Sean Ellis and Jake Macapagal Interview
Sean Ellis and Jake Macapagal Interview
Sean Ellis, the director of Metro Manila, was joined by the film’s star Jake Macapagal to talk with View about the rigours of filmmaking in the sweltering heat of the Philippines, the best ways to shoot a film on a low budget where you have to be inventive, and how the gripping film made its journey from ideas to screen.
Sean, how did the project come about?

Sean Ellis

I was on holiday in the Philippines in 2007 and it was then that I witnessed two armoured truck drivers having an argument on the street, which ended with one of them kicking the truck and then they got in and drove off. I started to think, ‘I wonder what they’re arguing about’. That was the seed of the story, it was developed from there.
You wrote the script after that?

Sean Ellis

I wrote a twenty page synopsis. Of the two armoured truck drivers, it looked like one of them was being forced to do something he didn’t want to do. His frustration was purely just to kick the truck. I started to think, because they worked with an armoured truck, maybe it was something to do with the company they worked for. And one of them was kind of blackmailing the other into helping with a robbery. I thought that was an interesting idea for a film. That a family man is blackmailed into doing a robbery, for the company he works for. I just needed to figure out how that family got to a point where he got that job and then how this is going to resolve. I’d never seen a heist movie where the thing you needed to steal, you had to sacrifice yourself for. I hadn’t seen that, I thought that was fresh. But that’s a big spoiler.
You’re right though, that really jumps out...

Sean Ellis

So that was the thing I thought, that sounds really fresh, I’ve never seen that in a heist movie. The twenty page synopsis kind of had those beats. I went to L.A. and fleshed out the whole script with my friend Frank E. Flowers. At that point we had a ninety page script. Me and my girlfriend Mathilde Charpentier, who was a producer on it, we went out to the Philippines and tried to figure out how we could make the film. How we could put it together, you know? We had literally a shoestring budget. We made it for what the cost of a short film basically is.
And Jake, how did you get involved?

Jake Macapagal

We had a common friend. I was called to meet Sean Ellis, I didn’t know anything about him then. [Producer] Celine Lopez wanted me to help out in terms of introducing them to people - to find gaffers, find producers, basically providing the talent as well. I was actually looking at my black book of actors, I’ve been in independent cinema since 2006 or something. I was recommending actors for the role of Oscar. At the same time I was thinking - I’m too old for this guy, but at the back of my mind I was thinking, 'I hope he sees through me'. If he gives me a chance to read. And he did, I was reading for Oscar while there was an audition for the role of Mai. And he offered me the role. He told me afterwards, ‘Actually we thought of you the first day we sat down, I knew I’d found my Oscar’.
That’s good to hear...

Sean Ellis

I just needed to know you could act! As the pretence of getting you on camera opposite the actresses.
Did you look at any other heist movies in preparation? Either in the script stage, or the shooting stage.

Sean Ellis

Yeah, me and Frank looked at Training Day. And the reason that we did, it was more to see - obviously there’s a similarity between the characters of Ong and Oscar, in the fact that one’s kind of manipulating the other one, and taking him under his wing. But to be honest with you, because there’s so much filming in the truck, we looked at Training Day just to see how they’d done the coverage and what sort of angles they’d used. Funnily enough, when I look back on it, it’s a lot more furious than I remembered it. The car scenes, they’ve put cameras in the oddest places, literally in the footwells.

It works to some degree. What was interesting is I knew what wasn’t working. I took from that, 'This is where you can put the camera and it works, and this is where you can’t, it doesn’t. This is where it pops out, there’s no reason for that camera to be in the footwell.' I basically got my angles from looking at that sort of thing. There’s only a certain amount of places you can put a camera in a car, especially in an armoured truck. There was not much room in these things. Weirdly enough, Jake and John [Arcilla] did all their scenes separately in the car. They’re not there together.

Jake Macapagal

That’s right, I forgot about that.

Sean Ellis

There was one day that we had that basically meant you would be reading the off-camera lines from the boot. So you were in the back, I was sitting in the seat opposite John, and then we swapped. There was another day where we didn’t have you, or we didn’t have John, and you had to do all the lines without them. So someone else was just reading their lines to them. And we ran out of time, [to Jake] I don’t know if you remember this. We did one day in a truck, on a flatbed, and then we ran out of time and we couldn’t afford the flatbed anymore. So we drove the armoured truck to a quiet place, and it was night time. We lit the truck for day, and we had somebody stand on the roof, literally just moving it. We shot so much of that. Half that night truck stuff which looks like it’s day, is actually night. There was a really clever thing my gaffer came up with, which was a spinning piece of card that he put in front of the light. He’d spin it, and things flash on the faces, so it looked like reflections and stuff.
I know he’s sitting right next to you, but what was Sean like as a director?

Jake Macapagal

He’s a machine, he’s like a horse. He’s very focused. He starts in the morning, he’s the first person to wake up on set. It’s like, he’s drunk his tenth coffee. We do a lot of additional scenes, so actors will not be thinking, or not be conscious. He gives you the space. We have a lot of discussion, and we collaborate, and he listens to that. At the same time…

Sean Ellis

Whining and moaning. I listen to actors whining and moaning.

Jake Macapagal

He’s on top of everything.

Sean Ellis

What’s the old saying? Actors are only listening if you’re talking about them.
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Content updated: 15/11/2019 22:44

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