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Saving Saving Sally

by Charlene Sawit…
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

Most artistic endeavors begin like love affairs: you fall headlong into it, euphoric, perhaps even indulging yourself in notions that you've become part of something completely unique. But time passes, the stars in your eyes fade, and you begin to notice certain things about this great love of yours that drive you a little crazy. Arguments and compromises follow, and sometimes you find yourself wanting to be free of this situation you'd entered into so passionately - you wonder: Is it all worth it? And: Are we going to make it? 

This is what Avid Liongoren and I do these days, when we talk about Saving Sally, a feature film we've been working on for over half a decade: we speak in analogies. It somehow diffuses the vulnerability we feel about the project.

Saving Sally is a mostly lighthearted, kaleidoscope-colored film about two friends who dream of getting into the College of Fine Arts: one an aspiring comic book artist, the other a girl who makes robots out of bits of junk. It's a love story set in a dreamlike version of Manila, and there are monsters in it - some cute, some scary, and one that looks like a one-eyed penis. Avid is the director. I wrote the story that we eventually adapted into a screenplay with the help of writer-director Carlo Ledesma. The movie is a combination of live action and animation, shot partly against stylized, constructed sets and partly against a massive blue screen.

Editing on the film has long been finished, and the assets (background paintings and animated monsters) are about 95% done. Online compositing (the act of painstakingly combining and refining the animated and live-action elements, frame by frame) is at 10%. Other things that must be done is grading (enhancing the color of the film), scoring (music), recording sound effects and additional dialogue, and sound mixing. 

In other words, the film is currently in the home stretch stage of post production, and boy was it an odyssey for it to get there: after a ragtag first shoot, the film lost its original lead actress (Anna Laruccea), underwent grueling, almost year-long auditions and red tape to find a replacement (Rhian Ramos) and went through about a hundred script rewrites and a re-shoot of the entire movie. 

But all that's over now, and the final product will be a Frankenstein monster made from the input of all the good people who have worked on the film, who deserve not just a tip of the hat but on-our-knees sobs of gratitude. Avid says, "Almost all the cake ingredients have been made, what's left to do is the baking and frosting." 

So - what's still taking so long? 

First, a lack of manpower: Avid and his team of artists, who work in a tiny bungalow in Teacher's Village (nicknamed "Momohouse," after Avid's beloved pet mutt, the twitchy and nervous-eyed Momo) are basically five people doing the work of five hundred. Secondly, there's that boring, real-life detail that threads quietly through even the most artistic undertaking: money. Or lack of it. "Disney and Pixar movies take about 5 years to make, and they have castles full of money," Avid says. "Saving Sally has a flower pot of artsy worms."

To avoid post-production from slowing down, Avid has announced online that the film needs donations. On the film's official website (www.savingsally.com) visitors can find various options to donate to production, with corresponding rewards. Avid says that anyone who donates also receives "Our infinite gratitude across time and space, and a spiritual hug/high five combo." 

It was around 2008 when Alain de la Mata, a founder of French film distribution outfit Wild Bunch emailed Avid and said he saw bits of footage from Saving Sally's first shoot on the internet. Alain was on his way to a film festival in Asia, and said he was interested in dropping by Manila to speak about the possibility of co-producing the film. We refer to it as the pandesal-baguette collaboration. 

Some who have heard about the French involvement in Sally think that the French are pouring endless amounts of money into the film - but while nearly half the cost of Sally came from the combined pocket of Alain and a French Cultural grant, the other half - well, that's where the film needs help. 

 "Pinoy money does not go into French pockets," says Avid. "The money I raise goes into visuals, which Momohouse is responsible for. The French use their money for operations and sound." The French and Filipino teams work independently of each other - visuals in Manila, sound in Paris. 

But even in Paris, budgets are tight; in fact, the French team are doing their own fundraising - Hervé has created a Sally page on Touscoprod (the French equivalent of Kickstarter: http://www.touscoprod.com/en/project/produce?id=434), featuring lots of rewards and amusing guest posts from Avid.

Avid says Sally has had an indefinite completion date because its finances come in trickles - but if both teams are collectively able to raise 5 million by June, the film will be finished within the year, and playing in film festivals in the first quarter of next year. 

But Avid worries that with all these stories of technical and logistical difficulties, people might have unrealistically high expectations of what Saving Sally will look like. "It's not Avatar or Transformers. It's a simple-looking film with a really simple story."

Such cautious talk about the film is vintage Avid, his compulsive, somewhat superstitious safeguard against jinxing the whole damn thing. But I can relate, I guess-- we've come to regard the film the way you would a demanding, unpredictable lover who's banged your heart around a little too often, but who you secretly still care about deeply: we hold Sally at arm's length, and wish to sound like we're wiser and don't care as much, but the truth is that we do.

"Making art is like cooking an elaborate meal: you slave over something for hours in order for it to be served and eaten in around five minutes," muses Avid. "A film that takes years of work will be watched in around 90 minutes. But such is the ratio of creation and consumption."

So why do it? Who knows? Like any crazy love affair, it's at times an act of faith beyond explanation or common sense - and for it to have a chance of surviving, you have to commit and you have to believe. Which is probably why when someone actually manages to see it through, it's a source of I'll-be-darned wonder. For the people behind this strange little independent film, it will also be the kind of wonder and joy a person feels when they finally see their child emerge after a long, bloody, painful birth. 

Saving Sally is getting there.