Author Archives: Jay Abello

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–


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.





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.


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


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 2)

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


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.


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.


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.


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)