By EJ Mijares | Uncategorized

Oct 06

I was hired as a DOP (director of photography) for a Singaporean TV documentary. We stayed in Kalinga to film Apo Whang Od’s work as the oldest traditional tattoo artist along with the other elderly Kalinga and their culture. It’s a 1-hour docu which was scheduled to be filmed in a span of nine days. I knew right away that there will be hiking and mountain climbing involved. I had to prepare. I’m sharing with you some tips on shooting if ever you find yourselves filming in remote hinterlands. Some of these tips were gathered from past experiences while some are totally new.

  1. Travel light. I knew that there will be no production assistants (PA). Wala akong tagabuhat ng gears. There were only 5 of us in the team: two Pinoys (me as DOP and our line producer), 3 Singaporeans, the director, the producer, and the docu host. I only brought my small camera bag. It contained my 7D, one lens (14mm), and my clothes: 5 white shirts, 2 shorts, and 1 pair of pants. I didn’t even bring towels. Ayaw kong ma-hassle sa pagbubuhat ng maraming bagay. I was prepared to do the laundry just to minimize weight.

    This was before the trek up to Buscalan, Kalinga.


  2. Know what your crew will bring in terms of gears. The Singaporeans brought the filming equipment: camera (Canon C100), lenses, tripod, GoPro, Osmo, lapels, boom mics. Knowing the list ahead of time gave me a chance to plan ahead. Ano pa ba ang kailangan ko dalahin? Because I love shooting timelapse and I know na wala silang pang timelapse, I brought my Canon 7D and intervalometer.

    Two Pinoys and three Singaporeans.


  3. Think twice before bringing fancy gears / toys / rigs – I brought my spider rig. Big mistake. It was cumbersome and I didn’t get to use it. I tried to use it on the first day but I eventually abandoned it. I didn’t bring a glidecam, slider, or crane because, in this type of work, bringing toys will divide our attention and distract us from the more important stuff like storytelling. The one thing that was very useful for me was my DIY cinesaddle. It’s like a pillow with micro foam beads inside; a mini bean bag you may call it. It proved to be very useful in tight situations where a tripod was too much to carry.

    I wouldn’t travel without my trusty DIY mini bean bag.


  4. Bring something to munch on. I brought 2 small bags of walnuts and a small bag of chocolate candies. On the last day, we were supposed to descend from the mountain. We hiked for 2 hours while some of our gears were loaded in a tram, which eventually broke down so our gears got stuck. We had to wait until way past noon before porters were able to return our gears to us. The bag of nuts and candies saved us from starving.

    Lunch break at a local farmer’s house. This is also where we slept for a couple of nights.


  5. Consider cultural differences. When working with foreigners, it is important to practice extreme care and patience. I was lucky that the Singaporean team was very professional and we got along really well. There’s also the culture of the locals. Study their traditions beforehand. I was filming Whang Od while she was feeding her pigs and she later went inside her house, taking off her slippers. Big dilemma. I wanted to follow her while filming continuously but my rubber shoes were tightly laced. I decided not to enter out of respect to their custom. Nung may chance na, saka ko na hinubad yung sapatos ko. I followed her as she went in and out of the house. Wala na akong sapatos kahit putikan yung labas.

    “Saan ko mapapanood yang gawa ninyo?” – Whang Od. “Ngayon po Apo pwede nyo na mapanood.” – EJ


  6. Enjoy the scenery. On our way to a mountain village, we chanced upon a beautiful waterfall. Some local kids were swimming. I asked the director if we can take a 15 minute break and he said yes. Guess what? I used the break to plunge into the water and swim with the locals. Happy times. Twice, I got up from bed really early to watch the sunrise. One cannot chance upon these beautiful scenes in the city. Of course I filmed timelapse while admiring the sunrise over the mountains.

    Timelapse of a rice paddy.


  7. Prepare to multitask. As stated earlier, we did not have assistants. The director was holding the lens bag, handing me lenses on my command. In his own words; he was my “lens slave.” I worked as a cameraman and as a soundman. It was difficult but it was better than having to deal with more crew.

    Director, me, host, Whang Od, and our local interpreter.


  8. Break language barriers. Not understanding the local language, in this case Kalinga, was a real challenge. Translations had to be facilitated during and after filming. But there are ways to communicate without using words; use your body language and your facial expressions. A smile can make all the differences. In one of the scenes that we filmed, a 102 year old lady started singing. We couldn’t understand the words but we could feel the emotion. Then the Singaporean host sang in Mandarin. The scene was magical.Remember that bag of goodies? I gave some to a group of local kids and in return I got instant smiles. The footage I filmed of them afterward was priceless.

    Tak Ay, the 102 yr old lady undresses without hesitation to show her tattoos.



    Traveling + learning + adventure + filmmaking is really one of the best formulas for fun that anybody can have. Happy shooting!

    P.S. Do you still have those videos from your previous travels? Finally make that travel video you’ve been thinking about! Click here.

About the Author

A graduate of the UP Film Institute, EJ has directed award winning documentary films tackling issues of environment and society. He has further studied advanced documentary filmmaking under German, French and Dutch filmmakers in various workshops and specialized courses organized by Goethe Institute-Manila and Goethe Institut-Hanoi. EJ also directs commercials, advertisements and corporate image films. EJ has filmed hundreds of weddings when he became an owner of a wedding film studio in 2010-2012. This was when he dreamed of a Videography School that offers special courses for budding artists.

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