Shooting for a real Manila

Shooting for a real Manila
Cinema still: Metro Manila

For next year's Oscars race in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the United Kingdom has selected Metro Manila, and it is in Tagalog.

Written and directed by British film-maker Sean Ellis and filmed in the Philippines capital, it was selected by a Bafta committee to enter the race for films that are primarily not in the English language. The rules allow films in languages not indigenous to the submitting country.

The crime thriller, which opens in Singapore on Thursday, Sep 26, was sparked by a sight Ellis, 43, saw while he was on holiday in Manila in 2007: two armed security guards arguing in the street, near an armoured car.

"One of them was kicking the truck, then they got in and drove off. They had M16 rifles, so there wasn't much funny about it. It looked like they were going to shoot each other," he tells Life! on the telephone from London.

Eighteen months later, that scene had grown into a script about a rice farmer who becomes trapped in a plot to rob an armoured car.

In an industry where story locales, languages and even the race of characters are swopped freely to suit budgets and win audiences, Ellis says he was not willing to compromise; the story needed to be set in Manila and in Tagalog, he says.

"The idea was given to me in the Philippines and I felt I should return and make it there. It had to be made on a very small budget because this film was never going to be a blockbuster.

"The Philippines just wasn't a place I saw on the cinema screen very often, and it felt vibrant and exotic and dangerous to me. This was a place I wanted to visit in the cinema and I hope audiences come out of it feeling they had been there," he says.

It helped that production costs are low there compared with his home country and there was a wealth of well-trained English- speaking talent available, he says.

Ellis' career kicked off smartly when his short film Cashback (2004), about a supermarket worker with the ability to freeze time, won an Oscar nomination. A feature-length version followed in 2007, which received critical acclaim as well as winning several awards on the festival circuit.

He stumbled with his next feature, the psychological thriller The Broken (2008) which he also wrote and directed.

It was "a bit of a miss" with critics and at the box office, he told The Guardian newspaper earlier this month, so funding for personal projects dried up. He re-mortgaged his home to raise the S$500,000 needed to make Metro Manila, he told the newspaper.

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