MNP Q&A: Manny Dela Rosa, Film Critic and Entertainment Reporter for KMIR (NBC), TFC and ANC

By Media Newser Philippines | Friday, July 13, 2018

Photo: Manny Dela Rosa
Artwork: Media Newser Philippines
If talking to celebrities and critiquing the work they do in films are two of the things you've long been dreaming of doing, then you'll be inspired by the story of Manny Dela Rosa.

Dela Rosa, known by Filipino audiences as Manny the Movie Guy of The Filipino Channel and ABS-CBN News Channel, has been part of the entertainment industry since the mid-'80s. At the time, he was a recording company dancer for groups such as Alpha Crayons and DYNA Dancers.

A "fun and profitable experience" for the then-20-year-old, Dela Rosa's dancing career would be cut short in 1988 after his mom asked him to migrate with her to the U.S.

"I had to move before I lose my Green Card benefit through my mom. So begrudgingly, I left the Philippines to start life anew in America," he shared.

Photo: Manny Dela Rosa
In the States, Dela Rosa tried to juggle his work at Burger King while finishing his degree at Purdue University Calumet. Initially, he took up computer science before switching to the field he truly loves and communicated so well — communication arts.

"My parents did not know that I switched degrees until I graduated in 1993 when our local Northwest Indiana Times featured an interview article about little old me during my graduation. Needless to say, my mom and dad were shocked that I switched degrees, but was very happy because not all graduating students get a full-page story about themselves. I was lucky!" he said.

From there, Dela Rosa would study film at the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago where the future film critic learned about the different genres of filmmaking. He would also spend 4 years working for United Cerebral Palsy, a non-profit charitable organization whose mission is to help adults and children with disabilities.

A believer in lifelong learning, Dela Rosa would later move to Las Vegas to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), where he not only scored a full scholarship but also an opportunity to teach radio and TV to college students.

"It was a great experience, and through UNLV, I found my job as a promotions producer at KTNV," he said.

At KTNV, which is an affiliate station of the Disney-owned ABC, Dela Rosa worked as a marketing producer. He would last there for 4 years before setting his sights on another adventure.

Eventually, he would move to Palm Spring, California, where he would end up working at the NBC affiliate KMIR. Originally working as a marketing director, Dela Rosa would later be given a chance to work in front of the camera — an opportunity that would change his life forever.

Manny the Movie Guy winning his 5th regional Emmy as Best Host/On-Camera Moderator/Performer. To date, he is the only Filipino to be part of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association, which produces the annual Critics' Choice Awards.
Photo: Manny Dela Rosa

From then on, Dela Rosa would become the popular host and film critic of his eponymous segment Manny the Movie Guy, which ANC began carrying in 2013. He would also later become a member of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Broadcast Film Critics Association — a first for any Filipino.

For the second part of our 8th anniversary special, we are taking a closer look at the life and career of the perky and talented Manny Dela Rosa. Here, he also talks about the importance of film criticism, the issues facing the film industry today, and how the studios can solve them.

Be sure to join the conversation below or on our Facebook page. You can also tweet us @medianewserphil.

Name: Manny Dela Rosa a.k.a. Manny the Movie Guy
Birthdate: May 5th. I was born on the fifth day of the fifth month. My mom started labor at 5AM and I came out into the world at 5PM, so the doctors and nurses at Pasig Hospital called me the 5-5-5 baby. Now, the date is just know as Cinco De Manny here in Palm Springs.
Occupation: Film Critic and Entertainment Reporter
Education: PSBA Quezon City (College), Purdue University Calumet (College, Graduated in 1993), School of Arts Institute (Post-Baccalaureate in Filmmaking)
Guiding Principle: Be nice, be happy, be brave
Media Idols: Madonna, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael
News Sources: Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post
Twitter Handle: @mannymovies
YouTube Channel: mdelar
Facebook Page: MannyTheMovieGuy

Hello, Manny. Let’s make an introduction. Tell us a bit about your story.
I’m Manny Dela Rosa, known as Manny the Movie Guy. I was born and raised in the Philippines, and I have always loved showbusiness, From my early teens I worked as a TV dancer — for Alpha Crayons and Dyna Dancers — then later joined the news industry in America via ABC in Chicago (WLS), ABC in Las Vegas (KTNV), and NBC in Palm Springs (KMIR) as a marketing producer, director and film critic slash entertainment reporter. I am blessed to be a multi-Emmy awardee, doing the things I love the most.

Let’s go to your background. You started your career as a recording company dancer more than a decade before being involved in TV reporting and film critiquing. Tell us about that experience.
It was a fun and profitable experience. I started as a fan of WEA Dancers with Geleen Eugenio back in the early '80s, so when I graduated from high school, I went to her dancing school at RALS where I did some background work for Lea Salonga. I also auditioned to be an OctoArts dancer during that time where I met Martin Castro (now with Retrospect) and we decided to form our own group called The Crayons. Our first dance was during the EDSA Revolution. We were supposed to debut at RPN-9’s Superstar with Nora Aunor, but because of the People Power, it got canceled.

We ended up giving a ride to Lorna Tolentino and company to go to EDSA to protest. Everything went well because the following Sunday, we debuted at Superstar as planned. Our most famous dance with Alpha Crayons was “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco. From there, we auditioned at DYNA and became their house dancers known as DYNA Dancers. Some of our popular pieces were “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, “I Heard a Rumour” by Bananarama, “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was Not Was.

My dancing career was cut short when I was instructed to move to the USA on September 24, 1988. I had to move before I lose my Green Card benefit through my mom. So begrudgingly, I left the Philippines to start life anew in America.

How was it like leaving your life here?
It was horrible! I was a young‘un then, and I had to leave my close friends to begin a new adventure. But I was and always will be optimistic and I knew that God and the Universe had bigger plans for me. But being an only child, I fought with my mom when I got here in America so she would buy a one-way plane ticket for me to go back home. She did, but somehow I stayed. I thank God for that.

How was your first few years as an immigrant in America?
Performing at the now-defunct GMA-7 variety show
That's Entertainment.
Photo: Manny Dela Rosa
The first few months were wonderful! I wasn't doing anything. I gained tons of weight eating heavy caloric American food. And then one day, my mom came home with an application for Burger King. So I did, like many teenagers before me, worked at the fastfood industry. You should see me making burgers and crying. I was thinking, "Gosh, a few months ago I was a famous TV dancer in the Philippines, and now look at me, making burgers!" But you know what? I took advantage of my stint at Burger King. They had a national scholarship program limited to few individuals. I applied and got it, and Burger King paid for my tuition for my first two years in college, which was a good thing because I was considered an out-of-state student then — this means you have to live in your place of school for at least a year or your tuition fee would be exorbitant.

My mom and stepdad encouraged me to attend Purdue University and take up computer classes. I could do it, I was good in math and science, but I was bored to death. So quietly, I spoke with the head of Communications, and I asked him — his name is Prof. Yahya Kamalipour — to rescue me. He told me what classes to take, and voila, I blossomed in college. I would later become a film critic for Purdue Chronicle. I embraced film criticism as a religion, and I did well in school, becoming an honor student every semester, which made my parents happy because honor students do get invites to the Dean’s home — a posh home in Hammond, Indiana.

My parents did not know that I switched degrees until I graduated in 1993 when our local Northwest Indiana Times featured an interview article about little old me during my graduation. Needless to say, my mom and dad were shocked that I switched degrees, but was very happy because not all graduating students get a full-page story about themselves. I was lucky!

My introduction to film as a critical study started at Purdue University with my Literature Professor. He became my Netflix during that time. I was in his office borrowing movies every day. My goal then was to see all the Oscar-winning films from 1929’s “Wings” to the present. I had no idea that you could see film with a critical perspective until then. And then, I was hooked.

Tell us about your time at the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago where you took up Film.
So after college, I received a full scholarship from the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago for my post baccalaureate in Film. I learned all the genre with the western genre being my favorite. I also created documentaries such as a transsexual woman writing a love letter to her dad. It was quite thought-provoking then, being the early '90s when no one was talking about LGBTQ issues. I also created a documentary, an homage to James Dean.

"When people say that I make them smile, then my job is complete. If God put me on this planet to make everyone happy, then so be it. I’m all for it! That’s my job and I’m very thankful!"

Let’s talk about your time at the UNLV. What was it like studying there and at the same time working as an undergrad teacher? How did you manage to do both?
So after my stint with the Arts Institute, I just started a relationship, so we needed money in order to move out of our respective homes. I decided to work for United Cerebral Palsy where I worked for 4 years helping people find employment. It was a fulfilling job but I was forgetting my creative voice. I have many skills to offer now and I thank the universe for that. One of those skills is to have people with and without disabilities so they can survive at life.

When the president of United Cerebral Palsy heard that my background was in TV production, they sent me to study Avid and non-linear editing. So I studied Avid at Columbia College in Chicago. I earned my certification, and I started doing production work for United Cerebral Palsy.

I decided to move West so I could finish my Masters in Communications. I had some relatives and friends in Las Vegas. I actually applied to both UNLV and UCLA and both accepted me, but UNLV was the one giving me free scholarship and stipend to teach radio and TV to college students, so I accepted UNLV. It was a great experience.

After this you would be setting your sights on television via WLS and KTNV. Tell us about that.
I was first an intern for WLS, also an ABC-affiliate in Chicago. I was an intern in the Creative Services Department which is really a fancy way of calling it Marketing Department. I chose to intern for the department because of the word "creative." And once again, thank God I did because that paved the way for me to learn the intricacies of marketing a newscast. I was able to gather some work to compile in my reel tape and when I saw that KTNV was hiring for a marketing producer, I applied and got the job. I worked and lived in Las Vegas for about 4 years until I got bored again. So enter KMIR and Palm Springs.

Now let’s talk about KMIR. Walk our readers through your early days at the station, where Manny the Movie Guy was born.
My general manager at KTNV heard that I was looking for a job to get out of Las Vegas so he told me to try Palm Springs and see if I would connect with the general manager there. I got interviewed and by the evening, my new general manager offered me the job of being a marketing director.

One day in April, when the show Friends was about to go off the air, I decided to partner with a local radio station, MIX 100.5, to see if we could have a big send-off for the show. Later they called me, not only to say we’re good to go with Friends, but also to tell me that they created a morning show around me and I’d be called Manny the Movie Guy.

I said, "Sure, sounds fun!" Little did I know that Manny the Movie Guy would consume me. I thought it would just be a once a week thing, but it became a fun once a week gig that required my attention. When my news director at KMIR heard that I was going to be on the radio, she said, "Then you should do it on TV too!"

Being there for quite some time now and being as established as you are today, does it still feel surreal that you are Manny the Movie Guy?
It still does feel surreal every time! I still pinch myself when I’m interviewing big Hollywood stars or upcoming indie sensations. I also still pinch myself when a local Palm Springs resident recognizes me, or a Filipino worker at the airport, or at a Filipino restaurant, or gosh even at the NAIA airport. It’s nice to be recognized but it’s nicer when they talk about the movies I just reviewed. I feel like I am touching their lives somehow. When people say that I make them smile, then my job is complete. If God put me on this planet to make everyone happy, then so be it. I’m all for it! That’s my job and I’m very thankful!

How do you rate or critique a film? What are the standards that you follow when reviewing a film? What do you look for in a film?
First, I rate movies not with stars or letter grade but with kisses. Having come from a production background, I know how hard it is to make a movie. No one seeks out to make a bad film, just bad circumstances. So every film deserves at least a kiss, or half a kiss, but kisses nonetheless.

Did the filmmaker succeed in bringing his or her vision? If so, was it entertaining? Was I hooked? Do I want to see the film again? What’s the best part of the film? The acting? Cinematography? Music? Editing? Production design? These are some of the questions I ask myself.

And then, I put myself in the audience’s shoes and ask, "Will I like the movie as a paying viewer?" I review the films not for me but for the viewers so I try to empathize with them as I look into cinema through that prism.

Dela Rosa reading to Palm Springs Elementary School students for Dr. Seuss’ Read Across America, a nationwide reading celebration that takes place every 2nd of March.
Photo: Manny Dela Rosa

Why do think film criticism important?
It is important because people rely on you to see if a movie is worth it before they shell out their hard-earned money. You have a responsibility to let the viewers know if a certain film is good or not. Hollywood knows this that’s why they would do anything to get a good Rotten Tomatoes score.

Speaking of Rotten Tomatoes, what are your thoughts on review aggregation websites? Do you think their scoring/reviewing systems are fair? If not, how do you think they can improve their systems?
They are okay but sometimes they wield too much power and they know it. And you know, with great power comes great responsibility so critics must be really careful in dishing out their stars or gosh, their kisses. Being looped in with other critics may be too dangerous as well, because sometimes, film criticism is neither black or white. It’s mostly gray. You have to read between the lines to see if you will like the movie or not. And giving a film a score can be unfair for the movie. One critic may like it, another one may not. Film criticism is subjective and should be looked as such. Not as a score similar to sports.

Who are some of the film critics you look up to, and why?
I have always looked up to Roger Ebert. When I was a college student, I bought and consumed gobs and gobs of Ebert’s books and wisdoms. I enjoyed his criticism because he was fair. He tried to see the good in a movie even though he was panning it. I try to do the same. If a film has no merit whatsoever, you can still find some redeeming aspect of it. You can hate a film without seemingly hating it, you know? That’s art, and that’s hard to do, and Ebert could do it with flair.

Pauline Kael, on the other hand, was a bit blunt and in your face, and I also see a value in it. I try to mix both and come up with my own.

"Celebrities are subjected to hundreds of interviews and I get that, so I try to be as well-informed as I can but also bring my own flair. I guess being empathetic and trying to put yourself in your interviewee’s shoes will do wonders."

What are some of your favorite movies, both foreign and local?
I will always stop what I’m doing when I see Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane on TV. I own the movie on VHS tape, DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital. Everything that we know about filmmaking now started with that movie. The choppy narrative that Quentin Tarantino uses nowadays came from that film. The low-angle, high-angle MTV shots also originated from that movie, as well as the black-and-white silhouette cinematography. Also, the twist in the end that we are so used to seeing in movies now, started with that film. Welles created that movie with a vision and a passionate flair, and you could see it on the screen. It was a trailblazer and still is to this day.

For local cinema, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala still resonates with me. I was a young high school student when that film came out, and was instructed to write a brief film criticism of the movie. I was enamored by Ate Guy, whom I endearingly call the Meryl Streep of the Philippines. Streep is known not for her histrionics, although she’s good with that too, but for her quiet, meditative acting, very similar to Nora Aunor. And her quite, meditative work in that movie as Elsa is still quite thought-provoking, now more than ever. Our Filipino culture’s penchant for miracles is highlighted in this brilliant movie where the miracle worker is asking for her own miracles herself. Quite a powerful work from one of the Philippines’ foremost filmmakers and storytellers, the late, great Ishmael Bernal.

Dela Rosa’s movie review of Black Panther, which is the second highest-grossing film of the year.

What do you think are the major issues facing the film industry today and how do you think the studios can address or solve them?
Well, the rise of Netflix and streaming is quite a powerful foe for Hollywood right now, but they are learning how to cope with it. I am still from the old-school of thought where films must be seen on the big screen and experienced with an audience to feel cinema, alive and vibrant. Netflix knows this that’s why it’s buying cinemas in New York and Los Angeles. First and foremost, so they could display their films in time for Academy Awards submission, and the experience in watching a movie is still different when seen in theaters.

I think the biggest enemy of Hollywood right now is Hollywood itself. They should stop giving us superhero films — I’m having superhero fatigue right now. Oh, another Marvel character died? — or Star Wars movies. Don’t get me wrong, most of these films are quite good, but if you are spoon feeding the audience with this, the audience will barf it out. I’m feeling it is happening right now. Look at the tepid response to Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Look, when a film is done well, like Black Panther or Wonder Woman, some fresh takes on the superhero genre, is truly refreshing. But when you give me another Marvel’s The Avengers movie, where all the superhero seemed to die but you know that each of them has contractual agreements to make more movies, then why even bother if they die? Right? You know they’re going to be alive. Viewers are not dumb, and Hollywood should stop treating them so.

You said that Anne Hathaway is one of your favorite stars to interview. What made her so special aside from your highly praised interview with her in 2013?
Really, the bigger of a star they are, the better. They seemed to not have any more issues, but they know what they are there for — to promote a movie. Some of the worst interviewees I've had are the up and coming teenagers, and I am not naming names. They are mostly airheads and they have no idea that you are helping them promote the film. Anne Hathaway, I love her, because she was always sweet to interview, contrary to popular belief.

Dela Rosa’s interview with Anne Hathaway went viral in 2013 – and all for good reasons – just a day after a local columnist drew flak for his infamous one-on-one with the Les Miserables actress. The interview opened doors for Dela Rosa and got him a weekly segment at ANC.

And who are some of the stars in your Top 5 list? What makes these stars fascinating to you?
Too many to name but number one would be Guillermo del Toro for his brilliance. I love talking to directors in general, I am more concerned on the making of the movie and why they did a certain shot, etc. Diane Keaton, the Annie Hall was surprisingly fun. I thought she would be serious and a bit pedantic but no, she was ebullient! Jodie Foster also. Who knew that this two-time Oscar winner loves Filipino food? Adobo to be exact! Anne Hathaway for always making me feel comfortable whether it’s one-on-one interviews or satellite interviews. And George Clooney for being extremely down-to-earth.

Who do you want to interview next, and why?
Oh gosh, if it’s possible, Madonna! She taught me how to express myself and do it all creatively. I still treasure those little nuggets to this day. She may be a bit older but her relevance as the Queen of Pop remains. She is now focused on working behind the camera, and apparently, her next movie as a director will be the biopic of ballerina Michaela DePrince. She seldom talks to press and when she does, it’s only for the national outlets. But I can always wish and maybe my lucky star will shine.

How would you describe your interviewing style?
I can describe it as my personality — fun but well-informed. I strive to always subscribe to that notion every time I conduct interviews. Celebrities are subjected to hundreds of interviews and I get that, so I try to be as well-informed as I can but also bring my own flair. I guess being empathetic and trying to put yourself in your interviewee’s shoes will do wonders.

Tell us about your work at Balitang America and the ABS-CBN News Channel. How did this collaboration come about?
One of my old classmates from Don Bosco Makati noticed the videos I posted on Facebook from my KMIR projects. He used to work at ABS-CBN and told me to come to our reunion then because he wanted to talk about Balitang America. I welcomed it wholeheartedly but I also did not invest too much thought and emotion into it because many people promise you the same thing. But lo and behold, the fantastic Ging Reyes called me and told me about our common friend and asked me to join Balitang America.

ANC's morning show came after my interview with Anne Hathaway became viral. And to this day, my favorite outlet is The Filipino Channel. It’s near and dear to me. They have always welcomed me with open arms, and my mom, who lives in Branson, Missouri can see my weekly movie adventures in the comfort of her own home. She’ll critique me by saying, "Tumataba ka na naman" or "Bakit 'yun ang sinuot mo?"

Do you like being a Kapamilya? If given a chance, what do you want to do at TFC or ANC next?
Yes, I am a Kapamilya and a proud Kapamilya at that! I wear my Kapamilya badge all the time. I love visiting both studios when given a chance, and really, I just want to continue what I am doing until my mind and body tell me to stop. I am also planning on doing documentaries focused on Filipino cinema, so stay tuned!

How do you manage to be at KMIR and at the same time at TFC and ANC? Also, how were you able to convince these big Hollywood studios to allow you to use your interviews for the Philippines via ANC?
My life, as you probably can tell, involves a lot of juggling. I am trying to balance my life with my husband of 26 years — we're together for 26 years, married for 4 — while working at KMIR. I am also on the radio in Palm Springs, MIX 100.5 and I give that equal love as well. And like I said earlier, I love being a part of the TFC and ABS-CBN family. And you know what? I have been doing this for over a decade and I have not missed a single deadline. And I’m proud to say that. It does take a lot of late-night work or early morning shifts just to make it all happen and also lots of working hours but you know what? I am very happy to do so.

"I go to various schools when I can because I want to impart the value of education. I talk to kids from all ages about its importance. We should not take this for granted. Learning is the fruit of survival."

How is it like being a member of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Broadcast Film Critics Association? Do you feel like you've made history both as a film critic and as a Filipino?
As far as I know I am the only Filipino in our Broadcast Film Critics Association. We vote for the yearly Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which is a better Oscar barometer than the Golden Globe in my humble opinion. I am not saving lives by any means, but if you want to call it historical, sure! I’d rather make one person smile.

How important it is for you to represent the Filipino community in the States?
It’s absolutely very important to me. I am a proud Filipino and I love raising our flag high when I have a chance to do so. In all my community events, even here in Palm Springs, I always introduce myself as Manny the Movie Guy from KMIR and MIX 100.5, and out of the valley, you can always see me on The Filipino Channel. There are many immigrants here in the desert, and I want them to feel that immigrants do succeed in America. To quote Hamilton: the Musical, "Immigrants, we get the job done!"

What’s the best thing about being a Filipino?
Oh gosh, the food, the culture, and our joie de vivre or our zest for life! If you make me choose between a hamburger or sinigang na baboy, I would always, always choose the latter especially if there’s patis involved. And truth be told, I watch American cinema all the time, so when I have free time, I watch Filipino movies either by watching the screeners that are sent to me, or perusing Amazon Prime — they have great selection. And our joie de vivre is just palpable. That’s probably why I’m always happy!

You are currently finishing your Masters in Digital Media at Concordia College in New York. Is continuous learning important for you?
Yes, education is very important to me. I would not be where I’m at if not for education. A professor before told me that I had a sponge for a brain because I love soaking in all the information that I could get. It’s still true. I go to various schools when I can because I want to impart the value of education. I talk to kids from all ages about its importance. We should not take this for granted. Learning is the fruit of survival.

Now, the reason I chose to work on my Digital Media program is because it’s the wave of the future. I want to be one of the folks who can actually say I know what digital media is all about.

Tell us about your personal life. How does your husband or your family feel about your success?
I am blessed to have a husband who supports me 100%! He is contented to be behind the scenes and not use my little limelight to help himself. He is, as cliché goes, my wind beneath my wings. I will not be able to achieve what I've accomplished without him. Kevin has been my college friend, so he had seen me when I was busting my booty trying to get awards here and there, meeting deadlines at our school newspaper, and working on various documentaries. Almost three decades later, I am still doing what I am doing, still trying to meet deadlines while making sure that he has a hot supper to eat every night. He is also my Hollywood buddy, my driver, my best friend, my everything! He is a 2nd grade teacher so he has great patience. I guess being with me taught him to have patience. [Laughs.]

Do you miss living in the Philippines? What are some of your most memorable experiences here?
I do. I took Kevin to the Philippines in 2015 and he and I decided that we will retire in our beautiful country. Every time we visit, I always complain about traffic and the heat, but bonding with your family, meeting great people, visiting great beaches, and just being in the zen-like place of being, outweigh everything. I love the Philippines!

What’s next for Manny Dela Rosa?
To have a baby! I want to have a baby to raise in this majestic place we call Earth. I want this baby to grow up and feel loved, and to love with all of his or her heart. It’s my way of giving thanks to Mother Earth.

What advice would you want to give to those who want to be the next Manny Dela Rosa?
Or the next Manny the Movie Guy? Go to school. Learn. Watch all the movies you can from the silent era to the Golden Age to the digital age. Try to understand each genre. Educate yourself. Eat, sleep, live, and breathe movies. And above all, be nice!

Photo: Manny Dela Rosa
Artwork: Media Newser Philippines
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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