Meet Sonny Boy Drilon, 42 years old.
He is a stuntman. Occasionally, he is hired to do “crowd control,” i.e., guard the film set to prevent outsiders or non-movie personnel from entering the premises.
But his regular gig is as utility on a film shoot or teleserye taping. Sonny Boy is one of the few whom Piolo Pascual can count on for a soothing massage while on a break on the set. Director Erik Matti likes having Sonny Boy as part of his production team for his diligence — and excellent iced coffee. “Every time na wala siya at iba ang gagawa ng iced coffee, ang layo ng lasa, eh,” Erik says.
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Peculiar to the Philippines
A utility—that is the actual term—is a member of the production team assigned to perform tedious tasks mostly related (but not entirely limited) to feeding the artists and the crew. These include handing out trays of food, preparing and distributing juice drinks and coffee, bringing water to those who are thirsty, and buying snacks and supplies. When not performing waiting duties, the utility cleans the location, or, in the case of Sonny Boy, serves as on-the-set masseuse.
Apparently, the utility seems to be a peculiar item to the local movie/TV industry. According to veteran producer JoAnn Bañaga, “Sa ibang bansa, walang utility. Ang meron doon craft service pero hindi sila nagtitimpla ng kape o nagdadala ng pagkain. May area kung saan may nakalagay na refreshments and snacks na pinupuntahan ng crew at yung taga-craft service ang nagsu-supervise sa area na ‘yon.”
JoAnn, who has been involved in filmmaking since the late 1970s, does not know how the utility came to be. “Hindi ko nga alam kung bakit ‘utility’ ang tawag sa kanila,” she says. “Akala mo object, [parang] walang dignidad.”
From a family of stuntmen
Sonny Boy’s career in the movies began when he was a child. The production team of Missing In Action III, starring action giant Chuck Norris, was filming in Manila and needed to cast Filipino kids for important scenes. Sonny Boy was among those chosen. “Six years old pa lang ako nagsta-stunts na ako,” he tells me one afternoon at McDonald’s in SM Sta. Mesa. He is wearing jeans and a light shirt, and a cap that hides his crew cut.
Becoming a stuntman seemed inevitable for Sonny Boy. Four out of his seven siblings were into the same profession. “Eto na yung nakasanayan kong hanapbuhay,” he explains. He sounds sincere if a bit shy. He says he had just recovered from flu after getting rained on during stunt practice.
He’s done stunts for movies headlined by Phillip Salvador (Ka Hector), Vic Sotto and Coco Martin (Jack Em Popoy: The Puliscredibles), Brandon Vera and Anne Curtis (BuyBust), and a number of indie films.
“Iba’t-ibang eksena, iba’t-ibang movie. Merong sunog. Merong sabog. Merong tumatalon sa building,” he explains. “May sabog tapos tatalon; manggagaling sa taas tapos ang babagsakan mo karton lang.”
With weekly training sessions as preparation and “insurance,” Sonny Boy is always open and willing to do whatever producers and directors ask of him. “Hindi ako umaayaw. Gustung-gusto ko nga (yung mas delikado) kasi nandoon yung pinakamalaking bayad.”
The most daring stunt Sonny Boy has done so far was for an independent film; it was to jump from a 35-foot makeshift wooden tower and land on a mattress covered with sheets of cardboard. The pain from the fall wasn’t much, or so he says; what made it worse was not getting paid. “Hindi na lumabas yung pelikulang yun kasi naubusan ng budget yung production. Tum
The challenges of the trade have not deterred Sonny Boy from pursuing this job, however, and from guiding those who are interested in the field. To share what he knows, he and his fellow stuntmen at Agila Stunt Force conduct regular whole-day training for their peers and newbie stunt professionals. The sessions are usually held in Antipolo or in Quezon City. “Kasama sa tinuturo namin yung (stunt) routine and acting. Nag-iisip kami ng ipapagawa sa mga nag-a-attend. Tinitingnan namin ang ginagawa nila. ‘Pag mali, kino-correct namin. Hindi kami nagpapabayad.”
With only a few action movies being made, Sonny Boy’s assignments these days are usually as utility—a line of work where the stuntman excels.
Erik Matti met Sonny Boy on the set of BuyBust, liked the guy’s attitude, and has since included him in his projects. Sonny Boy is a professional, says the director. “He takes his job seriously. He really does it well. He takes pride in it.”
To Erik, Sonny Boy’s asset is his ability to fulfill his work quietly. He’s like the film set’s Invisible Man. “In particular to Sonny, pwedeng ma-overlook ang personality niya. Hindi siya pa-bibo… If you are looking at the video assist monitor, [all of a sudden] a glass of water is put in front of you, or [without you knowing it] your table is cleaned… Sa dami ng nangyayari sa set, pwede talagang hindi mo siya mapansin. It’s easy to take him for granted.”
More recently, Erik has taken notice of Sonny Boy’s other skills.
Sonny Boy was requested by an assistant director to appear in a promotional video for the horror flick Ang Pagsanib kay Leah dela Cruz. He was then working on the set of BuyBust. He was asked to stand in a dark corner and say the lines of a man whose sibling was possessed by an evil spirit. “Nagulat ako. Bigla na lang akong kinuha (para sa video),” Sonny Boy recalls of the request. “Binasa ko lang (yung mga linya). Inisip ko lang kung paano ang gagawin ng kapatid, kung ano ang magiging reaction niya. Habang nagda-dialogue ako, naluluha na ako.”
Erik saw that video and it was enough for the director to cast Sonny Boy in a special role in the upcoming OTJ 2.“Sonny Boy has a certain charm na mahirap hanapin sa audition. He has a strange haircut. He has an endearing sad face. Melancholic ang mga mata niya na alam mo madaming laman ang utak.”
He is not invisible, after all.
“Star witness ako doon,” Sonny Boy says, beaming, when asked about his role in the much awaited sequel to 2014’s On The Job. His character, apparently, is an important one and, as Erik describes, “memorable.” The fellow gets to share screen time with the likes of John Arcilla and Dennis Trillo. “Ang daming artista sa cast,” notes Sonny Boy.
Erik has this anecdote that happened after he shot a scene with Sonny Boy for OTJ 2. As soon the director yelled, “Cut!” Sonny Boy stepped out of the frame and quickly got Erik a glass of water. “Naka-costume pa siya n’ung inabot niya sa akin ang baso! Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Artista ka ngayon dito.’ Sabi niya, ‘Okay lang, Direk.’… Ginagawa pa rin niya ang trabaho niya.”
The stuntman-utility man-turned-character actor had not been on a movie set or taping for almost two months when we sat down for this interview. “Nasa bahay lang ako. Naghihintay ng tawag,” he says.
Such is the reality for per-project workers like Sonny Boy whose next paycheck depends on the production schedule which, in turn, depends on erratic factors such as availability of main stars, the weather, even producers’ whims.
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With Angelica Panganiban.
With Perla Bautista.
With Joey Marquez.
With Joy Viado.
On the set of Moron 5.
With the late director Wenn Deramas and actor Marvin Agustin on the set of Moron 5.
With the stars of Karaoke King: Victor Neri, Robin Padilla and Pops Fernandez.
With a young JM de Guzman.
With Piolo Pascual.
With Piolo Pascual.
With Ejay Falcon.
On the Kuwaresma set in Baguio.
From left: With John Arcilla in Baguio; With Sharon Cuneta in Kuwaresma.
In any case, he has been using the down time to train more frequently, and spend time with family. Sonny Boy, who is single, is a doting uncle to his nephews and nieces, and a responsible son to his 72-year old mother.
“Hatid-sundo ko ang mga pamangkin ko sa school. Naging libangan ko na,” he says.
Like the go-getter that he’s always been, Sonny Boy would ring up friends and former co-workers to inquire about openings in their respective projects and inform them about his availability. “Nagpaparamdam ako sa kanila.”Whether his next gig is as an on-cam talent, a stuntman or a utility, matters little to Sonny Boy. He is grateful for whatever job is given to him. “Basta matulungan ko ang mama ko at saka mga pamangkin ko, okay na ako.”Here’s hoping he won’t be invisible for longer.