Local filmmaker Frank E. Flowers was over the moon when a film he co-wrote was nominated for a BAFTA award last week.
The crime-thriller film “Metro Manila” garnered a nomination for Best Film Not in the English Language at the EE 2014 British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the United Kingdom.
“I heard the news, snapped a picture of the BAFTA website for my Instagram page, then went to bed,” Flowers said.
The Caymanian writer and director was sitting in bed when he first heard the news, while his 11-year-old daughter was fast asleep. He remembers feeling “overwhelmed with joy and incredibly proud.”
Flowers co-wrote the film with Oscar-nominated director and friend Sean Ellis and it was produced on what some might call a “shoestring budget.” The producers were able to raise just enough money for a 35-day shoot.
“The film was really near and dear in our hearts. It was kind of like the ‘little train that could,’ so we were really pleased that it got nominated for such a prestigious award, being on such a small budget,” Flowers said.
The film received a rating of 100 percent based on 22 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes website in December 2013.
The film started with a fight
The first sparks of the original screenplay ignited when director Ellis was on vacation, visiting a friend in Manila. He witnessed a surprising event where two employees of an armored truck company were fighting. The men were screaming at each other “in full combat mode with M16 guns, bulletproof jackets and Kevlar helmets,” Ellis said.
The scene ended with one of the men kicking the truck before the other drove away, but the confrontation remained vivid in the director’s imagination. “I kept on wondering what they were arguing about. And if an idea keeps coming back, it’s a story that’s important enough to pursue,” Ellis said.
Ellis traveled back to his home in the U.K. where the idea percolated for 18 months until he wrote a 20-page synopsis based on the scene he witnessed by the truck. Shortly after, he flew to Los Angeles to meet with an old friend, Frank E. Flowers.
The writing process
The pair worked virtually nonstop for two weeks on a script that would be the basis of the independent film. Flowers and Ellis hashed out the first draft in just under a month. “The first draft is always the most fun – that’s when you get to play around with the characters, exploring all the twists and turns, and really just throwing your ideas out there,” Flowers said.
He says rewriting is the hardest part about being a screenwriter.
“Sometimes I will rewrite a scene a dozen times and it still isn’t quite right. This turned out to be a quick write, though. We ended up writing the script in just under a month and production started two or three weeks afterwards. I feel like a lot of my writing abilities come from my roots in Cayman. All of the best storytellers I’ve ever met are Caymanian; it’s part of our culture,” he said.
The script wasn’t complete, but along with faith and passion, it was enough for Ellis to travel to the Philippines to see if it was possible to finance a project there.
The film was shot with a stripped-down documentary approach to reduce costs and a cast and crew of all Filipino nationals. While Flowers wished he could have traveled to the Philippines to experience Manila firsthand, he felt like he was there with the cast and crew, as Ellis sent him pictures daily.
The Caymanian and British counterparts wrote the script entirely in English, but it was directed in Tagalog, the language used in everyday life in the Philippines.
“I just couldn’t imagine going to the Philippines and making a film there where the actors spoke English. Great films always transcend their subtitles. I had to at least aim in the same direction, otherwise risk the film’s authenticity,” said Ellis.
The Filipino actors translated the film themselves, and although Ellis didn’t understand the language, he said the process of working in Tagalog became all about the rhythm of dialogue, not words. “I became acutely aware of subtext – what people don’t say is far more interesting than what they do say,” Ellis said.
Drawing on personal experience
As a basis for his writing, Flowers drew from the personal experiences of Filipino employees at Flowers Bottled Water in Grand Cayman who lived in Manila before moving to the Cayman Islands.
“I used some of their experiences to draw inspiration for the characters. There’s a certain honor and pride that people from the Philippines bring with them when they move to another country and I wanted to capture that,” Flowers said.
The film struck a chord on a personal level for the Caymanian writer.
“I know a lot of people who have done bad things in the past, and have gotten arrested, but that doesn’t make them ‘bad’ people. This film explores that inner struggle through the main protagonist, Oscar Ramierz, who goes back and forth between wanting to do the right thing and being forced to lower his moral standards to survive,” Flowers said.
The two writers worked harmoniously, each complementing the other,
“Sean and I worked organically together. I have to give him most of the credit, he has a genius when it comes to capturing visuals, he really did an amazing job with turning my words into something stunning to the eyes. He brought my words to life,” Flowers said.
“The film differed from writing ‘Haven’ in a lot of ways,” he said, referring to the 2004 movie he penned and directed, “but mainly because the solitude part of it was taken out. It’s always nice to have someone there to suffer with you through every re-write!”
Tips for aspiring screenwriters
“You have to love what you do because you’re going to be working constantly if you ever want to succeed. You must be willing to put your work out there, and if people don’t like it, you still have to muster the courage to keep writing. Nothing is a guaranteed. Sometimes it takes 10 years or more to become a success in this field, so remember not to give up,” Flowers said.
What’s next for Flowers?
The filmmaker, son of local businessman Frank Flower, will jet off to the BAFTA awards ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House on Feb. 16.
“Hell, yes, I’m going! I wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “This is such a huge milestone and an honor. I can’t believe it’s only a few weeks away. I’m already looking into tickets, I can’t wait.”
Flowers said he’s hoping “Metro Manila” will screen in Grand Cayman, “but nothing has been decided yet.”
“We would definitely love to have a screening at some point in the near future,” he said.
He is working currently on a film due to shoot in the spring with producers Holly Wiersma and Cassian Elwes. He is represented by entertainment management groups, UTA and Brillstein Entertainment Partners, which also represents stars such as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.