MY LIFE AS ART

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BY PETER SOLIS NERY
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The young and new

THIS IS how it was: I came home to enjoy a vacation, not to make another film. But somehow, a challenge was posed to me. Can I make a short film from scratch in 20 days? Can I make it good enough for a competition?
I like being challenged. No, strike that out. I don’t like being challenged, but I like to take on challenges because it pushes me to achieve newer and greater heights. The problem with the short film challenge was financing – Would I like to throw away something like P20,000 for something that is not likely to give me a return of investment?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, someone threw in a new variable in the equation. For a possible prize of P75,000, would I be interested to make a short film that is five to 15 minutes long? Can I win a film competition? Now, that became an exciting challenge I wanted to take on.
So, I prayed. Can I shoot a film in just three days? I am still mighty proud that I made my first full-length feature, Gugma sa Panahon sang Bakunawa (Graydonnery Artists, 2012), in just six shooting days. If I can make a full-length movie of 108 minutes in just six days, I surely can make a 15-minuter in three days. But the conditions changed.
No. 1, the Bakunawa story has been with me for a while. I have written it first as a short story in Hiligaynon, then in English, then in Filipino. Then, I wrote it as a screenplay in Filipino before I decided to also write it as a screenplay in Hiligaynon. For the Sineng Pambansa National Film Competition of 2012, I also had to write it in English, and just before the movie finally came out, I also wrote it as a novella in English, Love in the Time of the Bakunawa (CreateSpace, 2012). I knew the Bakunawa story inside and out.
No. 2, my Bakunawa film had real actors in it. Granted that Jet Alcantara is the only real veteran in the cast, my lead Eman Abatayo is not so innocent in filmmaking or acting either. Eman is a Pinoy Dream Academy alumnus, and a pretty successful solo, and band, musician himself. Priscilla Fontana, my lead actress, had played bit roles in the big TV networks in Manila.
No. 3, my Bakunawa movie boasted of “Hollywood filmmakers.” So, they haven’t done big studio movies, but they have worked somewhere in Hollywood making small movies, or at least, pretty wedding videos. Their awesome work is showcased in my Bakunawa movie.
After all that’s said and done, I think Bakunawa is pretty awesome as a film, and I can die with the thought that I’ve made one well done movie in my lifetime.
Now, can I make a movie to top Bakunawa’s technical and artistic qualities from scratch in less than 20 days, with less than P20,000 budget, and with an all-Dumangueño cast and crew?
I needed a story with the barest minimum. Can it work like a silent film? Of course, I can write anything. But can I write a screenplay with only six lines of very short dialogues? With each line no longer than eight words? Watch me!
Enter the young filmmakers of Dumangas. The what? Yes, precisely. I mean, who knew?
For the Ikapito nga Adlaw project I first approached Jeremy Arguelles Azucena to be my director of photography. I didn’t know he didn’t become a “professional” videographer until only last year. As an original rich kid of Dumangas, I always remembered him with a camera, and a fancy motorbike.
Jeremy had studied BS Advertising at CPU, and AB Cruise Line Services somewhere, and went on to become a seaman; saved some capital money; and is now trying to settle down in Dumangas with his own photography and design studio; and managing, or at least, co-managing, their funeral parlor family business.
I like Jeremy’s eye for details. Most of the cutaways in our film Ikapito nga Adlaw are his ideas. We went to the pier for our final scene, for example, and he just got ambience and atmosphere shots on his own. Most of the visual storytelling that goes on in the movie is really his making. I knew from the start that I wanted him to be my DOP, he was my first and only choice; and I am greatly satisfied, impressed even, with his work.
Like most of us, Jeremy started with point-and-shoot cameras. But when he started making his own money, he bought some DSLR cameras and started practicing his photography. In summer last year, he got his first professional job as a photographer covering a cousin’s wedding. From that, he moved on to work on photography and video as part of their funeral service package. It’s been his training for our film Ikapito nga Adlaw.
I have great respect for Jeremy as a visual artist so I made him do the posters and all publicity design for the movie. Of course, the other reason is that I don’t have the budget. Haha! But seriously, at least half of what you see in the film we owe from Jeremy’s artful eye and camerawork.
The other half is Joey Rap Decolongon’s painstaking efforts of cobbling together a coherent movie. Joey Rap is my real big find in this movie. A BS Tourism graduate now working in cruise ships to afford his passion for the arts, he became a total filmmaker in a week’s time with our movie. I mean, I personally saw his transformation, so I can make a pronouncement that he’s the new Dumangueño filmmaker to watch.
When I approached Jeremy to be my cinematographer, he said he’ll hook me up with his group. They called themselves Group One Media. I still don’t know how big this group is. They’re Dumangueños dabbling with photography, videography, editing, and the aligned arts. It’s quite fair to say that I know, and I don’t know, them all. I’m pretty much a one-track mind worker bee. I get to know first, and at length, only the people with whom I work.
Joey is sort of the default editor of our film. He has learned editing from someone in Group One, but has really no editing credits to his name before Ikapito nga Adlaw. Surely, a lot of people could have helped in editing, even Jeremy, but Joey was the seaman on vacation, and has the greatest passion to work on a film with Peter Solis Nery.
Strike that last one out. I knew Joey was just bored, and wanted something to do that would exercise and hone his filmmaking skills. Well, he got what he wanted, and more. On him I laid the burden of making sense of what we shot in three days – well, four if you include our beautiful nudes. It was not easy, the job was arduous, a real torment, and I would have understood if he did not want to work with me again after making this movie. Thankfully, I am ever so charming. Haha.
To make Ikapito nga Adlaw, Joey had to learn Adobe After Effects while editing. He already had the basics of Adobe Premiere Pro. But he also wanted to impress me knowing that I am not so easily content with mediocre quality. He’s not only our film and sound editor, he’s also the special effects guy of the movie. So yeah, I can understand the need for coffee, cigarettes,…and porn?
Oh, did I mention that he was also the film’s other DOP along with Jeremy? He manned Camera B. Joey is really a total package of a filmmaker. And if Ikapito nga Adlaw was his thesis film, he obviously graduated the Peter Solis Nery filmmaking school with flying colors.
After our movie, Joey has gone on to blow up our town, and made his friend Efren a punching bag, at least in his episodic short sequence “Efren and Friends” that’s going viral on Facebook.
Joey and Jeremy are the faces of new and exciting filmmakers from Dumangas. I’m ever so proud of them. And when they finally make it big, and I pray that they will, I will smile ever so enormously knowing that it was I that really broke them in. Broke them in. Yeah, just in making movies, silly!/PN
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