Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cecille Baun interview (2014)

Mananangaal Queen of Quezon City: The Life and Bloodlines of Cecille Baun

[Catalogue notes for a Cecille Baun exhibition, Quezon City’s QCinema International Film Festival, October 2014]

If there's a prosthetics' equivalent of Santa's Workshop in the Philippines, it must surely exist in Wiltor Heights, a subdivision off Congressional Avenue in Quezon City.

At the back of a smart three-storey home is a high-ceilinged work space. To the right is an outdoor area where wooden racks stacked with bodies, limbs and plaster skeletons compete for space with row after row of helmets and boots from Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986). Inside the workshop, the head, torso and enormous black wings of a Mananangaal resembling a demented, fanged Michael Jackson casts its shadow from the ceiling.

Into the building walks a tiny, immaculately groomed and polite lady approaching her 80th year. She takes your hand in hers, beams a warm and inviting smile, and offers you coffee and a respite from the latex and clay carnage surrounding you.

It's hard to comprehend that this sweet little lady is in fact the Philippines' own Queen of Gore, the mastermind behind the bloodcurdling monsters, mangled faces, piles of fake corpses, evil charred babies, bullet-riddled bodies and fountains - no, make that geysers - of fake blood.

Cecille Baun is THE pioneer in an industry that could barely acknowledge the area of prosthetics and special makeup, let alone train a person to an international standard. When you look at the rich history of fantasy and effects-based cinema in the Philippines, such a statement seems false, considering the inspired work of such figures as Richard Abelardo, the Hollywood-trained production designer responsible for the LVN spectacles Ibong Adarna (1941) and Aladin (1946), and Tommy Marcelino, special photographic effects master behind the flying scenes, spaceships and giants in Darna, not to mention the body-splitting Mananangaals in Dugo Ng Vampira (1969).

Cecille's magnificent clay bust of the late King of Comedy, Dolphy, sits in pride of place on her work bench, a conical Chinese hat perched cheekily atop the iconic features. His hardened face is evidence of the basis of countless latex contortions and evidence of one of Cecille's first projects assisting the older prosthetics master Ernie Carvajal with Dolphy's rubber nose in Cyrano At Roxanne (1973). Her mutually lucrative association with Dolphy continued throughout their careers, the high point without question being his four roles in the award-winning Omeng Satanasia (1977), in which Cecille's talents transformed Dolphy from middle age into an old man AND a gay Devil. In one scene, three of Dolphy's characters appear within the one complicated setup. "What we did, I had to copy his face to the brother Georgie [Quizon], because he looks like him, then the other on another person. All cheating, the effects!"

Face cast of dimunitive actor Weng Weng

Mounted on wire frames on the walls above the clay Dolphy is Cecille's face mask collection: literally hundreds of clay faces Cecille has personally cast in plaster comprising the mainstay of the Philippines' film industry. Her vast collection outgrew her former space in Caloocan in 2000, where her two daughters Marie and Chat ("my shadow") assisted. I'm cast in plaster and perched somewhere near Weng Weng. Fernando Poe Jr, too, is on Cecille's wall of fame, a souvenir of her work on Patayin Si ... Mediavillo (1978). "He has a disguise that I made, I make him like an old man. Then he asked me, 'Why do I still look like me?' I said, 'Change your hair do!' Because when there's a fight scene, he always wants to keep that hair well combed like that!"

There was no How-To Manual for Cecille's chosen field. And so Cecille trained herself, largely through experimentation and possessing a vivid (some might say twisted!) imagination, and the results have been nothing short of astounding. It's no hyperbole to state that, over the course of five decades as the leading prosthetic artist working on local and international productions, she has literally and figuratively transformed the face of Philippine cinema forever.

Cecille with her snake-god ZUMA (1985)

Had the Fates not conspired, Cecille's life may have taken an altogether different path. It was 1970 - housewife Cecille had just graduated from a Cosmetology school and was caring for her youngest baby - when tragedy struck. Her husband, a large and loving man with the US Military, was buying a plot of land for the family in Pagsanjan. "The uncle of my husband called and said don't bring money," recalls Cecille. "I told him not to go there any more." Local criminals had targeted him, believing he was carrying large sums of cash for the land deal. His car was stopped by hoods in San Carlos, and he was shot several times.

Cecille was suddenly alone to provide for herself and her five children. "I can still feel him. Even when I am lying down, I can feel his presence."

Circumstances forced Cecille to be inventive. "I was planning to put up a beauty parlour, even in the small house where I lived. After that it so happened that I joined Beautiful - before there was a Beautiful makeup business here. When I was working for the Beautiful I was assigned to Repertory Philippines to do the makeup, and we were given a per diem treatment. When I don't have to work with the stage makeup, I used to sell Beautiful products, going to all kinds of places where I can sell the products of Beautiful. Then after that I was recommended to work with…first film I did was with Cindy Pickett, Pilar Pilapil, Those Days In The Sun - I was the hair dresser then of Cindy Pickett. After that I was given another American film, but I have to do the bite of a vampire - I was given only a little prosthetics training! I grew from doing those things, up til now. I am doing much of the effects within me. I don't have to look at the book then, I grew up with that kind of 'trial and errors'."

After working on number of stage productions, TV commercials and photo shoots, Cecille found herself on the set of Night Of The Cobra Woman (1972), a co-production between Roger Corman's New World Pictures and local producer Cirio Santiago's Premiere Productions. The film stars statuesque black actress Marlene Clark as a World War 2 nurse transformed by a possessed cobra's bite into an ageless Snake Goddess. Cut to 1972, and pretty American UNICEF scientist Joanna (the playfully-named Seventies starlet Joy Bang) is researching snake venom in the Philippines when her boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett) arrives to keep her company. Her stories of a remote hut in the Antipolo hills and a seemingly ageless snake handler named Lena and her cobra companion named Movini intrigue him, and he stumbles on a now horribly-aged Francisca, her mutant hunchbacked son Lope (also a cockeyed Diaz), and Movini's fangs injecting its elixir of living death into his veins. Now Lena's lover and companion, and hopelessly hooked on Lena's venom, Duff seeks out victims for her insatiable lust for young males' life force, leaving her victims drained and prune-faced while she sloughs off her rubbery old skin.

"I had to make up snakes, all over her. I put the real snakes, not the fake ones! I had to put the firings on the neck of the snakes like that, and the makeup for the snakes, we had to put a little like that, like scales, on Marlene Clark, our leading lady. Whenever she's not successful in her plan, then she would become a snake woman."

You did her snake-eye makeup? "The eye makeup, and the little scales, as it goes. If in the picture, then I used to do props of that, a little, but not the whole body only here (points to face) or on the boobs, and then the eyes, the contact lens. They had to bring it here [from the States], we didn't have that before."

Local films soon followed, including regular work with pop sensations Elwood Perez and Joey Gosiengfiao, through their Sine Pilipino and Juan de la Cruz productions. Now considered a lost film, Lipad, Darna, Lipad! (1973) was groundbreaking, not only in its highly camp self-awareness and pure pop-culture-meets-European-arthouse sensibility, but in its directors' thoughtful application of special effects and prosthetics. Carvajal and Cecille transformed perennial bad girl Celia Rodriguez into Darna's snake-domed nemesis Valentina like never before in the series' previous three decades; likewise, Gloria Romero morphed into Impakta, and Liza Lorena became Babaeng Lawin. Cecille would continue her association with Darna in Darna And The Giants (1973) and Darna vs The Planet Women (1975), both starring Lipad…'s Vilma Santos, and the rebooted Darna (1991).

"I enjoy so much working on Darna, because I have lots of episodes. In one film I was doing all of it - sometimes I do the makeup also, sometimes I do the effects. At that time there was not much production design, only costume and makeup. So I made already prosthetics of the different enemies of Darna, for example Darna and Valentina, Darna and the Giants, and I made up Helen Gamboa into an outer space alien, then the head was blown out. The effects man forgot, but that's my head, we worked with. All the prosthetics there, I did."

In Sine Pilipino's similarly madcap, multi-storied and multi-director follow-up Zoom, Zoom, Superman (1973) starring Ariel Ureta in the title role, Gina Pareno undergoes a Planet Of The Apes-styled facelift from Cheetah the chimpanzee to giant gorilla Kangkong, while Celia Rodriguez goes bald as The Spider Woman. With a greater emphasis on photographic and prosthetic effects, Perez, Gosiengfiao and their cohorts were forcibly lifting the bar with regards to the quality of local films. "The director Elwood Perez said, set up the table, he wants more prosthetics, we can do it! We are brave to do it, because we can do the idea, how to do it. So after that, every time we make a movie, it's growing, growing, growing with prosthetics. We reach the fullness of prosthetics locally." One could also argue that local cinema became a lot smarter in general after Sine Pilipino.

I asked Cecille why there was no prosthetics guru to learn from? "As far as I know, there was a man that started it," she said, evidently talking about her problematic association with Ernie Carvajal, "but I was not able to join him. He's gone already." So where did your ideas come from, if there were no rule books or guides? "From my mind! I used to study by myself, all trial and error. But mostly by trial - first try, it's OK. Second is the perfect one."

Cecille's work on the Shake Rattle And Roll series, starting with Peque Gallaga's "Mananangaal" episode in the 1984 original, forever changed the way the Philippines perceives its own mythological creatures. The searing image of Irma Alegre's naked torso splitting in two in gruesome detail and spouting bat wings is easily one of the most iconic images of Pinoy horror of all time.

"I worked with the Effectman," says Cecille of her ghastly creation. "Always the Prosthetics, Effectman and Production Designer work together." What were your instructions from Peque, to reimagine the Mananangaal? "He wants a Mananangaal with BIG wings. It's really very hard to go out of the window, because it's so big, my God! I worked with Rommel Bernardino with the wings, giving life to the wings that he did. We used to help each other putting up the colour and the feathers. You should always work with people who understand their part and they will give us our part."

It seemed like Peque was trying to take the traditional cinematic image of the Aswang and Mananangaal to a new level, to do something startling? "It depends upon the director, and he wants the wings to be a little bit different from the former wings I did before, and then he will tell us what to do. It has to be approved by the director. I make a little of how it's made and how it's skin…sometimes with feathers, sometimes with a cloth material. We have to follow the director."

If you're creating an Aswang or Tiyanak, do you start with a drawing? "No. Modelling. The production design, they talk with the director. They'll say 'Tomorrow you're going to do this…' But give me something to know what kind of idea you want me to do! Maybe he's too lazy because he knows I can do it. That's giving me a hard time. I almost dream. I almost have done it in my dreams, because before I go to sleep I think of that. It happened in Oro Plata Mata [1982]. Because I have the face of the Japanese who's going to have his head cut off in the stream, with Joel Torres. Then the one who has his tongue cut off, Ronnie Lazaro. He has cut his tongue, then blood is coming out - I was the one who do these. I put in a tongue, of course. Latex. And much blood inside."

Cecille was also in charge of severing Lorli Villanueva's finger. "I put them already in my makeup bag. Then, she said, 'I'm going to retouch my makeup. Where's the makeup artist? I'll just use your lipstick…' But I forgot about the finger inside the box. She opens it - 'Ohhh!!!!' We pack up the shooting that day, and she was sent to the hospital." From the shock? "Yes!" Cecille laughs.

Cecille returned to work on Elwood Perez's Puri (1984), a twisted, damaged, and very European tribute to Hitchcock: twin sisters, incest, murder, madness, potent erotically-charged imagery, and a bell tower scene straight out of Vertigo (1958). Elwood pulls the carpet from under your feet the entire film, and the late Stella Strada - destined to commit suicide soon after filming - in her twin roles is simply magnificent (I love the final shots where she imagines her twin screaming at her from her coffin!).

Jaime Fabregas plays the twisted patriarch lying in his gothic mansion, his bald head and naked body covered in syphilis sores. "He is getting worse and worse, and the only medicine for that is the stuff of the kalachuchi, the white flower, to put on the wound. And then you find that Stella Strada, you look at her face, with many infection already - the corner of her mouth, the corner of the nose, there is already wounds or abscesses coming out. Elwood Perez asks me, 'Why this girl cannot express this dialogue well?' So I ask Stella, 'What seems to be the problem? According to the director you can't deliver your dialogue.' She said, 'Because I don't want to eat it [the sores].'

Cecille related to Stella, "'OK, I'll tell you the story'. So I mixed the blood where it's all edible, all eatable makeup, but with the effects as if it's worse wounds or whatever, and bleeding. The pus was condensed milk. Don't mix it together! But you have a different container of that. You just put on side by side, not to mix it. And then guava jelly, and then special fake blood from the food colouring with the Caro syrup. I'm happy with that! I enjoy so much experimenting."

With her confidence restored, Stella was able to complete her dialogue scenes. The problem then became how to stop Stella from eating her sores.

Another iconoclastic director Cecille collaborated with was the late Tata Esteban. What is known of Tata Esteban (real name Steve Regala) has been coloured by his own much-publicised personal narrative, carefully constructed following his conversion to revivalist Christianity as an almost cartoon-like fall from Grace and subsequent redemption and salvation. A “hardcore womanizer, flesh trader and shabu addict”, he is described on a Christian ministry's website, “promiscuous since he was 13, and constantly wallowing in money as he traded and bedded women, and showed off their wares in his hit nightclubs and movies...” A stroke, several heart attacks and his two year-old son asking for a hit of daddy's shabu, reportedly turned his life around in 2000, before a final heart attack in 2003 claimed Esteban for good; friends and colleagues remember him prior to his conversion as a talented if troubled artist whose personal demons no doubt got the better of him. It's tempting to draw parallels between Esteban's turbulent private life and his skewed filmic fantasies.

Starting with his demented sex-horror debut Alapaap (1984), his work gravitated towards the disturbed end of the erotic spectrum. Alapaap features William Martinez as Jake, a filmmaker fresh from the mental hospital for drug-induced exhaustion. He travels with brothers ad fellow filmmakers (real-life siblings Michael de Mesa and Mark Gil) and their girlfriends to Baguio and decide to crash in a mountain mansion along the way. The old house is the lair of a vengeful rape victim's spirit who takes on the gorgeous human form of Tanya Gomez, seduces Jake under a waterfall, then in an endless night of fog effects and Eighties rock clip visuals, turns the cabin into a charnel house.

The film's most gruesome set-piece is vintage Cecille. Eva Rose Palma, as Mark Gil's girlfriend Christine, is at a mirror when her possessed blow-dryer takes on a life of its own and turns against her.

"The director asked me if I could possibly make half of the face burn. I said yes, I'll put a face on the dummy. He said, 'OK, but I don't like it to look like the dummy.' No, it won't. We have to burn the face with the heat of the blower. It [the burn] will grow big, big. And then afterwards, on the face of this head, I'll arrange with the actress into the same position.

"I told the director, 'Direk, you cannot see if it is hot or whatever. Can I request for the effectman to put some red lights on the tip of my blower?' He said we don't have time. Then the director, Tata Esteban, gets mad. I said, 'Direk, I think we can do it.' When you see the red light, it means hot, and you see smoke, it's hot also. 'I need five smokers.'

"I put tubes on the face on every corner. In the middle I put a tube to blow smoke. And then when I do my hands, you blow! OK, change. Stop. Bigger and bigger. But the dummy's already prepared in the last stage, and when the lady flops like that, she's dead already. But the effects are still there, tubes from the liquids, tubes from the blood."

The action cuts from Christine's progressively blistering, bubbling face, to a final shot of the head horribly mangled, and one eyeball popping out of its socket.

"Instead of giving these effects to the effectman, they gave it to me. I was not expecting it!"

Cecille was Plaque of Recognition for Best Special Effects at the 33rd FAMAS Awards night, for her quick-thinking and ingenuity on Alapaap. "I just wanted to help the effects," Cecille says modestly. "But Tata said, 'You deserved it. You saved the rest of the problems there.'"

Cecille would work several more times with Tata Esteban, on the effects-heavy The Magician (1986), and on the apex or nadir, depending upon your viewpoint, of the Bold trend, the ghastly Hubo Sa Dilim (1985).

Disturbing beyond belief, Hubo… is one of the roughest Bold films to come out of the 80s. Esteban’s protagonist Dinkee (Michael de Mesa) lies on a psychiatrist’s couch and recounts his tales of childhood traumas and sexual obsessions – witnessing his promiscuous mother (Chanda Romero) shooting her husband (Tony Carrion) and herself; focusing his Oedipal lust and misplaced anger onto bold model Cristina (Maria Isabel Lopez), murdering her by sheathing a samurai sword into her vagina (in ghastly close-up), and then paying prostitutes to dance naked while he projects photos of Cristina onto their writhing bodies while he masturbates furiously.

There’s no denying the talent of Esteban as a filmmaker, or his intentions to make a genre film with style and depth. Somewhere along the creative process, however, things have gone terribly wrong. Aside from the green-and-red neon pornucopia of set-pieces, there’s very little on which to pin the film, and Esteban instead resorts to endless and pointless club sequences, sex scenes, confusing flashbacks and hallucinations, and of course the samurai sword sequence, which must surely rank as one of the most unexpected and repellent images in commercial erotica. Once again, it's vintage Cecille.

"You know what I did to her? I made a dummy out of Isabel. I copied her pubic hair. Michael de Mesa, the son of Eddie Mesa, is going to insert a samurai sword. But I asked Isabel, can I see your pubics? She said 'Yeeees!' She was a little bit drunk! 'I just want a picture that I can borrow.' So I was able to do it. Only the photo. And that scene, he inserts the sword up to here, that's what I did to Isabel. I can never forget that!"

You modeled the bottom half of her torso? "I have already a dummy for that. But I just wanted to copy the pubic hair."

I discovered another intriguing piece of trivia - it was Brillante Mendoza, at the time a production designer on numerous bold and Tata Esteban films, who was the one on set who pushed the sword into the fake vagina. In a strange twist of fate, he would dismember Maria Isabel Lopez on camera several decades later in the film that won him Best Director at Cannes, Kinatay (2009).

Cecille's work on international productions took an interesting turn in 1976 when she was offered a makeup position on Francis Ford Coppola's gargantuan Apocalypse Now (released 1979). "I did not push through with this. They just asked my services only for two weeks, because the director Coppola wants to start the shooting on August 22, because it's a 'lucky day.' And all the different departments could not get here. We shot in the Plantation where they have this salt. I was the one there who started it. When we transferred the location to Pagsanjan, I told Joey Romero [line producer Eddie Romero's son] that I cannot push through because Joe Don Baker is here, I accepted already the offer of one of the productions here [Chequered Flag Or Crash (1977)], then they permit me to go. So at the very start I started with that. It's the biggest production. Then I worked with Susan Sarandon and Joe Don Baker, the guy from Walking Tall [1973]."

Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) was another massive overseas production shot in the Philippines. "A very big memory that I can share!" says Cecille, who is clearly proud of her work on Stone's award-winning film. "There were so many interviews, and it's supposed to be together with Susan Sarandon again, because for the second time she was meant to be in town again, for I talked to the producer, 'You're going to be assigned to Women Of Valor [1986].' OK, I said. Then one time, it's not yet time for me to join the movie, because we're just preparing for that, and one Filipino producer, Jun Urbano, has two movies to do at the same time. There was a call for me to go to Cavite, and I thought it was Women Of Valor, so I was prepared, and when I was there the makeup couple interviewed me. I said, 'Is this Women Of Valor?' Nobody said that to me! On the truck I can read that this is Platoon. 'Yes, it's Platoon!' They asked me, 'Are you working with us?' Then Gordon Smith and Jeannie, his wife, then said, 'You come off the truck.' They're prepared to do the movie already! And they're arranging like that. They ask me, 'What if we lose some makeup and there's no more makeup, do you think we can do something about it?' I said yes. 'Where can we buy cotton, simple makeup materials?' I said yes, we can do it. Then they gave a piece of paper to the office.

"When we were working together, he said, 'You know, I like working with positive people, who never say no! Working with you is great!' So I started working on Platoon. I enjoy so much with the couple."

You did torn limbs, exploding bodies, bullet wounds…how much work was required on the set? "Of course we had to prepare for that, for the day of the shooting. I said, 'What can we do about it? There are lots of requirements!' So I hired my sons, my children, to work with me, and outside assistants, I used to hire also. It's really very hectic, but once you're doing it I'm inspired. The more and more, I'm not tired. After working then you go, 'Whoah!' [lays her head down] But once the director will approach you, and the producer, after the shooting, OK, then they congratulate you, my tiredness turns into gold! When I work, it's work, really I don't give a damn about eating…

"For war films, for Platoon, it's OK because I had a couple working with me. But for Hamburger Hill [1987], it's something that I managed to do alone. Instead of having a counterpart, I do all in me. Then I ask John Irving the director, 'OK we'll give you an assistant from Germany', his name is Neville Smallwood. I find working together with him is so much fun, and so much an adorable man. After that he got sick so he had to go back to Germany. He said, 'Do you want me to get another assistant to help you?' I said no more, but I need to give some workers, I don't need any counterpart. To do this movie, to finish it, with your name in it, we'll carry on, but I will have to add some more workers, another four assistants, and then I'll give reparations to the lower, to give them a bigger job, assistant but on a higher level. So I don't know if he was not able to carry the water here, but he was always drinking the beer…

"I have a hard time with the wardrobe, but I have to do all the prosthetics - maybe because I am a Filipina that they don't give any importance like that. And it so happened that there are going to be explosions in the film caused by the landing of the helicopter, and so the man was blown, intestines and everything. I had to dress up that man to look bloodied, and I asked the wardrobe, 'Can I have a uniform?' 'It's not the director's idea!' I said no, you ask him. When he came back, he gave me a uniform. 'OK, but I'm going to return this to you, because it's yours. But there's going to be blood on it.' Then I prepared already the intestines of the pig, it really looks so real. I bought it very early in the morning, it was already clean. Then I made a fake, blown-out stomach, the intestines scattered around. So with the uniform, because he's waiting for the helicopter to come to pick him up, he's lying down - I ripped his stomach so you can see the intestines and everything, and then the blood, and it so happened the lady and the man producers were there. The woman says, 'No wonder you asked for five types of blood, it looks so real!' Because when waiting for the helicopter to land, it takes a long time for that, then there is already a little discoloration of the blood; it's getting much thicker and much darker."

What's the secret to your blood recipe? "It's edible! It's safe to take the mouth or wherever you want to use it. Even the makeup that I use for the wound, and even if it's a very delicate part, it's much safer if it's food also. So I use for blood, it's Caro sugar with colour, the colour is all red.

"The other one is orange. Because when you use fatigues? You will not notice the blood dripping out if it is only red or black. If you use orange, you can detect the colour. And the other one, a bit thicker, I call gel blood.

"After that, the real blood from the bodies, still fresh. Every type is different.

"And the other one is 'loose blood'. That's easier to ooze out from special effects. Because you cannot do it from a pump if it is too heavy. In the wounds, once you have no bullet there, it will ooze out like a faucet.

"One more - not so red, it's very soft - not so red, not so orange, in the middle.

"Five kinds of blood. The wounded soldiers waiting for the helicopters, so it takes how many hours? There is already blood, blood… getting thicker. And then the lady producer said, 'Oh no, five types of blood? That looks so REAL!' I said, 'I upgraded it!' That's the hardest [job] that I did, because I am alone.

"Neville didn't know that they will be beheaded. Four days before the scene, because he has a script, he says, "I didn't know that there's going to be a beheading!" I said, "Why don't you know? You haven't talked to him first before coming?" He didn't know, only now. I said relax. 'Do you think we can do it?' YES! Thinking that all the time you have the camera on and they should follow the head rolling. 'Yes, I've done that already,' I said to myself. But then I read the script - it's going to be the whole body WITHOUT the head! Oh God, I said. Four days! Then the man that's going to play the soldier, very hairy, chest and arms. 'OK, get the man here…I'm just going to mould the neck.' After that I said, 'OK, I got this mould, just a little only, and then I need the real person to lay down near the river bank.' Then I said, 'Put a hole on this spot. Then give me black backing, and put his head down, then get plywood and put it on top of the hole.' I got a straw here and here so the man can breathe. Then I put on the prosthetics, and [the neck] was cut. You can see the effect of the oesophagus! You know why that scene should be the whole body and not the head? That's important, because the Medic Doctor from that war said, 'The irony of it is that we don't even know who he is, because they lost the dog tag.' That's my hardest, I was perspiring so. But I was able to do it.

"Later on they want me to make many dummies. Once my dummy was blown up, you can see all the cotton, the clothes, on the tree. Irving said, 'Wow, can you not make it to be blown mid-air? The camera you can see already the blood, the splatter all around, with meat and blood?' OK, I prepare myself already. 'What can I do?' I told them I need nine kilos of cow's meat…I put all the meat inside my dummy, the brains, and all the plastic [bags] full of blood, [and exploded] in mid-air…he was so satisfied!"

Cecille (white shirt) on set with Bruno Mattei, ZOMBIES THE BEGINNING (2007)

Several of Cecille's largest prosthetics jobs have been on recent low-budget Italian productions with the notoriously cheap genre specialist Bruno Mattei and producer Gianni Paolucci. Mattei had been previously based in the Philippines in the late Eighties directing a number of action, horror and science fiction-themed films, before the market for Italy's Tin Pan Alley industry of copycat B features dried up. In 2000, Mattei's former production manager Gianni Paolucci formed his own production company, La Perla Nera, to embrace the digital filmmaking revolution and bankrolled films similar to Bruno's Eighties' B features, but shot on HD video for a fraction of the cost, and thus released cheaply onto the 2000's direct-to-DVD market for a more modest rate of return. Cecille worked on Mattei's The Jail: A Women's Hell (2006), Island Of The Living Dead (2006), and La Perla Nera's most ambitious film to date - Zombies: The Beginning (2007) - which would also be Bruno's final movie, filmed on Corregidor and in Paranaque's RS Studios just before he passed away in May 2007.

Zombies: The Beginning is, to put it bluntly, insane on every level. On a microscopic budget, Bruno and producer Paolucci stage an impressive vision of a zombie apocalypse, culminating in Mattei's most bizarre conceit in a four-decade career of preposterous moments - an enormous Zombie Brain spawning a new generation of the Living Dead. I still remember with photo clarity visiting Bruno's set at RS a week before shooting, and seeing Cecille's incredible work-in-progress. In one half of the studio complex the production team had created a labyrinth of underground laboratories, with rows of cages and hospital beds where their zombie captives give birth to an army of egg-headed zombie fetuses - "zombinos", I suggested to Bruno, and he chuckled appreciatively. Much of the film's second half sees Yvette Yzon, the survivor from Island Of The Living Dead, and a cadre of troops battle the undead in these corridors, which inevitably careers towards the second half of the studio, home to the film's completely cracked end sequence - Yvette face to face with the malevolent Zombie Brain and its moist, cavernous womb undulating with pipes attached to screaming zombie surrogates.

Despite the digital camera's unforgiving eye in picking up the budget's deficiencies, Cecille's work throughout the film is awe-inspiring. "All these zombies, the children playing with big eyes… Every movement of that film is really work for us. There is not a day that we are not assigned to do all this makeup. For makeup requirements it's BIG." Sons Ramon and Ray also assisted with the massive prosthetics job in creating not only the zombie babies but their adult counterparts, the skin tearing, gallons of blood, bursting bellies, bullet squibs, bad teeth, the LOT. Cecille received a special effects credit in the end titles. "Imagine, we are not effects, but we do the effects - I have to move the Brain that we made, a very big Brain that's going to control all these babies of the zombies. I said I am not an effectman, but I am really thankful that we were able to do it, with the help of the effectman."

In retrospect, Mattei's zero-budget shockers are merely notches on a very large post. Cecille has applied makeup on Ben Gazzara and Britt Ekland on High Velocity (1976), on Cindy Pickett in Roger Vadim's Night Games (1980), applied Thai mud and blood on Kampuchea Express (1979) and Return From The River Kwai (1989). She relentlessly and selflessly pioneered the art of prosthetics in a country that initially held little regard for its artistry, but has since embraced the work of Cecille and many others in her field. "I used to be President of the Association of Makeup Artists," Cecille told me proudly. "We have so many members in the show business, boys and girls who want to join us. Our advisor is the late Attorney Laxa [Head of the Film Academy of the Philippines]. So we became a member of Mowelfund, and then later we were able to be recognized. We are given an award because of that. And then we were able to be included in every [festival] once a year. It's very good that I was able to get that opportunity to give all these problems with them about makeup.

"But before I joined this movie [business], there is no award for the Production Designer. Before, they were asking us to set the table and everything; it was not our work but we were happy to be doing that for the sake of it. But now later on, the Production Design, we were considered in our yearly Film Fest, we were also awarded, but the basic is that the Production Designer is getting very much involved in it. But it's really very much helpful with me because I depend on [the Production Designers], whatever they want us to do with the directors."

Why do you think Production Design never had that aura of importance? "I think nobody cared for that. But my Production Designers, maybe they just learned that they should have it also, because we have already the Makeup Association. But we were not given this Production Design Guild, we fell under the umbrella of the Production Design. But we were the first, when we have a meeting with Attorney Laxa, and everybody in the Film Fest. So I am much more relaxed because I have so many makeup artists receive awards every time there is a Film Fest. I am happy for that."

Happy 80th birthday, Cecille, and may your greatest work still be ahead of you. 


1972 – Night Of The Cobra Woman (dir. Andrew Meyer) USA/Philippines - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1973 - Wonder Women (dir. Robert O’Neil) USA - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1973 – Lipad, Darna, Lipad!/“Fly, Darna, Fly!” (dirs. Emmanuel H. Borlaza, Elwood Perez, Joey Gosiengfiao) Philippines - Makeup/Prosthetic Artist [uncredited]

1973 – Zoom, Zoom, Superman! (dirs. Elwood Perez, Joey Gosiengfiao, Ishmael Bernal) Philippines - Makeup/Prosthetic Artist [uncredited]

1973 - Darna And The Giants (dir. Emmanuel H. Borlaza) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup

1973 - Cyrano At Roxanne/"Cyrano And Roxanne" (dir. Armando Garces) Philippines - Special Prosthetic Makeup [uncredited]

1974 – The Thirsty Dead/The Blood Cult Of Shangri-La (dir. Terry Becker) USA - Makeup

1974 – Daigdig Ng Sindak At Lagim/"World Of Terror And Horror" (dirs. Maria Saret Abelardo, Ruben Arthur Nicdao) Philippines - Prosthetics

1974 – Kung Fu Master (dir. Leody M. Diaz) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup

1974 - La Paloma: Ang Kalapating Ligaw/“La Paloma: The Lost Dove” (dir. Joey Gosiengfiao) Philippines - Makeup Supervisor

1974 - Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae/“One Night, Three Women” (dir. Elwood Perez) Philippines - Makeup

1975 – Duwag…Lumaban Ka! (dir. Santiago Garcia) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1975 - Son Of Fung Ku (dir. Jose "Pepe" Wenceslao) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1975 - May Isang Tsuper Ng Taksi (dirs. Luciano B. Carlos, Elwood Perez, Joey Gosiengfiao) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1975 – At Lumaganap Ang Lagim (dir. Armando A. Herrera) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup

1975 – Pandemonium (Lupa, Langit At Impiyerno) (dirs. Teddy Yip, Noli Villar) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup Cecille Baun

1975 - Darna vs The Planet Women (dir. Armando Garces) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1976 - High Velocity (dir. Remi Kramer) USA - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1976 – Mga Uhaw Na Bulaklak Part 2 (dir. Danilo Cabreira) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1976 – Sinta: Ang Bituing Bagong Gising (dir. Dindo Angeles) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1977 - Checkered Flag Or Crash/Manila 1000 (dir. Alan Gibson) USA - Makeup Artist

1977 - Electrika Kasi, Eh! (dir. Danilo P. Cabreira) Philippines - Prosthetics/Makeup

1977 - Omeng Satanasia (dir. Frank Gray Jr) Philippines - Special Makeup

1977 - Babae... Ngayon At Kailanman/"Woman…Now And Forever" (dir. Joey Gosiengfiao) Philippines - Character Makeup

1978 - Patayin Si… Mediavillo (dir. Armando A. Herrera) Philippines- Prosthetic Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1979 Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola) USA - Makeup Artist [Plantation scene only, uncredited]

1979 - Cola, Candy, Chocolate/Mga Seksing Turista/ "The Sexy Tourists" (dir. "Siggi Götz"/Sigi Rothemund) West Germany - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1979 - Isang Araw, Isang Buhay/“One Day, One Life” (dir. Leroy Salvador) Philippines - Makeup

1980 – Gabi Ng Lagim Ngayon/"Night Of Terror Now" (dirs. Cirio H. Santiago, Cesar “Chat” Gallardo) Philippines - Alma Moreno's Prosthetics

1980 - Night Games (dir. Roger Vadim) USA - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1982 – Raw Force/Warrior's Island (dir. Edward D. Murphy) USA - Makeup Artist

1982 - Oro, Plata, Mata (dir. Peque Gallaga) Philippines - Prosthetics

1982 - Invaders Of The Lost Gold (dir. Alan Birkinshaw) UK/Italy - Makeup Artist

1982 - Kampuchea Express (dir. Lek Kitaparaporn) Italy/Thailand - Makeup Artist

1983 - Raiders Of Atlantis/The Atlantis Interceptors (dir. Ruggero Deodato) Italy - Makeup Artist [uncredited]

1983 - Dance Of The Dwarfs (dir. Guy Trikonis) USA - Makeup Artist

1983 – Lumaban Ka Satanas/The Killing Of Satan (dir. Efren C. Pinon) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup

1983 - Juramentado (dir. Efren C. Pinon) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1984 – Alapaap (dir. Tata Esteban) Philippines - Special Effects [uncredited]

1984 – Shake Rattle & Roll (dirs. Peque Gallaga, Ishmael Bernal, Emmanuel H. Borlaza) Philippines - Prosthetics [Gallaga's "Manananggal" episode]

1984 - Pasukin Si Waway (dir. Manuel "Fyke" Cinco) Philippines - Prosthetics

1984 - Puri (dir. Elwood Perez) Philippines - Prosthetics

1984 - Final Mission (dir. Cirio H. Santiago) USA/Philippines - Makeup Artist

1984 - Heated Vengeance (dir. Edward D. Murphy) USA - Makeup Artist

1984 – Mad Warrior/Clash Of The Warlords (dir. Willie Milan) Philippines - Prosthetics

1985 - Hubo Sa Dilim…../"Naked In The Dark….." (dir. Tata Esteban) Philippines - Prosthetics [uncredited]

1985 - Wheels Of Fire/Vindicator (dir. Cirio H. Santiago) USA/Philippines - Prosthetics [as "Cecily Braun"]

1985 - Hinugot Sa Langit (dir. Ishmael Bernal) Philippines - Special Makeup

1985 – Zuma (dir. Jun Raquiza) Philippines - Makeup/Prosthetics Artist [uncredited]

1985 - Crossbone Territory (dir. Danilo Cabreira) Philippines - Prosthetics/Special Makeup

1986 - Salamangkero: The Magician (dir. Tata Esteban) Philippines - Makeup/Prosthetics Artist [uncredited]

1986 - Halimaw (dirs. Christopher de Leon, Mario O'Hara) Philippines - Prosthetics [Christopher de Leon's "Komiks" episode]

1986 - Sloane (dirs. Dan Rosenthal, Richard Belding) USA - Makeup Artist

1986 - Platoon (dir. Oliver Stone) USA - Makeup/Prosthetic Special Effects Assistant

1986 - Ninja Kids (dir. Pablo Santiago) Philippines - Special Makeup

1987 – Anak Ni Zuma/“Child Of Zuma” (dir. Ben Yalung) Philippines - Prosthetics [uncredited]

1987 - Hamburger Hill (dir. John Irving) USA - Makeup Artist

1987 - Huwag Mong Buhayin Ang Bangkay (dir. Mauro Gia Samonte) Philippines - Prosthetics

1987 - Tagos Ng Dugo (dir. Maryo J. De Los Reyes) Philippines - Effects/Props

1987 - No Dead Heroes/Blood Machines (dir. “J.C. Miller”/Danilo Cabreira) USA/Philippines - Makeup/Prosthetics [as "Cecille Bann"]

1989 - Valentina (dir. Santiago Garcia) Philippines - Makeup Artist/Prosthetics

1989 - Tamis Ng Unang Halik (dir. Artemio Marquez) Philippines - Prosthetics

1989 - Orapronobis (dir. Lino Brocka) Philippines/France - Special Makeup Effects

1989 - The Siege Of Firebase Gloria (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith) Australia - Prosthetics/Makeup Artist

1989 - Si Baleleng At Ang Gintong Sirena (dir. Chito S. Rono) Philippines - Special Effects Makeup

1989 - Return From The River Kwai (dir. Andrew V. McLaglen) USA - Makeup Artist

1990 - Mission Manila (dir. Peter M. MacKenzie) USA - Prosthetic Artist

1990 - Tootsie Wootsie: Ang Bandang Walang Atrasan (dir. Ben Feleo) Philippines - Special Prosthetics Makeup

1990 - Hulihin si... Nardong Toothpick (dir. Jett C. Espiritu) Philippines - Prosthetic Makeup

1991 - Andrew Ford Medina: Wag Kang Gamol! (dir. Ben Feleo) Philippines - Special Prosthetics Makeup

1991 - Boyong Mañalac: Hoodlum Terminator (dir. Eddie Rodriguez) Philippines - Character Makeup Artist

1991 - Darna (dir. Joel Lamangan) Philippines - Prosthetics

1992 - Sinungaling Mong Puso (dir. Maryo J. De Los Reyes) Philippines - Prosthetics [as "Cecil Baun"]

1992 - Angelina: The Movie (dir. Romy V. Suzara) Philippines - Special Makeup Effects Artist 

1992 - Takbo... Talon... Tili!!! (dir. Efren "Loging" Jarlego) Philippines - Prosthetics Makeup

1992 - Hiram Na Mukha (dir. Joel Lamangan) Philippines - Makeup Artist

1993 - Ang Boyfriend Kong Gamol (dir. Ben Feleo) Philippines - Prosthetics Makeup Artist

1993 - Guwapings Dos (dirs. Manny Castañeda, Joey Marquez, Jose Javier Reyes) Philippines - Special Makeup Prosthetics

1995 - Eskapo (dir. Chito S. Rono) Philippines
Makeup Artist

1996 - Mumbaki (dir. Antonio Jose Perez) Philippines

1996 - Daddy's Angel (dir. Joey Romero) Philippines - Props: Angel Wings

1996 - Dyesebel (dir. Emmanuel H. Borlaza) Philippines - Costume Designer

1996 - Sa Aking Mga Kamay (dir. Rory B. Quintos) Philippines - Special Makeup/Prosthetics

1997 - Ipaglaban Mo II: The Movie (dir. Rory B. Quintos) Philippines - Prosthetics Makeup Artist

1997 - Calvento Files: The Movie (dirs. Michael de Mesa, Laurenti Dyogi) Philippines - Dummy Prosthetics

1997 - Paano Ang Puso Ko? (dir. Rory B. Quintos) Philippines - Special Prosthetics Makeup Artist)

1997 - I Do? I Die! (D'yos Ko Day) (dir. Efren "Loging" Jarlego) Philippines - Prosthetics

1998 - José Rizal (dir. Marilou Diaz-Abaya) Philippines - Chief Prosthetic Effects Artist

1998 - Troublesome Night 4 (dir. Herman Yau) Hong Kong - Special Makeup Artist)

1999 - Mula Sa Puso (dir. Wenn V. Deramas) Philippines - Prosthetics/Special Makeup

2000 - Spirit Warriors (dir. Chito S. Rono) Philippines - Special Makeup/Prosthetics [as "Cecil Baun"]

2000 - Minsan, Minahal Kita (dir. Olivia M. Lamasan) Philippines - Prosthetics

2002 - Mano Po (dir. Joel C. Lamangan) Philippines - Prosthetics

2003 - Mano Po 2: My Home (dir. Erik Matti) Philippines - Prosthetics Makeup Artist

2003 - Spirit Warriors: The Shortcut (dir. Chito S. Rono) Philippines - Head Makeup Artist: Mermaids/Prosthetics

2004 - Aishite Imasu (Mahal Kita) 1941 (dir. Joel C. Lamangan) Philippines - Special Makeup/Prosthetics

2004 - So... Happy Together (dir. Joel C. Lamangan) Philippines - Prosthetician [as "Cecil Baun"]

2005 - Awaken/ Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula Sa Kamulatan (dir. Ato M. Bautista) Philippines - Prosthetics/Makeup

2005 - Shake Rattle & Roll 2K5 (dir. Uro dela Cruz, Rico Maria Ilarde, Richard Somes) Philippines - Prosthetics [Uro dela Cruz's "Poso" episode]

2006 - Kagat Ng Dilim/"Fangs Of Darkness" (Short) (dir. Cesar Hernando) Philippines - Special Makeup

2006 - Shake Rattle And Roll 8 (dir. Rahyan Q. Carlos, Topel Lee, Michael Tuviera) Philippines - Prosthetics [Topel Lee's "Yaya" episode]

2006 - Barang (dir. Neal Tan) Philippines - Prosthetics [as "Cecil Baun"]

2006 - Umaaraw, Umuulan (dir. Richard Arellano) Philippines - Prosthetics

2006 - The Jail: A Women's Hell (dir. "Vincent Dawn"/Bruno Mattei) Italy - Special Effects Supervisor/Special Makeup Effects Artist

2006 - Island Of The Living Dead (dir. "Vincent Dawn"/Bruno Mattei) Italy - Special Effects Supervisor/Special Makeup Effects Artist

2007 - Zombies: The Beginning (dir. "Vincent Dawn"/Bruno Mattei) Italy - Special Effects Supervisor/Special Makeup Effects Artist

2007 - Pasukob (dir. Wenn V. Deramas) Philippines - Special Makeup Artist

2008 - Santa Mesa (dir. Ron Morales) USA/Philippines - Hair/Makeup Assistant

2008 - Baler (dir. Mark Meily) Philippines - Prosthetics

2009 - Arusi: Sumpa Ng Demonyo (dir. Fellyx Honeyfield) Philippines - Prosthetics

2009 - Nobody Nobody But Juan (dir. Eric Quizon) Philippines- Prosthetics/Special Makeup Artist [as "Cecil Baun"]

2010 - My Lai Four (dir. Paolo Bertola) Italy - Special Makeup Effects Artist

2010 - Amigo (dir. John Sayles) USA - Head of Makeup, Hair & Prosthetics

2010 - Ang Babae Sa Sementeryo (dir. Neal "Buboy" Tan) Philippines - Prosthetics

2011 - Aswang (dir. Jerrold Tarog) Philippines - Head Prosthetic Artist

2011 - Machete (TV Series) (dirs. Gina Alajar, Don Michael Perez) Philippines - Prosthetics

2012 - The Grave Bandits (dir. T.A. Acierto) Philippines - Makeup Artist

2012 - This Guy's In Love With U Mare! (dir. Wenn V. Deramas) Philippines - Prosthetics

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