It had only been for three months though it had also been the first three months since Gunship Revolution came into its own: barely a day after New Year's, January 2012, Emmanuel Javier joined Harvey Bunda and I in Cavite City, a small town in a sliver of land across the bay from Manila. By March, we would begin working from separate work stations the way we do now, with Harvey and I remaining in the city until Harvey's departure for Novi Sad in 2014. However, starting out away from both the big city backdrop and the conventional agency/studio office setup did set the tone for so much of Gunship Revolution's company culture and four years later, the small town still bears so much of what made those first three months so influential.
Harvey and I spent most of our lives living in Cavite City and, until leaving for Serbia, Harvey built his freelancing career almost entirely from his home. In fact, Harvey taught himself art more-or-less entirely in Cavite City, having been inspired by books he found in the town's old school libraries. By far, Harvey had been the one among us who was most experienced in small-town, home-based freelancing and his home turf became something of our laboratory for testing out what later became our standard procedures.
There had also been a rich artistic tradition in the city until a few decades ago - Cavite City had been a historic port town that received Chinese traders, Spanish galleon-builders, the US Navy, and the Japanese occupying forces in WWII resulting in a diverse confluence of cultures - and while this seems to have waned of late, there is still so much left in Cavite City in terms of architecture, public art, festivals, and even outlooks on the value of art that fed into the establishment of Gunship Revolution. Being one of the nuclei of the Philippine Revolutionary movement against the Spanish Empire also didn't hurt for staying thematic.
Simple and Spartan
We didn't start with any outside investment when we started Gunship Revolution. Emman had thirteenth month pay from managing an art studio previously and Harvey had his savings from freelancing. I didn't get thirteenth month pay myself since I had tended my resignation from my advertising job in October. Obviously, getting a business district office space was out of the question; in fact, renting a room out in the provinces with its own bathroom was out of the question either.
The Apartment beside the Haunted House, as we fondly remember it now, was supposed to be a step up from Harvey's Garage where much of the preliminary work for Gunship Revolution began. Given all the clean up and repairs that went into readying the space (which, I must repeat, did not even have its own bathroom), whether it had been a step up is entirely questionable. It was a thoroughly spartan arrangement: futons, electric fans, an electric stove, rudimentary internet. Everyone brought their own laptop.
Be that as it may, it did establish one doctrine we continue to abide by in Gunship Revolution: we work within our means and we make the most of that. When the GR site launched early in the March of 2012, we launched the site as a company that coordinated artists from across the globe to handle large-scale art projects for international companies. Certainly, we were. None of our clients ever asked if we had our own bathrooms and we never bothered to tell anyone.
Sound Body, Sound Mind
We moved into the apartment during the coldest January in living memory and, as part of having started a major professional undertaking, we decided to top that off with an equally daunting training regimen. Before sun-up, we'd be doing laps around Samonte Park, breathing in the lush sea air while watching the last patrons of the local beer houses make their ways home before dawn. Then, Harvey would teach Emman and I Karate with the windows closed. Afterwards, we'd eat breakfast while the noxious steam of exhaustion is aerated out of the apartment by an electric fan blowing out the window. Every other day, we'd go to the gym.
Fitness was always one of those things Gunship Revolution was built around. We have the guys take regular check-ups. We exchange workout programs and diet advice. Most of us in the inner circles follow some health plan or diet even today, owing to the fact that very early on we established that health (and healthy habits) was going to be a priority between us, especially given the sedentary nature of the work itself. Of course, Emman had been one of those guys who, through willpower and discipline, lost something like a hundred and fifty pounds after battling with obesity in his late twenties. Sensei Bunda, our resident gym buff, had similarly taken to working out to deal with anxiety. Hanging out with the two when we started Gunship Revolution was the single most exhausting and sugar-deprived three months of my life.
Set apart for something different
We still visited the Metro of course, especially when we ran workshops, but we found a kind of sufficiency in Cavite City that carried over into our general corporate attitude towards what our necessities were.
For one thing, our artists were, and still are, scattered throughout Metro Manila and we were a whole town away to begin with. We couldn't meet up face-to-face very often obviously since the distance made it impractical. And even if we had been living in the Metro, Manila's apocalyptic traffic problem poses exactly the same problem either way. It was in Cavite, sequestered away from the urban jungle, that we learned how to manage operations completely online with only a handful of physical meet-ups in between.
Our focus on online business, both on the artist and client side, also freed us from many of the usual hurdles for local start-ups: the fancy office for meeting clients, the need to be situated near related businesses and services, the need for a working wardrobe: business casual will make you feel overdressed in Cavite City's streets. Staying in Cavite City clarified Gunship Revolution's identity and that identity remains long after we dispersed our center of operation.
The Exurban Experiment
We've said it before and we say it often that Gunship Revolution started from the yearning to try something new in a Global Industry that challenged all of us to adapt. We saw that so much of urban life in the Metro - traffic, pollution, the lack of public spaces, the high cost of living, among other things - actually hampered the kinds of businesses big cities were originally designed to help thrive. We wanted to work around that.
Gunship Revolution's three months in Cavite City, not to mention the long individual experience of working here between Harvey Bunda and myself, had been a central, definitive experience in that search. It was far from a perfect experience of course - many amenities are unavailable anywhere when you're starting with a spare-change budget - but if Gunship Revolution was to be any example to anyone coming after us, we'd have to say that the Exurban Experiment is an option well worth exploring.