When I was asked to write about my highlights of learning filmmaking at The International Academy of Film & Television (IAFT), a good number of experiences came to mind: Learning how to set up lights, collaborating with my classmates to direct my first short film and the arduous task of completing a sports drama. However, it’s actually the daily grind that I will miss.
On a regular school day, I open my door to head for IAFT, and I see this on my left:
The sea breeze is refreshing, the morning tropical sun energizing.
I’m walking with my backpack and sometimes my camera bag. Usually I have a
sandwich and my tumbler with me (free water in the school saves me money, and saves
the planet, one plastic bottle at a time). I cross the street and enter a building that looks more
like the X-Mansion than a film school. I’m headed to Classroom 1 for screenwriting class.
I love every moment of it! We talk about the science and art behind writing a screenplay,
we see how they apply to movies, and we talk about the things we want to write about that are
real to us. And it can get pretty real. As personal stories of tragedy surface, you get an idea of your
classmate’s family background and the life experiences that shape us. It’s all confidential, nothing
leaves the room. We write about these things, re-write multiple times, and turn it into a short film.
A friend once told me, “It’s always a win when you share from the heart”, meaning there’s no downside
to being authentic (unless your script is poorly written). I think that’s the heart of any good screenplay,
because it’s so fulfilling to see deeply personal stories go from paper to the big screen.
Probably about a handful of times I catch myself in the middle of JM’s (John Milton Branton, Screenwriting Mentor) lecture, just really thankful that I’m in that class. So there I am thinking, “Wow, I’m learning about screenwriting by watching ‘The Imitation Game’. This is so much cooler than where I was a year before.” That would be in an office cubicle sitting in front of a computer. It was a cool job, but after 7 years it was time to move on.
It’s lunchtime and there are around a dozen restaurants nearby where we usually eat. In our last month in school, it was usually the Al Fresco section of Mactan Newtown and I usually get this:
-puso (some sort of rice). It’s only 90 Pesos! But even with all these restaurants, you look for more variety after 10 months. There are more restaurants in Marina Mall, but it’s a bit farther away from IAFT.
In the afternoon we have our cinematography class,and Mike (Mike Muschamp, Cinematography Mentor) usually asks who wants to be DP (Director of Photography). It’s quite intimidating, but we all go through it. We’re given a script beforehand, and a few guys from the acting program do the scene we’re supposed to shoot. I like how the classes are integrated like that. We get to light and direct, actors get to do a scene for their reel. It’s a win-win, unless you’re the one doing sound and you have to hold a boom pole up for 15 minutes straight. But looking back, even that was a cool experience.
For 2 terms we had classes that took us out of the school, which is both fun and really humid if it’s during the day (always bring an extra shirt for shoots). At times it’s just a few blocks from the school, or sometimes it’s in an impoverished community in Cebu City with no access to potable water.
So we shoot a documentary about this French NGO that provides clean water to Cebu’s forgotten communities (Vive La France!) and I forget to check our Camera B’s CF Card. It’s malfunctioning. Mike says to me in a jokingly frustrated voice with his thick British accent “You ****ed up mate!” and starts slapping the air where my face should be. “But seriously mate, if this were a real shoot you’d be fired”, he says calmly. To which I respond with a smile, “I brought my own DSLR, we have a back-up.” And we all lived happily ever after, until two of us step into a puddle of dark green sewage water.
So by the time dusk hits, I either go straight to the editing lab (if I have a film to edit) or go home for a power nap or a movie (it’s usually the former). Dinner is usually the same options I have during lunch, but with the exception of really good and affordable barbecue sticks at the local convenience store (Thirdy’s).
If I’m with the Animators we usually go for coffee after dinner (or at 3 a.m.), either to Civet Coffee or McDonald’s (They really like that Iced Vanilla Coffee drink). If I’m with the Filmmakers we just go back to our usual hideout
(The Da Vinci Editing Suite) after dinner and work on our films there. But back in first term, when the work load was lighter, we hung out at the Tiki Bar (which sadly, has changed location)
Come to think of it, I got to discover a lot of great restaurants in Cebu: That Ramen place in Soong owned by this Japanese guy, Dessert Factory in Park Mall (Awesome cake slices under P100), a Singaporean place tucked away in Marina Mall (Owned by a Singaporean), and that Gelato place (Owned by an Italian) in Cebu Yacht Club to name a few (Oh and Yacht Club’s ginormous pancakes for just P80!)
The accounts written above are only a fraction of my awesome experience at IAFT in Cebu. I haven’t even written about the weekends, the machine gun shooting days, the other cool mentors, and the required acting class for filmmakers.
My first month at IAFT, I was very eager to just get what I needed and head back to Manila to work. Now that I’m back in Manila and just a week after graduating, I really miss my life as a filmmaking student. One of the wisest men who ever lived once said that for everything there is a season. Now I wake up to a different view and a different daily grind. No complaints or regrets, just gratitude for being able to experience all these amazing things that allowed me to become a filmmaker.
Written by: Gino Sebastian