by Jason Whyte
MANNY - At SxSW 2014
“”Manny” is the untold story of Manny Pacquiao, one of the most celebrated boxers to ever enter the ring since Muhammad Ali. His life is a true definition of a Cinderella-Man story. From growing up in the slums of the Philippines fighting to feed his family to now carrying the hopes of a 100 million people on his back as he enters the ring, Manny Pacquiao has become a symbol of hope to millions all over the world. To top it off, when he’s not boxing, he’s serving his people as an active Congressman.” Director Ryan Moore on MANNY which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
Yes this is my first SXSW experience and I am definitely attending the world premiere of “Manny”!
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?
I started making films when I was a kid. At first my dad and I created stop-motion animation videos with my Voltron toys and then I began making short films in grade school. I made my first short film "Dragon Slayer" when I was 12 years old and I casted my classmates in it. We edited it together using multiple VHS tape recorders, and my dad and I did the “special effects”, and my dad even performed the original score on our home piano. At that moment I knew I loved making movies. In high school I was involved in a lot of theater and continued making shorts for fun. Then while studying at the University of Southern California, I continued to work on some of my friend’s films and I even taught 3-D animation as a teacher’s assistant. After years and years of volunteering on other people’s projects, Manny is really my first big break.
How did this whole project come together from your perspective?
I have always been a huge boxing fan, and above that, I’ve always wanted to do an inspiring underdog story. The idea of doing a documentary on Manny Pacquiao came to me back in 2008 after I watched him completely demolish Oscar De La Hoya. Shortly after that fight, I got to meet Manny serendipitously through friends and family who were doing charitable work with him. After going out to a few karaoke outings with Manny, I pitched him and his team a documentary concept and he loved it. The production team I was partnering with at that time was unable to secure financing so I had to go back to the drawing board. After about year of trying with major networks and a few production teams with no luck, I decided to just take it on and went for it. So I reached out to friends and family for funding, contacting hundreds of them, and that became the beginning of “Manny”. Looking back it was a crazy proposition; a first-time-filmmaker combined with the riskiest genre of films, but somehow they understood the vision.
What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
The biggest challenge was chasing after Manny and his unpredictable life all over the US and the Philippines. Filming “Manny” was beyond a marathon and to top it off, because of the limited budget, I had to wear many hats; director, producer, line producer and so forth.
Try to picture what a typical day of training is like for Manny Pacquiao; running uphill several miles, 2,000 sit ups, 12 rounds of boxing, one hour of jump rope, playing basketball for two hours, eating 7,000 calories worth of food and burning 5,000, TV appearances, music rehearsals for concerts, and so on. The guy is a machine. So filming during the two months of training camp leading up a fight is exhausting. Now, one would think the schedule slows down after boxing is over. In fact it’s the opposite. Manny’s schedule is even more hectic and erratic. When Manny the boxer turns off after the last bell is rung, Manny the Congressman and Movie Star begins. That routine I would get used to during the two months of training flew completely out the window since his schedule would suddenly change at the drop of a hat. Living in the US while Manny lived in the Philippines most of the year also made it challenging because I would always have to fly 16 hours to cover events in his life. So sometimes I would hear about an important event in Manny’s life and would have to pack, be out the door and fly immediately in order to make sure I captured it. All the while completely unsure of how long I would be gone filming.
I originally planned to film for about a year but because Manny’s life kept changing I had to wrap production four times and ended up filming for two and a half years. To add another layer of fun to the mix, one of the most challenging parts of filming for so long is that my crew kept changing. I would fly out to Manila and would sometimes meet my cameraman the day of the shoot. Unfortunately I couldn’t ask my DP’s and cameramen to free up their schedules for two and a half years so whenever I had to film something immediately, it was always a toss up and I never knew who I was going to work with. Clean slate. The crew didn’t have any background of story, didn’t know who the characters were and what was going on. So I always had to be on my toes and made sure they were pointing the camera in the right direction.
Then came editing the 1,200 hours of footage, but that’s another story. I’m just going to keep it short and thank God for the best pound for pound editor in the world Lenny Mesina.
If you had to pick a single favorite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
I would have to say my favorite moment was when I travelled down to the Southern-most region of the Philippines (Mindanao) in search of Manny’s original home. It was a dangerous trip because there were reports of rebels breaking out into gun fights with military, bombings, and so on. American filmmakers were even kidnapped. I didn’t even tell my family I was going because I knew it would worry them. So after a long journey, we arrived at the original site of Manny’s former home. It was no longer there but I spotted a kid who was rolling around an old bicycle tire. Intrigued, I jumped out the van and began to follow the child. I followed him home, met his family and asked if I could film them for three days. Based on what Manny shared with me, this family’s living conditions were very similar to that of his own. It was a very humbling experience. Throughout my time I shared with this family, I was able to reflect on the hardship my grandmother endured growing up in the Philippines. She too, like Manny’s mother, was a single mom who had to fend for six kids. Another similarity they shared is they only had one room everyone slept in and often they would go hungry. Immersing myself into the daily life of this family gave me a deeper understanding of Manny’s character; what drove him, what made him tick, but it also gave me a stronger appreciation for my family’s own sacrifices. This experience was unexpectedly transformative.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?
Strangely I don’t drink coffee...I’m naturally caffeinated. Having my friends and family as my backers was definitely a driving force. The filmmaking process becomes very personal when you have people entrusting you with their hard earned money. I was driven to do Manny’s story justice l felt like if I did do a good job, it would also be doing my own family’s story justice because they too had similar hardships growing up in the Philippines.
I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
I had two main cinematographers, Jez Thierry in the US and Manny Pelayo in the Philippines. At the beginning of filming we shot on RED MX which was quite challenging. Our goal was to make the film feel more like you were watching a narrative versus a documentary, however the camera rig weighed 40 pounds. So after a few weeks of shooting with those monstrous cameras, which were not ideal at all for documentary filmmaking but the footage looked great, we finally switched over to the Sony F3. We were able to still maintain the 35mm look without all that weight.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW?
I’m looking forward to being a part of the communal experience of watching “Manny” on the big screen. I’m looking forward to seeing what people respond to and hearing their feedback on the film.
After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?
Manny will have its Manila premiere on March 10th and then it will open nationwide in theatres March 12th across the Philippines.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
I’ve never been to Dubai and I would love to show it in a cinema there. There are more than 700,000 Filipinos living and working in the United Arab Emirates, of which 450,000 living in Dubai are Filipinos. Imagine that; over 20% of residents living in Dubai are Filipino workers. Filipinos migrate to the UAE as Overseas Foreign Workers since there aren’t enough jobs to go around at home. As you can imagine, being separated with loved ones isn’t by choice and these workers take jobs in order to support their families. Since Manny himself is an OFW as he left home at an early age to fight to feed his family, I feel like this film would resonate with them.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
Sit on their lap.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?
If you decide to chronicle the life of someone still living, there’s only so much you can plan on especially when your subject is experiencing life as it happens right before your eyes. At some point, you just have to let go, scrap the plans you had, and allow the film to take on a life of it’s own. With that being said, always leave extra cushion in your budget to keep. You’ll always need that extra steam. Most importantly, filmmaking is such a collaborative process so surround yourself with people you trust who are smarter than you. These collaborators will ultimately help you grow...sometimes in more ways than one.
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 7-15. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3647
originally posted: 03/07/14 15:46:23