They Dreamed a Dream in Manila

June 18, 2017
What do jobbing Australian actor/creators do when they’re touring in a production of Les Mis in The Philippines? Make a web series on the side of course!

As Actors-Manila follows the story of Tamlyn Henderson and Hugo Chiarella, two Aussie actors touring the Philippines as part of a professional production of Les Misérables.

Part documentary, part scripted comedy, the web series tracks the protagonists’ gradual descent into bickering and amusing escapades as they try to break into the Filipino film and TV industry.

Along the way they experience life in Manila, as well as some of the harsh realities of mateship and life outside of Australia.

We asked Hugo Chiarella.

How much of the show was real and how much was scripted?

As Actors – Manila is a real cocktail of scripted moments, real moments and improvised moments. It’s difficult to break down exactly how much was scripted and how much was real. Sometimes we were performing scripted material in the middle of real situations. For instance, when we interviewed YouTube star, Travis Kraft, or when we shot the scenes with the prostitutes, we had key moments that we needed to make happen, but there was also an element to it that was just about seeing what happened.

Often the dynamic between the real Tamlyn and Hugo trying to make this series was more interesting than the scripted Tamlyn and Hugo, so that was the stuff that ended up in the edit.

Where did the idea behind the show come from?

We had been touring Australia in Les Miserables for about 18 months prior to making this series. We were both trying to decide if we were willing to stay on for the Asian tour. So, we thought one way of keeping ourselves interested would be to have a side project.

In terms of the actual plot of the show, it mainly came out of necessity. We had very limited resources, so it seemed like the best course of action was to use reality as a starting point and build the fiction from there.

Can you describe what you were trying to achieve through the series?

There are a few different layers to what we were trying to do with the show.

I think on the surface it is a satire of a very particular kind of vanity. Social media has made everyone a self-styled celebrity now. It’s like everyone believes they have this invaluable advice to impart the world. I think we found the idea of these two self-involved, musical-theatre ensemble performers that no one has ever heard of, touring Asia, trying to give advice to their imaginary audience, really funny.

Beyond that we wanted to explore how Australians interact with other cultures. We wanted to satirise that sense of voyeurism and condescension that happens when Australians come into contact with real world poverty. We like to make very demonstrative gestures of making a difference, when really the things we do are often more about ourselves than actually doing anything to help.

What was the most eye opening or interesting part of your travels in Manila?

Attending the holy week crucifixions was a real eye opener. You can see some of the footage in episode seven and eight of the series.

We had to walk down this long, narrow street, crammed with people, while lines of self-flagellating men marched past covered in blood. Eventually the street opened up into this large field where thousands of people sat around and watched a nativity play that culminated in an actual crucifixion. It was one of the more surreal days of my life.

How did you go about creating this show? Did you have contacts already within Manila or did you need to search them all out?

We had written an outline of the series before we went over. We had a few scenes already scripted. But we really had no idea what it was going to be like, where we would be able to shoot or what was going to happen.

Being a part of Les Mis afforded us a lot of opportunities that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. The extras in the press conference in the final episode were all Les Mis fans that the local promoter organised for us. Cameron Blakely who plays the director, Victor Powell, was one of the actors in the show. The poolside fashion shoot and the album launch in episode three were all situations that came up through being in the show.

But we really had to use every resource we had available to us. We asked a lot of favours and had to be a bit shameless about asking people to be involved, but ultimately most people were extremely generous in helping us out.

The most difficult process was the editing. Because we shot so much of it in a documentary style, we often just left the camera rolling as events unfolded. This meant that there was literally hours and hours of footage to shape into the story. There’s still a lot of stuff left that we will probably release separately.

Go here to watch the entire As Actors – Manila.

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