If you haven't heard of Cinemalaya's Ang Nawawala, you must be terribly disconnected. This indie flick about a young man (Gibson Bonifacio played by Dominic Roco) who has elected to be mute after seeing his twin brother die has been Cinemalaya 2012's runaway success, making a ton of noise across the web and beyond. The film, which depicts the local indie music scene and the strained relationships in an upper class Filipino family, has a rich set of characters that makes the story thrum with so much life and personality.
We all know that a lot can be uncovered by style and aesthetics; the audience understands, learns more about, and reacts to the characters in a flick by looking at the way they are visually presented. Styling, of course, plays a huge part in this, and in Ang Nawawala, we get numerous cues about what makes each character tick from the way they dress, from Gibson's laidback preference for thrifted long-sleeved shirts, Enid's (Annicka Dolonius) boot-preferring, hipster chick style, Wes's (Buboy Garovillo) colorful bow ties and vests, to Esme's (Dawn Zulueta) floral, breezy dresses. Some ensembles reflect the characters' personalities directly, while some act as a foil.
We've spoken to the director of Ang Nawawala, Marie Jamora, and its stylist, Mara Reyes, about the styles of the characters in the movie and how these reflect their personalities, and about the two's collaborative, creative process. Read on to find out what they had to say.
How would you describe the personal style of the characters from Ang Nawawala?
Mara: Each character has their own distinct style. Marie and I were going for the French and British New Wave look. Well, at least that was the direction that we were going for, a very Wes Anderson take.
How did you prescribe the styles to the characters? Are their styles a direct reflection of their personalities?
Marie: Mara and I have worked together for a couple of years now, on music videos as well as commercials, and we have developed a work process where I would show her a keynote presentation-slash-idea board and she would make it better as well as make it come to life. We met in early February even if our shoot was in March because I knew I wanted her to start scouring ukay-ukays for clothes, knowing our limited budget. From the scriptwriting process, there were already things I knew I wanted in terms of how the characters dressed.
The main idea was Iconic Costumes: French New Wave meets British New Wave. I had been watching a strange mix of 1960s French films along with 1980s American films, but when I was looking for clothing references, I would also search through 1990s Britpop, so I realized that I wanted an amalgam of that.
Why this line of styling? Most of my directing for the film has been an organic process: where my insides would dictate to me if something is right or wrong. This direction just felt right for me. I wanted our costumes to be this way because, in having different eras of clothing that cannot be pinpointed to The Now, then it becomes timeless. I told Mara that I love John Hughes characters and Wes Anderson characters because of their iconic outfits: you can put on a leopard vest for Halloween and people will get that you're Ferris Bueller. I saw a guy who dressed like Bjorn Borg in Comic Con, and I yelled to him, "Richie Tenenbaum!" We even have a deleted scene in the film where one of the characters is dressed like Duckie from Pretty in Pink.
In my keynote presentation, I also had photographs of the actor along with a range of photos of how I wanted their character to dress and how I believed their hair should be, all coming from two weeks of research and gut feel. I encouraged Mara to pick and choose what she liked and to use this as a jumping off point to the eventual look for each character. For Dawn Zulueta, our presentation for her even had paintings I'd found that inspired me for the character, along with her hair and make-up references.
With regards to the deeper meanings of how each character is dressed, I don't usually like to spell out the reasons for doing what we did. I like to keep the reasons to myself and let you, the audience, put your own meaning into the film and into the wardrobe. The worst thing I can do is to limit the possible interpretation by putting in my own intentions for the film. I would be doing you viewers a disservice.
Mara: Sort of a direct reflection of their personalities. Dom/Gibson’s character is very Michael Cera, geeky clothes, like a person who doesn’t really care about what he wears, mostly vintage looking clothes, like how his tops are all literally mostly vintage finds. Each character’s style should reflect their personality.
Why does Boboy Garrovillo's character wear bow ties throughout the film? Are his clothing choices meant to represent his cheerful and idealistic personality?
Mara: The point of each characters' sort of weird way of dressing represents their personality. Marie wanted each character’s look [to be] something you can wear [to] costume parties and Halloweens, like how you can go to a Halloween party and be Boboy’s character. So if you wear a funny tie and a vest, people who know the film would get it. Something like that.
How was it like working with the film's cast? You've got a star such as Dawn Zulueta, and younger talents such as Dominic Roco and Annicka Dolonius—did they have any specific requests as to how they should be dressed up in the course of the film?
Marie: In one of the earliest meetings with each of the actors, I'd ask each of them if they were sponsored by anyone and if they were required to wear anything. I'd ask them this because I knew that I wanted to design a look for each of them from scratch, which included their hairstyles (a lot of the cast got their hair cut specifically for the role. For example, Alee Benson and Pia Reyes helped design and create Enid's hairstyle.)
Fortunately, the actors all told me that they could wear anything or that we could do anything with them. We even had wardrobe fitting days, in which Mara and I decided on all the outfits for all the characters in advance, so that we would have an easier time with continuity on the set. Gibson has around 18 outfits we had to decide on! In the case of Ms. Dawn, Mara and I presented to her our vision for Esme, and she and her hair and makeup team (Janet and Leo) agreed and worked with us 100% to achieve the look. With the clothes, we went to Ms. Dawn's teleserye set and had her fit some of the dresses. She made great comments about the color palette of her character (because some of the clothes had colors that were too bright for her character's current state of mind), so we ended up with dresses with more muted colors.
Mara: It was awesome working with them. They're all different. Most of them really didn’t care about what they were gonna be wearing. They just followed whatever we made them wear. I mean I guess after they read the whole script and everything, they'd get why I made them wear those kind pf stuff.
Dom had to wear longsleeves and layerings all the time, he never really complained, but you can tell from his face that he’d rather wear short sleeves and stuff, but he can't since we had to cover up all his tats, which is a big concern. It was extra harder for me to look for clothes since I had to take consideration of that.
What can you say about the success of Ang Nawawala?
Marie: In my wildest dreams, I didn't expect to win the Cinemalaya Audience Choice award or to sell out our screenings. Even seeing people tweet their thoughts and feelings about the film makes me happy. All I wanted was to make the film I wanted to make without any compromises. And I think my team and I got to do that together. To have so many people react well to it is icing on the cake. What my producers and I are working on now is to get the film to a wider release, so that more people can watch our labor of love.
Mara: Freakin' awesome. I like how everyone talks about it and how it was trending on Twitter. Hahaha. Marie is awesome. The films rocks. What I love about this film is that the wardrobe is a really big part of the whole thing. I like how Marie pushes styling into the characters, from Gibson’s calculator Casio, to Marc Abaya’s wig. Haha!
To find out more about Ang Nawawala, visit www.angnawawala.com.