Filipina directs documentary on Malacañang for National Geographic Channel
Talk about the ultimate home invasion.
For the coming National Geographic Channel (NGC) documentary, “Inside Malacañang,” filmmaker Marnie Manicad gives viewers a peek into the country’s most tightly guarded address – the official residence and workplace of President Benigno Aquino III.
Manicad didn’t go into the project blindly; she was fully aware of the challenges. Securing all the necessary permits and gaining the insiders’ trust were only the beginning.
“We got access to the most secluded parts of the Palace,” she recounted. “We also had to convince the Presidential Security Group (PSG) that we needed to film their training sessions and operations.”
Manicad and her team had to justify their every move, especially if it involved the four people who are closest to the President – the group commander of the PSG, the personal security aide, the food tester and the presidential photographer.
She was stunned to discover that there actually was a person assigned to taste the President’s meals beforehand. She admitted, “I thought the food tester was an urban legend.”
Making the docu yielded other discoveries as well. “I learned more about the history and evolution of the place. It provided us with a deeper insight on the Palace – not just the physical structure, but its meaning to us, as Filipinos.”
In making “Inside Malacañang,” Manicad said, she was inspired by the NGC docus “Inside the Vatican,” “Inside: The Obama White House,” “Air Force One” and “Restrepo: Outpost Afghanistan.”
These “nontraditional” stories encouraged Manicad to “push the limits” of local docu-making. “It’s difficult to make docus, especially if it’s about a heavy topic,” she admitted. “In doing narrative feature films, you can adjust on the set. But with docus, you need complete grasp of the subject, because you can’t make excuses once you start shooting.”
Things are made more arduous by the very high journalistic and filmmaking standards set by NGC, whose editors went over every line of the script with a fine-toothed comb.
“For this docu, I had a 16-page voiceover script,” Manicad related. “But with the added research annotations and references, it reached over 84 pages. NGC is that strict when it comes to facts and details.”
NGC doesn’t accept popular online sources such as Wikipedia for the kind of information she needed. “You should only rely on books, actual reports and first-hand interviews,” the filmmaker said. “The script had to be cleared by NGC Singapore, Hong Kong and Washington DC before we could record the final narration, done by veteran actor Joonee Gamboa.”
It’s a landmark docu. It will not just give viewers an unprecedented, all-access pass to the Palace; it will also be shown on National Geographic channels all over the globe in the first quarter of this year.
“It’s unbelievable. I only used to dream about making docus. Now, not only did I finish one; as a bonus, it will be aired on NGC,” Manicad said.
Helping her every step of the way was husband Jiggy Manicad, GMA 7 reporter and anchor. “Jiggy has always been my top supporter. He breathes news and investigative docus. He gives me a lot of constructive criticism. We’re a team. He acted as creative consultant on this docu and also on my coming film.”
Apart from producing the motoring show “Turbo Zone” on GMA News TV, she also codirected with Cesar Apolinario, her husband’s fellow GMA 7 reporter, a feature film entitled “Dance of the Steelbars,” top-billed by Hollywood actor Patrick Bergin and Kapuso star Dingdong Dantes. “In the works is another docu for NGC in 2012. I also hope to produce a new TV show soon,” she said.