I Survived Filming 4 Provinces in 7 Days
and had no time to buy a t-shirt.
but i ate like it was going out of style. a good trip.
after easter, things went from deadly quiet to flurried, anxious activity. starting with the issue of how much cash could i access? Wonderful Long-Suffering Executive Producer-Husband wired me cash via western union. i then learned that along with failing to bring along my atm card (near-fatal mistake #1), i also had severely handicapped my ability to get cash by not having my driver’s license or other form of picture ID in addition to my passport (near-fatal mistake #2).
miracle of miracles, my friend A. was able to convince her mother to txt her friend the bank manager that it was ok, give this girl her money. i had WLSEPH wire my friend A. a second giant sum of money in case i was not able to access my stash. turned out it was a lucky thing i had both stashes, as the shoot cost more than i had originally been told. (budget overages: so what else is new in the wild woolly world of indie filmmaking? not to mention the time-honored tradition of bakhsish, or “it’s okay, relax” money. you know, bribes.) put it this way, PDIC insures accounts up to $250,000 PhP. what i was wired was at the limit of what philippine banks ensure accounts to.
If It’s Tuesday It’s Batangas
after our simple banking errand, which in the U.S. would’ve taken all of 30 minutes to complete but because it was the philippines and i was a special case with my one picture ID took 3.5 hours to complete, we were off to meet my crew. my trusty co-producer, local coordinator (but oh! so much more!), and camera and sound, driver, and PA were off and running. we had to be in batangas province, about 2.5 hours south of manila, later in the afternoon to shoot an interview with the grandson of one of my documentary’s main historical figures.
mission completed (a good interview bagged and in the can), we went to our hotel on the beach. it sounds amazing, and perhaps even was, but by the time we got there, it was dark and the air was thick with mosquitos already. plus, after talking, we determined we had an early call time: 5 am. (i think my crew of young dudes was kinda bummed to learn that call time for the week of shooting would be as early as 4 am and as late as 6 am. but never later. sorry dudes. hit the road and shoot while it’s cool, or wake up late and face 98% humidity and temps in the 90s F at 9 am? the choice is clear.)
If It’s Wednesday, It’s Lucban (Quezon)
we woke up extra early so we could double back up toward manila and pick up some lolas (grannies) who are also related to the grandson of one of the doc’s main historical figures. they were adorable. the daughter of one accompanied us as well. the three ladies were an absolute delight, and we split up the crew, shooting the grandson in one van and the lolas in another. we had our meeting carefully choreographed via txt.
text messages in the philippines are cheap: about 3 medium length sentences for 1 PhP. calls are 8PhP and up. needless to say, few people call. dey txt, & fast. i lrned 2 txt w xtreme econmy, tho ppl laffd @ my slow 1-hnded txtng. u cld tell d natives frm d odrs by how qikly dey zippd out txts using 1 thmb. u dn’t rlly need 2 mny vowls, do u?
lucban, in quezon, is a charming little town filled with entrepreneurial spirit. apparently lucban means “pomelo.” it’s known for a gorgeous holiday called pahiyas, where they decorate the entire town with colorful “kiping” or rice paper leaf tributes to san isidro, the patron saint of farmers. we were a month too early for the festival, which is a pity as i’m sure it’d be tremendously photogenic to film. but it’d also be a huge hassle to film during that time, as the town is packed with tourists from all over the philippines as well as overseas tourists.
we had another amazing shoot, made easy by the town’s picturesque qualities, the wonderful storytelling abilities of my subjects (the radovans are fabulously lively, animated, outgoing people) and the irresistible charm of a 64-year old woman doing yo-yo tricks in the middle of the street. she had quite a few tricks in her arsenal: flying saucer, walk the dog, around the world, rock the baby, scissors.
the next day we shot the lovely grotto just outside lucban. there’s a huge jesus atop a lovely hill, with all kinds of religious icons and pageantry on the way up decorating the steps. again, a well-known regional landmark.
If It’s Thursday It’s Paete
after dropping our lolas off, we went on to our town of woodcarvers. paete means “chisel” in tagalog, so i figured it’d be a likely spot to find someone to carve us a yo-yo and they did. i also noticed the many arnis masters in the area, and thought, why not try to get our filipino martial artists here? after all, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of woodcarvers and martial artists, and if anyone can credibly tell us about how the yo-yo may have been used as a weapon, these martial artists can.
turns out it was very lucky–we found these sweet arnis maestros who did exactly that. they were so happy to demonstrate their art. we, in turn, were delighted to find them.
we stayed an extra day in paete. we wanted to get the arnis masters at their freshest, and that meant meeting them in a gorgeous park by a small lake and ringed by mountains. at 6 am. which meant we were up and breakfasted by 5:30 am. this time we also brought yo-yos with us. i fussed and worried over not having the right kind of wooden yo-yos with us (the lolas walked off with the ones i had brought from america, assuming they were pasalubong, i.e., gifts, intended for them and i didn’t have the heart to snatch them back), but it turned out just fine. we had wooden ones the woodcarver had made for us and the cheap plastic ones we had the arnis masters used had the virtue of being colorful and therefore easy to film.
If It’s Friday It’s Back to Manila
we were due to fly to laoag, our northern city up in ilocos norte from manila, so we left charming little paete (where i bought many an item) and got everyone dropped off.
i forget why it took us so long to return, but it did. was it perhaps because we stopped in los banos for buko (coconut) pie? ummmmmmm delicious. hot from the oven…not what you’d think is appetizing in 90 degree-plus F heat, but trust me, heavenly.
If It’s Saturday, We Must Be Scamming Our Way Onto a Flight to Laoag, Ilocos Norte
so, um, flights to laoag from manila were cheap on cebu pacific air and my local coordinator and i agreed that a 12-hour bus ride or 10-hour driver & van ride was just not doable. so i bought 5 tix and filled in likely names of crew members. problem was, we ended up with different crew members.
so, ahem, it was with a little trepidation we waited to get our tickets at the domestic wing of ninoy aquino airport. luckily tikoy, our local coordinator (actually founder of cinemanila and an established indie filmmaker in his own right) knew everyone at the airport and bullied our way through all red tape. fortunately, he’d provided a work-around that only required a small amount of
vintar is only 8 km from laoag, and the moment we landed in laoag, tikoy proclaimed that food in ilocos norte is very good. and it was! in particular the deep orange-colored empanadas were excellent.
we shot much moving material in vintar. some of my favorite footage is that of an interview we did with a relative of the other main historical figure of my documentary. he showed us the flores farmlands that still belong to the family. we seated him under a tree perched on a sledge made of bamboo (or some other thick dried vine) that’s used to pull bales of cut sugar cane. in the background was a carabao tethered to the ground and further behind him was a haystack in a small grass-roofed shed. we had the mayor’s assistant join us and he translated from ilocano for us. it was lovely–we shot at 7 am so the day hadn’t yet heated up, and the sky was agreeably overcast.
once we returned to manila, we were off again to shoot manila exteriors and ints/exts of the manila hotel, a lovely old place built in 1912. so atmospheric. i love the baywalk, along manila bay, and we shot the giant dinosaurs and enormous coffee cup. hopefully anyone who sees that will recognize manila. certainly they’ll recognize the jeepneys.