Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ekstra (Finale)

Previously on L'Heure Bleue

"Hawakan mo ng mahigpit kamay ko ha?" 

The girl paired to me by the assistant director held my hand tight. She was among the "hakot" who played as the crowd. From what I've heard from small talk among themselves, the bit players were from a slum neighborhood nearby. A friend of a friend, a neighbor along the narrow alley, a cousin of a buddy, these people were pulled from their homes, possibly, to play roles they live in real life.

Meanwhile, not far from our spot, the fire engines' water pumps began humming as hoses aimed at the sky spray the ground with cold water.

"Pota ospital uwi ko nito." The shirtless guy in front of us whined. Someone from the crowd was already coughing.

"Basta kapag sinabi kong action, tumakbo kayo patungo sa gymnasium ha?" The assistant director's voice boomed from the megaphone.

"At walang tatawa."

Filming was about to start, and being a last-minute addition, the instruction was not clear to me the way the crowd was informed.

"Basta kuya sundan mo na lang ako." My pair said.

"O sige ikaw bahala."

In the distance, the film crew take their places. 

"Lights... Camera..."

It was already past seven and Carlo has not yet returned. My wanderings outside the subdivision to look for a store and buy a cigarette lead to nothing.

When I walked back to the set, meals in styrofoam trays were already being distributed. The ekstras formed a line while their handlers made sure to account their men.

Of course, skirmishes broke out as some walk-ins appeared out of nowhere. There's free grub and freeloaders won't waste such opportunity. The result of course, was catastrophic. Some teams had to wait for more styro packs to arrive.

I walked past these burning disputes to return to where my stuff was. On my way, word of mouth flew as to the food items available. There were Pork Adobo, sausages and eggs. In a small room under the gymnasium, roasted pig was being chopped for the elite members of the production team.

Last taping na daw kasi.

I didn't partake in these feasts even when there's a food pack reserved for me. It is either I wasn't hungry, or I knew I won't be able to eat the dishes. Mabuti na lang, the canteen was still open. Several sachets of garlic peanuts and a bottle of Gatorade nourished me until Carlo brought a roll of Oreo.

"... Action!!"

The shivering crowd began to run. Screams and cries were everywhere. On my right, women and children were being hauled out of dump trucks. On my left, a group of extras pushed themselves into our platoon. We were to run under the spray of water; past the ambulances with their blinkers on; past the men wearing military uniform, waving their hands to guide us into the portal leading to the tennis court.

We have to make it appear there is pandemonium in the evacuation center, and I've learned - first hand - it's not easy to sow fear and terror when there is none.

On the ground, I got separated from my pair after deliberately tripping myself in front of the camera. I was hoping the orchestrated slump would make it to the final cut. When we reached the stairs inside the gymnasium, I nearly tripped again as the pushing and shoving, and wet floor made it difficult to leap the steps. And after going through those self-flagellation, we would learn that the first shot was a disappointment.

Screaming and running the crowd was, and yet, their faces were smiling.

We had to re-take parts of the scene.

Without the pair assigned to me, who probably got fed up with my attempts of upstaging the casts.

It would be the last heart-stopping scene to be shot for the film; and also the last time I'd be assigned to work with bit players. For the final acts, which took place inside the gymnasium court, centered around the lead actor and his search for missing loved ones.

There, as the cast and crowd bumped into each other in a sequence being shot on one side of the court, the rest of us waited for our turn. Some, splayed on the ground, while others wandered, hoping to be drawn to where the camera shots. Meanwhile, I indulged myself taking pictures of sleepy children who have been at the set since god knows when.

Also, Carlo, who had at long last arrived - with dogs in hand - introduced me to freelance talents. One can assume their presence is to lend support to colleagues, but also for exposure as the production already scouts the next cast for future film ventures.

It was fun rubbing elbows with indie talents - who are celebrities in their little turfs. I may not recall their names, but their zeal as artists somehow resonates with my craft. It was also amusing to stand behind cinematography wizards, as they create jaw dropping shots with their pricey cameras. But what made me stay worthwhile was the act I belong:

When lights went out, and the evacuees fed up with their miserable state resigned to silence; And as the collage of scenes showing snippets of flood victims on the verge of breakdown were about to be panned, there was a role assigned to me that was symbolic in a resounding way;

For I was one of those who resisted the hollow darkness.

Midnight was fast approaching and filming has yet to be wrapped up. There were sequences still needing to be shot, and production hints no rushing in completing the acts.

Knowing it would be a long and solitary trip back home, in perilous roads replete with robbers and other unsavory elements, I told Carlo and his partner, Ben, that I'd be leaving.

"Malayo pa kasi ako ng uuwian." I said.

Understanding my plight. Carlo smiled and hugged me tight. Expressions of gratitude and appreciation would be my TF.

The next day, I opened my Facebook and saw a single, striking photo. The only souvenir I will ever have of the experience.

Here's proof that you were there at yesterday's shoot for #AboveTheClouds in your refugee chic character. Thanks for allowing me to help you tick that box on your bucket list JM. I forgot to take a photo of us together though. With Ben and our baby dog Pogi boy.


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