Movie crew of WHEN THE  MAN WENT SOUTH  the first  film to be shot in TONGA
Movie crew of WHEN THE  MAN WENT SOUTH  the first  film to be shot in TONGA

Its shooting in Tonga

 As told by Agent Ogden to Iride Aparicio

Pictures courtesy of:

SAN JOSÉ, CA.—  ‘WHEN THE MAN WENT SOUTH,”  which made its world premiere on March 7th  at CAMERA 12 in San José as part of the CINEQUEST 2014 film festival, was perhaps  the movie that most movie goers were more curious to see. The reason  was that the picture, filmed by a group of five Filmmakers from the Bay Area, is the first motion picture
 ever made that is  spoken in Togonese, acted solely by Tongans, and  shot in the island  of “ ‘Eua” (Pronounced EWA) located on the East of the Main Island in Tonga.

Officially known as the Kingdom of Tonga, the country is located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of the island of Fiji. It comprises 150 islands, 36 of which inhabited  by  Polynesians. Tonga was discovered by the Dutch in the year  l616 and in l773, visited by Captain  James Cook. In l900 it became a British protectorate, but in l970, it gained independence an became an independent country.

SOANE PRESCOTT as Flying Fox, the man who went South.
SOANE PRESCOTT as Flying Fox, the man who went South.

CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL interviewed filmmaker AGENT OGDEN, to discuss his unique experience of traveling from San Francisco, California, to the South Pacific to shoot a film.

C.W.B:  What credit are you given in this film?

A.O.: Producer, and I did all the post production of the film.

C.W.B: How did the idea for “WHEN THE MAN WENT SOUTH” originated?

A.O.  “The idea originated with ALEX BERSTEIN, who is the Writer and the Director of this film. He wrote a script set in a remote location, and through one of his colleagues at work, which is a Tongan native, transported his script to fit to Tonga. As Alex started to do some research on Tonga and some of the old stories that are told in Tonga, he used that tradition as sort of the basis for his story. The story in the film is fictional, but it is based on the idea of these (folk) stories that people told to each other sitting around campfires,  a long time ago.” 

C.W.B:  Who named the main character in the movie?

A.O: “ALEX wrote all the character’s names, but he had a little input from VILIAMI, which was our Tongan Producer. I was not part of the writing of the script, I came about after it was written.”

C.W.B: Does the name “Flying Fox” (the main character) mean anything?

A.O.  “Not really, the name was just made up. But a Flying Fox is another name for a giant bat.”

C.W.B.  How did you all get together?

A.O: “I did not know ALEX before this, but we had a mutual friend and he told me that ALEX had a script and he was looking forward to having it made into a film. We met and we get to talking about how to have this film done. The other two people who are part of the main crew, DEREK HANLEY and ZACH HEFFINER are people I had worked with extensively in the past so I bought those two guys into the mix, and that completed our five-person crew.”

C.W.B. “How did you put together the film?”

A.O:  We all wore many hats. In the film’s credits we have all these defined titles but in truth, we all worked together.

C.W.B. Tell  us something about the film.

A.O: “This is the first film ever shot in the Tongan language. There has never been a feature film made in the island of Tonga, so it is the first of its kind. We used the unbelievable landscapes and backdrops of Tonga as the settings (so the film is beautiful) and it is funny, when people see it, they should be prepare for humor. The  basis of the story is universal, (a man learning about the world) so this film  relates to anyone. We wanted to be sure that the film played well to the Tongan community but also to anybody who is a film lover.”

C.W.B. Is the action of the film in the present time?

A.O:  No. “It is in the past, but we never really wanted to set a year, but the story is set before any European Contact in the Island of Tonga (Which puts the film in the l500 or before l6l6). We did not think that dating it, would change the story because it never mattered. “

C.W.B.  Can you tell us something about your collaborators?

A.O: VILIAMI T. HALAPUA, is one of the producers,  he is also the narrator of the film. We call him TAUA, which is the name they called him in Tonga, and he is the one who helped us transform  everything. He is from Tonga, originally. and because he still has the contacts in there, he really knew how to get things done in Tonga, which is a very underdeveloped area in the world. Things move very slow there. To do anything is very tought.

C.W.B. So how did you get you star in Tonga?



A.O: “Our star name is SOANNE PRESCOTT, and (again) we found him with VILIAMI’s connections.  He contacted the local radio station in Tonga and put the word out that we were coming to  film a movie and that we were looking for cast. So we had a “general” casting call,  and SOANNE was one of the first people who came to our hotel to do a couple of script readings. He was fantastic. He had no acting experience, but he had the looks we wanted and he read well, so he was at the top of our list.  However he had a job in the main island of Tonga and could not take off from his job for the thirty days of shooting. But VILIAMI, convinced the people from the bank, where SOANNE was working, to let him go for four weeks and let him come back to his job after the film was shot."

C.W.B. Tell us something about your writer.

A.O: “ALEX BERSTEIN wrote the script and he directed it so he was the one calling the shots, but we all collaborated.  Our main problem was that the actors were speaking in Tongan, and we Americans did not know what they were saying, or if they were saying it correctly,  so again we have to rely in TAUA, as they called ViLIAMI in Tonga, to be sure that the actors were not only saying the correct words, but showing the correct emotions.”

C.W.B. Who was in charge of sound?

A.O: “DEREK  HANLEY.  He is a sound Engineer so he was the one recording all the sound when we were shooting. He also made some of the huts on the set, and built some of the props, some of the spears, and all of the fires. DEREK is also an E.M.T. (Emergency Medical Technician) so he was in charge of first aid, and trained us in what to do if he was not available. You have to remember that the place was very remote and that the only place to live were bungalows with no doors, just a curtain.”

C.W.B. What did ZACH HEFFINER do?

A.O. “ ZACH went to school for photography so he is an amazing photographer. He is a retired professional athlete and when he retired, he started a company in Oakland, and started to get more into video. As the cameras changed, he self-taught himself film and cinematography and began doing corporate stuff. That’s where we met. He has an incredible eye for composition. And he is very quick about it. So he walked around carrying a thirty pound camera, plus all the audio, filters etc. for thirty days. He shot about 99% of this film, all the dialogues, all the scenes.”    

C.W.B.  You already mentioned VILIAMI T. HALAPUA as a producer did he do something else?

A.O” Yes, so it is very hard for me to talk about VILIAMIs role in the film because he was listed as a producer, but he did everything to make the film possible.  There were times when we needed raw fish, at times forty in a basket, so he was very good in getting the fish we wanted, and on time. Other times we needed food: bananas, coconuts, sugar canes, and he introduced us to this farmer who cut a full truck load of vegetation for us that we used in every set. These people are very giving, but these things could not have been possible to get without VILIAMI's help.

L-to-r AGENT OGDEN, Producer/Editor, VILIAMI T. HALAPUA, Producer. ALEX BERSTEIN, Producer/Writer /Director.  DEREK HANLEY, Sound Engineer and ZACH HEFFINER Director of Photography.
L-to-r AGENT OGDEN, Producer/Editor, VILIAMI T. HALAPUA, Producer. ALEX BERSTEIN, Producer/Writer /Director.  DEREK HANLEY, Sound Engineer and ZACH HEFFINER Director of Photography.

C.W.B.  I can see that making this film was not easy for you.

O.G: “It was very difficult, but as independent filmmakers, we did everything we were not suppose to do: We went to a very remote location which was hard in our gear.  We had a very wordy script to be spoken in a language that neither of us could speak or understand or could learn. We did not have a cast, and then, we did the casting with people that are not actors. It was hard work, specially because we needed to be sure to get a commitment from these people and the (correct) performances from this people to be sure that the film is good.  It was difficult, but it was also part of the fun, part of the challenge to make this film.”

C. W.B. What was the most difficult thing in shooting this film?

A.O. “ Most films are really planned out. They have a story board, so you know exactly what shot comes after what shot. We were just making it up as we go, so the most difficult part was getting all we needed  to tell the story, because there was no list for us to check out. If I had known that I was going to be  the one who was going to edit the film, I could have asked for additional shots, just to be sure I had the shots, because there were no re-shots. Once we left the island, there was no going back.”

“The second hardest thing was audio. We could not get away from the ocean, so we were recording the ocean, but when you are recording dialogue in the field, you don’t want the sound of the ocean to overpower it. So we did a lot of work in post-production in sound. I have a very good friend JASON MILLS, who was nominated for a GRAMMY this year as studio Engineer, and when I brought this project to him he did a fantastic job with some of the poor versions of the recordings we brought him from the island.”

My last question. I said. How did you feel after you finished the film? AGENT smiles broadly.

A.O. “From the accomplishing standpoint?  I feel fantastic”

He tells me that in a near future he wants to return to Tonga to show the film to those people who acted on it.  The island has no theatre so he knows that unless he brings the film to them, and shows it to them in an open arena, there is no way that they are ever going to see it. He may also consider doing a Documentary of everything related to the filming, of  "WHEN THE MAN WENT SOUTH" to share with other people their marvelous experiences in Tonga.

For more information about CINEQUEST go to or call (1-408) 295-3378