Sunday, November 23, 2008

Untold Pinoy Story No. 18

Heart of Darkness

It was a highly ambitious film which was based on a book which has become standard high school reading.

It would be helmed by an acclaimed film director whose previous film about an organized crime was a huge critical and commercial success. In fact, it is probably on everybody’s list of favorite films. No wonder, everybody was expecting so much from this next film of the acclaimed film director.

The acclaimed film director needed to prove in this highly-ambitious new film that the accolades bestowed upon him were justified. That’s why he had planned on shooting this new film in the most authentic locations.

However, when a friend of the acclaimed film director learned that the acclaimed film director was going to shoot this film in various parts of the Philippines, the acclaimed film director’s friend who had shot some of his films in these places had only one warning for the acclaimed film director: “Don’t go. The monsoon rain will wreak havoc on your production.”

But the acclaimed film director was adamant. He had already scheduled to shoot most parts of his new film in Baler in Quezon, Pagsanjan in Laguna and Iba in Zambales. He would later erect a 700-foot bridge made of coconut logs with the help of 350 workers from Baler in Quezon Province. Known for their carving masterpieces, Pagsanjan folks would also later help him build the ruins of a massive structure, complete with the gigantic sculpture of a woman's face.

As the acclaimed film director’s friend had earlier predicted, the shooting of the acclaimed film director’s movie was plagued by typhoons which destroyed the film’s elaborate set in Zambales. This took a heavy toll on both the film’s schedule and budget. But the weather was just among the many culprits.

Even before the shooting began, the acclaimed film director was so disappointed that none of the big actors that he had approached wanted to do the film. In his frustration, he threw all his film trophies outside his window. His young children soon picked them up. Except for a single trophy, all were broken.

The new film’s villain was a popular veteran actor who used to work as elevator operator in a department store. He was the lead actor in the acclaimed film director’s previous film about an organized crime. The veteran actor was such a huge star that he was paid much more than the new film’s lead actor despite the fact that the veteran actor would appear only in a few scenes in the new film. In the new film, the veteran actor plays a soldier who had written a paper on The Insurrection in the Philippines.

Prior to the shooting of the new film, the acclaimed film director requested two things from the veteran actor. First, the acclaimed film director wanted the veteran actor to read the book on which the film’s story was based. Second, the acclaimed film director requested the veteran actor to lose weight.

When the veteran actor showed up on his first shooting day, the acclaimed film director was dismayed. The veteran actor had not read the book nor had he lost weight. Worse, the veteran actor even gained weight. He had ballooned to 250 pounds. The veteran actor had not even memorized his lines. In order to hide the veteran actor's bloated figure, the acclaimed film director shot most of the veteran actor’s scenes in shadows. The acclaimed film director also tolerated the veteran actor's improvised dialogue.

In addition to the veteran actor’s hefty fee, the acclaimed film director also yielded to the veteran actor’s demand that the veteran actor could shoot only on weekdays and not later than 5:30 in the afternoon. The veteran actor also expressed displeasure over the name of his character in the film. The veteran actor wanted another name. (A keen filmgoer who had seen this film when it was later shown would have probably noticed that in some parts of the film, the actors were mouthing a different name when referring to the veteran actor’s character in the film but a different name came out of the film’s audio. That’s right, the acclaimed film director brought back the original name of the veteran actor’s character in the film during the sound dubbing in post-production.)

Although the veteran actor’s co-actors found him funny and highly supportive, he earned a reputation for being difficult on the film set. Oftentimes, he was reportedly unwilling or unable to memorize his dialogue. He was also accused of making unusual and childish demands.

But that was just the beginning of the acclaimed film director’s never-ending saga.

After several days of shooting, the acclaimed film director decided to replace his lead actor. Although the acclaimed film director was able to salvage some long shots with the original actor in them, the acclaimed film director had to reshoot most of the earlier scenes that they have already shot with the film's original lead actor.

The new lead actor, who was certainly better-looking than the original lead actor, first auditioned for the lead role in the acclaimed film director’s previous film about organized crime. (The role went to the veteran actor who was playing the villain in this new film.) But the acclaimed film director was not spared of the good-looking new lead actor’s own troubles. The good-looking new lead actor, who was a political activist with a record of more than 70 arrests, became the talk of the town when he was rumored to be getting too close with another political activist: respected film director Lino Brocka.

But the new lead actor had a deeper secret: he was an alcoholic. In the film’s opening scene, the new lead actor was actually dead drunk while they were shooting the scene. As a result, the new lead actor accidentally punched a mirror and hurt his hand badly. (The acclaimed film director decided to include this accident in the final cut of the film.) It was no wonder that midway through the shooting of the film, the new lead actor suffered a near-fatal heart attack. The new lead actor’s condition was so bad that he was reportedly given the last rites by a priest.

Since the shooting had been delayed for too long and it had been way over its original budget, the acclaimed film director could not stall the shooting any further. So while the lead actor was recuperating, the acclaimed film director continued to shoot the film with the new lead actor’s brother (who looked and sounded like the lead actor) as a stand-in.

Even the supporting actors became a source of headache for the acclaimed film director. One of the supporting actors was constantly under the influence of alcohol and drugs during the making of the film. Another actor, who was reportedly in and out of drug rehabilitation centers, was also deeply into drugs. He kept on forgetting his dialogue and kept on ignoring the acclaimed film director’s instruction.

Even real Philippine Marine soldiers who were hired as film extras constantly annoyed the acclaimed film director because there were times when the soldiers had to leave in the middle of a difficult scene because they were being summoned by their military superiors to fight the rebels. Not to fight actors playing the role of rebels. But to fight real rebels.

When the acclaimed film director was about to shoot a scene which needed several American soldiers as extras, he realized too late that there were not too many Caucasian-looking Pinoys. So, he had to scour Manila’s International School, foreign embassies and even medical schools (where there were many American medical students whose poor grades did not make it to US medical schools). Even the young sons (who were practically children) of the acclaimed film director and the lead actor were just too happy to act as soldiers.

The acclaimed film director did not even know how to end the film. He did not like the script’s original ending. He wanted a fresh ending. But he did not know how to do it. Until one day, his wife came home from a trip to Ifugao in Mountain Province. The acclaimed film director’s wife excitedly relayed to the acclaimed film director that she witnessed an Ifugao ceremony where they slaughtered two carabaos. The acclaimed film director’s wife added that the Ifugaos even sent a gift for the acclaimed film director. When the acclaimed film director’s wife opened the package that she brought with her from Ifugao, the acclaimed film director was baffled. The Ifugaos had sent the acclaimed film director the heart of a freshly-slaughtered carabao. The acclaimed film director’s wife explained that the gift was the Ifugaos’ way of honoring the acclaimed film director. When the acclaimed film director asked his wife what he was supposed to do with the carabao’s heart, the acclaimed film director’s wife replied that he was probably supposed to eat it. The acclaimed film director just asked his wife to keep it in the refrigerator.

The Ifugao ceremony which the acclaimed film director’s wife talked about gave the acclaimed film director an idea for the film’s ending. So, he immediately sent a representative to speak to the leaders of the Ifugao tribe. In a flash, hordes of Ifugao tribe members came down from the Mountain Province to participate as extras in the film. The Ifugaos literally lived on the film set along Pagsanjan River during the entire time that their scenes were being shot. The Ifugaos were very cooperative during the filming but the acclaimed film director was specially fascinated by three young Ifugao girls who were inseparable during the entire shooting of the film.

Aside from these three young Ifugao girls and a handful of adult female Ifugaos, the film’s cast consisted entirely of male actors and extras. In fact, there was only one female actress in the film. However, even those who have seen this film probably did not even notice her because she did not even have a dialogue. But a few moviegoers would probably recognize her as the same actress who portrayed the award-winning role of Nimia, the prostitute childhood friend of Elsa (played by Nora Aunor) in Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (based on Ricky Lee’s screenplay which won in the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines’ First Scriptwriting Contest). Others would probably remember her in Peque Gallaga’s war epic, Oro Plata Mata (based on Joey Reyes’ screenplay which was Himala’s co-winner in the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines’ First Scriptwriting Contest) where she played the role of a housemaid who was seen shelling dried watermelon seeds (butong pakwan) for Fides Cuyugan, Liza Lorena, Mitch Valdez and Lorli Villanueva as the quartet played mahjong amid the chaos of World War II. Yes, the only female actress in the acclaimed film director’s highly-ambitious new film was stage actress Gigi Duenas. But even if you combine Gigi Duenas’ 4 or 5 split-second exposures in the film, the single scene of the three young adorable Ifugao girls laughing and teasing each other behind the veteran actor was probably much longer and certainly more fun to watch.

But the acclaimed film director’s pleasant experience with the Ifugaos did not completely buoy his sagging spirit as seemingly insurmountable problems continued to crop up every day. The film’s shooting which was originally scheduled for 17 weeks lasted 8 ½ months. The ever-ballooning cost of making the film nearly bankrupted the acclaimed film director’s own film studio. (But the director redeemed himself later when the film made money at the box office and even won a very prestigious film award.)

The acclaimed film director quipped that, more than his film’s story, the actual making of this film was the real war. Art imitating life imitating art. With the looming threat of not being able to finish his problematic new film, the acclaimed film director who had lost 100 pounds during the making of this film, joined his actors and resorted to drugs. At one point, the acclaimed film director reportedly started weeping for no apparent reason and suffered epileptic seizure. He was even making his final request that if he dies, his friend who was the original choice to direct the film be tapped to finish it.
To keep his wife busy, the acclaimed film director assigned his wife to film behind-the-scene footages. But the acclaimed film director’s wife was not the only family member who was involved in the film. The acclaimed film director has always been accused of nepotism in his films by casting his daughter, sons, sister, nephews and other relatives. True enough, the acclaimed film director’s two young sons appeared as extras in this film. Even the acclaimed film director’s father provided the music for this film. It seems that only the acclaimed film director’s mother, who was an actress, was missing in this “family film.”

Similarly, even the lead actor’s two sons appeared as extras in the film. Later, these young boys would grow up to become famous actors themselves. One of them would lead a very colorful life and would spend tons of money for prostitutes.

On the other hand, the acclaimed film director’s daughter who was only four years old during the making of this film later became a prestigious film director herself. She holds the distinction being the only woman director ever nominated for the most prestigious film award. The acclaimed film director is also the uncle of an actor who, probably aware of the nepotism charge against the acclaimed film director, changed his surname after doing his first film so that he could claim any future success as his own and not due to the influence of his famous uncle. He eventually became a highly popular actor. And nobody could accuse him now of gaining fame because of his influential uncle.

The acclaimed film director and his family lived in the exclusive Dasmarinas Village in Makati with security men outside their door. The acclaimed film director also had a full-time bodyguard during the making of the film, courtesy of the President. The President was worried that some rebels might kidnap the acclaimed film director in some far-flung province and put the President in bad light. The acclaimed film director even visited the President in Malacanang a few times.

All the difficulties during the making of the film were chronicled in a documentary film which was co-directed by the acclaimed film director’s wife. While the acclaimed film director remained married to his highly supportive wife all his life, the veteran actor who played the villain in the film had lived with a number of women. The veteran actor’s first wife was an actress. Then, he married another actress who was seven years older than him. However, his last wife was was 18 years younger than him and was working as a dishwasher in a resort when she was discovered. She eventually appeared in a movie with the veteran actor. Several years later, their grandson became the signature model of a famous fashion designer who was murdered by a notorious Pinoy male prostitute who later committed suicide.

But family tragedy seemed to follow both the acclaimed film director and the veteran actor. The acclaimed film director’s son who appeared as an extra in this film together with his younger brother was on his way to a promising film career when he died in a boat accident while his girlfriend was three months pregnant with his child. On the other hand, the veteran actor’s daughter committed suicide by hanging herself after her boyfriend was murdered. Soon, her boyfriend’s murderer was convicted and jailed. But instead of feeling triumphant because justice has been served, the murderer’s capture and imprisonment only added to the veteran actor’s pain. Because the murderer of the boyfriend of the veteran actor’s daughter turned out to be the veteran actor’s son. The veteran actor’s son was later released from jail but he eventually died of pneumonia.

However, the director’s experiences in making this film were not all traumatic. The acclaimed film director had also some pleasant surprises during the making of this film. For one, the acclaimed film director had nothing but praises to the ingenious and talented Pinoys who participated in the making of this film, specially the Ifugaos from Mountain Province. The acclaimed film director was also amazed that, contrary to the negative things that he had heard before he started shooting the film in various provinces, nobody asked him for anything in exchange for assistance in making the film. He did not have to bribe anyone. And the government was all-out in helping him finish his film. They gave him everything that he needed.

The government was indeed beyond cooperative. In one scene where the lead actor was supposed to smoke opium with a woman after they had sex, the acclaimed director admitted that he did not know how to execute the scene because he did not know how to smoke opium. So, the government came to his rescue. The government brought an actual prisoner (who was then serving time in jail for a narcotic-related offense) to the film set and he was instructed to show to the acclaimed film director how to smoke opium. The ecstatic prisoner had the time of his life smoking opium leisurely while the acclaimed film director and the cops watch. After the prisoner had finished smoking the opium, he was led back to his prison cell.

As soon as the veteran actor completed all his scenes in the film, the acclaimed film director requested the veteran actor to stay for one more hour so that the acclaimed film director could take a close-up shot of the veteran actor while uttering the last dialogue in the film. The veteran actor relented. But only after the film’s producers agreed to pay him an extra 75,000 bucks. Yes, he was paid that much just to utter two short sentences which consisted of a grand total of four words! But that was relatively a small amount. Because in order to convince the veteran actor to appear as the villain in this film, the producers had to pay the veteran actor one million bucks per week which was much more than the fee for the film’s lead actor.

Yes, the veteran actor who played the villain in this acclaimed film director’s film based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, was paid a million dollars per week.

And yes, veteran actor Marlon Brando, together with the film’s lead actor Martin Sheen, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Harvey Keitel, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne and a wide assortment of Hollywood stars, travelled almost 20 hours across the globe to shoot this acclaimed film director’s highly ambitious film.

And yes, this film was directed by the acclaimed film director who also previously directed the film about organized crime which is probably on everybody’s favorite list, The Godfather.

And yes, Apocalypse Now was filmed entirely by acclaimed film director, Francis Ford Coppola, in various parts of the Philippines with the talent and ingenuity of thousands of nameless Pinoys.

Now you know the truly amazing people behind this equally amazing film.

Images from,,,

Next: A Pinoy Actor Who Has Been a High School Student for Twenty Years?


Anonymous said...

welcome back Nick! excellent story as usual :)

Anonymous said...

welcome back! love it. next na, who is this pinoy actor who overstayed in hs? =)

Anton said...

Absolutely love your stories. Hopefully you won't limit us readers. (There was a time I had no access...)

Anonymous said...

Loved the story. However, the narrative could have been more enjoyable if "acclaimed film director" had not been mentioned over and over again. :)

Anonymous said...

wow! nice story you got there, huh?

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for the next one. Hope it won't take forever again. Lol. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

wow... i can hardly believe it!!! great job!

duke said...

i did not know you were back!
Welcome back and hope to read more stories from you!

a s p a s i a said...

don't stop blogging .. looking forward to reading more! how fun!

Anonymous said...

I read the word "acclaimed" for countless times.