Ramona Diaz Talks the Story of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey’

6 years ago by Reg Seeton
Arnel Pineda sings to the crowd during a Journey concert in Manila - Photo: Ninfa Z. Bito

Arnel Pineda sings to the crowd during a Journey concert in Manila – Photo: Ninfa Z. Bito

The story of new Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda comes to life in director Ramona Diaz’s new documentary Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.

Opening in theaters on Friday, March 8 before going wide everywhere through VOD on March 9, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey chronicles life on the road with Filipino singer Arnel Pineda and Journey band members Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Deen Castronovo as Arnel deals with being a rock superstar within his own Cinderella story.

To tell the fairy tale story behind Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, director Ramona Diaz (Imelda, The Learning) and her crew followed Journey and Arnel Pineda, who overcome a life full of painful obstacles before Neal Schon plucked Pineda from YouTube to become the front man of Journey.

Saddled with the immense pressures of leading a world renowned rock band and replacing a legendary singer, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey follows Arnel on this personal journey with the band and his rise to fame.

THE DEADBOLT: When you first learned of Arnel getting the job with Journey, how important was it for you, as a Filipino woman, to tell his story?

RAMONA DIAZ: Very important. But more than just a Filipino woman, the story itself was so incredible. On the other hand, it could also have been a 15-minute film if Arnel wasn’t Arnel and he wasn’t as open and accessible and just articulate about what was happening to him. If he wasn’t all of that, I think it could have been a very, very short film. But because it was all of that, it became a longer film.

Of course, the fact that he was Filipino was [important]. When I first heard of the story, it was circulating within the Filipino community that this was happening. So I sort of heard about it before he was on Ellen, before she had him on the show. It was one of those things that I couldn’t pass up. I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

THE DEADBOLT: So, it really was a case of if I don’t make this, someone else will?

DIAZ: Absolutely. I think so. It’s just lucky that we were able to convince management that we were the right people to do it and that we had to do it now while he was fresh with the band.

THE DEADBOLT: When you were on the road filming and caught up in the business of Journey, in what ways did you relate to the pressure he was dealing with?

DIAZ: I saw it first hand, so I felt like I was on the ride as well. Of course I wanted it to succeed more than a person just watching another person, a good person trying to do the best he could. I really wanted him to succeed. It was very raw. I think because he exposed himself to the camera, and his rawness, it was so much more.

But it could all have gone awry. I would have continued shooting but it would’ve been a different film. There would still have been a film there but a big difference from how it turned out. I’m so happy he succeeded.

THE DEADBOLT: I really got a sense that it was a story of acceptance as much as a Cinderella story. Were you surprised how that evolved with the band and the fans?

DIAZ: I think the band, once they signed him on, they jumped in 100 percent. They knew that his success was their success. But I also think it was a leap of faith for them, especially for Neal [Schon] who really fought for Arnel. They had no idea whether his voice would hold. He had never done anything like it before. But once they thought, “Ok, he’s the guy and we’re going on the road with him,” by then they did everything they could. They accepted him for what he was and made sure he was successful.

The fans were a little bit different. You’re also talking very hardcore Journey fans who love Steve Perry and they’re used to the idea of Steve Perry. First of all, for someone who didn’t look anything at all like Steve Perry, the fans who had that image in their heads and minds took a little longer to come on board. And some of them have never come on board. I guess that’s to be expected.

Journey front man Arnel Pineda jumps onstage during a Journey concert - Photo: Ninfa Z. Bito

Journey front man Arnel Pineda jumps onstage during a Journey concert – Photo: Ninfa Z. Bito

THE DEADBOLT: How did Arnel handle it all?

DIAZ: Arnel was very aware of what was being said on the Internet. He knows the Internet gave him his chance through YouTube, but the Internet was also the conduit for such really racist talk. He understood that.

But he also understood that he couldn’t take it all so seriously and listen to it, because otherwise he wouldn’t succeed. It would impact his performance and therefore add fuel to the fire if he had failed. It was really just his mental strength to stay on course. He had to turn all of that off and just perform and do what he was there to do.

THE DEADBOLT: At what point during your journey did you feel accepted by the band? Can you remember when that was when you and the crew blended in?

DIAZ: Well, it’s a process. When they finally came on board and gave us full access. But I’m not sure they really understood what that meant, because they weren’t used to cameras being around constantly. They were used to the networks coming in for a couple of days to do a feature on them and then leaving.

Bands these days are used to having cameras everywhere, from the busses, backstage, and the hotel rooms. They’re veteran rockers. They’re not a band that grew up with that. That was before all of this craziness with reality television became par for the couse.

I was surprised by that. I thought they would be more used to cameras. So even if they did give us access, I don’t think they really understood what that meant. It was a process of really just hanging out as long as we could.

THE DEADBOLT: When it comes to the symbolism behind the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Arnel’s journey, how do you look at the role Noel Gomez played? I thought it was unbelievable that he spent so much time uploading the videos.

DIAZ: Oh my gosh, it was incredible. It’s don’t stop believing and surround yourself with people who don’t stop believing. That’s the message. If you stop, at least the people around you won’t stop. That’s friendship.

But he was a fan. He started out as a fan first and not a friend of Arnel’s. Of course they became friends, but it was just Noel’s belief in Arnel’s voice and talent. He was the unsung hero in all of this.

THE DEADBOLT: I was really touched when Arnel talked about being accepted not only by the fans but also in some way Steve Perry. From your time with him the first year, how much did living up to Steve Perry’s legacy take a toll on him?

DIAZ: It was always in the back of his mind. Especially before every performance, you could see the tension in his face. But then he realized that it wasn’t just a matter of living up to expectations but being healthy. No one ever told him that he had to remain healthy in order to maintain his voice. Arnel was pretty much unschooled. He certainly didn’t go to school for music.

You know that scene where Jonathan [Cain] teaches him to use his voice so it can last longer? That was all new to him. So on top of the pressure of keeping up with the legacy and keeping up with the expectations of the audience, he then realized that he had to be healthy, too. That was a big part and a complete surprise to him on top of the travel, which he never got used to.

THE DEADBOLT: What did you think when you found the footage of a young Arnel singing Journey? Did that oddly feel like destiny?

DIAZ: Oh my god, it was great! Absolutely. I actually got goosebumps when I saw that. The first time I saw that footage was when we were filming with Cherry, Arnels wife. We were in Manila and I think the band left to go to Japan. Arnel was gone, so I hung out with Cherry and continued to film her.

One day she goes, “Do you want to see the footage?” I was like, “Footage of what?” She said, “Oh, of Arnel in his young days.” She pops in this tape and there’s Arnel singing “Faithfully”. I was like, “Oh my god, where did you get this? I’ve got to have it.” That was the first time I saw it and I was just blown away.

Arnel Pineda with Journey band mates Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain, Neal Schon, and Deen Castronovo

Arnel Pineda with Journey band mates Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain, Neal Schon, and Deen Castronovo

THE DEADBOLT: Although there’s so much inspiration to take from Arnel’s story, how hard was it for you not to give up on the project given the many challenges?

DIAZ: It was so hard. It’s a parallel story, right? This film was independently produced. Basically what happened was my producer, Capella, put a lot of expenses on her credit card by choice. It’s a story of cobbling together funding as we went along because we didn’t have the big money.

It’s seems so commercial. It seems like a commercial slam-dunk but we were never really able to raise the big money because we were so busy filming. I mean, life was unfolding so we had to go on the road. No one was left back home trying to raise the money.

You have no idea. When we were on the road, driving all night to get to the next city in our small little mini-van, every time we would play “Don’t Stop Believin'” and sing at the top of our lungs just to get there. It was tough. It’s an interesting other chapter.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey opens in theaters March 8, 2013 and is available VOD everywhere March 9, 2013.

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Reg Seeton

Reg Seeton created The Deadbolt in 2005 after working for the pioneering movie news website, Coming Attractions. Reg has over 15 years experience as a top online entertainment journalist and interviewer, has worked with several award winning actors, musicians and writers, and has managed entertainment networks in New York and Los Angeles. And he's done it all with one eye!