Excuse Me, Miss , Miss , Miss: 3 Questions with Sonny Calvento

 

Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss is a satirical comedy film by director Sonny Calvento 
that delivers an interesting commentary on contractual workers. It follows a hardworking sales girl who tries to figure out the key to work-life balance, while her annoying boss is preventing her from getting a second of respite.

The film surprises at the start with a 90s-style advert for the trendy shop that our protagonist, Vangie, works at, which then transports the audience into the rather polished and highly clinical environment of the department store. The audience is then treated to the playful performances of the two leads who were given a lot of free room to improvise, making their performances a joy to watch. The film's soundtrack also adds an extra bite to the film, enhancing many moments within the film, while covering up some of the more awkward bits of sound mixing and design. Interestingly and delightfully, the film takes an absurd turn, reminiscent of the sci-fi genre, towards the end, leaving the audience wanting more of it.



Here is our brief interview with Sonny on the film.

How did you come up with the idea for this film?

Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss is a social realist comedy with a little dash of fantasy about a sales lady who discovers her supervisor’s shocking secret, a secret that might be her only key to survive life.
The film is about the plight of the contractual workers in the Philippines, particularly of salespersons in super malls. I learned more about their struggles by coincidence. We happen to own a small food kiosk and our then newly hired cashier is a former sales lady at a famous mall chain. She narrated how ridiculous and oppressive some requirements can get when you are applying for the job, as well as maintaining the job once you get hired. Once, she was even scolded because her lipstick was not pink enough. So yeah, the film is inspired by the experiences of real-life contractual sales ladies of a department store. Their stories are oftentimes heartbreaking but strangely, they told them in a comedic way. There are injustices that happen to them but there is already a level of acceptance to these women when they’ve shared their stories. That for me is even more tragic. That they’ve reached a point to just laugh at their problems because they can do nothing about it anymore. Humor as a sign of helplessness.   
Through the help of the writer of the film, Arden Rod Condez (director of John Denver Trending), we set the tone and drafted the script. We decided to infuse comedy and a little fantasy in a social realist subject because we want to explore the genre of comedy, being the best-selling genre in the Philippines, if it can be used to expose a subject relevant to the Filipino people. I’d like to think we have achieved this.

What did you look at for influences on this film?

The commercial at the start of the film was based on old Filipino TV commercials – I did watch a lot of Filipino commercials in YouTube in order to help me come up with the visuals for the music video/commercial. I chose an old-looking feel to highlight the idea that through the decades, nothing has really changed about how laborers are treated in our country. For the main visual, I wanted to project the visuals the same way shopping malls would like to be projected – a happy, clean, flawless and problem-free world. I specifically chose a red uniform for Mailes Kanapi’s character because I wanted her to pop out from the contractual salespersons’ white and gray-colored uniform. I studied a lot of inspirations for this film – the deadpan and dark humor of Aki Kuarismaki films, the set, the camera movement and the colorful visuals of Wes Anderson films, the campiness of The Stepford Wives and the documentary Grey Gardens by Albert and David Maysles. I also listened to a lot of jazz rock music, particularly the music of Filipino jazz rock band Radioactive Sago Project, to help me determine the unusual beat that I want for the film.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced making this?

Other than the usual problem of trying to make the small budget fit all the requirements for the short film (we shot the film for two days and most of the scenes were done after mall hours),  it was really hard for us to find a mall to shoot the film. We had to go back and forth regarding the location fees a lot of times because it was too expensive. We were supposed to shoot all the scenes, except for the supervisor’s house inside the mall, but because the mall couldn’t finalize the fees up to the last minute, we only found out how expensive their charge is the day before our actual shoot. So we scrapped our plan A and decided to shoot some of the locations outside the mall to lessen our cost, but since we had no time to prepare, we had to find locations during the shooting proper itself. We were shooting scenes without knowing if we already have a location for the next scenes.

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Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss was shown as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2021 from 28 January to 3 February 2021. Feel free to catch the trailer right here.

The film won The Audience Choice Award during its debut at the QCinema International Film Festival in 2020.

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