it, rode the bus and learned how to surf. No lessons, she didn’t even know what surfing was. She surfed and stayed in La Union for (I imagine) over 10 years. She had a son in La Union. His son is 10 years old now, I think.  So when she got on that bus, she stayed and relocated herself.

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Thats Mickeygirl on the left. In the middle is the real Tisoy of which Rocco Nacino’s role is derived from.

Mickeygirl lived and surfed in San Juan, La Union when there weren’t that many resorts back then, it wasn’t a surf town yet. So for Mickeygirl, it was her 10 years in La Union that gave us the Flotsam screenplay.

One thing that’s always taught in writing classes is the importance of research. When you know your characters really well, it’s easier to write them into your script. Well, for Flotsam it was even easier because some of the characters were around us all the time. And for instance, Mia and Kiddo, who you will see in Flotsam every day, they are also artists, they write music, they sing, they write, they are very outgoing and adventurous that at a certain point, I asked myself, why not take it further and ask them to write some parts of themselves for the film.

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You have to also remember that by the time Mickeygirl was finished with the first draft, Mia and Kiddo were very much involved in the film because they were writing the music for it.  So they helped us write some parts of the film and that was special.

It’s liberating to write when you’re only consideration is to represent something that you like—doesn’t matter if it’s weird or off-beat, as long as it’s authentic or at least very close. No morality involved, you don’t even need to follow any conventions of writing or commercial viability, and basically just following your gut. It’s pretty indulgent but hey, you’re already narcissistic because you are doing a film, so why not go all the way.

At first glance, it seemed like a very cono elitist script and film. Hmmm, how’d it get to be like this, I wondered for 5 seconds and then said nah, it is and it’s not but I like it. I liked it so much, we did a ton of rewrite.  And I like rewriting. I have to admit rewriting is addicting. It’s almost a vice.  But the most important rewrite came during the Edsa revolution anniversary when Joncy and I met at the lobby of the Fairmont hotel, sat from 5pm till 1am and we only really fixed one part of the script—the kids. And they are my favorite part of the film. I think they represent us the most.  Now the movie was closer to the ground in that it now represented a more accurate surf scene where the locals are the real rockstars in surfing here in the country.  That was an important day for the Flotsam movie screenplay that’s why I remember it so well.

I think I must have done 10 rewrites up until the week before filming.  And you really don’t stop until you’re happy with it. It’s such a tedious process of almost self-mutilation in that you write something you really love and then slag it to bits and pieces and write something you think is better and do the whole thing over and over again until you find that happiness.

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And then you shoot it. And then the editor comes in and cuts it up and apart and shows you. And now that we’re editing the film, it’s taking another kind of rewriting in that our editor Ilsa Malsi also has her own way of telling this story even better. Writing is indeed rewriting.

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My slow walk up Mt. Pulag…(last part)

The day of the climb was long and hard, for me. The few new muscles and a headache that Jason said was normal made the noodle and soup first rate. Everything tastes better up the mountain and after dying a little. It’s almost spiritual.6264

The temperature was dropping and I had rested inside our tent trying out all blanketing I could get preparing for what we expected to be a very cold night ahead. So I took a pill and napped for an hour. And before I knew it, dinner was ready and my headache was gone.  Jason and white chicks, as we called our two foreigner friends Coleen and Laura, cooked up dinner and it was sumptuous.  But the dinner was not the main event for the evening, Mylene wanted to make cheesecake! And she did. All the girls helped her out and made what to me was an awesome idea and it wasn’t bad. Wasn’t bad at all. It actually worked. It was definitely an upper.

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The night was reassuring, the skies opened and stars abound, The moon was bright and round, it lit the corners of the mountain, it was pretty and so comforting.  I now understand why people found themselves by going on these long climbs. Of-course for me this was already a long climb. In reality, the route we took was called the executive trail.  And this was the easiest among all the trails.

A little bourbon and a little organic cigarettes were all we needed to warm up and warm down for the night, got to know the white chicks more and more while Agot, Mylene and Tomas turned in early.  We had a 4am wake-up call for a 4:30am climb up the peak.

I think none of us really got up at the sound of our alarms because as we were having coffee, we saw the sky turning blue and we all hurried up the peak. And this was a very steep incline and I remember catching my breath saying, wow, I literally used up all the rest I got from my sleep and I was only halfway, I think we shocked our bodies in that it had barely woken up and here we were trying to sprint to the top before the sun came out, you could not in any circumstance miss that moment otherwise, all the walk the day before would have been for nothing.

We all got up there. Tomas is 10 years old and he was on top of that mountain. 10 years old!6306

I remember taking photos and then after a while stopping and telling myself, nah, you can’t shoot this. It won’t fit the frame. And I don’t have the words either.63306329

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And so this is where I stop explaining Mt. Pulag. You need to get up there and see it.

The Flotsam Story…(Part 2 of 10)

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So there we were decided on shooting a film, we were going to do it with 2 DSLR’s and just friends. The impetus was that we knew what we wanted and it was to capture what made me and other people come back to Flotsam coupled with the dream of making our own Richard Curtis film. Not to copy from Richard Curtis but to be independent and personal guided only by your experiences and just simply following your gut.

Joncy believed in the auteur school of filmmaking and he would always tell me this but here we were doing a film together and he laid it down every so often, we follow the auteur school where-in the director is king, we follow your lead.  As the director, I have to say, you cannot have a better situation coming in a film project than this.

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But it was really a chicken or the egg thing—they (Mia Sebastian, Carla Suiza and Joncy Sumulong) had built Flotsam and Jetsam hostel of which I was a fan of, following and writing about…here I am trying to put that whole feeling and concept of the place into a movie, so although I was the director, they were still the experts to the whole Flotsam experience so, it was quite symbiotic as I was actually following their lead as well.

Next thing we worked on was the premise and the characters.  I knew I didn’t want to do a surf film or a film about surfing. Maybe because I never considered myself as a surfer so even if I wanted to do a surf film, I wouldn’t know how.  I always knew that surfing would be the sport I’d be doing for a long time but I also knew that I was not a fanatic of anything but to get out of Manila and a stress-filled life, which is why surfing appealed to me so much. Of-course, I’m no hypocrite, surfing’s greatest offering was… girls in bikinis!

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So Flotsam was not going to be about surfing.  It would be about women in bikinis. I’m kidding. Ha!

Flotsam would be about love stories that happen in a surftown.

Before we even thought of making this film, I always knew that if I did a short film in Flotsam, the main character would be Flotsam.  I just saw the artistic hostel as a very strong force akin to the bar in Cheers and the restaurant in Mystic Pizza.  And as simple as this first character played out, so did the rest—who else would be in the movie Flotsam but the regulars at Flotsam?

There are a few characters in the film we loosely based on real people in Flotsam or from the surf-town.  I use the word “loosely” because they were inspirations only for as soon as we casted each character, it was a collaboration already between actors and the screenplay in coming up with the most interesting character onscreen. We made the actors/actresses own their roles.  And they did.  Ahhh, the cast. We had the best cast… but I’ll save that for another blog…

Back to the story.   Joncy was hell-bent on doing the film that he got Earl Noche to come in and make it happen.  Earl who works in Sales and Operations, is a very unique individual. Like Joncy, he’s the type of guy who when committed to something, would make things happen. A doer. And he committed to this.

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For weeks, Earl and Joncy would go around and find the funds to make this film. I always knew what Joncy wanted because he was a film fanatic but Earl, I still couldn’t get what he was about. So one day, I decided to just go and ask Earl why he was doing this and he simply put it: “I’ve sold everything…name it, I’ve sold it… but I’ve never sold a film.”

Where I wake up and think of stories to make into film, he gets a high out of selling.  Joncy and I would sometimes just look at Earl, sigh and say “iba talaga si Earl.” And it’s true. The guy is unique.

We also got a professional producer to come in to handle the production and brought in another marketing Goddess named Cheska to help us make this happen. And Cheska was another character, the only female in the group so far, all bubbly and girly, a real chick is what she was.

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So there was the core of Flotsam movie production being formed slowly. First it was just Joncy and I. Then Earl came in. Then our producers. Mind you, it was an all alpha-male group of first-class hecklers. And then the no-pushover chick, Cheska. Eventually, we would have Darlene Malimas join the mix. And the whole film was going to be the first baby of Banana Pancake Trail Productions.

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The short version of this story will always be: we drove back from La Union and created a child.

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My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 2)

Lesson 2: my sense of humor kept me alive. (Cont.)

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Mind you, days before our trip, the weather report predicted 93% precipitation and 100% the following day so I prepared a little too much in that my backpack had me 3 sets of clothing because I can’t stand getting wet.  So I was prepared.

By the mid-way of our trek, the fog greeted us. At first glance, it was a pretty sight, we took out our phones and photographed away.  Or maybe it’s just because we’re already high up that the fog seemed to thicken.  We rested amidst the fog and it was indeed getting cold-er.

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After a while, everyone trekked on again.  So every now and then we all stopped and Jason and I caught on with the rest.  But this was the last stop and we were far more exhausted than any stop earlier. So off they all went, Aling Lina, our porter who wore white was just as much a white ghost leading the pack. Wasn’t much of a leader I suppose as she disappeared into the horizon. I actually have a photo of the last set of mountains we had to cross and there she was, a tiny dot after 15 minutes of leaving us. One day I said to myself, I shall film her story. I don’t know how but I will. She was for me the most fascinating story in this whole climb.

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I remember the last long stop Jason and I took because I was looking at Mang Felix seated by the grass looking away and it seemed like he was writing down notes on a small notebook. But do not trust my memory because at this point of exhaustion, I could be hallucinating everything already. And I told Jason, I think he’s tallying our stops and we’re probably going to win the record for the most breaks and stops taken by trekkers going up.  And in a few minutes, the clouds got darker and Mang Felix just about had it with us I thought, he excused himself to go ahead telling us that it might rain and that he should get there ahead and pitch all our tents. And he left us and in my head, wow, we were that bad our guide left us. But he meant well.

So we put on our raincoats and decided to walk faster—in our head that’s what we wanted but it was still the lolo walk of literally one step at a time.

But we made it.  And when we got to the side of the mountain which was supposedly the peak we would climb, we saw our camp and everyone was there. They called it the saddle and it was gorgeous and downhill.  So our last 15 minute trek was downhill and really steep.  In my mind, shit, I’m going to climb this tomorrow, can I just camp here instead. Ofcourse, none of my wishes came true except for one thing, we had the saddle all to ourselves.

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By this time, I had a headache and they said it was just my body getting used to the high altitude and probably the cold. In my mind, it was my body freaking out telling why the hell did I bring it there.

We pitched our tents, Jason and the girls made noodles and soup, it was the best tasting noodles and soup I had ever tasted. And it never rained. In fact, the sun came out after we set up all our tents. What a day?! And I survived what came out to be about 5 hours trek for me and a whole lot of steps. One never really counts their steps until they are forced to do one after the other with a huge monster on their shoulders.

Monster. I think that was the term used for Sheryl Strayed’s backpack when she hiked the PCT in her book Wild. She had over-packed and did so many mistakes as a first-time climber. And I was such a fan of the book, I even blogged about it and then eventually watched the film. And like a real fan, I did all of the mistakes she committed. Nice one Jay.

But let me show you why it was all worth it.  And this was just the saddle.

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(To be continued… Part 3)

 

 

 

 

My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 1)

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I had only known about Mt Pulag from facebook photos of people above the clouds, I am not a mountaineer and was not aware that this was the 2nd highest peak in the country.  My interest is getting away with a bunch of friends and what could be farther from the great Manila shithole than climbing a mountain that’s above the clouds.

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The trip was marked for early May, then it moved to end of May and then it moved again to early June. Up until the very last day, I didn’t know much about the details of the trip. I had just gotten back from a US trip and a 12-day film shoot so my mind sort of arrived late as my body was back in town days earlier.  I admit that I just put my utmost trust to my friends Jason Moss, Mylene Dizon and Agot Isidro.  I knew that they would not put me in harms way.  Jason Moss referred to the trek as “banayad”.

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Weeks prior to the trip up Mt Pulag, and the very first day of my movie shoot, we went up the waterfalls in San Juan. It was gorgeous but the trek was deadly for us normal big city folks.  What was described for us as a 30-minute trek took us 2 hours and some of us got sick because of the heat.  It affected our whole 12-day shoot, in both good and bad ways that 2 days after we wrapped our shoot, I had to go back to the waterfalls and take the longer but kinder route and enjoy the falls just to get rid of my trauma.  So the longer route was about an hour and 15minutes and I was exhausted but I enjoyed it. Trauma forgotten.

Cut to me asking how long the trek to Mt Pulag is—“it’s only a 4-hr trek.” BOOM!

Again, you just have to trust your friends.  I followed a short list of things to pack and admittedly packed a little more—2 more shirts, an extra shorts, and being paranoid about my diabetes, packed 3 times the required trail food.  Here lies the problem.

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So we drove up to Baguio, ride a jeep another 2 hours across the mountains and then we begin the trek.  Jason lent me a 45 pound backpack which I estimate would have been easily 50 lbs as I packed it to the brim. 5 liters of water, a heavy tent, winter clothing and lots and lots of trail food enough to feed a small family.

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I remember bringing my pack to the car and telling myself “shit, how the hell am I gonna carry this for 4 hours?!” and then moved on ignoring that most important warning off an inner monologue that could have saved me all the trouble that was about to come.

Lesson 1 learned:  listen to your inner monologue.  Stop, shut up and listen.

Lets put it this way, the trek was, yes they were right, “friendly to say the least”.  It was not at all hard.  We had 10-year old Tomas, son of Mylene and he was fine all through out.  I was dying literally and we had only walked an hour.

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At the first stop, Jason realized that my bad was too heavy so he took out and transferred the tent to his backpack. That’s how defeated I must have looked.  And then we went on, my pack was more manageable. And then his pack became too heavy so we split the tent between us.  But my pack was just too heavy that I remember walking like a grandfather taking one step at a time literally and we weren’t even half way. I was saying to myself, how the hell will I get there?  It seemed impossible. Seriously. That’s what was in my head.  My shoulder were in so much pain.  The air was so thin already that I was panting almost the whole way which I think took us a little over 5 hours from the regular four hours.

I constantly asked Jason who stayed with me all through out—if what I was feeling was normal and he would constantly reassure me… that I’m far from being in trouble because I hadn’t stopped cracking jokes and laughing.

I realize that a big part of me is really crazy because I distinctly remember feeling like I was dying and in so much trouble I couldn’t walk anymore but always laughing and having a fun time still.  It’s kind of schizo!

So I wasn’t in trouble.

Lesson 2: my sense of humor kept me alive.

(to be continued)

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