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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