To the south-east of Manila is Cebu, an island province, made up of the main island itself and 167 surrounding islands and islets. Waverly Pictures is a Cebu-based motion picture company, its first feature-length film is Waves, a romantic drama about unfulfilled relationships. Balancing commercial viability with artistic aims was key for the project as the aim was not just to tell the story within the film but to use the film as a vehicle to shift the geographic concentration of film making out to the director’s home region and the surrounding areas. Waves is shot on location in Palawan and Cebu. The cinematography also succeeds in showcasing the region’s idyllic geographies and the potential the area has not only for tourism but as a production location for film.
Below Don Frasco, the director of Waves and founder of Waverly Pictures talks about his experience of independent filmmaking in the Philippines and the goal of developing narrative film production in Cebu.
What’s the story behind creating Waverly Pictures, and the first feature film – Waves?
In early 2012, when I got back to Cebu from New York, I was excited to shoot narrative projects locally and be part of and contribute to the local scene. I was somewhat dismayed by the unavailability of projects and general lack of film culture. While there is certainly a small developing filmmaking community in Cebu, it really lacks sufficient support both from the government and society in general. People end up focusing on ads, corporate videos, and wedding videos instead - just to sustain themselves.
When Cebu filmmakers do get to do narrative films, it’s usually entirely independent with production schedules spanning months only shooting during availability of extra money for the production budget, or when local filmmakers get grants from Manila - where the Philippine filmmaking scene is mainly at. The grants however are quite low, typically at one million Philippine pesos (around £15,000) and the turnaround requirement to complete the film is quite short as well.
I wanted to help out a bit more and decided to start Waverly Pictures. Initially I contemplated whether to use the financial resources I had access to to purchase film equipment and make it available to local filmmakers at decent rates, or to shoot a film and hopefully help push Cebu filmmaking forward a little bit. As a movie is the most basic product out of the film industry, I decided to develop and produce Waves.
At this point, Waverly Pictures is the only production company in Cebu exclusively focused on narrative filmmaking. Waves is its first project. Hopefully it opens up opportunities for future film projects here. At the moment, it’s hard, but filmmaking’s only in its infancy here. We’re hoping it’ll change.
The technical aspects of filmmaking were a strong consideration in choosing the romance genre. I wanted to do something technically simple that would also highlight the Philippine’s paradisiacal locations - minimal cast, no fight choreography, isolated island locations, etc. With the limited production budget and the logistical challenge of travelling by land, air and sea, the crew had to be small and the cast had to be minimal. With that and the reality that I needed to produce, direct and photograph it myself to keep things in motion and in budget, production had to be technically simple and realistic. A romantic drama felt like the right fit.
About the choice in stars, I think Baron Geisler is one of the better actors in Philippines and we had the opportunity to give him a character different from what he typically portrays (the bad guy/antagonist). The intention to cast a foreign actress was also partly to drive the dialogue to be mainly in English, which I thought would help the movie be accessible to a larger audience than just Filipinos. Americans dislike reading subtitles and mainly prefer English-spoken movies, for example.
We developed the script around those guidelines and limitations.
What is film spectatorship like in the Philippines generally?
Film spectatorship in Philippines is decent I suppose. We do however have a different view towards films. Generally people see it as a form of entertainment, and unfortunately nothing else. Serious dramas with deeper subject matters or arthouse films which tend to be more explorative about certain topics don’t tend to do so well commercially, whether they are local or from elsewhere.
What has the reaction to the film and the film making process been like in Cebu?
The reaction so far seem more inclined to positive I think. I’m happy that people tell me that we were able to accomplish a higher quality of cinema. I don’t think I can be objective about it though. Some local blogs did write a few things about it. You can check them out here: http://www.waverlypictures.com/pressmedia
What are your hopes for the future of Waverly Pictures?
I hope Waverly Pictures can keep its focus on producing quality feature-length films or episodic shows here in Philippines, mainly in Cebu, whether it’d be full-on local productions or international co-productions looking to utilize Philippines as a location or those looking to explore Philippine culture. I do believe that films have a great impact on society and its culture so it’s important to me that we’re able to have a healthy one here in Cebu. Cebu City has been very progressive lately. I hope it has room for the arts to grow.
More information about Waves and Waverly Pictures can be found on their site here