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An OOV Interview

Paul Tañedo, Film Producer:
On the Making of Ebolusyon


Paul Tañedo (holding camera) assisted by Larry Manda, cameraman.

Movie Critic, Gertjan Zuilhof at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2005 spoke about the film, Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang Pilipino as “not the first time in the history of film or literature that a family tragedy is used to encapsulate the historic and political tragedy of a whole country,” but he emphasizes that Ebolusyonis without doubt the greatest film narrative about the sorrow of the Philippines.” At what point during the making of the film did you feel that Lav Diaz and you had created an opus of such magnitude?

I was not even thinking what impact the film would have on audiences. Lav and I were focused on finishing the film. You know—you were here listening to my ramblings when I was totally preoccupied in finding the money to continue the filming. You heard more than enough, way back when… what was it… in 2000? But I can still feel the moment in Toronto (our first foreign film festival) when the projectionist was testing the screening. I saw the film for the first time and I don’t know where the tears came from, but I just started crying. No, bawling! I couldn’t believe the film was finally completed.


Contemplating the light: Director Lav Diaz (left)
with Paul Tañedo (holding light meter) and P.A. Jojo Lagade.

I can understand your willingness to actually shoot the film. So what made you decide to take on the exacting role of executive producer too?

Correction—I took on the role of producer from the start, but the shooting kept stopping for lack of funds; we ran out of money to hire the crew and so I took over as the cameraman. Come to think of it, the first time I met Lav, he was here in Virginia trying to interest people in funding his film. I asked for the script. Read it that night; talked to Susan [my wife] and the next morning when Lav and I met, I shook his hand and said, “Let’s do it!” Simple as that.

Just like that? Did you see something in the script to convince you—


Paul’s childhood buddies, actor Epifanio “Fany” Enriquez (left) and Rolando “Ollie” de Guzman (another P.A. and Extra) pose for posterity.

He was ready, ready to go. I saw myself in his place. His “dead-end” struggle. I had been saving all those years to do something of my own … but I wasn’t near where he was. As an artist—don’t you?—you want to do something meaningful, not just anything but something for the homeland. He had this idea for a film. He was ready, I wasn’t. I was determined then and there that I would support the making of this film, come hell or high water.

I owe this whole experience to Susan. She saw how I needed to make this film happen. And she never doubted that it would be completed.

Interestingly, a reviewer describes this effort to complete Ebolusyon as Lav’s “epic struggle.”

“Epic struggle” involved not just the director but every single member of the team: from the professionals, the actors, the production assistants and down to the extras. And I just happened to be the producer. This was a collaborative project, a collective effort. Don’t forget that the crew and the actors were not paid—and haven’t been yet! Who knows, something big might come out of this, hitting the lotto maybe! But I don’t think that will happen. Despite the unavoidable sporadic infighting during the production, the predictable lack of communication and all, the crew’s loyalty never wavered. Their sense of commitment to the project during that long stretch was incredible. I was experiencing feeling trapped in an unending tunnel because completing this film occupied all my waking hours.

I know that the length of the movie—what is it, 10 or 11 hours—is the initial response to the film. But, you know what, towards the end, I felt so steeped in the lives of the characters, I couldn’t believe the film was ending. Was that planned from the beginning that it would be shown for ten hours straight?

Ebolusyon went through its own evolution in the 10 years that it took to complete the production. How the story would be told was dependent on the audience experiencing real time. As you say, you felt steeped in the characters’ lives. The sense of plodding time—what the family was going through, the influences that filled their lives, the compromises they had to make in order to survive—all these must take a toll on the audience. Even the young actor, Elryan Devera, his growing up during the years of filming was taken into account. You see him as a young boy in the opening sequence and you follow the same child later as a young adult. If you notice, we didn’t use any kind of soundtrack music. The only music heard in the beginning and towards the end was a song sung in the opening sequence by Puring, the grandmother played by Angie Ferro. That was Lav’s deliberate omission.


Setting the scene: Larry Manda and Paul Tañedo with
Production Manager Noel Miralles in the background prepare the
camera position for the farmers’ trek to the rice fields.

Share with us the sites, the locations where the filming took place.

Of course the location took place in my hometown. In Gerona,Tarlac. Guys I grew up with became actors on the spot. Everyone in town—families, children, old folks pitched in with food for the crew—opened their homes to us. Talk about hospitality! We used the Antamok Tunnel in Baguio for the mines scenes. The opening shots of people walking through the rice fields were taken in Bicol.

I would travel to the locations during my kids’ summer vacation. In fact, my daughters, Francesca and Carmela, joined the film crew when I took them along one year. I would spend 3–4 months in the Philippines overseeing the filming.

Most of our funds went into buying the 16mm film. When we switched to Digital Cam, it was much easier. Editing and combining the two formats became a real tough editing job for Lav but he pulled it off.

How was it—working with Lav Diaz?

I trusted the man. With the length of time it took to complete the film, I never once doubted that he and I were pursuing one and the same agenda. I believed that the film would be a solid piece and that somehow it would be completed.


Lav Diaz (left in black) directs Marife Necesito and Elryan Devera on the beach
while Paul Tañedo (right) takes still shots; Larry Manda on camera.

What was it like entering Ebolusyon in film festivals?

Toronto, being the first one, brought me to the brink of desperation, madness and unbelievable elation. Our participation was literally a “photo-finish”. Lav was to go ahead with the film, and I was to follow. The plan was to meet up in Toronto two days before the beginning of the festival. Of course it never happens according to plan. Lav arrived at 11:00 p.m. the night before the day of the screening. Because segments in the film editing had not been completed, I combed the phone directory for a 24-hour editing outfit willing to work at the last minute and deliver on time. With tapes still being edited, I introduced the beginning of the film to the audience while Lav hurriedly worked at the lab. Three hours into the film, I realized he was still in the lab. Lav arrived just as I was about to go get him. His first words were: “The film is being held hostage!” He needed me to rescue the edited tapes with my credit card of course! By the time we rushed back to the theater, Tape 7 was running. We were holding Tapes 8 and 9. At the end of the showing, the audience was calling the director’s name. We were collapsed on a bench in the lobby looking like 2 wasted homeless persons.


Kneeling on a groundcover of banana leaves, Paul Tañedo is assisted by
Panie Enriquez in the camera set-up.

What was the response from this first festival audience?

Silence. Shock. Then, rapid applause. What always remains with me is how appreciative audiences have been, coming out of the screening. With this particular audience in Toronto, their gratitude was evident during the Q&A. Quite literally they thanked us for their experience of Ebolusyon. And when the reviews came out we realized what an impact the film had made. Every festival produced that same initial response of silence and quiet shock.

We heard that some movie critics planned to just “pop” in on Ebolusyon, but ended up staying till the end of the film—all 10 hours of it. It left them no time to screen other festival entries for that one day.

So, Paul, are you working on another film?

Good question— No, my most current “preoccupation” is revisiting my files of photographs. I am indexing and selecting for a book to be published in Spring 2006.


Tender scene between mother and son is filmed from different angles.
Lav Diaz (squatting, right) cues his actors while Paul Tañedo positions
the camera close-ups with Larry Manda.

That’s terrific! Congratulations! We wish you all the best. Last question: What is the most satisfying thing about this Ebolusyon experience?

It will take a long time for me to let go of the feeling that we actually completed the film. This film stretched all my capabilities, the experience affirmed how deeply I appreciate my wife and my family—how much more long lasting and satisfying is that!

Editor’s note: For reviews, festival schedule and cast details of Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang Pilipino, go to http://www.ebolusyon.com. OOV is grateful to  producer Paul Tañedo for providing the photo stills for this essay.

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