Jeremy Renner & Rachel Weiz, lost in Sta. Mesa!
During preproduction, of The Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy toured Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Manila in the Philippines. Ultimately, Manila’s history as a shooting location won over the team. Major Hollywood features, such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Brokedown Palace, were shot in the Philippines in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. “They had a 25-, 30-year run of making movies there,” says Gilroy, “and they have this huge infrastructure that was built up from all the films made about Vietnam.”
The filmmaker called upon LOPE V. JUBAN, JR., president of Philippine Film Studios, who has worked on most of the films that have come to the Philippines over the past few decades, to give them a tour of Manila. Not only could Juban—who came on as a line producer—offer locations that Gilroy was looking for, but his contacts with government entities would also be vital for a shoot that involved major stunts on city streets. “Juban said, ‘We can talk to the president about that,’ or ‘We can talk to the minister of transportation and the police department about that.’ They’re all people that he knew,” Crowley explains. “I couldn’t have gotten that in Jakarta or in Ho Chi Minh City.”
In fact, The Bourne Legacy would be the first Hollywood film in which Manila plays Manila. “The Philippines has played almost any country—Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Panama,” says Juban. “It is only now that we are filming Manila as Manila, which is great for us.”
It was important to the locals to show off the progress the country had made and their big new areas of development. The Philippines also offered the advantage of a mainly English-speaking local crew. English, the legacy of the American presence for 50 years before World War II, is widely spoken in the country.
Filming in Manila began in the San Andres neighborhood, its ramshackle houses and dark alleyways typical of the city’s lower- and middle-class areas. The San Andres neighborhood has grown organically over the years as locals have kept constructing additions to existing buildings. The casual visitor will find many a residential area that resembles a rabbit-warren maze of alleyways that have been cobbled together.
With its tangled web of utility lines and drying laundry overhead, and pleasant cooking smells merging with other odors of the city, the labyrinthine San Andres neighborhood is where Aaron and Marta find a place to hide from their pursuers: this time, the Philippine authorities.
San Andres was also the setting for a stunt in which Aaron played by actor Jeremy Renner to save (Rachel Weiz) Marta from capture after she is cornered by the police, makes a daring slide three stories down a narrow opening between two buildings. Because of very specific requirements, this set, a narrow three-story structure that the filmmakers called “the chasm,” had to be built by Thompson and his team.
The production’s metro Manila locales also included the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; the historic Intramuros district, known for its Spanish colonial architecture; the Manila Yacht Club; the Marikina covered market; and the Metropoint MRT train station in Pasay City. The crew also traveled approximately an hour by plane from Manila to El Nido, located on the stunning Philippine island of Palawan, for scenes that take place amidst the magnificent islands of the South China Sea. The dramatic islands, with their limestone cliffs that emerge directly from the water, are more often associated with the landscapes of Malaysia and Thailand.
For several days the crew also filmed part of a chase at Navotas Fish Port, known as the fishing capital of the Philippines, situated north of the city on Manila Bay. In the evenings, the location is a working fish market—1,000 feet long and 200 feet wide—that sells more than 100,000 fish every night. Every morning during the shoot, the crew had to scrub, steam and dry the market. Thompson and his team removed hanging tarps, added skylights and supporting posts, and scrubbed the floor to lessen the overpowering fish smell. This also served a practical purpose: to make the location safe for the complex stunt work that was to be performed there.
No Bourne film would be complete without its fair share of action. Still, emphasizes producer Frank Marshall: “Our rules that we have been very consistent with through all the movies is that we don’t have action for action’s sake. We don’t have a formula where every 10 minutes there has to be a fight scene or an action scene. The action has to be driven by the story. That’s what makes this series unique: These characters get into situations that lead to an action scene or a chase scene, but it all has a story point.”
Unit director Dan Bradley traveled to Manila months before shooting began in order to tailor the action sequences to the locations. “When we looked at the locations, he was with us, and then he said, ‘I’m going to stay behind for a week,’” producer Patrick Crowley recalls. “We waited for Dan to just sit and meditate and come up with great ideas. He’s come up with some things that have never been done before.”
Bradley’s biggest task was to choreograph a motorcycle chase that takes place on the crowded streets of Manila, much of it filmed with Renner in the rider’s seat. “When you’re doing something in which there’s somebody on a motorcycle and they’re not wearing a helmet, you have to have the principal actor do that,” says Crowley. “So we had Jeremy very much involved, and Rachel as well.”
Luckily for the production, Renner is an avid motorcyclist. “When I first met Jeremy, we were going to have some practice sessions, and he showed up on one of the fastest motorcycles in the world, which was one of 10 that he owned,” remembers Crowley. “We felt comfortable that we didn’t have to train him. He has the bones of an action hero. When I see him, I see that silent strength of Steve McQueen. When he gets on a motorcycle, then he becomes even more like him.”
Renner also put Weisz at ease as they worked with Bradley. “Being on the back of a bike with Jeremy, I felt completely safe,” she says. “He was doing wheelies, skids and slides—those kind of stunts that he’s very good at.”
The filmmakers were also impressed when Weisz displayed a previously unseen side: that of an action star. “She’s a great actress and has shown all this incredible talent playing characters who are typically not action characters,” says Crowley. But Weisz insisted on as much rehearsal on the motorcycle as possible and performed much of the stunt work herself. Laughs the producer: “Your heart still goes into your throat when you see her going 45, 50 miles an hour on the motorcycle with Jeremy.”
Prior to filming in Manila, Bradley’s team spent several weeks rehearsing the motorcycle stunts, while special equipment was brought in, including Bradley’s own “Go Mobile,” a custom-made vehicle upon which several cameras may be mounted. Bradley also recruited several expert motorcyclists, including professional stunt driver JEAN-PIERRE GOY, arguably one of the best in the world, to double on the most dangerous stunts. All were pleased to have an actual Batman on board for the production, as Goy was the only one able to drive the two-wheeled street machine called the Bat-Pod for scenes in The Dark Knight. Indeed, he returned to his key role for this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Bradley’s team also retrofitted several jeepneys, a minibus that is the most common form of transportation in the Philippines. “The jeepneys were our heritage from World War II,” Juban explains. “When jeeps were left behind by the Americans, the Filipinos made the body longer. From that time on, it has ended up our main public utility vehicle. That’s iconic Manila.”
Each painted in a bright, unique style to entice passengers to hop aboard, jeepneys are ubiquitous throughout the country, numbering around 100,000 in Manila alone. The long and narrow vehicle is a cheap and easy form of transportation, ideally shaped for navigating narrow roads that full-size buses cannot. Open windows provide its only form of air conditioning, and its passenger seating consists of two padded benches facing each other in the back, each seating six to 10 people. When the seats are full, additional passengers ride outside, hanging onto the back as best they can.
Jeepneys are featured in a key chase sequence with Renner, Weisz and Changchien that was filmed on one of Manila’s major roadways, Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard, the main route to the presidential palace. Approximately 90 cars and more than 300 extras were used for the sequence, which shot on a mile and a half stretch of Magsaysay Blvd. through three major intersections over several weekends. Helping manage the shoot were local authorities including the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Manila Traffic Bureau and the Presidential Security Group.
“Just on the MMDA, there were about 120 guys working with us—not just in the area, but in the peripheral surroundings to control and help ease the traffic,” Juban recounts. “The Manila police have a contingent of about 50, and the Presidential Security Group has about 20, and then there is the local barangay [district] police.”
A densely populated city of more than 11 million people, Manila was not the easiest place to shoot. “Manila’s a tough city to work in: There are traffic jams, and it’s hard to move around,” ends Crowley. “But the people are so gracious and excited about films. They know more about the Bourne movies than I know about the Bourne movies.”
“The Bourne Legacy” is released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corp. Showing on August 8, 2012.