Filipino crime thriller “Graceland,” follows the worst day in a chauffeur’s life: when both his
daughter and the daughter of his corrupt politician boss get ambushed in
a kidnapping. Shot guerrilla-style in just 17 days on location in the Philippines with no permits, writer-director Ron Morales and his crew pulled off quite the feat. The Drafthouse Films release is currently available on VOD and opens theatrically on April 26. Below, Morales shares a scene shot on the fly when they stumbled upon an alley where men conducted spider fights (!). He also shares some general advice for filmmakers on how to shoot in a foreign location.
You never know what you might find in a labyrinth of alleyways.
The producers Sam Rider and Rebecca Lundgren found these spider fighters while scouting for locations while I was casting. They called me up telling me all about it, from the fighting rules to how the take care of them. The three of us absolutely fell in love with the image as well as the symbolism, so I wrote in the scene.
Never be stingy with crowd control even in a dump-site.
Almost at every location that we shot in Manila there was a sea of people, even in the most remote location like the dump-site. Either you are spending money to control the crowd at the time or you are spending money to have them erased in post-production later. I recommend the first option.
You always need to adapt to your environment.
You might think misunderstandings surface from language barriers, but it is the cultural differences that you shouldn’t underestimate. As a US crew we needed to adapt to the Filipino filmmaking style and culture. It was great when it works, but a time killer when it didn’t work.
There is always room in the trunk.
If space is an issue while filming driving shots, you can always jump in the truck of the car with the sound mixer monitoring both audio and video feeds. But don’t forget to tell your actor that you are there, so he doesn’t get scared hearing your muffled voice from the trunk.
Always be open to the unknown.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is the end sequence of Graceland. While shooting another scene close to the riverbank, I took a break and walked off under a bridge and there I changed the closing scene of the movie. Not only did I find a visually striking location, but I also managed to add a bonus shot with the lead actor sitting in a boat traveling along the riverbank at magic hour. In hind site, this shot was one of the most memorable images in the film.