By , Sub-editor
TO SAY that he is adored by many seems an understatement, especially in the Philippines. Each time the 35-year-old Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao enters the ring, the crime rate drops to zero, and rebels declare a truce.
His remarkable journey to become a world-boxing superstar is immortalized in Manny: The Movie.
Directed by Ryan Moore and Leon Gast, the documentary takes a look at the boxer’s inspiring life story, his rise from poverty to become a 10-time boxing world champion and international sports icon.
Narrated by Academy Award nominated actor Liam Neeson, the documentary sorts through more than 1,200 hours of footage shot in Manila, General Santos City, Sarangani, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Dallas.
Also making appearances in the documentary are actors Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Piven, boxers Oscar de la Hoya and Evander Holyfield, singer Dan Hill, respected sportswriters and boxing analysts, as well as the boxer’s friends and family.
After making its world premiere at South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas last Saturday, the documentary is now on commercial screenings nationwide.
Filipino-American director Ryan Moore first met Mr. Pacquiao at a charity event in Los Angeles shortly after Mr. Pacquiao defeated Oscar De La Hoya in 2008. That chance encounter would be the start of Mr. Moore’s project to document the life of the Filipino boxing champion.
“Manny tells the untold story of this real-life Cinderella Man, but it also reveals a very intimate side of him,” Mr. Moore said in an interview.
Tieng-led Solar Entertainment Corp., which is distributing the documentary in the Philippines, arranged for an e-mail interview between Mr. Moore and members of the local media including BusinessWorld. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Question: How did the concept of creating Manny: The Movie begin?
Ryan Moore: Before I began production for this film, I was convinced that there had to be more to Manny’s life other than what was covered in the miniseries 24/7 on HBO. Don’t get me wrong, that TV show is extremely well done. Nothing gets me more hyped up before a fight, but as a Pacquiao fan, each episode left me wanting to know more about him, especially in his own words. I wanted to discover what drove him and what he felt was his underlying purpose for fighting. I believe our film illustrates that.
It was close to the end of 2010 and unbeknownst to me, chasing after Manny all over the United States and the Philippines would become my new job (and title: Manny Chaser). My goal was to create a visceral experience, and being attached to Manny’s hip is what it required.
Thankfully, Manny was open to having me in close quarters around him and his family.
Q: What makes Manny: The Movie unique from all the other inspiring life stories of athletes?
RM: His incredible childhood story aside, I think what makes Manny unique from other athletes is he fights for the people. His display of faith is also something I’ve never seen before. When you’re a superstar athlete at that level you tend to operate for one man only — yourself.
Manny is the kind of guy that puts it all on the line for his fans. When he goes into that ring and puts his life in danger, he truly cares about making his fans happy. Then at the end of the fight, he shows a sincere compassion towards his opponents. He’s an incredible human being first and boxer next.
I don’t think there’s ever been a boxer who’s also an active congressman. When you couple that together with the fact that he’s been able to achieve all of this with a 6th-grade education its mind-blowing. His story is so vast you could easily do a trilogy on his life. He’s extremely fascinating.
This film is unique in that it contains Manny’s full cooperation and his voice. Unlike other programs that only cover events before a fight, we continued filming his life after fights, in and around his family, and his political life. We had full access unlike those other programs. Manny really let me into his life. Also, Manny entrusted me with hundreds of hours of his personal never-before-seen archival footage.
Q: What was the movie process like? What were the biggest challenges?
RM: Making this documentary film was a huge undertaking. While I was filming in the field with Manny, we had an editing team going through all the hundreds of hours of footage. They would highlight moments or try putting together rough scenes. Then, once filming was complete (which went on and off for around two and a half years), I got into the editing room with my editor Lenny Mesina and we spent around 18 months making the movie.
Q: Why release the movie now?
RM: 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 DPs (director of photography) 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.
After four years of working on this, we decided to release the movie now because it felt right. I’ve been closely watching Manny’s life and I feel like we’ve captured the message that needed to be told. Once that was done, and then I knew it was time. Manny’s journey over the past four years has really changed a lot so I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.
This film covers his earliest beginnings to the present. You have to see it for yourself so that’s all I’ll say about it.
Q: Who are the celebrities you interviewed?
RM: I interviewed so many celebrities: Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Kimmel, Scott Caan, Giovanni Ribisi, John Cho, Don Rickles, Evander Holyfield, and many more. Unfortunately the film can only be so long so we had to cut out a lot them.
Q: What approach did you use in doing the documentary to make it more interesting for moviegoers? I wanted to make this documentary feel more like a narrative movie than a typical documentary. For that reason we shot with 35-millimeter cameras to give the documentary a more cinematic feel. I worked with an amazing crew: cinematographers, editors, etc. I also employed the help of composer Lorne Balfe () to do the score so that really enhanced the movie experience. Music in itself is such an important story telling tool. I spent months working with Lorne and he composed all original music for this film.
Q: Do you think Manny: The Movie will appeal to even non-boxing fans? Absolutely — I’d say Manny: The Movie is more of a human drama than strictly a sports film. At its core, Manny: The Movie is more about struggle, triumph, family, and faith. I think that people of all ages and backgrounds can relate to Manny’s story.
Q: How was it dealing with Mr. Pacquiao? How cooperative or hands-on was he on the project and were there things he didn’t want to talk about? It wasn’t challenging working with Manny… he was actually very cooperative during the entire filmmaking process. He gave me the access I needed. The most important thing to me was that he gave me full control of the project. He never asked to see any edits or have any final say. He entrusted me with telling his life story and he let me run with it.
The biggest challenge, however, was chasing after Manny and his unpredictable life all over the US and the Philippines. Filming Manny: The Movie was beyond a marathon, and to top it off, because of the limited budget, I had to wear many hats — director, producer, line producer, etc.
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. No — 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 superstar 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 will be gone filming.
As far as topics we discussed are concerned, I wish I could do another interview now. The Manny now is so much more open than the Manny I originally started with. I guess that comfort comes with having me around for all these years so the trust has to be there. Originally it took some time for him to warm up to me, but now I’m actually very surprised at how open he is with me.
Q: The voice of Liam Neeson was a very pleasant surprise. What was his involvement in the movie and how did he join? I wanted someone who understood the boxer’s struggle. I didn’t know Liam Neeson personally, however from my research I learned that he spent his early years as an amateur boxer in Ireland. Liam actually competed in around 40 amateur fights as a teenager, which is the reason why he has that signature broken nose.
So I reached out to Liam’s agent and he kind of declined. At that time eight films were tying up Liam’s schedule so he didn’t have time for a “passion project.” So at that moment, for some odd reason, I decided to write Liam a note and requested his agent hand it to him on set. His agent obliged. I didn’t really believe he would bother with the trouble, but in a few days I received a call. Liam read the letter and agreed to narrate Manny. A few months later, I was in New York directing Liam Neeson in a recording booth on my first film. Talk about surreal.
Working with Liam was a dream come true. We talked for quite some time about his background in boxing and to this day he still supports a local boxing club near his hometown.
Q: You are showing this movie to an international audience. What are your expectations? I honestly don’t know. My biggest hope is that people enjoy it. If the film causes audiences to feel something, anything, for Manny then I did my job. If they walk away feeling inspired or emotionally drawn to the character then that’s an even bigger success for my team and me.
Q: Will you be releasing an official soundtrack? Yes we are releasing an official soundtrack. Thanks to a dear friend Tristan, I was sold on the idea that this documentary needed a soundtrack inspired by Manny Pacquiao’s life. I called in some favors from personal friends of mine including Far East Movement, Apl.De.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas, and Cameron Rafati to work with Chad Hugo of the production duo The Neptunes. Together with his team Yardnoise, they produced original songs for a soundtrack. Other musician collaborations include Randy Jackson playing bass on “Manny’s Theme,” Mark Foster of Foster the People, Jabbawockeez, and Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun.