Legendary rock star Joey “Pepe” Smith and Ely Buendia, two OPM icons, share the spotlight in the indie film Singing in Graveyards.
The director of the movie, Bradley Liew, described them as “pretty much staged father and son.”
In the film, the lead character is named Pepe, a 68-year-old impersonator of a Filipino rock legend. He lives alone on the borders of reality, imagination, and mysticism. One day, he’s finally given the chance to open for the rock legend’s concert but he must do something neither of them has done before: write a love song. Along the way, Pepe tries to rebuild his relationship with his estranged son (played by Ely Buendia).
How did they convince Ely to act in this film?
“My producer, Bianca Balbuena, she did Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis. Ely Buendia was an actor in there.
“Ely Buendia is really good friends with Pepe Smith anyway, so we told Ely, ‘You wanna cameo with Pepe?’
“He said, ‘Yeah, sure!’ It was really very casual.”
“I think they have known each other for more than ten years.
“I think they’re pretty much staged father and son."
Singing In Graveyards is the debut feature film of Manila-based director Bradley Liew.
The movie premiered at the 2016 Venice International Film Festival (31st edition of Critics Week, In Competition) as the the only film representing Asia in the section.
How was it like for Pepe Smith to impersonate himself in the movie?
“Pepe Smith is a very intelligent guy,” describes Liew.
“Even the idea of him impersonating himself, he was very game for it.”
“He knew what we were trying to do, so for him, impersonating himself, it wasn’t that difficult.”
“The Filipino people know Pepe Smith as the icon on stage. You know, rock and roll, and then we always think he’s always on drugs, or he’s drunk, or he’s got like twenty girlfriends, but that’s just his stage persona.”
“When I met Pepe, I knew who he was as an old man. That’s my first impression of Pepe—the old man, very quiet.”
“He’s half-American, so he grew up in American base so his first language is hindi yung Tagalog. It’s English, and so he would make all these English jokes but no one would understand what he’s joking about, so because of that, I have this feeling that it’s a very lonely place for him.
“He’s like a boy who grew up in the '70s and stayed in the '70s. He never left the 70’s he knew."
It was one-and-a-half months before the first day of shoot when Pepe Smith suffered a mild stroke, causing difficulties during filming.
How did they adjust when Pepe suffered a stroke?
“It was very difficult,” says Liew.
“It wasn’t like paralysis or anything, but it really took a lot of energy from him and his tongue, I think, had maybe a 20 percent speech impairment.
“We realized that he couldn’t shoot at a regular Filipino day on set, that he will get tired after four or five hours of shoot, and he would just fall asleep.
“We really had to adjust the way we shot to his health and to his benefit as well.
“I don’t think it caused a delay in production at all because we were very aware we could only shoot for ten days, so we were dying with ten days.
“We just said, ‘Okay, let’s not stick to the script. Whatever feels right, as long as the intention of the scene is there, Pepe can do whatever he wants.’
“Pepe will read the script. Whatever he remembered, he would say; whatever he didn’t remember, he wouldn’t say; and whatever he would improvise, we just took it.”
The director explained why he chose to make a film on the Pinoy rock icon.
“I really hope the Filipino audience watch the film because we are trying to show Pepe Smith’s soul.
“I mean this is a film about a cultural icon, music icon, someone who had shaped lives of a generation, more than one generation, and music that we know of today—and not a lot is known about him and the things that he’s gone through his life.
“I hope that this film would open more perspectives on how musicians are treated in this country and how we treat our elders.”
Because of the Film Development Council of the Philippines' (FDCP) Cine Lokal, Singing in Graveyards is now showing until October 5, 2017.
Venues are SM Mall of Asia, SM North EDSA, SM Megamall, SM Fairview, SM Southmall, SM Bacoor, SM Iloilo, and SM Cebu, at the following screening times: 1 PM, 3:30 PM, 6 PM, and 8:30 PM.