by Sean Crose
“I grew up in southern California and I’ve always been a boxing fan,” says Manny director Ryan Moore.
“Mike Tyson was my guy.”
Now, though, Moore will forever be connected with Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao. For Moore is the director of a new documentary about Pacquiao narrated by movie star (and former boxer) Liam Neeson.
“What still gets me excited,” Moore claims, “is when I see Manny talk about some of the experiences he went through at a young age.”
Indeed, the release of the documentary is the end result of a long, hard struggle for the first time filmmaker. Speaking with Moore, a friendly, engaging 34 year old, one gets the clear impression that the road to Manny was long and difficult.
“It was really tough,” he says, talking of the early days of his Pacquiao collaboration. “First off, we met at a charity event. It still took me about a year to get everyone to sign on.” Even after being given the green light, Moore still found the experience challenging.
“He’s always in many different places at once,” notes Moore. “It’s hard to catch him.” Over time, however, Moore learned to actually beat his famous subject to the punch. “He noticed that I was able to stay two steps ahead of him,” Moore claims. “I think I was able to earn his respect.”
So how did he get along with the famous Pac-Man?
“It’s a love-hate relationship,” he says of the process of making someone’s personal life public.
“Sometimes he would hate that I was around,” Moore admits. “Sometimes he would be like, “Where’s Ryan?”
Pacquiao may have found the experience trying at times, but Moore was obviously able to earn his trust. “Maybe he saw that fighter’s spirit in me,” offers Moore. Indeed, Pacquiao allowed Moore to delve into his personal collection tapes (“twelve hundred hours of footage,” he points out).
“He saved those tapes just for a special project like this.”
So did Manny leave him with any special instructions? “Don’t lose them,” Moore quotes Pacquiao as saying. “That’s my only copy.”
What makes Moore’s accomplishment so impressive is that well known Hollywood players like Jeremy Piven wanted to do a Pacquiao documentary, but Moore was the man to actually make the dream a reality. In fact, Piven was curious as to how Moore was able to do what he himself was unable to.
“I talked to Jeremy Piven about it,” says Moore. “’How’d you get this done?’ he asked.”
It may have had something to do with the fact that Moore has more in common with Pacquiao than some might initially think. Moore is an American citizen, but moved to the Philippines with his mother at the age of 14.
“I was really sheltered here in the states,” he admits. “It was pretty tough where I grew up, but when I moved to the Philippines, that opened my eyes to what was really harsh.”
The exposure to true, grinding poverty – the kind that Pacquiao was raised in – served to give Moore a fresh set of eyes. “Everything here in the States is a lot more comfortable and no one talks about it,” the director exclaims. “I definitely saw the struggle.”
Yet the difficult experience can be said to have paved the way for Moore’s future vocation.
“It became an inspiration for me to want to do films about Filipinos and their struggles,” says Moore, who sees his work as “paying honor to my mom and my grandmother and everyone else who struggled for a way of life. . .it’s a fire that’s been burning in me.”
Moore’s passion allowed him to work with more than just Pacquiao. Moore also became familiar with famed trainer Freddie Roach and aforementioned international star Neeson, who narrates the picture.
“They just seem like the most unlikely combination,” Moore says of Roach and Pacquiao, “but they work. They’re like yin and yang. They’re like the perfect combination of east meets west.”
Moore is clearly moved by the bond that exists between fighter and trainer.
“They both complimented each other so perfectly,” he adds. “When you see them work it’s like ballet… I get goose bumps when I think about just seeing them train.”
As for Neeson, Moore was deeply impressed with the man who lent his voice to the entire endeavor.
“He has the stature and the build of a fighter,” Moore points out. “He’s a big guy but he has a long reach.”
So, what was it like working with Neeson, a full-fledged movie star who was once a boxer himself?
“We talked so much about boxing,” says Moore, who points out good-naturedly that Neeson “admitted to me that he wasn’t as good as he had hoped.”
Now that the work is done and the movie has been released to the public, Moore can indulge in some much-needed relaxation. It’s worth wondering, however, how Pacquiao himself felt about the finished product.
“He told me he cried,” Moore says.
If that’s not a ringing endorsement, what is?
“Boxing fans will definitely be curious to see what he came from,” says Moore of his film.
“Some things people will be kind of surprised by.”