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.

There she stands majestic against the ominous clouds…

IMG_5366I’ve seen Kanlaon volcano so many times and in so many different ways. I’ve spent so much time in this place. But this is my favorite. I’ve never seen the cone so sharp and so featured, framed  and surrounded by the clouds.

The Sport of Kings (documentary film)

It is the documentary I’ve been dying to make and have been trying to get off the ground for many years.  And now we’re in production and it’s very exciting.  I grew up around gamefowl breeders all my life but I’m not a chicken man. I am going inside this world with the eyes of an amateur, I know very little about this world. And so far, it’s fascinating to say the least.

Formerly known as Blood in the Gallera, this documentary is slated to be released end of 2015.

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The World Slasher Cup 2015 at the Araneta Coliseum. This is the 3rd World Slasher Cup we’ve shot since we started with this film. It it just gets more exciting and bigger each time.

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Candelaria 2015.  From the way the 2 most prestigious derbies have been desrcibed to me, in my own words, the Worls Slasher Cup is the Academy Awards and the Candelaria is the Cannes of cockfighting.

RED wins best screenplay award in Cinemaone!

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Part 7 R E D

The VILLAIN

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JM  Rodriguez plays ART.  Art is the other storyteller. He is simply put, the villain in the story. And JM played it even better than how the role was written on paper and how I imagined it. Needless to say that Art is someone to watch out for in this film. JM plays it so effortlessly, it’s unnerving.  You will love him and you will hate him in this film. Best casting choice we made hands-down.

I’ve known JM since we were kids.  We went to the same school in Bacolod, we were one batch apart I think. I was older. And I’ve always known him as a singer and super duper nice person.  Our mom’s were best of friends so were practically connected already.  So for me, it was really nice shooting Red with JM.  It’s always a pleasant break to talk in Ilonggo on the set and explain the scene and the character in your own dialect. I’ve lived in Manila more than half of my life but still, speaking in Ilonggo is liberating especially on the set. And when I would explain the film, JM gets it right away because he knows Bacolod, he knows Negros, he knows the people I reference characters from.

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He only had 2 days of shoot but boy did we abuse the kindness of JM. He would get to the set at 6am and we would release him around 4am and he would be in good spirits the whole time. That to me is amazing.  What a pro!

We all loved JM…love, love, loved him!  Thank you for giving us Art.

Part 6 R E D

History: gossip well told. ~Elbert Hubbard

It always fascinated me that in our country, much of history is told through great storytelling, and not through real hard core facts.  If we go back to the last 3 decades, the most significant parts of our history have been told by media, documentary filmmakers, writers and the best storytellers.  How many of us really know the story of the Marcos era?  Where did we base our version of the story?  Do we even remember where we heard it from?  The Ninoy Aquino assassination.  Nobody until now really knows the real story there.  I’ve always believed that unless you were there when something happened, you will never know the real story. In the end, the best storyteller wins and his version will stand and will stay on.  It becomes “HIS story”.

And we all love this process.  We are part of the approval of history.  We approve it based on our expert opinion—of what seems plausible to us.  Or what version did we like.  The relationship of the storyteller and the audience becomes symbiotic.  Storytellers are there because we want them to tell us stories, every day. We enjoy it. We approve it. And we encourage them.

Ever heard the saying “story is king?”   Yep. Guilty.  I love watching and listening to stories and good storytellers.  And I also love telling stories.

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The whole story of Red would be told by a storyteller within the film. His name is Milton and we follow his story, his narrative.  And this made casting the storyteller one of the biggest and major decisions in the film. He was going to be our voice and an extension of the director, the actors and just the whole film… was going to be in his hands.

In the beginning, I chose Joel Torre.  He was the great Ilonggo actor.  I doubt there is any actor who hails from Negros bigger than him now.  The moment I got in Cinemaone, I called him and he turned it down due to health reasons.  I couldn’t find a replacement. And I think it wasn’t because there weren’t any good actors out there, because there are a lot.  I just couldn’t let go of Joel playing Milton in my head. So I could never cast someone in his age bracket. I was always looking for Joel so we sort of went round and round with casting Milton.

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After a while, I decided wait a minute, maybe a younger actor would be interesting—more energy and vulnerability.  And I wanted one with comic timing.  There was this one actor that I’ve had on my mind for a while already.  I didn’t like him in his starring role, the first film I’d seen him on. I can’t get why but I just didn’t. So back then, I had brushed him off as an actor already.  And then I would see him in another film where he played a gay role, and another 2 or 3 short films and he was really really good that I said to myself, I want to work with this guy.

Long story short, he wasn’t our first choice, but Nico Antonio was the one I fought for the most.  Did he deliver the goods so-to-speak?  I’ll be biased saying that he did so you be the judge.

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Part 5 R E D

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Red is not about the color as it is the past tense of the word read.  That is the only reason I stuck with the title even if so many other foreign films have used this title.  Red is about words.  Red is about how people read context of stories told to them and how they act according to what was told to them. That is my fascination with this story and why Red is written as such.

There are a lot of talking and words on this film.  Ha! Good luck viewers.

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Is it based on a true story?  Yes and no.  A lot of the events in the film are based on real events that I’ve known growing up—some happened to my friends, some to people I know, some to myself.   They’re not all connected as in the film Red, that part is fiction.  But the characters are written based on real people I know.  Some of the names of people I’ve kept just as tribute to my friends, people who’s names I just found interesting enough to be on film.

How much of Red is real and how much is fiction?  Gossip is real.  If you find someone who’s never been a victim of gossip, they are the luckiest people on this planet.

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I’m certain you’re all saying to yourself, “oh no, another art film”. Well, we set out to do just the opposite.  This is not an art film, (no offense to art films).   We actually set the bar at entertaining people with this film.  And I sure hope we achieve it.

Part 4 R E D

 

M e r c e d e s  C a b r a l  (Mai)

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The character of Mai was tricky because it is such a small role (in terms of exposure) yet it has a really big impact in the main character and the movie.   It’s a love story but you almost never see them together.  It’s a very limiting but demanding role—sort of…create the biggest impact in just a few scenes. That was the role of Mai.  And Mercedes Cabral was a very easy choice to make.  They say that if you introduce someone in a lengthy fashion, it means they are nobody important.  Mercedes is someone who’s body of work spells it out for you.  I think we’re lucky to have her on board, period.    And she is such a trooper!

Oh, and one more thing—everyone talks about the power of Nora Aunor’s eyes.  I’ve never seen it in person.  But I’ve seen Mercedes’.  And I think I know what everyone means.

Part 3 R E D

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In between all of this, Echo (Jericho Rosales) came in to be the Red in my head.  I had worked with him on the film Santa Santita, Baler and only last year, on Viva Film’s ABNKKBSNPLAko?!  So we fairly knew each other and on the professional side. But his best friend Buji was someone I was closer.  Buji is the guy who taught me how to surf in the ocean and he guided me in the surfing world. And later on, we would go on and start on a surfing documentary film co-prodiced by Coast Thru Life, a company co-owned by Echo.

When Red got in, one of the first people I called was Buji. I needed to get the script to Echo and it was tricky because Echo had just gotten married and had a crazy busy schedule so you don’t just get to send a script to him and expect him to read it, you need a way in.  In hindsight, I doubt if we’d ever get to Echo had we not have known Buji. At least that’s what I think.  (So thanks Buji!)

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Later on, our schedules would never synch for creative-coffee meet-up so we decided to just talk on the phone. I was in front of Flotsam Jetsam hostel in La Union and Echo had plenty of questions about the story and how we were going to do it but he generally liked the project. But he never connected that I was Jay the AD in Santa and Jay the Cinematographer that trained under Lee Meily on the films where we had met, as I learned later on.  He just said, “I’m in” and we had our Red.

I still remember the phone call middle of the night. Lilit Reyes called and asked me this question in Tagalog – Is it ok if you choose another title for your film? He later explained why and I agreed to go back to my old title Red, it made a lot of sense.  But that question. He never actually said we’d gotten in Cinemaone Originals, it was sort of implied. It was one of those weird and strange phone calls you get that changes your life and you never forget because you had been waiting for 6 years to do another film and this meant you were going to do one.  But later on in the process of putting your film together, casting would prove to be the one big hurdle that sort of defines what film you’re going to make.

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I still remember that feeling when Echo said yes.  I called my girlfriend Maita right away and said “Finally, we have a movie, Echo said yes!”

(part 2) The story of RED. My most personal film.

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Red is the first film I’m doing that I wrote myself.  But after writing it for 5 years, we brought it a professional writer, Dwight Gaston.  Red was written in English and was to be shot in Ilonggo.  But by the time Dwight came in, it was clear that I had wanted Echo to play Red, Mercedes Cabral to play Mai, Mylene Dizon as Bianca and JM Rodriguez to play Art. Those were cast members I was certain of.   So Dwight already wrote it in Tagalog.  When I approached Dwight, I gave him blanket freedom to do with it as he pleased… if he wanted to take out scenes I wrote, he could.  He had total freedom.

Of-course, in fairness to Dwight, so many other rewrites were made to the 192-sequence script. Most of it was to scale it down because it was just too long, too expensive. And then we scaled down some more during the shoot.  A very painful but sadly a very necessary process in indie filmmaking.

My last narrative film was in back in 2008 (Namets).  I’ve worked as a Cinematographer for a number of films since then. And they were great experiences. I learned from every film I was a part of.  And so I missed directing a narrative film. It is fun and exciting to create scenes born out of words written down on a piece of paper. Collaborating with people is the best part. You come in with an idea and some descriptions of how you will execute that idea and your team just makes it better and more complete. There’s always magic there and I find that to be such a trip.

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