Glen Barit is a filmmaker from Tuguegarao City. His short film have won a number of awards, including the MMFF Best Student Short Film Awarda and the Cinemalaya NETPAC Jury Award. “Cleaners” is his first feature film.
Cleaners won Best Film, Best Screenplay and Audience Choice awards in QCinema International Film Festival. How proud are you of this success and how much do you think it will shape your future?
More than the awards, I’m more proud of the response the film has been getting. A lot of people have been messaging me, telling me how affected they are by it and how they also re-live their own high school experiences. I’m also proud of my team for believing in the project, even if we had a very little budget and a tight timeframe to make it work. I think we’re all still friends despite all that.
I hope the funding-people would notice the value in what regional filmmakers have been making, more. I hope they will give them more opportunities. I’ve noticed that it would not only benefit the filmmakers and film workers but it can tap the different regional artists (actors, musicians, etc.) as well, since filmmaking is an intersection of different art forms.
Why did you choose to place your stories in the specific period (2007-2008) and why did you place them in the school environment? Were you inspired by your own experiences?
My last year in high school was in the school year 2007-2008 (June to March). I chose that year because it was the period where you are licensed to be crazy and dumb but at the same time start to gain consciousness about the bleak world we are living in. Also, high school is just fun to remember once in a while.
I chose a school environment because in a school, the structures are clear. Especially if you came from a catholic school like ours, if you look back, some of the rules just don’t make any sense. You have strict and backwards religious dogma coupled with uptight school rules that in some ways nurture and develop proper morals but sometimes constrict us of our own healthy human growth.
Some of the scenes are loosely inspired by actual experiences from high school. When I was in elementary, I pissed myself in our classroom and I’ve always carried that memory with me. Going into high school, pooping in school was a taboo. And if you are that person, you will always be remembered by that incident in reunions years ahead. I’ve often wondered why, but it’s just a funny notion to me now. Also, some of the scenes are not my own but what I have witnessed from my classmates. We had an emo classmate, a youth council chairman, and a strict class president among others. The last scene was also loosely inspired by an actual experience when we were already done with classes. Three of us snuck back inside our classroom and did some crazy things. It was a nice end to a period in our youth. I will always treasure that memory.
Can you give us some details about the animation process of the film? Why did you choose to have the clothes of the protagonists in color and how did you achieve this?
The process we came up with is that we first shot it digitally. After our offline edit piclock, we then exported individual images at 8 frames per second. All of the frames here are individually timecoded and have a unique frame number count so we can trace and organize them properly. We then printed them in photocopy texture. Then, we
highlighted all the protagonists’ frames individually, manually. Then, we batch-scanned all the papers and finally assembled them all back in post.
In the parts where the highlighters were animated, what we did was we asked our animator friend to make us a guide. We then copied that guide, frame by frame.
Since the film is also inspired by the hand-painted version of “A Trip to the Moon” (Georges Melies), we wanted to emulate the same with our characters. Also it can show distinct individual stories that can push the collective feeling once the ending scene starts. From the isolated stories to a heightened and shared howl in the end. It is intended to show that even though they have these different struggles, they share the same pressures from society.
We employed 6 main highlighters to do it all painstakingly. We also had volunteer highlighters during weekends and off-times. It took a total of 23 days for the highlighting process.
The acting in the film is great. Can you give us some details about the casting process? How difficult was it to guide the teenage actors since they were amateurs?
We announced a casting call and posted them in different schools. At the same time, we also had a call for interns. Surprisingly, there were a lot who showed interested for both. Some we already know that they fit the part perfectly, some we had to test for chemistry and how good they are in interpreting the characters. A lot of them were smart and that also played a huge part in getting them. We also made some interested interns to try the parts, and some actually became part of the cast.
We had an acting workshop for 2 days. Those 2 days I think were enough. We did not want to make them too trained because the rawness might get lost. It was enough for us to understand where they are coming from and how to manage their acting (if they are over the top, or if they need to give more) once the shooting starts. They were all cooperative and our acting coach made them bond in a way that they feel that they are real classmates.
The scene with the girl who shits herself during dancing and the one where the boy circumcises himself are the most shocking in the film. Why did you decide to include them and how difficult were they for the actors?
I think it is in line with what the film is trying to say with what is real and raw regardless if it looks gross and gory. It is what it is, and if we self-censor, the point of the film might not be as strong. But of course, we had an R-13 rating so younger audiences would not be too daring.
Ianna (Stephanie) is a smart science student and she told me that she performed fecalysis a few times while she was in school, so it never bothered her. She told me that she is used to the smell of poop anyway haha. She was just perfect for the role. For Allan (Francis), we used prosthetics while shooting and he could clearly see in color that it was fake. The illusion is broken while filming because he can see how constructed the scene is. We both gave them the scripts beforehand and asked if it bothered them in anyway portraying them, but they both had no problems with it.
The last segment deals with political corruption. How was the situation back then in the Philippines and what are the difference with current politics.
I had a classmate who confessed to actual vote-buying during his run. He was the one who explained to me how the local SK elections work. It was a clear breeding ground for corruption and a stepladder for the young members of political dynasties.
The recent SK elections had reforms, they raised the age bracket higher and it had anti-dynasty policies. Sadly, vote-buying is still rampant and they say the money involved just became bigger. If this already happens on the youth level, it makes you think what more in the higher positions in our government.
The music in the film is one of its best parts. Can you give us some details about the way you picked the tracks?
The period of the film is an interesting one because we had a resurgence of OPM (Original Filipino Music) at that time. So I had a huge pool to choose from. There were a lot of hits back then that were era-defining. Sadly we had a budget constriction so I had to choose my own personal favorites. “Bakit Part 2” and “The Boston Drama” where my anthems during those times. I thought years ago that if I had to make a high school film, it’s impossible not to include those two. I also had to include music that was from my hometown to spotlight local artists. The introduction track is from Edru Abraham, a local, that has made his mark in founding a famous ethnic music and dance ensemble, Kontra-GaPi. The Pulis (Ibanag), the reggae song you hear while the two characters are vandalizing, is from a local band, EMILY’s band. It was a local hit in our hometown a few years back. The last song, “Apoy ng Kandila” is a recent personal favorite from UNIQUE, that I think just encapsulates the whole film in the end.
What is your opinion about the Filipino movie industry at the moment?
Sadly, we are at the mercy of theater owners and we have no laws to protect filmmakers and film workers. Our theaters are still dominated by Hollywood, and the small pie for national cinema is dominated as well by studios owned by conglomerates. There is no space for earnest and more important films that is why only a few watch our films. The filmmakers, most of the time, are its own audience. I do take pleasure in commercial films but at least give equal or at least more spaces for other kinds of films. Our lawmakers who came from the entertainment industry never give a shit.
Are you working on anything new?
I have a few concepts in mind but don’t have a strong one yet that I would gladly drown myself into. In the meantime, I am still in vacation mode (although I just stay at home) regaining back my sanity.