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Agony and ecstasy in the making of a Quezon City documentary film

From the Collection of the Quezon Family

I was inside the new, well-equipped and surprisingly (as compared to other public libraries in Metro Manila) well-ventilated Quezon City Public Library (QCPL) one afternoon because I had decided to start my research on additional data about the life of Quezon City’s First Judge, Damian Jimenez, the eponym of a street in Kamuning.

You see, Judge Damian Jimenez was a cousin by sanguinity from Lopez, Quezon. When I asked Herbert Bautista, the mayor of Quezon City—one gloomy night when his dad lied in state at the Loyola Memorial Chapels along Commonwealth Avenue—if he knew Jimenez, he immediately said “Yes” while he was going through the wreaths at the lobby.

From "The Making of Quezon City"

I asked Herbert if he wanted me to write a book on Jimenez and he affirmed. He asked me to submit to him a proposal which I did a couple of days after. Even if until that research day at the library Bautista hadn’t given a go signal to start my work, I already gathered materials about the man.

At this point, I was talking to a library staff about available info on Jimenez which she obliged.

Before I left the library, the staff told me one of her bosses wanted to talk to me because she informed her I was a writer.

I was introduced to Lucila Raquiño, also known as Marlene, Librarian IV who told me that they had a project—assumingly a film or any audio-visual which would tackle and encompass the history of Quezon City whose centerpiece would be its foundation and the essential facts on Manuel Luis Quezon, the First President of the Commonwealth who created the city until the contemporary era. According to Raquiño, they already had a budget for this. I told her I would submit a proposal but on hand, I dropped a certain figure which apparently excited the Librarian. I told her a documentary film would be a perfect vehicle for the project instead of a feature film that would be more expensive. Raquiño was thinking all the while a feature film would make a wonderful platform which I said would amount to millions of pesos she then thought it would be impractical to pursue.  

From the Collection of the Quezon Family

I related the news to controversial Fil-Briton filmmaker Jowee Morel (“Moma,” “Ec2luv,” “Mga Paru-Parong Rosas,” “Mona, Singapore Escort,” “When a Gay Man Loves,” “Latak,” “HiStory,” “Strictly Confidential” and “Leona Calderon”) who I thought to direct the project. When I echoed the figure I ball parked with the Librarian, Jowee told me the standard budget in the industry for documentary film is between P750,000.00 to P1M.

But the project was still for the public’s grab because it had to go through the process of bidding.

Jowee and I talked intently about it.

From the Collection of the Quezon Family

All in all, we were eager to do it even if we weren’t sure it would be ours. Jowee and I had agreed to present to any agency like History Channel or a public affairs network the project if we wouldn’t win the bid.

Pre-production to principal photography we did. Morel had all the production requirements from state-of-the-art video equipment to creative. I started to gather materials, read and reread history books, review facts and wrote the script.

From the Collection of the Quezon Family

Although time and again there were disagreements between me and Jowee, we had settled them in the course of time.

In order to take off, we had to spend from our own pockets. In both our case, we would even borrow money from our respective kith and kin to sustain the production from bus fare to hotel lodging to food.

Morel didn’t want to go back to his indie filmmaking career in the past anymore when he would force to work on a shoestring budget, make both ends meet just to get off the hook and would cry silently in the middle of the production asking himself “What was I doing the begging for?” when he had to pass the hat for to sustain a production or “Why did I have to do this?” instead of complacently doing his stuff in his comfort zone. Yet, he still plunged into the sacrifice as if he hadn’t learned his lessons well.

From the Collection of the Quezon Family

It’s no joke going to Baler, Aurora with the camera, tripod, lights and other tech shoot gadgets and a whole backpack of bulky machines without a Production Assistant or PA but Jowee went ahead of his coverage. He went to Baler alone to shoot the Quezon memorabilia and the seas and the landscapes.

The bank droned shots of Baler we borrowed from operator Benjo Trinidad and eventually, he did the atmosphere sky shots of Quezon City.

Multitasking is one virtue we had to master in this day and age of independent filmmaking where an auteur is an important caveat to get over an assignment. Jowee was the director, the Director of Photography (DoP), production designer, art director, editor and even an audio man while I was the supervising producer, production manager, scriptwriter, talent coordinator, schedule master messenger and even shock absorber and troubleshooter.

In his pro background as a filmmaker, Morel had prepared a matrix of calendar of activities, projection and evaluation of each phase of work.

Old bird's eye view of Quezon City courtesy of Quezon City Library

Even on the set we would revise the script to suit the prevailing adjustments in all spheres.

Jowee wanted a contemporized framework something like his London-bred background in media studies. Having taken up his Master of Arts (MA) in Cinematography and Post-Production, he would always toe the line of the professional and the remarkable if not highly qualified broadcast material. The peg was somewhat British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) style. He would show me a DVD sampler or a Youtube’s streams of documentaries on cities around the world.

We had rare and original materials like the ancestral house of Tomas Morato in Calauag, Quezon, however, it was only in rubbles. The cemented stairs going up the hill were still there and the old ceramics floorings. Morato was a pivotal figure in the making of Quezon City because he was the best peninsular friend of Manuel Luis Quezon. Morato was a Spanish from Alicante who was brought to Calauag by his sailor dad.

During the Commonwealth period, Morato was the mayor of Calauag and Quezon was always in his house by the sea.

The house was pulled out from the site overlooking the Calauag Bay and was transported to Sitio de Amor in San Pablo City by Engr. Jorge Bondad. According to him, the woods, the balusters, the rails etc. were all original and it only took him minimal changes.

These are some of the first time footage the public would see in the film.

Courtesy of Quezon City Library

In the production side, it wasn’t easy to file for public bidding, especially in Quezon City. We didn’t have a registered office in its turf and we weren’t accredited with the city government but we found an ally in SFX Productions.     

On the day of the bidding, we were anxious as to what our baby would have been like. Would we be lucky enough to win the award and yes, we did.

In other words, we were able to pull off the project, all materials in one compact story where our respondents and interviewees were all amazing, generous and cooperative like Quezon’s grandson, Enrique Quezon Avanceña, also known as Ricky Avanceña; awarded architect Gerard Lico; celebrated historian and TV personality Xiao Chua; the Quezon City planners, Mar Pilar, Pedro Rodriguez, and Henry Lagasca; the daughter of a Katipunero, Natividad Villano and her niece, Evelyne Dominguez, both owners of Metro Manila College in Novaliches where the Katipunan Tree is housed; retired Fiscal Joven Florido of Calauag; Manuel Morato, son of Don Tomas and Fides Sandoval, the publicity director of Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife.

The rare black and white footage of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) is a treasure we could only say thank you to the men and women behind the agency.

The rare photos of the Quezon Family we owed to Manuel Quezon III and his Facebook.

Courtesy of Architect Gerard Lico

Although it took us more or less, one year, to finish the project, it was worth it. Morel had to spend sleepless nights to edit the whole thing.

It was also the music of awarded scorer Jethro Joaquin and the coloring of Marilyn Magsaysay that added dimensions to the project.

“The Making of Quezon City,” the documentary was well-applauded in its launch and showing at the QCPL conference hall recently. All the librarians all over the city were appreciative of the initiative. Most of them were given a DVD copy of the docu film.

Chief Librarian Emelita Villanueva, Librarian III Marlene and the rest of the administration were happy about the way we treated the material.

“The Making of Quezon City” is a rare breed, a product of blood, sweat and tears.

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