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Promoting PH in cinema’s beloved New York train station

By: - Columnist
/ 12:20 AM May 24, 2018

Jeepney mock-up —RUBEN V. NEPALES

LOS ANGELES—On a recent Friday afternoon, we found ourselves talking about the Philippines as a filming location for international TV and movie productions, among other topics, in one hall of the majestic Grand Central Terminal in New York. It was all part of Explore Islands Philippines (EIP), a tourism and investment expo held in the Vanderbilt Hall of the cavernous train station that draws thousands of passengers and tourists every day.

Stepping into the main concourse of the terminal, considered a US National Historic Landmark and the location of many movies, from “The Avengers” (2012) to “Superman” (1978), we saw “Explore Islands Philippines” bannered under a welcome arch. At the entrance to the Vanderbilt Hall, a colorful jeepney mock-up that guests and passersby took photos of or posed for photos with, and a LED wall display showing the Philippines’ beautiful attractions, from Cebu to Palawan, made us feel home.

From May 9 to 12, the Vanderbilt Hall was the site of panel discussions, Filipino folk dance performances and culinary presentations, and other events of EIP, which was organized by New York-based Fil-Ams, Jerry Sibal and Edwin Josue, under their JS Productions.

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With the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, Tourism Promotions Board and Philippine Airlines as major presenters, EIP became the first Philippines expo held at the Grand Central Station, which is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.

We do not claim to be an expert on the Philippines as a filming location of international shows and movies. But we are very interested in helping attract more productions to our country mainly to create more jobs. In fact, in July last year, we organized a group of individuals who share this passion and met with Consul General Adel Cruz at the Philippine consulate in Los Angeles.

Grand Central Terminal in New York —AP

The group included an American and Fil-Ams, all based in Los Angeles and with ties to Hollywood: Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions exec Rey Cuerdo, entertainment lawyer Michael Shutello, producer-manager Peter McHugh and my wife and fellow journalist, Janet Rodriguez Nepales.

Janet also participated in our EIP panel talk, along with filmmaker Hezues R, and Karen Gamba as the moderator. For our research on the topic, we turned to Jun Lope Juban Jr., the go-to guy for international productions in the Philippines. Jun, who began as a production liaison assistant for his late brother, Dennis Juban, in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” handled the Philippine shoot of many films and shows, from “The Bourne Legacy,” “Platoon” to “Survivor” (US).

The executive producer of Philippine Film Studios Inc. said that while there hadn’t been a major Hollywood film shot in the country since “Bourne,” the Philippines’ beautiful outdoors continue to attract reality show productions, including the “Survivor” versions of various countries, from Denmark to Finland. To this day, I have not forgotten what Frank Marshall, the globe-trotting producer of the “Bourne,” “Indiana Jones” and “Jurassic World” movies told us—that Palawan is “the most beautiful place I had ever been to.”

Since the Philippines is apparently the only country in Southeast Asia that does not offer incentives to international productions, Jun hopes our government will consider giving rebates and other inducements. He said, however, that the country’s professional crew and staff and production rates continued to make the country a draw as a location, especially reality TV shows.

Backstage, we met Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, Cultural Center of the Philippines’ president, who was in town to give one of EIP’s presentations.

Jerry and Edwin, who are driven by their love for their homeland (against all odds, they produced “Noli Me Tangere, The Opera” in New York, Washington, DC, and even brought it to the Philippines), were pleased with the expo’s success.

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“It was so touching for me to see that my dream was finally realized after three years of long wait and struggle,” said Jerry, a renowned event and floral designer. “It took courage and guts to push this ambitious project and make it happen.”

Edwin, a real estate broker, added, “The feedback from the many who dropped by the show really made me proud to be a Filipino. People said the expo instilled pride in them as Filipinos. It was historic in a way that we were able to mount this big project for the first time with the help of the Tourism Promotions Board and the Department of Tourism.”

As for their iconic venue, Jerry said: “GCT is the largest terminal in the world and where business decision makers hop on and off the subways. GCT has a captive audience, wide global exposure and most importantly, it’s accessible to tourists.”

On their plans for the expo, he said: “We hope to bring EIP to Canada and the West Coast like San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

E-mail rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.

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