For Filipino-American filmmaker Ryan Matthew Moore, giving back to Philippine cinema has always been a dream that he wanted to pursue.
However, having been born and raised in Southern California, his ideas for a dream project were vague at best, during his early years as a young filmmaker.
Thanks to his experiences in studying in Manila, learning about his family’s heritage there, and his keen interest in Manny Pacquiao’s career, Ryan was able to find the direction that he needed for his dream project.
Co-directed by Ryan with Academy Award winner Leon Gast, Manny is probably the most up-close-and-personal documentary of the eight-division world champion and beloved Saranggani Congressman.
Narrated by Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Batman Begins, Taken), Manny is the closest depiction of Pacquiao’s day-to-day life as a father, son, boxer, politician, showbiz personality, humanitarian, and a man of faith.
It also features interviews with Pacquiao’s inner circle, friends, family, and notable Pacquiao fans including Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Lone Survivor, Transformers 4), and Jeremy Piven (HBO’s Entourage, Old School, Serendipity).
Discovering the connection
Ryan took the first step of the Manny journey in Manila, where he lived for five years. He was then a high school student at Brent International School in Pasig.
It is here where he further honed his knack for storytelling. Having previously done short films in elementary school in the US, Ryan continued to do short films and did theater work as well in Brent.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Journal, Ryan admitted that having been exposed to Philippine cinema and television helped cultivate his dream of doing a project that honors Filipino cinema and Filipinos.
“So this [Manny movie] is a long-time coming,” Ryan said. “This is a dream that I had for a very long time.”
However, during this early stage in his career, Ryan has yet to realize the concrete form of his dream project.
“I really wanted to do something to honor the country and I wasn’t really sure what that was going to be at first,” he said.
Little did Ryan know that his family’s heritage and history in the Philippines would help him find the connection between his personal life and his dream project.
“Living in the Philippines completely opened my mind,” Ryan said.
There, he learned so much about his background, his culture, and his family’s history. Seeing how his family lived in Manila, Ryan developed an appreciation for his blessings and admitted that it pushed him to work harder in his studies and in his craft.
“My mother had a very hard upbringing there,” Ryan said. “And moving to the States as a nurse, she worked very hard to come here. So seeing firsthand where she came from, it gave me a very deep appreciation for all the sacrifices my family made for me to be where I am. It was definitely an experience which motivated me very much.”
Having multi-awarded Filipina actress Hilda Koronel as a stepmom has made Ryan even more eager to contribute something to Filipino cinema.
Coming back to Southern California, Ryan started researching for stories for his movie. His fandom for Manny Pacquiao materialized in an unexpected way.
Watching Pacquiao’s career and his fights, Ryan realized that the boxer embodied what his mother went through, what a lot of Filipinos go through: having to leave home and family behind to make something of themselves abroad to support their family.
“That was something that really got me interested into doing something about Manny,” Ryan said.
Researching on Pacman’s “Cinderella man” life, Ryan realized that Manny is the most unlikely hero for him to write about.
“What happened in his earlier life, and how he became such a beloved boxing figure of this generation, it’s just something that you can’t really write once you hear his entire life,” Ryan said.
For the young director, Pacman’s life seemed like the perfect story that would be inspiring not just to the ordinary Filipino, but to pretty much “anyone who really wanted to feel like they wanted to be inspired.”
“There’s so much to him beyond what people know him for,” Ryan said.
“There was really nothing more I wanted to do. So I kind of got on this journey of developing a film and eventually going after it.”
Some 5 years ago, right around the time before Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton, Ryan met Manny through common friends.
They started hanging out, playing billiards, going to karaoke bars, and even attending church together. That was also around the time when Ryan came up with the idea for the Manny movie and pitched the idea to Pacquiao himself.
“Manny loved the idea, he loved the concepts,” Ryan revealed.
However, Pacquiao’s implied approval of the ideas and concepts was not the end-all be-all solution for the movie.
As Ryan soon discovered, there were layers upon layers of people, handlers, and hangers-on around Manny that he had to get through to make things happen.
During the early days of filming, Ryan had to get through to these people just so he can keep tabs on Manny’s schedule and be at the places where Manny was so he can capture raw footage.
Being a boxer and a politician made Manny more elusive, Ryan revealed. Manny would have so many things going on during fight days, or during his regular routine in the Philippine Congress.
One day, Ryan would be set to film and would be given Manny’s schedule. But then, on the day itself, Manny flies off to General Santos to attend a function.
“I’ll be waiting for him, and they’ll say ‘Oops, he’s not showing up. Something happened. He got stuck in Manila,’ or ‘This is the new schedule.’”
Ryan said the filming process was very difficult because of the logistical challenges posed by Manny’s schedule.
In fact, Ryan said that filming process itself was complicated, crazy, and full of interesting subplots that a separate documentary can be made out of it. That documentary would have been called Chasing Manny, Ryan said.
“You’re literally chasing him around,” the young director said.
It was literally a circus, with the filming crew running around trying to stay on top of what’s next in Manny’s itinerary.
It even came to the point when Showtime was asking for Ryan’s help in figuring out where Manny was.
When the network shot the all-access video for the Pacquiao-Mosley fight, they would text Ryan all the time asking “Where’s Manny? Where are you? We’re trying to film.”
By 2011, Manny was able to see that Ryan and his crew were able to keep up with his schedule and was very resourceful in finding out where he would be next. Ryan “knew all the players” and they would feed him information about Manny’s next stops.
By then, Ryan and Manny had a good working relationship. Manny really started working well with Ryan’s team and would talk to Ryan himself and let him in on the goings on in his life and inner circle. Their relationship became so close that Manny was comfortable with letting Ryan get into his personal space.
“It was one of the high points for me when we were able to be at the location before Manny got there or when Manny and I reached a comfort level when I can knock on his bedroom door,” Ryan said.
“Jinkee would be there with him. I’d knock on his door and say ‘Manny, can I come in and film?’ He’d say ‘Sure!’ And we’d come in and film his bedroom. It’s like that.”
Once Ryan reached that comfort level with Pacquiao, he knew that he had a level of access that neither HBO, Showtime, nor anyone else had. But that took time to build, Ryan acknowledged.
Ryan was even allowed to be in Congress meetings, closed door workouts, or meetings with Chavit Singson. Manny would allow Ryan to sit in, the director revealed.
“Throughout the process, I think that he knew this film was going to be something important for him, for his legacy,” Ryan said.
In the end, with the kind of access Ryan had to Pacquiao’s inner circle, the film was able to capture a more meaningful perspective into the life of Manny, the man.
“He told me that he considered me someone who he felt was a good person, and he calls me his friend. And I think too, that because Jinkee became very comfortable with me as well, Jinkee would confide in me certain things. Jinkee would tell me things at times,” Ryan revealed.
Ryan felt that both Manny and Jinkee knew that he was there for a real purpose, and not for any ulterior motive.
“I was doing my job and I wasn’t overstepping boundaries,” Ryan said. “I was there to film him, I was there to do the best possible work I could do. I think he knew that.”
Manny, the man
“I chose the title Manny because by the end of the film, I wanted people to feel like they knew him as just Manny. Not Congressman Pacquiao, not the Pambansang Kamao, not the guy with ten world titles, but the guy who you cuold be on a first name basis with because you feel him,” Ryan said.
Be it a boxing legend, icon, politician, religious leader, or father, Ryan ultimately wanted Pacquiao to be known as Manny, the man.
“I wanted to be honest,” Ryan said of the film.
Manny runs for 107 minutes, and is set for a nationwide release in the Philippines this March.
However, Ryan said that their team is settling on a final play date because they’re also trying to negotiate a date for the North American release.
“But for sure, the release in the Philippines will be in March,” Ryan said.
(For more information about ‘Manny’ visit http://www.mannypacquiaomovie.com/)
(LA Midweek February 5, 2014 MDWK pg.2)