On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… a coffee table book of Hollywood

For the movie fan in your family.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Imagine curling up by the Christmas tree with a cup of cocoa and browsing thousands of uncommon photos of Hollywood celebrities: Robin Williams’ eyes welling with tears from laughing so hard. Olivia Colman appearing “unroyal” with a funny face. Or Ian McKellen wickedly breaking into song.

Entertainment journalist Ruben Nepales snapped several thousands of candid photographs of Hollywood celebrities and published hundreds of them in a shimmering coffee table book called, “Through a Writer’s Lens.” We’re talking two decades of covering film stars, directors, writers, producers and fashion stylists, and several hundred hours of photo shoots, visits to film sets, and interviews anywhere from London to New York.  The end product is 260 pages of photographs of celebrities appearing to be ‘just like us.’

“I have literally thousands of photos from almost two decades of taking pictures of talents as I interviewed them,” Ruben told The FilAm. “Many are in color. Some are in black and white, most are candid shots and there are also posed shots.”

The idea to compile them in a book came from former fashion model, indie film and music producer Bessie Badilla, a close friend of Ruben and his wife Janet, also an entertainment writer.

“The book was totally Bessie’s idea,” he said. “I am very grateful to Bessie for her vision. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that I have enough good material for a coffee table book.”

Ruben with Robert Pattinson, Meryl Streep

He further said, “Bessie has a great eye for beauty and photography so I was flattered that one night in New York, she first brought up the idea that I should come up with a coffee table book of my photos. And that she would publish it.”

It took seven months into the pandemic for Ruben to complete the publication project – browse all the photos with Janet, pick out the ones that would go into the album and coordinate with printer.  “With the lockdown and slowdown – no more travels to visit film and TV sets or to interview talents or wherever – I finally had the time.”

The biggest challenge was searching for some of his favorite photos many from so many years ago. They may have been unlocatable in his hard drive but they live on online. “Thank goodness for the invention of Google!” he beamed.

Publisher Bessie Badilla: ‘Book shows the down-to-earth side of Hollywood’s greatest talents.’ Photo by Filbert Diego Kung

The book contains “playful, unguarded” photos of, just to name a few, Meryl Streep, Robert Downey, Jr., Judi Dench, Robert Pattinson, Al Pacino, Kristen Stewart and Darren Criss during or after interviews. “I usually wait when the talent smiles or laughs or makes expressive gestures with their eyes or hands.”

One who is especially unforgettable was Robin Williams. “I am glad I have lasting images of him being funny and so endearing,” mused Ruben.

He has one caveat, an “unspoken boundary” of sorts. When the celebrity is overcome with emotion or cries during interviews. “I put down my camera out of respect.”

Filipino-American actors – such as Reggie Lee, Nico Santos and Vincent Rodriguez III – are also featured in the book.

Said Ruben, “I took their photos at the height of the pandemic. They graciously and generously agreed to pose for me.” Both subject and photographer wore masks and observed a healthy distance.

Perhaps unknown to many, Ruben loves photography as much as he is passionate about writing, said Janet.

“He loves to take photos of scenes that inspire him, of moments that excite him, of people’s candid emotions, of history unfolding right before his eyes,” she said. “I am always happy to see the result, especially when he captures the unique, rare moments of a star in a particular mood.”

Variety editor Tim Gray praised “Through a Writer’s Lens.” He said, “Ruben Nepales is smart, has great taste, and observes things that most people overlook. These qualities make him a good photojournalist and they make this book so great.”

Ruben is the first Filipino to be elected to membership in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the association of international journalists which presents the Golden Globe Awards. He has served for many years as a board member. In 2012, he became the first Filipino to be elected as chairman of the board of the HFPA.

Special, limited edition hardbound copies of “Through a Writer’s Lens” are available at $125 plus $10 for shipping and handling; in the Philippines, ₱6,000 plus ₱200 for shipping and handling. To order, send a message to: https://www.facebook.com/throughawriterslens/.

(C) The FilAm 2020

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