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A Minute With: the director of a documentary about Journey singer

Neal Schon (L) and Jonathan Cain of the band Journey arrive with director Ramona Diaz for the premiere of "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's
Neal Schon (L) and Jonathan Cain of the band Journey arrive with director Ramona Diaz for the premiere of "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When veteran rock band Journey chose unknown Filipino singer Arnel Pineda to become their new frontman it inspired a filmmaker to capture his rise from obscurity in the streets of Manila to performing on arena stages.

"Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey," directed by Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz, picks up Pineda's story soon after he was chosen to join Journey in 2007 after the group saw him on YouTube.

Diaz's documentary film opens in theaters on Friday. She spoke to Reuters about Pineda's story and working with the band.

Q: Were you worried about dealing with all the different personalities of a famous band?

A: My very first film was about the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. She was very powerful and she was difficult. I hung out with her for two months. She ended up suing me because she didn't like the film. After that experience, I thought, I can handle anything now. I can handle rock bands!

Q: What surprised you most about Journey?

A: It was a surprise to me that for such a veteran rock band, they were not used to having cameras ... backstage or in their dressing rooms. I thought rock bands were used to it because of MTV, where backstage and tour buses are open to cameras. But at the height of Journey's fame, MTV was just forming as well. They didn't understand the reality of what full access meant. But at the end of the day, we got it.

Q: Do you consider this a music documentary or more of a documentary about Filipino heritage?

A: I think it transcends all that. It really is a Cinderella story with a very modern twist because of YouTube. This story could not have happened 10 or 15 years ago, not in this way with the help of social media. But at the heart of it, it's a Cinderella story. For non-Journey fans, Arnel's personal history is very compelling.

Q: How so?

A: He was a street kid in Manila. Success happened to him later in his life. I think he was 40 the year he joined the band. He had already lived the rock 'n' roll life, even without the money - the drugs, the women. He saw this as an opportunity for him to really get his life together.

Q: It seems like you really bonded with Pineda. Did it help that you were Filipino?

A: I think so, mostly because of the language. I can speak Tagalog. That first summer when he toured with Journey, he had no entourage. It was just him in his dressing room. We (a crew of five) became his sounding board because no one else was traveling with him. The second year he had a roadie, his wife was traveling with him, and it would have been a completely different dynamic.

Q: In the film Pineda switches between speaking English and Tagalog. Sometimes the same sentence is a mixture of both.

A: We call that 'Taglish.' Taglish is very common in the Philippines. I actually encouraged him to speak Filipino in the documentary. There were certain things I don't think I would have gotten from him emotionally or with such strength and passion if he had to stick to English.

Q: The budget for this documentary was under $2 million. Was it easy to raise the money because of the band's name?

A: I've done three other features and I thought it would be very easy to fundraise for this because (the subject matter) is very accessible, but no. No one believed in us. We were never able to raise the money. So it was on our dime, on our credit cards, small investments from family. The title song, "Don't Stop Believin'" that's us - the crew, me and my producer.

Q: Didn't the band want to kick in some funds?

A: There are certain boundaries you don't cross. This is an independently produced film. If Journey had funded it, there would have been strings attached to it. Money isn't free. The final cut wouldn't have been ours. It would have been deemed a vanity project, which it isn't.

Q: The rock 'n' roll lifestyle is very male-centric. Did being a woman help or hinder you on this film?

A: I think sometimes it was to my advantage. I'm small - 5'1" - so I'm less threatening to people. They allow me more things.(Laughs) So I was allowed in dressing rooms and tour buses. They just say yes!"

(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Patricia Reaney)

(This story was corrected to give full name of filmmaker in the second paragraph and gender in the third paragraph)

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