NOTE: Yes this blog post is published about a year and change later than when it was relevant – however, theres a few key reasons as to why I publish it so late.
A) I write the blogs during the time of the shoots, so as to keep it fresh, but I keep it as a draft.
B) I don’t want the content out before the air date.
So you’ll see more blog posts coming out slowly, they are written live during the shoots, but will be released in future dates. I hope you enjoy this insight into our Philippines saga, one of my favorites to shoot!
DID YOU MISS PART 1 OF THE PHILIPPINES BLOG POST? CHECK IT OUT HERE: http://sd-media.net/blog/?p=125
Well I thought I would have the time to write a detailed blog breakdown on a near-daily basis, but that is a downright impossible feat! We are now on the tail end of our epic Philippines saga and what a whirlwind of a shoot it was! I’ll try to recollect and get you readers an exclusive and detailed insight into our shoot, but don’t expect too much! I have no recollection of my normal non-filming life which is distributed between India and USA. Infact, I am so disassociated with the 2 realms and my filming schedule, that my ability to recollect trivial details such as that popular EDM song on the radio, to the name of my favorite burrito place in Sacramento, are all in that hard-to-recount corner of the brain, stacked right next to my absolutely unrecoverable memories from when I was 2 or less!
Anyway, lets begin, shall we. Last time I had posted, Manila was nearly under water, it really was that bad.. Seems like some of our good luck charms from previous shoot locations and our rain dances worked! Soon as Jonathan landed, the weather did a complete 360 and we were ready to go. Immediately, we found ourselves in Sampaloc, hunting down the old gym of Manny Pacquiao, a gym that he uses to this day! It was nice enough to brush off the cob webs and get back into filming mode. Jonny and I have been shoulder to shoulder through a lot – we’re a tight knit duo and we work extremely well together. It didn’t take long for us to immediately get into the zone and knock this segment outta the park. Finding the gym was a treat, as we were bouncing around the gritty neighborhood, until a troop of small school children led the way! Sure enough, we found the gym, which is now a gym, travel booking center, head quarters, water/power drink dispensing center, conference hall, all mish-mashed together. We met up with Manny’s old trainer, Robert, and he was happy to show us the ropes. Jonny got a good work out in and some solid boxing advice. Right as we got ready to leave, we get word that Pacquiao himself is on the way for a light training session. How could it get any better? This is total RLT material, UNPLANNED! So we hit the rooftops to get a good vantage point, and within 10 minutes, Manny’s entourage approaches. Caddilac Escalade, led by BMW tourer escorts – totally legit! Pacquaio makes his way in and immediately begins his training. It was super impressive seeing him in action, tiny guy, but damn he can move! And his punches, felt like they packed a whallop. I mean, i know the guy is pound for pound the hardest hitting boxer alive, but goddamn, it was something else to feel his punches reverberate through the gritty gym floor. Even his trainer grimaced every time he landed those mits on the pads. The press loved it, and so did we!
Next up, we wasted no time at all! The weather turned in our favor, we had limited time with the sunlight beaming over Philippines and we intended to make full use of it. We needed cityscape shots. So we scoured the Malate area which is close to where Manila Bay is, and looked for high rises. Places that would give us a panoramic and unimpeded vista of the impressive skyscrapers of downtown Manila. We found this one condominium building and they asked us to put in a formal email request… We got a kick out of Jonathan toying with the sales agents that he would buy a flat. Sort of a high price to pay for a b-roll shot! So we moved on – there were plenty of condos to try and we were gonna get our damned cityscape shot. Luckily, the next one worked out in our favor. We simply asked the receptionist and after 10 minutes of trying to prove we weren’t up to any mischief, she allowed. We had 20 minutes and we got some awesome views.
Jonny’s former agent from Japan was in town, so she decided to treat us to her new restaurant in Manila, called Go-EN. It was great grub and fun to see the former model and agent play catch up! We even got an planned but unsecured segment in, Ventosa – the Filipino cupping therapy. This was a neat little segment and we were stoked to get it without putting in any work.
We hit up Chinatown as part of our ‘walking’ tour theme of exploring Manila. We bounced around a few joints trying some hand pulled beef noodles to some really really awesome dumplings. Stopped by a old school chocolate maker place, and then we were exhausted on content from this unique little place, the worlds oldest Chinatown!
Intramuros is the old Spanish hub during their colonization of the PI. The place boasts a lot of the timeless architecture but it was cool to see the Filipinos make it their own. Different vibe, different feel than downtown Manila, and it was a welcome change to chill in this part of town. Besides a quick intro and broll, we had a segment to secure. Tinikling. The Filipino dance that is either derived from the Tinikling bird’s mating dance, and /or the Spanish way of torture to keep the field workers motivated. Take your pick! The restaurant Barbaras hosts a night show daily to entertain it’s multinational clientele. We had to shmooze the management to secure our Tinikling. Weirdly, they booked us a table first. We were pushed to have dinner first, and then after the doors closed, we discussed our proposition. No problem, it was all good to go for the next day, and we’d be welcome to film it after dinner. Great, we were pushed to have dinner again at this place. Seriously drab buffet, and expensive to boot! But, the price is nothing considering we got our segment the very next day. The dancers were all young kids who come from very humble backgrounds, and they’ve all earned scholarships! We decided this would be our story so the highlight was on them showing Jonathan the native dance. We had a fun time with these kids and in the end, the Barbaras crew turned out alright.
The jeepney segment was a natural segment to come across. This ubiquitous mode of transportation is the common person’s choice for getting around. And how could we ignore it, as they’re the only transport of choice when Manila gets hammered by typhoons and floods (which is what happened when we were there). We hunted down the primo jeepney factory in Manila, Sarao, and we were welcomed in, sorta. No one was really there, just a few workers welding metal, we walked in, grabbed the shots, and on the way out, someone acknowledged us.. I guess he was the manager, and engaged us in a long drawn out chit chat! We got our shot, made a friend, and got outta there, great little segment.
Tondo – the slums of Manila. This happened sort of by chance. We were actually hunting for another segment, and thought we’d have a lunch break at a supermarket off the highway. So we did, and our guide told us that Tondo isn’t too far away. Well, lets go! Jonny being the eager little explorer that he is, meandered in as I was getting setup. You sort of literally cross a small metal bridge, straight from the highway into someones balcony! As Jonny wondered in, he realized someone shut the gate! Here I was on the highway, with my camera and our 2 guides, and Jonny was now in the heart of Tondo. It was a little bit of a oh shit scenario as it was “supposed” to be a dangerous spot. But it turned out to be the complete opposite! Super friendly, gentle and proud people, happy that we were taking an interest in them. Another great segment.
One thing that we constantly have to do for the RLT production is think ahead and secure segments – even segments that are completely unplanned, not storyboarded or researched. They just come up and find their way into our mindset once our boots hit the ground. The Black Nazarene was a great example of that. We knew our 2nd episode in the Philippines would take a twist towards the paranormal. So we decided to visit this church in Quiapo that houses the affectionately dubbed Black Jesus. The story is that it survived 3 fires, a bombing and much more. Needless to say, it’s considered to have some supernatural power and a visit is considered to impart that good joojoo. So naturally, we’d visit it and grab some of that vibe for our 2nd, more supernatural quest. But not so fast, the church has bureaucracy. After a hunt to get my photo ID copied, they would not take the original, they granted us 15 minute to get our “stills” and we scrambled to get it done.
We’re ready for the last segment, the Banaue rice terraces – we charter a car and make the shlep up to Baguio. On night one, we have a nice high way stop and meal at Kenny Rogers (which is an insider joke and favorite spot for the crew to dine). Meal over, we hit up our first hotel for the night. The next morning we would reach the rice terraces.. Everything was great until I realized, I was missing the key piece of gear. The A cam luggage bag..Where the #)@*#)$@*$ did I leave it? How could I even possibly forget it? It was back at Pacquiao’s gym! WTF! In that rush to film Pacquiao rolling into the gym, I had left this bag on the upstairs press conference room. We rolled on the segment, and meandered back to the car, forgetting the backpack completely! Back at my hotel, I’m in pure panic mode. It had a hard drive, some critical gear, would I be able to recover it? I couldn’t reach any one of my contacts at the gym. That night was a torturous night of worry – welcome to a producer’s world! I felt so stupid that I forgot something as important as this. I kicked myself to sleep for a few hours. That morning, we hiked all the way back to Manila. This was actually a blessing in disguise because Jonny had fallen under the weather. Yes, I did get the bag back, thank you again Robert Varrone! I was so happy to see it, my precious! Anyway, back to what I was saying. Jonny got a chance to recuperate, and this is also where we got our lead for the exorcist material for the next episode. A pure blessing in disguise! Back to the terraces!
The Banaue rice terraces – I’ve been here once before! I had my fixers setup, everything seemed ready to go. There’s nothing easier than a shoot you have done before, this was gonna be cake walk! Screw the car, lets take the bus says Jonny! I told Jonny, the bus ride over to Banaue is torture because the drivers deem it fit to put the AC’s on full blast until it actually feels like a deep freezer. I shit you not! But Jonny being the backpacker kind of traveler that he is, preferes a bus ride over a car ride. So bus it was!
The first time I had done this trip to Banaue, I rolled in with shorts and a T-shirt, and oh boy did I pay the price. Fetal position on the back seat, window curtains covering whatever body part it could, seat head covers on the bend of my knees and elbows – palms embedded into my armpits, I was in pure survival mode. This time around, I was ready. “Bring a jacket, dude” I told Jonny. And we did shoot a BTS clip on this. I never knew WHY the drivers put the AC on artic mode, until someone chimed in that the condensation is an issue, and once it fogs up, it becomes super difficult to get rid of it. Smart, as the roads to Banaue are dicey at best. I’ll take freezing to death any day over crashing down a hillside.
We reach Banaue, and it was all cake-walk. Super friendly locals. Super unique environment. I was refreshed coming back to this wonder of the world. What a spectacle. Our guide lead us to all our hit points and we cracked out a hell of a segment in a super short time. Pure RLT style. A good bit of hiking is needed to get to all the key places, but man, what a view. The fresh hair and respite from Manila was very much appreciated by both of us. We came across a lot of legends and rumors, stories from the Japanese occupation of the PI.
Since the shoot in Philippines was a double header – we decided to make the part II a completely different animal! There would be only 2 segments. The first one was a chase into the occult. Filipinos are incredibly superstitious and we wanted to explore further into the mysticism. The journey took us through touts, hustlers, arbularios (faith healers), hilots, and much more. It was a serious topic matter but we had fun with as we normally do, RLT style. Check out this clip for instance:
But seriously, our story starts with a blessing from the Black Nazarene (Referenced above) and then chasing down the most prominent exorcist in Manila. That would be Father Sequia. He was however, quite unavailable and difficult to track down. A tip lead us to the Exorcism office in Manila and they told us where we would find Sequia. We followed that trail which ultimately ended up in a 1 hour long sitdown through sermon. This was torturous (excuse the offense) for Jonny and I. Especially when we found out that our mark was actually in an adjacent building holding a seminar on expelling demons! DAMN!
Jonny and I rush to the other building to find Father Sequia who was finishing his seminar and then immediately got mobbed by the crowd. No chance to roll. We’d have to find another exorcist. And we did! Father Zerruto was quite patient, eloquent and granted us a proper interview. This was the stepping stone to dive into the 2 incredibly interesting cases we chased down in the island of Iloilo. One was about a group of school children falling prey to some sort of demonic attack. Another one about a village steeped in superstition, claiming that the place is infested with the Aswang (Filipino rendition of a vampire) that attacked people and killed children. I don’t wanna spoil this story, you’ll have to watch the episode! After we were done chasing these dark stories, we thought, lets contrast the episode with something completely different. And we did! But how we went about it was pure RLT style.
We missed out on all the island town beauty pageants. By a week, few days, etc. It was frustrating, until we met a promoter called Boy George who hooked it UP! We met the mayor of Cabatuan, pitched our idea to host our own beauty pageant, with our own criteria, got his permission, set a budget of a meager 300USD, and literally the show hit the road! Check out the episode to see this segment, something that I am quite proud of. I mean we literally crashed into a small town, and hosted our own beauty pageant! There was a huge crowd to boot too!
Jonathan’s Speech before the pageant began:
In the end, Philippines was one of my favorite episodes to shoot. The sheer diversity of what we filmed, the supremely friendly locals, it was just phenomenal. I hope you enjoy the 2 incredibly diverse episodes that come out of this glorious place. We enjoyed it to the maximum, no doubt about it!
Big thanks to the Pole academy crew, Watusi Manila, Richard Dunuan and Tony Israel!
Email: sd AT sd-media.net
DID YOU MISS PART 1 OF THE PHILIPPINES BLOG POST? CHECK IT OUT HERE: http://sd-media.net/blog/?p=125