Filipino Filmmaker in Spain: A Journal Part III


Continuation from Part 2…

PART 3: Baptism of Fire

Written by: BOMBI PLATA

Edited by: Katrina Tan

I felt like the first shooting day came in too fast. I wished we were given a few additional days to organize our “battle gear” some more. I knew there were details that needed fine-tuning but, we had a schedule to keep.

It was nine o’ clock in the morning yet it was still dark, and the sun has not come out yet. The air was cold, the grounds were wet with dew, and the surroundings were covered with fog, revealing only small details of what surrounded us.  Our first location was going to be on top of a hill called Torre de Galartza.

monasterio de oliva 2

A location in the film: Monasterio de Oliva

Being the first Assistant Director, I counted by the minutes. I have computed in my mind the approximated travel time, set-up time, in-between breaks following a strict protocol set by the labor union in Spain. We were allowed to work for 10 hours where it included travel to the location, set-up, make-up, and costume preparations, breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. For a Filipino filmmaker, this was a nightmare. We only had a budget for 18 shooting days with more or less 110 sequences– an average of more or less 66 set-ups covering the entire script.MONASTERIO DE LA OLIVA

Asst. Director Bombi on top of the Monasterio de Oliva.

Just so you have an idea of how much a film really costs: El Presidente, as I have heard, had a 100 million-peso budget. Heneral Luna was made for 80 million. We only had 50 million budget including marketing and other logistical needs outside of actual filming, and we filmed in Spain, with a Spanish crew and Spanish actors. We cannot use any friendship card there the way in which us independent filmmakers survive in finishing our festival films here in the Philippines. They have standardized salaries. They have standardized working conditions.

“Hindi uubra and kalahating hotdog at kalahating itlog na nakabaon sa kanin, gaya ng nararanasan natin dito sa ibang producers.”

Our second Assistant Director Eduardo Huete from Zaragoza, at that time, was already saying that our workload was impossible and was not doable. He even branded us as the “Crazy Filipinos!” The Production Manager, Anna Carrera Lopez, who was also from Madrid, cannot imagine how we would all survive what we imposed upon ourselves!


Producers Pol and Ernest smile for the camera during a location hunt.  Pol is also a co-writer for the screenplay, while it was Ernest’s idea that Jescom should produce the film.
The first set-up came, the first call of “silencio por favor”, and “action!” was sounded off, and it was then, we proved ourselves- like determined athletes- hearing the shot signaling the start of the race, we hustled, prepared, dismantled, cued the next prop and costume to use. Production Designer, Leo Velasco, and Art Director, Cari-dawn Conejero, came hauling in soil large prop pieces, while attending to even the smallest detail of Andreas’ mangled leg prosthetic that was needed in the scene. We just kept on grinding and rolling like a well-oiled war machine in full steam. We tried to move with precision with a clear intent of our marching orders. Since we had limited manpower, we functioned to do several tasks. I had never seen such level of commitment and determination than what my teammates had shown there.
Cari Cornejero at work with Andreas’ prosthetics.

The first three days became our baptism of fire. Direk Lee Meily showed her genius behind light sculpting despite the seemingly insufficient light requirements. Her hitman and head Gaffer Ulysses Makiling’s unconventional way of rigging lights became a nightmarish condition for some of the Spanish crew. They could only scratch their heads while throwing film-making protocols and a mental manual of standardized film-making practice out of the window. Direk Lee showed how efficiency can still be achieved despite the limitations presented to them, simply because she IS truly a master of her craft, coupled with a dash of our world-renowned Filipino ingenuity.


One of the locations: a beautiful cave that needed some of Direl Lee’s lighting expertise.

Another challenge presented itself to us when we were about to film scenes inside the Loyola castle. The agreement was that we had to wait until the museum closes for the tourists before we can go inside, and to do our work. During the entire duration of the shoot, we were told that we would be locked-in for the entire “Night at the Museum!” No one could ever go outside until the castle opens again the following morning.

However, there was a lapse in communication with the castle caretaker. When we were all inside the museum, and we already heard the ancient castle door bolted, it was only then that we realize that the electricity of the entire facility was turned-off! We had no choice but to start working in darkness. We can only rely on the generator set we brought with us, and the few mobile phone flashlights and candle props we used to set everything up. No, that was not the right time to imagine dungeons, moving eyes on old paintings that follow you, and the sound of chains rattling in the middle of the dark corridors. What really terrified me was that it took us three hours just to bring all props and equipment in. By the time we finished, it was already midnight break. That consumed another whole hour off our actual scene shoots.


To be continued…

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