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Metro Manila - Sean Ellis and Jake Macapagal interview (exclusive)

Metro Manila

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Sean Ellis and leading man Jake Macapagal talk about some of the challenges of bringing Metro Manila to the big screen as well as the appeal of making the film.

Sean recalls putting his house at risk to realise his vision, while both he and Jake discuss some of the difficulties of shooting on location in such a vibrant city. They also reveal their pleasure at the film’s global reception.

Q. Sean, I gather the idea for Metro Manila stemmed from an argument you saw between two armoured car guards while you were on holiday?
Sean Ellis: Yeah, the idea came from seeing these two guys. To me, it looked like one of them was in a situation where he was being forced to do something that he was not happy about and it ended up with him kicking the truck before they both got in and drove off. I thought maybe one of them was trying to force the other one into a robbery. And I liked that idea and thought it would be an interesting idea for a film, especially if it was a family man being forced to do a robbery for the company he worked for. So, it was then about trying to figure out how to get the family to that point and how it turned out afterwards. I’d never seen a heist movie like that before. So, I wrote this 20 page synopsis and it went from there.

Q. Was it difficult to finance at all?
Sean Ellis: It was. After completing the synopsis, I went to LA and turned the 20-pages into a 90 page screenplay with Frank E Flowers, my co-writer, and we sort of shot it around some of the usual suspects. But it quickly became apparent that while they were intrigued by the idea of it, they felt that the cost of actually going to the Philippines to shoot was not a viable option for them. But this was always going to be a very small budget film. It was something I was always planning to make on the run because I didn’t feel it needed to be expensive. So, I felt justified that I could shoot it in Tagalog. But even so, it became such an uphill battle that in the end I remortgaged my flat.

Q. That was brave…
Sean Ellis: [Laughs] They say you shouldn’t really spend your own money on a film because it’s a very diffcult industry. But the thing was, I really believed in this story and the film and stupidly believed I could maybe pull it off. Sometimes, you only realise when you get to the other side how it could have gone horribly wrong. It’s like swimming between two islands and finally getting to the other side and someone saying to you: “But didn’t you realise those are the most shark-infested waters in the world?” So, this was all about blind faith and pig headedness.

Q. Jake, how did you become involved? I gather you didn’t think you were right for the part at first?
Jake Macapagal: That’s true. Initially, I was just there as support to be the liaison for Sean and to help him cast the film and find the production manager and gaffers. But of course as an actor you wish the director you’re meeting would see something in you would be right for the role and in the back of my mind, I was just hoping that he miht give me a chance for a [script] reading. Fortunately, as we were auditioning for the role of Oscar, he made me read, and I made sure that I was giving my best. Afterwards, I was desperately hoping that he would offer me the role… but then I later found out that he already knew he’d found his Oscar as soon as he met me [laughs].

Metro Manila

Q. Did you do any research into armoured security guards as part of your preparation?
Jake Macapagal: No, what was more familiar to me was how people lived that way… certain parts of Metro Manila are less fortunate than others and all people are thinking about is living moment to moment and what they are going to eat. I grew up in that kind of neighbourhood, so I didn’t have to look any further. In terms of the security guards, in every block of Metro Manila there will be 20 security guards hanging around with M16s. So, I do know the kind of work they do and the sacrifices they make.

Q. Sean, is it at all intimidating making a film in those kind of surroundings?
Sean Ellis: The only problem we had was in the opening sequence when we were shooting the father being killed. It was the day that I forgot the tripod and we had to have someobody fire a gun into the camera and so had to hold the camera with the gun being fired at it point blank. We had to trust the man turning up with the blanks that they were blanks and that we wouldn’t get our head blown off! Plus, I can never get used to the sight of guns. I mean, this is a place where the traffic wardens are carrying shotguns – and that’s a sight you never really get used to.

Q. What does the global success of the film mean to you?
Sean Ellis: It means everything. It’s so hard to get a film platformed. There are some great films made that never find an audience. So, I’m extremely thankful that the audience award at Sundance allowed the film such a great platform and a great chance to help it reach such a wide and global audience. This is, at the end of the day, a tiny film and everyone who has worked on it has been so passionate about it. When the titles roll at the end of the film, you know pretty much everyone personally. It’s been an incredible experience.

Read our review

Metro Manila is released in UK cinemas on Friday, September 20, 2013.