Meet Dan Villegas, the Director Behind Replacing Chef Chico

Meet Dan Villegas, the Director Behind Replacing Chef Chico


Get an behind-the-scenes look at the career and creative process of Dan Villegas, the director behind Netflix’s first Filipino-made series

With a stellar filmography featuring hits like Hintayin ng Langit, Ilawod, and The Breakup Playlist, along with successful TV stints in Cattleya Killer and Sino ang May Sala?, Dan Villegas has certainly become a household name. Thus, it comes as no surprise when Netflix, being no stranger to quality, handpicked him to steer the ship for their very first Filipino-made series, Replacing Chef Chico

In an exclusive interview with MEGA Man, the director delves into his humble beginnings, the process that went into producing the show, and the thrilling surprises in store for his audience.

Behind the lens

Dan Villegas with his high school batchmates from Ateneo
Dan with his high school batchmates from Ateneo

Mahilig na ako manood ng pelikula dati pa, pero hindi ko alam na pwede siyang career,” Villegas confesses when asked about his start in the industry. Reflecting on his high school days, he reminisced about being required to join an organization, ultimately opting for their school’s photography club. It was during this time that his passion for photography soared, especially after receiving his first SLR from his dad. Transitioning to college, uncertain about his path, he stumbled upon a production class where the discovery of a director of photography production role struck him. He also shares that enrolling in a class led by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, where he was tasked with shooting short films, marked the turning point, fueling his ever-growing passion for cinematography.

When it comes to donning the director’s hat, Villegas reveals that it was all about the unplanned and unexpected. Becoming a director was never part of his grand scheme, but deep down, directing a feature film was a longstanding item on his bucket list. It wasn’t until 2010 that he checked off that goal, helming, producing, and handling cinematography for Mayohan, an entry at Cinemalaya. Fast forward to 2014, fate threw him an unexpected curveball, offering him the chance to direct English Only Please, an official entry at the Metro Manila Film Festival. Villegas clarified that the opportunity was originally intended for his partner, director Antoinette Jadaone, but due to her hectic schedule, she couldn’t take on the project. Villegas, seizing the moment, made the most of the opportunity and even clinched the Best Director Award that year.

Diverse horizons

The director with Aga Muhlach and Elijah Canlas on the set of Suntok Sa Buwan
The director with Aga Muhlach and Elijah Canlas on the set of Suntok Sa Buwan

This filmmaker has certainly covered a significant amount of ground. Now navigating through various roles, transitioning from director to producer while maintaining his role as a cinematographer, Dan emphasizes that he sees each role as equally challenging and vital. With genuine excitement, he shares his anticipation of returning as DOP soon, hoping his skills are still up to par.

On directing the series

Directors Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone at the Netflix Philippines Headquarters
Directors Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone at the Netflix Philippines Headquarters

Villegas sums up his response when offered Replacing Chef Chico in a single word: “Pressured.” He mentions there was no moment of hesitation as crafting these narratives aligns with his passion, yet he acknowledges feeling a weight of responsibility. While it is still a labor of love, he acknowledges feeling under pressure to make sure that Netflix’s first Filipino series would not only appeal to a wide audience but, more importantly, resonate with Filipinos.

He added that the initial concept, credited to Antoinette Jadaone, originally portrayed Piolo’s character as a food critic, but they decided to pivot and cast him as a food consultant instead. Villegas went on to commend their scriptwriters for their invaluable contribution, acknowledging their role in effectively bringing the story to life and alleviating the initial pressure he experienced.

Cinematic feast 

During our interview with Sam Milby, the actor stressed the importance of not categorizing this as just another love story series. In addition, Dan Villegas wants audiences to perceive it as “all about Filipino food.” He passionately explains his intention to highlight the world-class quality of Filipino cuisine, going beyond the familiar adobo and lumpia. When asked about any personal connection, the director shares that it’s simply their mutual love for food with his partner that fueled the concept and expressed his delight at being able to share this culinary passion through the series.

RELATED: Sam Milby on Playing the “Intense Chef” Role in Replacing Chef Chico

Future frames

Nang Mapagod si Kamatayan's leading men, Zanjoe Marudo and Daniel Padilla
Nang Mapagod si Kamatayan’s leading men, Zanjoe Marudo and Daniel Padilla

Looking ahead, Dan shared one of the exciting projects on his horizon—directing and gearing up to shoot Ricky Lee’s Nang Mapagod Si Kamatayan, which will feature the dynamic duo of Daniel Padilla and Zanjoe Marudo.

Scripting success

Insights from Dan for aspiring filmmakers
Insights from Dan for aspiring filmmakers

When asked about his advice for budding directors, Dan Villegas harked back to his days in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s class, where she imparted a crucial rule for the industry: “Rule number one: Leave your ego at the door.” Drawing from his years of experience, Villegas emphasizes that ego has no room in the film world. He further expounds that while the industry may have its share of individuals that are difficult to work with, aspiring filmmakers should always strive to be different.

Featured Image: PONG IGNACIO

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