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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