My first international film as a writer/producer was Goodbye America, produced in 1996 in Subic Bay, Philippines. Somewhere along the line its website disappeared, so in keeping with my “Philippine” theme this weekend, I spent a few hours creating a new website for the film at http://goodbyeamericamovie.com. It was a film in which we set out to give a fair and accurate representation of the dynamics of the final days of the US Navy at Subic Bay in 1992. It stars James Brolin, Michael York, Rae Dawn Chong, John Newton, Alexis Arqutte, and Corin Nemec on the American side — and some great Filipino stars including Alma Concepcion, Nanette Medved, Angel Aquino, Raymond Bagatsing, and Daria Ramirez.
Here’s a reprint of production notes I wrote for the site:
By Michael D. Sellers, Writer/Producer I first visited Subic Bay in November of 1992, a few weeks after the US Navy had left. The departure had come about as the result of the Philippine Senate rejecting an extension — a decision that most Americans viewed as foolhardy, tiven the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefit that the bases provided. But the Philippines’ fledgling democracy under Corazon Aquino saw the US Military Bases as the last vestige of America’s colonial rule of the Philippines, and clearly felt that it was time for the Philippines to step out on its own, without the US presence.
The idea of a film that centered on those final days of the US military presence in the Philippines began to filter into my conciousness on that first visit. I didn’t have a storyline fully in mind — only a title, “Goodbye America”, and the notion that the story would center around the lives of three American servicemen manning the base in its final days, and three Filipinas who would be involved in different ways with the Americans–and who would have different views on the American departure. Two years later I found myself invited to pitch a proposed international film to the top executives of Philippine broadcast giant ABS-CBN, and it was then that I began to seriously flesh out the story with my co-writer Bob Couttie. ABS-CBN liked the concept and we were commissioned to write a screenplay, which we did over the next six months — helped along the way by top Filipino screenwriter Ricky Lee. The film would be a coproduction – with funding from both the Philippines and the US- and there was a strong commitment from the beginning to craft a story that gave equal weight to the Filipino and American characters, and which would try to do honest justice to the point of view of each side.
All of us who were involved in crafting the screenplay had serious roots in the Philippines. I had been in the country four 8 years by the time we started writing Goodbye America; Bob Couttie had been there a bit longer, and Ricky Lee was Filipino through and through. I was particularly excited at the prospect of presenting America as seen through the eyes of characters from a country which had spent most of the last century learning to love and hate America at the same time. My favorite line from the movie — and one which I believe I can claim authorship of — is when Hawk, one of the Navy SEALs, says to his girlfriend: “You sound like you hate us.” Her reply: “I don’t hate Americans. I hate us, for loving America too much. You’re in everything — what we see, what we hear, what we wear. For as long as you’re everywhere around us, we’ll never know who we truly are.”
We did most of the writing holed up in a small beach cottage at the same beach bar that James Brolin’s character owns in the movie. One commitment we had made to the financiers is that the film would be one that could be sold internationally as a bona-fide “Hollywood” movie with international stars and production and technical values that would qualify it for global distribution. It also had to be ‘commercial” … and we made a decision early on that the confrontations in the story would need to escalate to a level that was ultimately violent, even though the actual departure of the Navy had been difficult, but peaceful.
For that escalation we turned to two true events that happened around the time we were writing the story. One was the rape of a Japanese girl by an American marine in Okinawa. And the other was the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Appropriately, for a film that was intended to make an honest attempt to portray both sides of a contentious historical moment, we turned to Swiss director Thierry Notz. I had line produced a film, Fortunes of War, which Thierry had directed and which had been shot largely in Subic, so we knew each other and knew what the production challenges would be. One thing we didn’t count on was having to shoot “through the raindrops” of 6 typhoons which blew through the Philippines during the shoot. We never got shut down, but more than one scene that was intended to be shot in sunlight ended up being shot in rain — which wasn’t a problem until the rain stopped int he middle of a scene. We had to have standby rain towers on hand throughout the shoot.
Our other challenge was that the US Navy was not going to provide direct support to the film because it depicted a Navy SEAL ‘going rogue’ — and we needed to film at least in close vicinity to US Navy ships. In the end we got very lucky when the US Navy made what was to be its last port call for several years at Subic (Navy ships continued to call periodically at Subic even after the base closed) during the time we were filming. We scrambled our schedule so that we could shoot all of the scenes which needed the Navy ships during the three days they were there. And while the commander of the group in port told us he could not actively support our efforts — he also said that he had been given approval to not oppose the filming. So we had Navy ships for backdrops and that helped tremendously.
Goodbye America represents, in the end, a hardworking effort to accurately portray the culture and circumstances in Subic Bay at the time of the Navy’s departure. It was shot entirely on location in Subic Bay.
To learn more about Subic’s history, visit the page “Rising Above the Storm – Subic by Documentary” to view a documentary which includes historical footage of the departure of the US Navy, and interviews with those involved.