A Conversation with Lav Diaz
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
Brief notes on the long journey of Ebolusyon:
December 1993 – Eric Gamalinda and Lav Diaz jam on the former’s idea of a rose-eating ghost of a Filipino veteran who haunts the room of a young Filipino illegally living in New York City. Eric finishes the script. Lav revises it before the shoot, but stays faithful to Eric’s premise.
March 1994 – First shoot, an obscure street called Lexington, in a New Jersey county, mostly interior scenes--restaurant, building and rooms of protagonist. 16mm, Aaton camera. Mark Galuzo on camera, Pablo Orendain and Feliciano “blu” Gallardo on production design, Ellen Aguilar is assistant director. Actors: Behn Cervantes, Ronald Bregendahl, Mike Fernandez, Cybill Princess Villanueva, Jed Merino, Luis Francia and a lot of extras. Lav works in a Filipino newspaper and moonlights as waiter and gasoline attendant to fund the shoot. A Filipino family provides additional funding. Pablo and Mark fight on issues of design and light. Mark and Lav ‘tried to kill each other.’ Lav decides that Mark must leave the shoot.
April 1994 – Still in Lexington, same location. Nils Kenaston now on camera, same crew, same actors. Co-producer abandons project. Shooting stops, money is gone.
May 1994 – Lav starts pitching/looking for new funding.
August 1994 – Negative rolls to Duart lab in New York. Footage viewed for the first time.
September 1994 – Video transfers, Lav leaves Jersey City, starts living in 4th St. in the East Village of Manhattan.
1995 – During the first quarter of the year, pitching and networking has brought Lav to many parts of the East Coast, mostly in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, once in San Francisco. Autumn of the year, Lav meets Rommel Simon of Alexandria, Virginia; Lav and Rommel cut a trailer and a presentation reel. Paul Tanedo attends a presentation in Rommel’s studio. The following morning, Paul commits to co-produce the film with Lav. Preproduction starts again. Protracted shooting starts with Nils Kenaston on camera. Later, Paul buys a second hand 16mm crank Bolex. Paul assumes cinematography work on insertions and additionals. Ed Lejano and Noel Cabigting are the new assistant directors; Art Victoria is production manager. Most of the staff are volunteers. Shooting is done in Manhattan, Jersey City, Virginia and Maryland.
1996 – Protracted shoot continues. Lav shoots Malamig ang Mundo (“The World is Cold”) early autumn during a long lull. Lav decides to shoot Philippine flashbacks. Late November, Lav leaves for Manila to prepare the Philippine shoot. Home at last after four years, Lav prepares his family for their eventual transfer to New York. December, Lav reunites with his Balintataw group (Angie Ferro, Joe Gruta, Noel Miralles, Suzette Doctolero) and they start preproduction (location hunt and auditions). Marife Necisito gets the Hilda role and nine-year-old Elryan de Vera from the slums of Smokey Mountain gets the part of the young Raynaldo Gallardo. Pen Medina is Kadyo. Angie Ferro is Lola Puring. Ray Ventura is the rebel leader. Joe Gruta and Ponz Desa are the drunkards. Noel Miralles is the military leader. Pani the Butcher from Gerona will eventually play the role of Kadyo’s friend. Suzette and Noel are assistant directors. Lara Diaz on sound.
1997 – February. With preproduction done, Paul arrives from Virginia. Philippine shoot commences on a ‘funny note’ in Sabang, Bataan. First day of the shoot, the group leaves Manila early; brief stop in Gerona, Tarlac, the hometown of Paul where many scenes will eventually be shot. They arrive around noon; Sabang is a depressed village by the sea and right near the Subic forest. Lav immediately spots the first location for the scene where mother and son (Hilda and Ray) frolic by the sea, the “ant scene”. The location for the drunkards is also identified. Rehearsals start. When Lav calls for a first take, Paul, with a bloodless face, feeling utterly embarrassed, tells him that the camera got left in Manila. Camera arrives before dawn. The scene of Kadyo and Ray looking for Hilda is the first take. Then, the drunkards: Joe, Pons and company are really dead drunk when their scenes were shot. Light is just the gas lamp and a bonfire. Next location is Gerona. Larry Manda visited and he shot some scenes for three days only. After Gerona, some scenes were shot in San Juan and Manila.
By winter, Lav is back in New York, some more scenes are shot in Jersey City and Manhattan. Paul on camera.
1998 – Lav is back in Manila. Organizes the first post-production work at Lawrence Cordero’s Blue Cord Avid suite in Makati. Glen Cruz is co-editor, Jun Sabayton on sound. Lav requests Paul to shoot footage of Manhattan streets. Lav couldn’t make a first assembly, tells Paul and the group that they need to shoot more scenes; he is looking for a thread that will connect everything, the long gaps. First post is abandoned. Lav shoots Burger Boys and Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion for Regal Films.
2000 – Actor Mike Fernandez dies of lung cancer in Jersey City
2001 – Libby Fernandez, wife of Mike Fernandez, dies of bone cancer in Jersey City. Like Mike she was very involved in the Jersey City shoot of Ebolusyon as make-up artist, casting and catering. Lav lived in their Jersey City house from 1993 to early ’94.
October 24, 2001 – Ray Ventura dies of bone cancer.
2002 – Autumn. Batang West Side is part of the Asian American International Film of New York. Lav invites Paul to New York to watch the film. After the viewing, Lav tells Paul he finally found the thread to finish the story of Ebolusyon and he plans to shoot early 2003 on digital. Lav is back in Manila after Christmas and starts preproduction.
January-February 2003 – Lav reviews all footage, decides not to include the US scenes in the eventual final cut.
March 2003 – Start of the final phase of shoot, the digital shoot. This is a very young and energetic crew. On camera now is Bahaghari (aka Richard de Guzman, his camera work will eventually comprise 60% of the final cut), Albert Banzon is assistant cameraman; designers are Rishab Tibon, Patty Eustaquio, Jun Sabayton, Cristina Honrado; assistant director and production manager is Lorna Sanchez; soundpersons are Raffy ‘bulan’ Luna and The Bob Macabenta; actors—Pen Medina, Angie Ferro, Elryan de Vera (now age 16), Ronnie Lazaro, Banaue Miclat, Lui Manansala, Sigrid Bernardo, Roeder, Angel Aquino, Dido dela Paz, Erwin Castillo.
Shooting commences in Gerona. Then, the group goes up to the perilous northern mountains and to pocket mining man-made tunnels of Antamok and riverbank villages of Itogon, both in Benguet. The tunnel shoots are very, very dangerous. More scenes are shot in Marikina; on some days, Albert Banzon is the cameraman. Then, the Manila City Jail shoot with the special participation of Joel Torre and the prisoners playing themselves. Then, back to the Baguio, Antamok and Itogon locations.
October 2003 – Post studio is set up in Project 4, Quezon City. Glen Cruz is editor.
February 2004 – Project 4 studio is abandoned. Cubao studio is set up. Lav is now the editor. Bob is sound engineer.
April 2004 – Itogon shoot ends.
June 2004 – Toronto International Film Festival programmer Steve Gravestock visits the Cubao studio and watches the film on the computer, with Directors Guild of Philippines president Carlitos Siguion-Reyna as interpreter. IBON Foundation donates footage—First Quarter Storm, Martial Law, milititarization, Ninoy Aquino Assassination, EDSA People Power, Mendiola Massacre.
July 2004 – Ebolusyon is closing film of Cinemanila International Film Festival. A week before the closing night, computer crashes, erasing the original 10 hours fifty-five minute final cut. Lav and Bob start the post again. The Asian American International Film Festival of New York shows an eight-hour VHS copy, a very dirty copy.
September 2004 – Toronto shows the nine-hour version of Ebolusyon, the only Filipino film selected in the fest in 2004. Lav and Paul in attendance.
November 2004 – The last shoot. Antipolo and Bicol. The train, river, rice fields, mountain and forest shoots. Lav on camera, Bob on sound, Noel Miralles, Joy Domingo, Sigrid Bernardo and Cristina Honrado (Antipolo shoot) on design. The Bicol Arts Guild provides heartening support to the motley crew. Three days after the group boarded the train back to Manila, the train falls on a ravine killing scores of people. Malou Maniquis lends an air conditioning unit for the post.
December 17, 2004 – The Philippine premiere at the University of the Philippines. While Lav is dubbing out the film from the computer to mini DV (12 tapes in all), Bob is the lagarista [reel delivery boy] without a bicylcle or a car. He had to anxiously and frustratingly wait for a taxi from Cubao to UP, UP to Cubao; this caused the long gaps between tapes.
January 28, 2005 – Post ends. Lav leaves for the Rotterdam International Film Festival for the international premiere of the final cut, ten hours and forty-three minutes long. Lav, Paul and Bahaghari in attendance.