Volunteering for ‘The Mission’: The Story Behind the Film

As defined, volunteerism is the practice or culture of sharing time and skills for the benefit of other people or causes rather than for personal financial benefit.


In community services, volunteerism often works. However, such practice does not usually work in film, especially in a full-length film.


In the entire history of film making – I am not aware of any full-length film, or of a movie musical for that matter, that has ever been produced simply by getting volunteer actors and crew.


The reason is, film making is such a collaborative effort that any weak link in the chain can spell disaster in the production. Every person in the production, from the actors to the camera men to the make-up artist to the production assistants have each a crucial role to play that when one team member breaks down, the machine grinds to a halt.


In film-making, volunteers are considered an unreliable source of talent and labor. Making movies can drag on for weeks and months - and no volunteer can last that long. No professional actors nor cameramen can toil for weeks and agree to be paid in food and mere pittance.


Nevertheless, amidst this reality - the film “THE MISSION” was born. A project of the Archdiocese of Caceres, through the Saint Raphael the Archangel Parish, ‘The Mission’ is the first full-length movie musical in history produced through volunteerism.


It is also the very first-ever musical on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that is captivating and evangelizing.


When Pili Parish Priest, Fr. Wilmer Joseph S. Tria and Composer / Director Ferdinand Dimadura planned the production of ‘The Mission’, they knew right away that it would have to be made by volunteers. A movie musical would cost at least P15 Million to produce. The Parish has a few hundred thousand to spare.


The film is timely, for this Year is declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines as the Year of Mission to the Nations. The gospel story is retold in a different way – through songs and performances. It can attract the attention of everyone, regardless of age, of culture, of race. It is also a project close to the heart of the Archbishop of Caceres, Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD. He admits that he himself was an actor and a director, other than being a great music lover.

Given that all talents and resources are local and lacking, producing a film of world standard is impossible. Fr. Tria, however, is confident, that with the high motivation and mortification of its Parish volunteers, the team could produce something of a world class standard.


“Most of what we have are volunteers. Many young people are eager to take part, not only in the name of solidarity and having a firsthand experience, but also because they know they are sharing an important part in a kind of evangelization. Some of them have had acting experiences in the past, but majority of them never had that experience before.” Father Tria remarked.


When Jesus came to the world, He had a Mission from the Father to fulfil. He chose a ragtag team of fishermen, outcasts and sinners, to spread the Gospel to all nations. But with the grace of God, this sorry bunch of losers became the founding fathers of the Church that would last, not only for a thousand of years - but for all time.


When the movie ‘The Mission’ was being casted, God also chose a ragtag team of amateur actors and plain looking wannabes to act out His story.


Seeing the first batch of his actors, mostly without theater experience, and most of them without the movie star looks, the director was not deterred. Instead, he pushed on - not anticipating the enormous challenges he would face in making the film acted out by volunteers.


“We never started on time. We were always three hours behind.” laments the director. “But you can’t blame these volunteers. Many are students doing their modules. A lot can only rehearse after work,” according to Dimadura.


Some would attend a few rehearsals and won’t be seen again. On the very hour of the filming of the Pontius Pilate scene, the Barabas character suddenly showed up to act - without any shred of acting ability. The Director beat him into an acting pulp for a few minutes in order to save the day. When the camera started rolling - this sorry amateur became truly the character Barabas.


The night before they were to film the Last Supper scene, the Director realized that he had only eight Apostles. In panic, they had to get four lay ministers to fill the gap. Hesitant at first, the director assured these amateurs that all the acting they would have to do is sit on the chair for the Last Supper.


Many times, a filming will be scheduled with the director fearing that very few people would show up.


It helped that Director Ferdinand was a church worker for many years and patience is the most valuable of virtues he learned and continues to learn. As a member of the Our Lady of Fatima Association based at the Archbishop’s residence, Ferdinand learned to adhere to the strict protocols and discipline of the Church which came in handy in leading these volunteers to fulfil their objectives.


The very crucial role of Jesus went to Ced Christian Paz, an amateur actor from Buhi. Not because he was the best of the lot - but because he was the only one who showed up. He was a rough diamond - and his role as Jesus was truly a revelation.


Of the 12 Apostles, only two trained in the theater, Noriel Tumbado and Jerome Villanueva who also was the make-up artist and costume designer.


The most with theater experience is probably Aaron Felizardo who played the role of Caiaphas. Together with Jake and a theology student, brother Jeshua, who has never acted in theater before, they formed the triumvirate of the High Priests - the musical’s main antagonists.


But as the filming progressed, the sense of duty and mission were slowly instilled in the minds of these volunteers. Slowly, rehearsals started relatively on time and more and more people were showing up in rehearsals and filming.


Slowly, they realize that themselves are in a mission: to volunteer their time, talent and treasure for a greater good - to live out the greatest story ever told, so it can be retold once more - to all nations.


Before the filming, these volunteers started with a five-hour drama workshop. Then these volunteer actors plunged into cinematic history.