First day of shooting in Manila of the anticipated continuation of “Bourne Identity”—minus Matt Damon—started last Wednesday, 11 January 2012. I was woken early, not by choice, but by the unusual activities in the alley—neighbours and strangers, accompanied by foreigners talking loud, agitated, anxious, wandering in and out of the street—with the children, as excited and boisterous as the barking dogs.
Coming home late last night from my nephew’s birthday blowout, several big, almost identical trucks, lined up Leveriza, my home street. It confirmed the American film production’s arrival: They were finally here to shoot Bourne Legacy in the Philippines—in the busy and densely populated areas near San Andres Market in Malate, Manila. The press release stated five locations in the Malate area, all in close proximity where I live and spent my childhood.
The American production crews, in cooperation with local film studios, were filming the movie after months of preparation and location hunting last year, 2011. I thought it was a joke, but became convinced after internet gossips unveiled the news. Yes, the Bourne saga continues—with Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, and Ms Rachel Weisz. What more can a film buff ask for—especially, when the first day of shoot in my country takes place in front of my rented apartment in the narrow alley?
“Sir, do you know Matt Damon—the Bourne guy?” the excited question of the female food seller threw me out of sync last year, as I bought some viands in mid-afternoon. Humouring her, I nodded—my stomach grumbling since it was already past 3 and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. “They were here—right here during lunch!” she yelled, thrilled and all smiles. “They’re going to shoot here!”
Of course, whatever. I thought it was a prank. Matt Damon, here in this tiny food stall? I faked disbelief, and said, “Matt Damon, yeah—Bourne—he was here? Really?!” and shook my head, smiling at her. I know the majority of food stall sellers are not fond of foreign films. Most of them came from the provinces to find jobs in the city. Some are uneducated and can’t even speak Tagalog well—the country’s national language—weaned in their own provincial dialects. Thus, their strong preference for local stars and movies they can relate to and identify with.
So how can I believe this girl so excited about Bourne, that there will be another film—and to be shot here, of all places—in this food stall that doubles as a restaurant near the marketplace? In this busy, congested, smelly, trash-littered—but wait! Didn’t “Bourne Ultimatum” have scenes in a crowded market and an alley chase, too?
“Who told you?” I said, my curiosity pricked this time, wanting to know more.
“Sir, they were here—yes!! And they talked to the Mrs—isn’t it, sis?” she answered, referring to the owner, asking confirmation from another seller. The other one nodded and smiled, and because I knew her better, I started to believe. (Later, their restaurant became the bulk of shooting in Day 2 and 3.)
Months later, after I forgot the incident, a huge American with his equally huge camera came ambling in my alley, followed by two locals discussing something in English. No one knew or recognized them, and it was logged in our daily dose of encounters as “tourist, milked by local opportunists.” After all, I live close to the tourist area of Manila Bay in Roxas Boulevard and the once busy red light of Mabini Street—the commercial businesses shut down and dispersed to nearby Adriatico Street and the adjoining side streets—now less seedy and often patronized by tourists and locals alike for nightlife.
Less than a week later, the same American came back together with the same local companions, this time knocking on my gate. They asked permission to use the vacant lot beside the apartment—to take a bird’s eye view of roof tops spanning to Adriatico Street, which is parallel to Leveriza Street.
While the American, assisted by the Barangay Tanods (guards) took a peak atop a steel ladder, I chatted with the young Pinoy who came with them. Apparently, he’s the son of the owner of one of the local studios involved in the project, and they were a film production outfit, and voila!—here was the Bourne Legacy crew, on location hunt!
Weeks passed, and before the New Year, news erupted in the Net about the coming film, which confirmed all together the reality of the shoot. I was guessing then, but if I am lucky, they’ll do it close to my home. Then the final confirmation: a press release in December last year by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) concerning traffic rerouting, and their assistance to the areas where the filming will take place. And first day on the list: my street, Leveriza.
It was boring to watch any shooting: commercial, film, docu, or perhaps, even porn, not unless one was involved or part of the crew. A lot of production preparations took most of a given shoot, that as the first day started early at about six in the morning, the actual filming began past 9 A.M.
The two storey apartment where I stayed had two doors, and I occupied the first door, exactly in front of a crossroad in the alleys, perpendicular to each other. These alleys were narrow and looked narrower still because of the houses spilling over their lots. Walls, fences, clotheslines, and even makeshift gardens to beautify their front yards made the alley seemed congested, what with children loitering, playing day in and out even at unholy hours.
Day 1 of shoot: Manila policemen (three of them) were running after an imaginary perp. Several running takes, and with the background of local extras, and the young law enforcers looked poofed. It took the whole morning to do this and the crew break for lunch.
After lunch, American crews were revving up a motor bike presumably to carry a cameraman at the back; the extras given a roll-call, and some film Securities and Marchers, together with their local counterparts, were busy controlling the crowd and preparing for a “take.” Security was tight, that they blocked my alley facing Leveriza, so that no one—even those like me living in the vicinity—cannot come in or out of the house.
Okay, my advantage was they decided to shoot in my alley, in front of my apartment. And as the American crews prepared to shoot—male and female production members serious in discussing the scene—an American male saw me standing in front of my gate, and ambled closer to say “hey!”
I said, “Hi!” and made conversation. Below is the reconstructed small talk:
ME: Can I stay here? (Referring to my spot on the tall gate in front of the house.)
AMERICAN: (Nodding.) Yeah…You’re off camera. (Glancing on my left inside the gate.) Is this your garden? You owned the place? (He was referring to the vacant lot, where last year, the location hunter lined up a scene on rooftops.)
M: Nope, it was a garden before, now a vacant lot…No, I rent the place.
A: Any one owned a house here? Or do they all rent?
M: Most of us rented the house…If ever, only a few owned their residences.
A: Does the rent increase?
M: Oh, yeah—every year.
A: So it increased, and increased some more, that they sublet—
M: True, that’s what many do here—
A: To offset the rental increase, they sublet. (Nods.) Do they make repairs, the owners?
M: No, if your house is dilapidated—either take it or leave it. (I pointed to one in front of my apartment, the walls peeling and the roof partly torn by the past typhoons.)
A: And if they repaired it, they increase their tenants within tenants.
M: Yeah, bed spacers—that’s why the place is crowded—the only way to balance and offset high rental costs.
A: (Nods.) So, if you’re a tenant, you have to fix the house and suffer higher rental.
M: (Smiling, nodding.) How was it? First day of shoot? (I changed the topic. Some of the female crew were agitated, looking at us, wondering it seemed why was I engaging the man with my small talk.)
A: Oh, good! We’re fine—we’re moving—a bit slow, but were on it. (He smiled, and I nodded.)
M: No stars yet? I haven’t seen one.
A: There is Rachel … She’ll do a lot of running.
(Before this conversation happened, a running scene was done earlier by an American female, starting at the intersection of the cross in the alley in front of the house, and running full speed in the stretch alongside my apartment. Apparently, she was a stand in, a Ms Katy—I hope I got that spelled right—for the actual take with Ms Rachel Weisz.)
M: Uh-huh…Who’s the director? (I feigned interest in Ms Weisz, not really expecting her to come darting in front of me. I was curious and wanted to be sure about the director. Although I asked it already from a female crew earlier, what I understood she said was: Terry Gilliam—and asked my “American friend” again.)
A: Me…Tony Gilroy. (Smiling)
M: You’re first time here in the country? (Nodding, smiling—ha-ha, right—I was talking to the Director himself. Mr Gilroy, a great screenwriter who wrote the Bourne series was more than a successful director as his first directorial film garnered seven Academy Award nominations, “Michael Clayton”, starring George Clooney.)
A: No, my third time. (Smiles.)
M: Really? You know the place then.
(A female crew signalled to him, as he smiled and nodded to me. I smiled and waved, too, wishing him luck.)
But before I can react, here comes Ms Rachel Weisz, in all her subtle glamour—not prettified but costumed in casual jeans, black sleeveless top, rubber shoes, and a grey hoody without much make-up, while two American females assisted her. She stayed in front of the fence of my section of the apartment, only a breath away. It was unfortunate there were strict orders not to take pictures, but I could have taken some memorable pics. Security was tight and severe, and I don’t want to take the risk, especially, when I stood close by my new film director “friend”.
Rachel, of course, looked a bit more athletic than in the Mummy’s Curse or in her restrained glamour in Enemy at the Gates, where I wanted to kill Jude Law for making love to her. She has a fragile, delicate beauty all her own—not magical and mesmerizing as Cate Blanchet or sultry and seductive as Angelina Jolie, and not even close to a fresh vulnerable Kate Beckinsale.
And yet, Rachel Weisz can hold my heart anytime without a heartbeat—and put back life into it.
First day of shoot, and I had two enviable opportunities I never expected to experience in this lifetime: I came face to face with Rachel Weisz for more than thirty minutes—there were several takes and they prepared her as she talked casually with the extras—and two, I didn’t know I was talking to the great Screenwriter-Director, Mr Tony Gilroy.
All the best of success to the stars and crew…A lot rest on their shoulders to carry the reputation of the blockbuster franchise.