One year ago, Mario + Monster called me to say they were making another movie, and did I want to PD it?
I hadn’t designed a movie (or anything!) in years. I felt rusty. I felt like I wasn’t ready. But I liked the script and it would be shot in Baler with people I liked. So the answer was YES.
That Baler look
The first thing I noticed when we got to Baler was that everything was gray. Gray sand, gray sea, gray sky. Everything looked like it was stripped of its shiny top coat through years of being exposed to sun and salt and wind. So I decided that the film would be in shades of sea and sand. Worn out grays, murky blues, dusty browns. There would be no pinks, no purples, no neon, no bright reds even. No bold graphic prints.
We looked at houses, so many of them. They liked paintings. They liked knick-knacks. They liked holding on to things, filling up spaces. They kept things that reminded them of specific moments. They kept things that were just pretty. They kept things just because. That was a challenge for my minimalist aesthetic, but perfect for the story of people holding on to stories of who they are.
To get that authentic Baler look, the plan was to get most of the set pieces, props, and costumes from Baler— from the houses there, the offices, the markets. This would prove to be harder than we thought.
The PD team
Personnel and scheduling problems arose, which left my supposed to be Art Director and setmen in another shoot. Tippi Sy the costume designer stepped up to be Art Director. Candy Reyes sent one of her setmen on a bus to Baler after her shoot wrapped. Most of the time it would just be the three of us, with other setmen coming in and out.
Tippi and I assigned a wardrobe scheme per character. Chona was browns, Ford was blues, Serena ended up being white. Rich’s look would be resort wear; Fiona had tattered shorts and sweats.
One of the ideas that I fought for was for the actors to not wear makeup. People in Baler were there to surf, not to be seen. Parties were post-surf, over beer, not in fancy clubs with DJs. Red lipstick and mascara would look so out of place in Baler.
Most of the locations were bare, or filled up with things not relevant to the character.
We spent a lot of time in the markets. There were no department stores, or art supply shops. Everything was in the palengke. We were there so much that we already had a suki. We also had a suki hardware store, and thankfully they still sold incandescent bulbs. We bought 200 pieces.
There was to be a bonfire party, on an empty beach. Ford’s room was empty. Rich’s room was a girl’s room. That was all manageable given our three-man PD team. And then, we had to convert an empty corner of the Baler Museum into a lived-in congressman’s office.
We weren’t allowed to paint the walls, or to nail on most parts of the walls. We brought in two carpenters. Bought plywood, paint. Made a chandelier from scratch. Things were going well until we had to do set-dressing. We managed to get a chair, table, and shelf from Baler. But the offices and libraries were reluctant to lend us law books and other office furnishings. They asked us to write letters and I didn’t have time to wait for answers.
So I asked a setman in Manila to go to a prop house, gather furniture and office furnishings (typewriter, flag, sofa set, side tables, chairs, law books, etc) enough to fill a van and deliver the items to Baler. We shot everything in that location for a day, packed everything, and sent it all back to Manila.
Now that was fun 🙂
Spent 22 days in Baler (with 15 minutes in the ocean) with a PD team of 3 people, lost 5 pounds of muscle mass, slept an average of 2 hours every day. Would I PD another movie by Mario + Monster again? Definitely YES.