Author Archives: Jay Abello

My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 1)


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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)

My Flotsam story… (part 1 of 10)

It all started on the last hours of December 7, 2014, when I drove back from La Union with Joncy and Carla Suiza.  In fairness to Carla, she was passed out almost the whole ride down so she’s not to blame for all this craziness.

It started with a question—who is the poster child of surfing?  Jericho. There’s no other. And not being a surfer, that wasn’t obvious to me but I guess it is—you go everywhere in the country and everyone would know Jericho, Joncy said, and he’s a bonafide surfer. So that’s it.

Next question followed after an ongoing series of discussions about film and cameras every time I went up to La Union to help a friend film his surf documentary.  Joncy and I had a very familiar background, as we’re both Ilonggo’s from Bacolod.  So communication was simple and no-nonsense.  We also shared the same bluntness to things, we din’t care about what people think, and we still don’t.  That and our fascination with film and cameras, we could talk for hours-on-end and sober.

Backtrack a little, I met Mia Sebastian on a surf trip with my then surf buddy Mylene Dizon on magic left in Pundaquit, Zambales.  Mylene was then a beginner as I am very much still one now. She’s moved on to become a much much advanced surfer whereas I remained an urfer and surf enthusiast.   Anyways, Mia mentioned that she was no her way to putting up a hostel in San Juan, La Union.  I have to admit, I never got the concept in my limited knowledge about hostels and La Union.

A little over a year after, I saw Flotsam on Facebook and I  came up shortly after. The first time I went, I think I spent 2 nights, 3 days and as soon as got back in Manila, I had written 3 scripts for 3 short films all about the place. One was about waiting for the wave. Another was about making pizza and the last was about making coffee.

And I had asked Joncy if I maybe they would allow me to film my shorts at Flotsam and Joncy hopped on the idea and showed me a script he had written as well, and we would talk about how we’d film it and on and on, our conversations went from purely hypothetical to serious casting and prep work, whichever script we’d be shooting and when, we just knew that we’d be filming at Flotsam.

Back to the drive. We were at TPLEX highway and it was around 11pm and the 2nd question was asked. How much does it cost to make an independent film? I gave a number. Joncy didn’t even flinch, he knew he wanted to do a film for many many years and this was just drive (literally).

It was my birthday by midnight but I dropped them off, and went home and that was that.  A few days later, Joncy and I had coffee and he said, lets do it. Can you write it?

IMG_6126  This is my copy of the shooting script after 12 days of principal photography.

At that time, I was trying to fix another script of mine and was in the middle of a million other things and a bit exhausted from my last film Red that I begged off and said, I know someone who can—Mickeygirl Galang. And Joncy knew her even better than me so I said, I’ll talk to her and see how it goes. Joncy insisted that I write it and my commitment was I’ll get on board as long as I don’t have to do it by myself.

I knew that the film would be about. It was always Flotsam. I always cited the film Mystic Pizza whenever I explained the film to Joncy. And he’d always refer to Before Sunrise because the place was as much the main character as the characters themselves. I always knew that that was the movie I wanted to make. Not a surf film and not on surfing but people in the surftown and what happens to them when they’re not surfing.

I wrote the characters, the plot, the first act and the relationships of the pairings of characters and Mickeygirl took it to town.

I met up with Mickeygirl in Bacolod December 26th.  She passed the first draft Jan 31, on the dot, right on the deadline, just as agreed, what a pro.

Although technically Flotsam was written between December and Febuary to March, the real force behind Flotsam goes back to many many years before these dates.  Joncy had always been a film nerd and deep down he’d always wanted to make films and he has been making his own films single-handedly.

In the industry, the most common names you’ll hear from directors when asked who they idolize, follow or got the most learning or influence from are Coppola, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Scorcese, Tornatore, Spielberg Lynch, and Woody Allen.  I just wanted to do my Nottinghill. I followed Richard Curtis.

And so Flotsam is my ode to Richard Curtis and my first step to doing my Nottinghill.

That great summer…

There are great summers and then there are summers that are just simply great, they’re unmatched. Summer of 2015 was that for me. Spent 2 solid weeks with my son Ethan. Went to middle America to interview and film icons of the cockfighting world for my up and coming documentary film The Sport of Kings and finally saw the great American countryside. Went back and did a dream film project entitled Flotsam.


It all started April 3 as I fly to LA. Was back in Manila May 5. Shooting Flotsam by May 17-28th. On the last day of May, I come home and it feels great to be back in my own bed. I haven’t really been home in 2 months and for good reason.  Been moving around so much and to places I’ve always wanted to go to and with people that I find special.


And then a few days of post-production meetings for Flotsam and off I go with old friends up and climbed Mt Pulag.  This trip was planned way before summer and had moved 3 times already. And finally, we all came together and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

We drove up to Baguio around 11:30pm of June 3, got to Baguio early morning, took a jeep to the jump-off point and trekked to the 2nd highest peak in the Philippines.

At the DENR station where everyone goes thru an orientation process, they sell t-shirts that says “I survived Mt. Pulag”. I didn’t get the t-shirt but I sure as hell understand what it means.

My friend Jason Moss organized this whole trip and he described the trek as “banayad” which means that it was fairly easy.  It was fairly easy, for anyone who packed light.  I was part-Strayed, part-Wild and packed a monster backpack wieghing a probable 50lbs and lugging that onto a 4-hr trek without any prior training is a painful experience. Lesson learned. But no regrets. The views were worth it, the place is magical.


A lot of laughter and a lot of hard work too. And everything great in the middle.  Mark this…summer of 2015. What a ride!

Chicken men of the South


I finally found my way to Alabama, Mississipi and Texas. After all these years of talking to chicken men, I go to the heart of America to find more answers… and was not disappointed at all.  The southern hospitality was strangely familiar. It is striking how similar Filipinos are to the southerners– religous, family-oriented, and very hospitable.

I can’t say much because I’ll have to let the documentary speak for itself. But the whole trip was well worth it.




Some photos speak volumes. This is one of them. Probably the most important photo there will ever be in the American cockfighting story. And this is what I flew to Alabama and drove to Mississipi for–this photograph (taken at Johnny Jumper’s home).


Yosemite: back to basics…


When I was 10 years old, my dad took us to this magical place called Yosemite. It was for me one of the highlights of my childhood.  We slept in a tent made of canvass and I remember hearing then seeing a racoon outside our tent and for me, it was like seeing a Lion, an exotic wild animal not found in my country.

30 years later, I was 40 and my son Ethan was 10, I went back and life came full circle.  This was my 3rd visit and the place still works, like it was my first time.  Still the same awe. Still the same feeling of wonder and gratitude. The place always makes me feel thankful, humble and alive. It is my… happy place.

Ethan grew up being my most important subject in photography. It reached a point that he hated being shot and he wanted to also shoot. And he did. And he was good.  That’s him lying on the ground framing for the shot he has in his head.  And I never taught him that.

When I asked him what he wanted to be, many times he’d say he wanted to be a photographer.  Ofcourse he was a kid and I knew that that was just my influence, and although I think he’d make a good photographer, he’d also make a good doctor or filmmaker or yoga instructor or what-have-you, who knows and I support him in whatever he chooses, except drug dealing and being a politician.


I promised him I’d give him his own camera when he turned 12. I did. And he’s been an on and off hobbyist and he’s got the chops, I have to say. I know I’m biased but for the record, he does. I’ll let him share his own photos at his own time. But here’s the proud father shooting his talented Ethan.