Sunday, November 25, 2012

MIRANA MEDINA: INDEPENDENT ADVOCACY FILMMAKER (Second of Five Parts) (July 4, 2011)


POETRY INTERPRETATION SESSIONS AT UP AND UST
Vim Nadera: How did you direct the Deaf?
Mirana Medina: I studied Filipino Sign Language (FSL) in 2006 as part of my research to make Silent Odyssey, my documentary on Deaf Filipino culture, history and language. We had Deaf teachers. After finishing that docu in 2008, I continued to join their activities. So I have been with them for a few years now. Having learned sign language from them contributed a lot in building rapport. Although I am not really that adept to sign, still I find it easier to communicate with them unlike the time when I first entered the “Deaf world.” Besides when I am with them, I now have that sense of belonging that helps in lightening the work ambience. I also need not fully rely on an interpreter as much as when I first stepped at DLS-CSB School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS) as FSL student. With all the necessary relationships built and developed earlier, working with them and directing them has been comfortable; I’m confident we can successfully realize our project together. Many of them are unquestionably talented, committed, very supportive and cooperative. But still, an interpreter’s presence is needed if a hearing person wants to make a film involving Deaf persons. For this project, the interpreters role is crucial. Husband and wife team— Jun and Febe Sevilla— were my bridges to relay my directions properly to FSL Deaf Consultants, who in turn explained them to the Deaf actor. Raphy taught the actor the proper interpretation and the required emotions needed by the scene aided by the recorded sessions he had with you. Myra Medrana would then give or add suggestions to improve the actor’s movement, body and visual expressions. As Silent Steps choreographer, she taught and showed how its members would interpret a scene. Then she would ask me to watch them. When necessary, I would ask them to tone down, lessen or totally change the movements altogether especially when I see that their movements would distract, rather than enhance the interpretation of the poem by the main Deaf actor. Similarly, I have asked the musical scorers Roselle Pineda and JM Diego—to not to steal the “glory” of FSL but to enhance its beauty. Afterall, the poems interpreted in FSL and their message comes uppermost. Roselle and Diego laudably came up with a haunting music that quite enhanced the mood of the film. With sound effects added, and all the elements in, the film was finally completed this week. When informally previewed for the first time by some of the members of the organizing committee of the Rizal International Conference at the UP last Wednesday June 15, viewers very silently watched it; later, some of them admitted that they could not hold their tears back while watching the film. “Napakaganda ng dalumat!”, Dr. Apo Chua said. When I asked what dalumat meant, “concept” was his reply. Highly expressive, Aldrin Gabriel’s performance in Ultimo Adios will be most memorable. He was so good, and signed FSL so beautifully, some hearing people in the audience might want to study FSL. Well, in fact, one of my aims in making this project is for hearing people to see the beauty of Filipino Sign Language. It is my belief that raising the hearing people’s awareness and appreciation of sign language may lead to an eventual interest to study FSL, the national language of Deaf Filipinos. When that happens, communication gap between the hearing and the Deaf will narrow down. During the shooting, Jun and Febe allowed me to communicate with the Deaf as much as I could. Only when I couldn’t get my ideas across to the Deaf or vice versa, would I call them out for help. I was very happy with Jun’s ‘evaluation of my FSL skills. He told me that I just needed little more practice. It quite surprised me because I still consider both my expressive and receptive skills as poor. Miscommunication on our first shooting day would not have happened if I was already good at it. That’s what I thought.

VN: You began as a film editor. How did you prepare for it?
MM: In 1980, while I was working as a researcher at the UP Film Center, Ms. Virginia R. Moreno, the Center Director and founder, sent me to the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. Film Director Ishmael Bernal studied film direction in that school. During that period, almost all of the center’s staff had already trained or were training in France and in the U.S. In Pune, for three-and-a-half years, I studied, not just film editing but all the aspects of filmmaking: direction, scriptwriting, handling and use of still cameras—including mixing of chemical solutions to develop your own negatives. I was also trained how to operate 16mm Bolex, 35 mm Arriflex, and even the old and huge Mitchell cameras. Aside from our own projects, I also learned to edit Bollywood dance and drama sequences from actual films released in India because those were the very materials provided us for our film editing exercises. I obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma with specialization in Editing in 1984 when nonlinear editing was still unheard of. Moviola and Steenbeck flatbed editing machines were most popular.

I returned to the Philippines in 1984 — the same year as Tikoy Aguiluz, then UP Film Center Assistant Director who came back from his film studies in New York. Tikoy was then working on Boatman, his first feature-film. By a twist of fate, Boatman turned out to be my first film editing assignment. Tikoy and I had the same vision on filmmaking. This led to a working partnership that lasted for years until 2003 when he became preoccupied with CineManila International Film Festival, an annual event that he founded. After Boatman, I edited all his features films, documentaries and short films, among others: Fr. Balweg, The Rebel Priest (documentary), Bagong Bayani OCW, Segurista, Rizal sa Dapitan, Biyaheng Langit, Tatarin, and www. XXX.com or Webdiva, the launching movie of Juliana Palermo. Tikoy allows me creative freedom to edit independently. He never sits down to tell me how and where to cut the film. He comes to the editing room to watch and study the rushes. Or views whatever I have cut but reserves his comments. When I am ready with my rough or fine cut, that’s the time I call him in. Then we brainstorm. More often than not, if there are revisions, they are mostly minor ones. Our teamwork is excellent. After eight years, I am now working with him again on his comeback film, a remake ofAsiong Salonga.

“When the shooting stops,” wrote Ralph Rosenblum on the role of a film editor,“the cutting begins.” In film production, the film editor usually enters the work scene after the shooting or during the post-production stage. Not in my case, for each time Tikoy makes a film, especially a feature film, he involves me starting from the writing stage of the screenplay. What he normally does is to pass on to me the scriptwriter’s work to study the sequence treatment or sequences’ flow. Tikoy’s respect for my role as a creative film editor, and the success of our first film collaboration, in fact led to my development of a technique that I call (for lack of better term) — the TIMELINE. I was led to it because of my experience with Boatman. I was initially handed a script with more than 100 sequences, in legal size paper, and largely written in literary form. When I first read it, I already found many unnecessary sequences and crossed them out. So, even before the film was shot, the script length was already cut down. Pete Lacaba later joined in to edit the long dialogues. Ideally, a feature film script must have, more or less only 75 sequences. Pretty much the same as the timeline now popular in nonlinear digital editing, my “timeline” is a structural study of the script sequentially arranged in timeline form. This is pre-editing the script before the actual shooting to save time, money and to avoid shooting unnecessary sequences. On the other hand, it was also my way of giving order to already shot documentary materials. At a time when nonlinear digital editing was not yet introduced, I first started “officially” using the timeline in 1986 when we made the documentary on Fr. Conrado Balweg entitled, Fr. Balweg, The Rebel Priest. The film was shot without a script. Footage upon footage was sent to me from the Cordilleras. I was compelled to devise something that would make my work easier. It was my task to give structure to it and “timeline” helped a lot in putting order to the footages. Proven to be very useful, I continue to use it until now, whether I am working on a narrative film or a documentary, a short or feature-length film. As a guide, it helps us a lot to approximate how the final film form would look like, if not, it would help us feel the film flow. Missing scenes can be easily spotted. They can be seen as bumps that hamper our visualization. For documentary filmmaking, though organic in nature, the study of a script in graphical form is important; usually unconnected and missing elements can, as I’ve said, be easily seen. By the time digital filmmaking revolution grew and spread, I was already well equipped and confident to make my films independently.

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