Ecuador in Disguise

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by Locked Up Abroad Production Team

Monday 22nd March 2010
The first day of the shoot, and the whole crew have travelled out to spend a week in the jungle. We have chosen to shoot in Ecuador, where we have a good relationship with local production company, and have found a great rainforest location five hours drive from the capital Quito. The first shots are of our actors walking over a bridge as they set off on their jungle trek – the bridge sways with every step, and has planks missing half way across – but no one seems too worried by the water rushing below. Next, the actors are loaded into a canoe and we film them travelling downriver. I tested some boats yesterday and opted for the widest and most stable option, but it’s still a bit wobbly. With instructions to keep their centre of gravity low, they set off, but the back of the boat catches on an overhanging branch, and they almost capsize. The water is only a few feet deep, but their reaction is for real – they finally stabilize and come ashore laughing, wanting to know if the camera was rolling – it was, and the footage will look great!

Tuesday 23rd March 2010
Today we are filming all the scenes set in indigenous villages; we have found one large Quichua village which will become three small villages on screen. The villagers have agreed to act as extras and enthusiastically embrace their roles waving machetes and shouting wildly as the actors approach the “first” village; the local shamen, who is playing the chief, calms them down very effectively. Later in the day, just round the corner, we film many of the same people welcoming the actors to the “second” village with warm handshakes and smiles. In the evening, we film a tribal gathering in the large thatched hut that is the village meeting house. With just a flickering fire for light, the scenes are incredibly atmospheric. We end the day by burning the village down – in reality burning a hut that has been especially built for us and placed safely away from any other buildings. Extras dressed as para-military soldiers carry flaming torches and as the flames rise into the night sky, we know we have a powerful climax for the film.

Wednesday 24th March 2010
Today, we are back at the village filming in the sole concrete building amongst the thatched huts – it’s a school, but we have transformed it into a police station for the day with the addition of fencing and barbed wire. Time is tight as we have a helicopter booked today; we have it for a limited period but manage to fit in a scene in which it lands and a police commander emerges, and get the cameraman up to film some aerial shots of the jungle that surrounds us. In the afternoon, we film the scenes when Mark and his companions run out of water; it involves extracting water from a bamboo – which luckily the man we have cast as a local guide knows how to do. He explains that the water will run for just a few minutes, so we only have one go at this. The machete is wielded and water does spurt out – amazing – the scene is shot super fast.

Thursday 25th March 2010
It’s the day we will film the ambush; we have a number of long and fairly complicated scenes to do today that will form the heart of the film – the moment when Mark and his companions are kidnapped. We have recruited some men from the local village to act as guides and some people from the nearest town to be para-military soldiers. The guy who plays the AUC squad leader “blue feather” is the singer of a local reggae band – he was great in the auditions, and today gives a very intense performance. With lots of Spanish speaking extras to handle, things slow down, but we are up against the clock – the actor who is playing Victor has a theatre engagement tonight, and so we have to finish on time. It’s a push, but we manage the last scene – Victor being dragged off by the soldiers – just in time.

Friday 26th March 2010
Today, we film the scenes where Mark and his companions are holed up with the young para-military soldiers in the jungle. We’ve recruited teenaged extras, who do look really young, and quite incongruous with their prop guns. Mid morning, it starts to rain. We have been dreading this all week – it does rain a lot in the rainforest – but mostly at night, and we have been lucky so far. But this is really torrential, and lasts all afternoon as we shoot a column of soldiers marching through the jungle and up a ridge. With 15 crew, 3 actors and 25 extras all soaked through, we consider postponing the final scene and calling it a day. But finally the rain eases, and we roll out a huge sheet of plastic for everyone to lie on as we film the scene where Mark sleeps surrounded by soldiers. Lying in a heap pretending to sleep seems to relax everyone, and we are all in good spirits by the time we wrap.

Saturday 27th March 2010
Our final day in the jungle and we are filming all the scenes that lead up to Mark’s release. We start the day in the graveyard – which the art department have created with wooden crosses on the edge of a village, the weather is foggy and the scene works well. Then we set about making 25 extras look like hundreds of soldiers on the local football pitch, clever camera angles will hopefully do the trick as we don’t have the budget for CGI. In the afternoon, we film the scenes on the river bank where Mark is humiliated by the para-military commander. The local actor we have found to play the commander is fantastic and the extras seem to really enjoy all the laughing they are asked to do. With just one final scene to go, we race off to find a good stretch of road, we are running out of light. Just as the sun goes down, we film Mark and his companions driven off into the distance. It’s a wrap in the jungle.

Tuesday 30th March 2010
We are back in Quito for two days shooting; everyone has had a days rest and it’s a relief to escape the heat, humidity and voracious insects that plagued us in the jungle. Today we film the scenes where Mark meets Robert and Megan. These scenes are small and intimate, with very few extras, and everything goes very smoothly. In the afternoon we film the scenes at the US embassy – it’s actually an empty university building, but the addition of some stars + stripes has transformed it. The extra playing the FBI man turns out to have worked in counter terrorism, and so he has plenty of experience of this kind of thing. At the end of the scene Mark collapses, and we clear the set to allow our actor the chance too recreate his emotional state. He pulls it off, and we are all quiet as we contemplate how serious the consequences of this story are.

Wednesday 31st March 2010
The last day of the shoot and we are filming the beginning and the end of the film. The actors playing Robert and Megan have left and it feels like a very small team today. We start off at “Colorado University” – actually a sports ground where we have extras running around the track as Mark contemplates his future. We get our actor drawing doodles of Che Guevara in his notebook – it’s lucky that he can draw. We end the day in a park overlooking Quito, which apparently looks very similar to Bogata, the capital of Colombia. The view should be spectacular, but the clouds are low and it starts to rain. It’s strangely appropriate for the scene, Mark’s one day in Colombia contemplating his journey, and so we decide to continue to shoot. As we wrap, a downfall sends us running to the vans laughing. Everything is in the can, now the edit takes over.

Locked Up Abroad Panama premieres August 4th at 10P et/pt.