2 Pinays work magic in Cruise film

LOS ANGELES—Two Filipinas, Maricel Pagulayan and Isabel Sumayao Henderson, hold key behind-the-scenes positions in Tom Cruise’s new film, “Valkyrie.”

Maricel, who was born and raised in the US but spent two years of high school in Maryknoll College in the Philippines, is visual effects (VFX in Hollywood lingo) producer. Isabel, who attended the University of the Philippines for a couple of years, is post-production supervisor.

We first met Maricel, a University of California, Berkeley graduate (Master of Fine Arts), at the American Film Institute. We interviewed her about her work as VFX production supervisor on “Superman Returns.” Her previous credits include “X2” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Maricel clarified that her late father, Luis Pagulayan, was from Cagayan Valley, Tuguegarao—not Cagayan de Oro, as we mentioned in our July 9, 2006 column. The VFX whiz’s mother, Ester Pagulayan, is from Cavinti, Laguna.

When we visited the set of “Valkyrie” in Berlin last year, we did not know that Maricel was also there working on this film directed by Bryan Singer, with whom she collaborated on “X2” and “Superman Returns.”

We met Isabel just recently at an advance screening of “Valkyrie,” which stars Tom, whom we featured in our column last Friday. The World War II drama-thriller is based on a true story about a daring attempt, led by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Tom), to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Isabel also donned the post-production supervisor’s hat on Keanu Reeves’ “Street Kings,” Joaquin Phoenix’s “We Own the Night,” Ice Cube’s “xXx: State of the Union” and Nia Vardalos’ “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Isabel was born in Naga City but her family moved to Manila when she was a year old. Her mother, the late Nelly Cortez Sumayao, was originally from Iriga; her father, Ricardo Sumayao, was born in Tondo. Isabel says, “He still lives in the Philippines, healthy at 82. He is the brother of Mila Ocampo (Snooky’s mom).”

Isabel studied at St. Joseph’s College from kindergarten to 7th grade, then got a scholarship to the Philippine Science High School.

“I was always interested in theater, television and films,” she Isabel revealed. “I worked on some plays starting in high school.” She began working on television as a production assistant for some shows on GMA 7. “Then I worked for other production companies, including Armida Siguion Reyna’s Aawitan Kita Productions. I was production unit manager on a couple of her TV series in the early ’80s, and some of the ‘Aawitan Kita’ specials. Later, I also worked on some films that she produced.”

When Isabel came to Los Angeles in the mid ’80s, her first employer was filmmaker Roger Corman. She started as a post PA/apprentice editor in his company. “A great learning experience,” she said.

Isabel met her husband, Clark Henderson, when he was sent by Roger to Manila to work on a film. “Clark is also in the post production business,” she said. “He now works as a key executive at Technicolor Creative Services, where they develop all these new digital processes for finishing films. He used to be senior vice president of post production at Miramax Films.”

Below are excerpts of our interview via e-mail with Maricel and Isabel.

Can you explain your jobs on “Valkyrie”?

MARICEL: My job is to manage the process of creating effects that are a visible, essential and integral part of the story. We understood on “Valkyrie” that, unlike visual effects-driven films like “Batman” or “Iron Man,” our effects play a supporting or background role but are nevertheless essential. We helped create the setting and mood of World War II Berlin. Col. Stauffenberg was injured in battle and lost his left arm and two fingers on his right hand. Our artists created computer-generated techniques to “remove” Tom Cruise’s real fingers/hand in a photo-realistic manner.

ISABEL: In pre-production, I assisted in the budgeting of post production departments, making deals for the rental of editorial equipment, setting up dailies screenings, etc. During principal photography, I was in Berlin for the last week of prep and the first week of principal photography to help set up editing rooms and organize the dailies workflow. Prior to the return of the production company to LA, I set up post production offices in LA and hired the necessary support crew.

The bulk of my work was in post-production in LA. Some of my tasks were to develop and implement the schedule to meet delivery date; supervise activities in the editing room; negotiate deals, hire artists and other necessary personnel, specially the sound editorial and mixing team; organize logistics for the music scoring—schedule the studio and orchestra, etc.

When the film was completed, I was in charge of delivering to the studio all the elements needed to create prints, video tapes, DVDs, soundtrack CDs, digital cinema packages, etc—in other words, everything the studio needed for marketing and distribution.
What were the challenges?

M: Continuity of “look” and execution is always a challenge. All the shots should look the same, regardless of Mr. Cruise’s performance. No shots of WWII Berlin should look out of place or call attention to themselves. Effects should be invisible to the audience.

I: There are always special challenges when you work on a film that is shot in another country. We had to make sure the dailies were delivered in a certain way so they will be compatible with our workflow in LA. Fortunately, because the producers brought me in early on, we were able to square away all the potential kinks.

Although this was not a VFX-heavy movie, the challenge posed by the movie’s protagonist being without a hand, an eye, and two fingers could not be discounted. Maricel did most of the “heavy lifting” on her end. Nevertheless, it gave us all a lot to think about.

We are constantly looking for better ways to finish our presentations—to make them technically better, and give the filmmakers the best tools we can afford to allow them to tell their story. And support comes in various forms—as mundane as making sure we get a good office, or as tough as finding the means and wherewithal to afford a big orchestral score.

How closely did you have to work with Tom Cruise?

M: We were on the set every day with Tom, to monitor how his performance affected the blending of live action with digital techniques.

I: Tom was a very active producer during post-production. He came to the cutting room several times. He worked very closely with the creative filmmaking team. I dealt with him directly a few times.

Since visual effects and post production are, in Maricel’s words, “usually tied at the hip,” how cool was it for both of you, two Filipinas, to be working together?

M: You’re right, it was a surprise … a rare opportunity in that we’re both Filipino and women. In some ways, it was easier to connect personally and have our relationship evolve professionally.

I: I didn’t give it much thought in the beginning. But at some point … I realized how cool it was that the two people who were to a large part responsible for overseeing the day-to-day progress of the film were these brown-skinned Filipinas amid a sea of white men and women. Someone called us the “Pinay mafia.” I thought that was funny.

This is your third movie with director Bryan Singer. How is working with him different from your previous collaborations?

M: This was much more a collaborative and intimate experience with Bryan. Unlike our previous films, where there were over 14 VFX facilities to communicate his direction, we only had one major facility for this film—Sony Imageworks and a couple of smaller houses. Bryan established high, historically accurate, photo-realistic expectations for us.

A woman and of minority race blazing this field of visual effects—are you reminded daily how this is perhaps an exception, rather than the rule?

I: There aren’t a lot of women minorities in post-production … I know of at least three women assistant editors who are Filipino or of Filipino descent. I know of one Filipina who works as a sound editor/sound supervisor. That’s not much when you consider how many people work in this business.

Do you see a shift in attitude toward women of color working in visual effects and other fields in Hollywood?

I: Hollywood has become more open to diversity in its workforce. I’d like to think that whatever discrimination there may have been is progressively being eliminated as [minorities] grow in number and become more knowledgeable in our chosen fields. One thing I can say about working in Hollywood today is that if you work hard and excel in your field, there will always be opportunities.

What is your advice to Filipinos and other members of minority groups who want to break into specialized fields?

M: Just keep working at your craft. The work is hard enough and you have to love what you’re doing. Take every opportunity to network. Be consistent, reliable and considerate, poised in your approach with others. Always thank all those who helped you along the way.

I: There is no substitute for hard work and continuous learning.

Article source: http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net

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