EXCLUSIVE! Behind The Bling: Meet Brandon Panaligan, The Fil-Am Executive Producer of "Bling Empire"
"Don’t get distracted by the diamonds," says "Bling Empire" executive producer and showrunner Brandon Panaligan. In this interview, he shares why shooting the series' final scene was like filming a Super Bowl game, corrects misconceptions about the show, and professes his love for everything "ube"
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Bling Empire as just another one of those catty and pretentious shows. You know the type, the ones you mindlessly binge-watch for a quick escape and entertainment. But while the cult hit series offers plenty of those, it becomes increasingly clear after the first two episodes that there’s more to the series than the bling, flashy cars, couture gowns, and over-the-top parties.
The cast is a group of real-life crazy rich Asians of different descent, living in Los Angeles. They successfully shed pretensions on screen, as their stories become bigger than their diamonds. Behind this big production undertaking is Filipino-American Brandon Panaligan, the show’s executive producer and show runner.
“The wealth and the bling and all of that is always your entry point. That gets people’s attention,” Brandon shares in an exclusive interview with Metro.Style. “But ultimately, I think what people care about is seeing real people and their real stories. And the fact that the cast shared so many intimate stories with the audience.”
Telling real stories is Brandon’s forte. After he worked in the music and film business for a decade (Fun fact: he worked for Madonna!), the reality series format was born and became a thing. As a lover of the documentary, Brandon found himself in the middle of reality series’ growth spurt, and discovered it was exciting. It was a whole new genre, and there were absolutely no rules.
Producing several hit series like Million Dollar Listing New York, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and Big Rich Texas made him a shoo-in to be Bling Empire’s executive producer. His heritage as a Filipino-American also played a role, as the series creator Jeff Jenkins wanted the show to not only have an all-Asian cast, but also Asian-American talents behind the camera too.
Get to know Brandon Panaligan in this exclusive interview, as he takes us behind-the-scenes shooting Bling Empire.
You’ve done a lot of series featuring the lavish lives of the rich. What sets Bling Empire apart from the other projects you’ve done?
“I think Bling Empire is very special because of the depth of stories that we had. Whoever you are, whatever phase in your life, there’s something in the series for you to relate to. I think that’s something that you can only do in a reality show. For a show like this, the entire spectrum of life, from birth to death, we deal in Bling Empire, and everything in between. And I think that’s what sets this show apart. Don’t get distracted by the diamonds.”
Tell us about the cast selection. How did you assemble the cast? Was it the goal from the get go to zoom in on the lives of crazy rich Asians in Los Angeles?
“Definitely the starting point of the show was after Jon M. Chu made Crazy Rich Asians. There was the realization that a show like this could make it, right? That the audience was ready for it.
“There’s a misconception that the series was cast with different individuals. The show was really cast with a group of friends. I think that when you look at the shows in this genre, the strongest in my opinion is when it’s real people and real relationships that are pre-existing in this show. You can always tell when someone’s meeting for the first time, right? And sometimes that can be interesting, but, you know, with Bling Empire, we really set out to find a pre-existing group of friends.
“Some people in that group knew each other better than the others. I like to say that in all of our lives, we have people we would invite for holiday dinner, and we have people we see socially. They’ve never been to our house, but we’re very friendly. So that’s the level, we have all the depths of friendships. We have friendships in the show that have lasted ten years, we have others that are just a few years and are more casual.”
As a producer of the series, what did you find most challenging in putting Bling Empire together?
“Ahh…the most challenging thing! What I cared most about was making sure that the show was honest, and that the show gave a multi-dimensional picture of the cast’s lives. Everyone who was working on the show had a mission to make sure they were represented as full people. Because as Asians, whenever we see ourselves on TV, it’s always a small sliver of the personality, right?
“There are always things you have to be, because you need to fit that narrow box of the Asian character. Some wanted to make sure these were not Asian characters, we wanted them to be human beings. Full human beings, up and down, happy, sad, make victories, make mistakes, we wanted all of that. That was the most important thing to me and staying on point every single time to make sure we had that depth.
“The other part that’s difficult is that this is really an interesting group people. Anything that we film with them, you could put on TV. So being able to cut it all down—we’ve filmed for months, being able to cut it all down into this is very difficult. For the most part I could take them anywhere and put cameras on them, it’s absolutely entertaining to watch!”
How many cameras were there filming the series?
“It really depends. As a filmmaker, you just have to adjust to the situation. Sometimes it’s really intimate, you don’t want as many cameras. Other times, say, like the final event with Cherie Chan, we had a lot of cameras there, it was practically the Super Bowl, you know. On a show like this, the challenge was to make the cast forget the cameras are there. So I always try to film with as few cameras as possible, but as many as I need to get the right shot.”
Tell us about your Filipino roots. Have you been to the Philippines before?
“My father went to university in Manila, and then immigrated to Los Angeles, California, where he met my mother. I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
“I was in the Philippines several years ago for the first time. I was filming Shahs of Sunset in Thailand, and my dad flew to meet me in Manila. I stayed with the family and we drove all over. As far north of Baguio and as far south as Taal Lake. Next time, I would like to spend more time in Manila. I would also love to visit Palawan and maybe go scuba diving ore enjoy the beautiful beaches. But the most important thing is to share the experiences with family. We spent time cooking, laughing and of course, doing karaoke.
“I love Pinoy food—my faves are crispy pata, sinigang and anything with ube. My favorite dessert in the world is halo-halo.”
Is there going to be a Season 2? Is there a chance to cast a Filipino in it?
“It’s still very early to talk about a Season 2. The show’s only been out for two weeks. It makes me very happy that people are talking about that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. So we’ll see.
“In terms of casting a Filipino, I do want to mention that Guy Tang’s husband, Almar, is Filipino, and he does make a couple of appearances in the show. But he was not able to film with us as much as I would’ve liked. So hopefully in the second season, we get some more time with him.”
We are so looking forward to Season 2. It makes us proud to know that a Filipino-American is behind the hit series. Can you tell us what’s next for you? What can we look forward to from Brandon Panaligan?
“I am so proud to be associated with Bling Empire. And it’s definitely been a life’s mission to be able to produce a show like this. And I hope that it’s a whole new world of increasing the amount of representation on television. That’s what I would love to do.
“The last three shows I’ve done for Netflix have been in this space. I really enjoy doing shows about people who haven’t been seen on television before.
“One is Made in Mexico, which is about the high society in Mexico City. And then I did another show for Netflix which is Deaf U, which was the very first show of all deaf, hard-of-hearing cast. So my first two series for Netflix were both bilingual shows, and this, Bling Empire, is the first English show I’ve done for a few years.”
If you haven't seen Bling Empire yet, check out its trailer below:
Watch Bling Empire on Netflix now!
Lead photos from @brandonpanaligan and Netflix