BITING OFF MORE & CHEWING IT TOO: FILM AS ADVENTURE
The picture above does not show me scaring a kid up a tree. The kid is perfectly safe. He climbs up there every day to get coconuts for his mom, and was showing off to make fun of my friends and I. I'm the one completely out on a limb. Why, you ask?
I decided to make an adventure film.
Once upon a time I made small character centered dramas. Which are tough. What I had made over the last four years came out the same way both times: not subtle, but boring.
It was time for a change. Instead of going for small, I would go for BIG. If anything, I was determined not to be boring again. If this film had a problem, it would be that it was too big for its means, too strange, or too insane.
An adventure film with less resources then 'Clerks.' It was already too insane.
The trick was to find what I had that was unique. What advantage do I alone have, that could give me the ability to do something special? The answer was family.
Though born and raised entirely here in the US, I am also half-Filipino, and have a large amount of family back in the 'old country'. Family whom I've visited once before, long ago in my childhood. During that trip the place made an impression on me. I was so young that all I wanted then was to go back home to my movies and video games, but there was no escaping the fact that it was a whole other world. A place that felt wild, natural, and very frightening at times. A place that lines up with our mythical vision of an untamed world. It didn't take long to realize I had to go there and make my movie in my mother's old hometown. So I set myself to writing a screenplay about myth and adventure, about heroism.
As the story goes: Audrey (played by Dana Jamison), a determined young American woman, arrives in the Philippines with a mysterious mission, little money, and no chance of reaching her goal. But when she enlists the help of two friendly locals, Hazel and Rey (local talent Genelyka Castin and Leonard Olaer), and an unfriendly American expatriate, Nick (Nicholas Medina), the possibility of success comes into view. All they have to do is cross 300 miles of roads, jungles, and ocean, ward off the attacks of a vicious local motorcycle gang, and keep themselves from killing each other. "Faraway" is a classical tale of adventure, but with the rough and gritty style of an indie.
Principal photography began in May of 2012. My friends and I traveled halfway across the planet to the little Philippines town of Almeria. There, amongst two months of blistering heat and raging typhoon, of broken vehicles and overheating equipment, beautiful scenery and newly-forged friendships we filmed our movie.
Now, obviously I've got a whole lot of stories I can tell about how the filming went. In making our adventure film we made sure to have one ourselves. But for now I'll settle on telling the how's and why's of a single scene that might be of particular interest to my no-budget film brethren.
A key element of this film would be integrating anything I might have available into the the story to make us seem like a much bigger film. How else could you do an adventure? You need set pieces and peril and action. So I planned a scene around elements that I knew to be available: Two of our heroes would be captured by a gang of motorcycle bandits. They would be taken to a shabby hut that these bandits use as their hideout, and interrogated. Then the remaining heroes ram the hut with a motorcycle, breaking through the door, and in the ensuing chaos all four escape as the hut collapses on the bandits.
I wrote this scene in order to fulfill all our genre needs, but cost nothing (or next to nothing). However, it would still take a great deal of planning and work.
First order of business is the location. We came three months ahead of production in order to scout every possible location and had looked at several possible spots for the filming of this scene. Once we'd decided the place, next step was of course permission. We had to follow quite a trail before finally tracking down the actual owner of the land, but we struck a deal to film for two days for an extremely fair price. They'd never had a film production in the area before, so they were happy to be a part of it.
The spot was chosen for its ease of access and aesthetics. There wasn't actually a hut there. Which is the whole point: that we would build one ourselves and break it down within the movie. So the next step was to put a hut where there once was not.
During a quick visit to city hall to negotiate permits, we happened to pass the clean-up of a large celebration that had taken place the night earlier. A decorated, 'native' style stage had been built for a dance competition. Now the stage had been demolished and the materials (woven leaves and straightened branches) were being taken away to be disposed of. We rushed into city hall and asked if we could simply take some of the stuff off their hands. They were happy to oblige, since it was all going nowhere anyway, and we brought it all to our set. Once again, money saved!
Now the construction started. And then ended immediately the same day. I had specified that the hut look shabby, worn down, and as though it could naturally fall right down if a motorcycle ran into it. The materials were already there, so when the builders (family and friends of family) arrived they just tossed it all together and we had ourselves a nice little hut. I was busy during much of that day with another bit of planning, but when I arrived half-way though their work and decided I wanted it to be a good ten feet over from where they had it, everyone just picked up the sides and lifted the whole thing over to the new spot. It was a marvelous little thing.
I was determined that in the film this structure not look as new as it was. Being made almost entirely of natural building materials, we figured that being set up a month before the shooting date would make sure it was properly aged. But that was also a gamble. Monsoon season was almost here, and if it rained hard and often enough the hut could get torn to shreds. Also, the thing was so damned light that it if some trickster kids thought it a lark they could gather up all their friends and simply carry it away. But I wanted it old, and if we the worst came to worst I'd just have it built again before filming. We lucked out though, and by the day of shooting it was still standing. It had aged too, now the leaves were an autumn brown. To get it looking a little more worn, we took a knife to it and cut small holes all over the building, and numerous slits into the roof. These allowed light in, and with a small amount of fog we managed to get shafts of light going through it.
We chose to handle these scenes on the third and fourth days of shooting. We would work our way up to speed with simple material on the first and second and be ready for some tough work with the hut scenes. Eight pages of material occur inside the hut, which is a cramped and difficult little space. Six of those pages are dialogue, which requires plenty of angles and takes, but two of them are action, which means a large number of challenging setups. On the second day, while working on exterior shots of the motorcycle approaching to ram the hut, we suddenly had some very heavy rain. Luckily we had been working at a fast enough pace that when we chose to simply wait it out there was not an overload of work remaining once the sun returned.
We reached our second-to-last shot of the day: collapsing the hut. I'd chosen to play the hut's collapse as almost a joke. Our heroes burst out the door, the villain screams and yells after them, cut to wide exterior and the hut collapses, silencing his screams while our heroes recede into the distance. I ordered for the hut scene and our crew started to take out any part of the framework that reinforces it. Only the beams that keep it feebly standing remain. They attach blue rope to the hut so that it can be pulled down in the direction I want, and then keyed out. All the preparations are ready and I work out with the AD, Esteban Marquez, that we've covered EVERY element of scenes that might require the interior.
Finally, I call 'places' and roll the camera. On "Action!" the actors start running and a moment later I call "Pull!" The hut folds in on itself and a moment I had imagined ten months ago comes to life. The kids watching us work scream with delight and I tell the crew to get ready for the next shot.
Now I'm back in California editing the film. It's been quite a journey getting here. Filming on location was a difficult circumstance, but the rewards of our labors are revealed every day in the honesty of the actor's faces, the realism of a fantastical story. I was way out on a limb, but it was exactly where I wanted to be. Thanks for reading.
"Faraway" will (hopefully!) be coming to film festivals this January. It is written and directed by Randal Kamradt Jr. The film stars Nicholas Medina, Dana Jamison, Genelyka Castin, and Leonard Olaer.
Check out our trailer:
Randal Kamradt has been making films officially since 2007, and unofficially since the 8th grade. 'Faraway' is his third feature film. He has worked many odd-jobs in the meantime (election worker, pizza delivery, coffee barista) in order to finance his debilitating film addition. He has played guitar and piano in numerous bands and once considered becoming a cartoonist. Did he mention he also writes? What a hipster.
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