Early in my career as an actor, I usually was the only Filipino-American on any given project. Many of my contemporaries felt the same way early in their careers — whether as an actor, a producer, an editor, a writer, or even as a background actor. I brought up this subject seven months ago, with editor friend, Dexter Adriano, who now works on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He told me that early in his career, he felt a lot like he was the only one, not just in the company or on the project he was working on, but in the entire industry. Part of the reason I became an actor was to break through these barriers and make Filipino Americans a regular sighting.
Six years ago, acting took me to the Upright Citizens Brigade and in 2011, I was taking my UCB 301 class. One night, a bunch of us went to see Diamond Lion, a musical improv show at the UCB Theatre. And I will always remember that show, because that night I saw a Filipino guy support an initiation by starting a rap. It was hilarious to me, because his inflections were just like the mid-to-late-80’s KDAY 1580 AM hip hop I listened to. That was the first night I saw Eugene Cordero.
My initial reaction to him was: “Whoa, another Filipino!” I had just seen Rene Gube (now a writer on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) with his team, Hip Hop Penguin at Cagematch the year before, and he was the first Filipino performer I saw while at UCB. Was this the start of a trend? A year later, I just happened to see Eugene on East Hollywood’s Theatre Row while I was walking to my UCB 401 class. He was just standing outside with his notepad while on his phone. And a few months after that, I saw him again, as one of four teachers I had in my intensive advanced improv class.
During his tenure as both instructor and performer at UCB, he carved out a good chunk of projects – appearing in Drunk History, Kroll Show, House of Lies, Comedy Bang! Bang!, Parks and Recreation, Key & Peele, Playing House, Silicon Valley and as one of the leads in Paul Feig’s Other Space.
Last year, when I was putting together the inaugural FAC Actors Panel, Eugene was my first choice — to represent not only as an actor, but also as a teacher. The panel was created to be a place for young Filipino American actors to see people who look like them successfully climbing that Hollywood ladder. And who better to show them than Eugene?
In Eugene’s pre-interview, he was asked: “What representation is out there for Filipino American talent to be improvisers?”
“To be improvisers, there’s plenty of room for us,” he said. “To find each other and create that group will take some time, but there is definitely a voice that needs to be heard as far as Filipino improvisers are concerned.”
Eugene’s momentum continued onto the big screen this summer with two movies, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. And next year, we can look forward to seeing him in Kong: Skull Island. Could he be the Filipino American version of #StarringJohnCho?
I met Nico Santos for the first time on the morning of this year’s FAC Actors Panel. On the main cast of NBC’sSuperstore, Nico is playing one of the most highly visible roles for Filipino-Americans on television, so he was definitely at the top of my list. But I didn’t personally know him – I brought him on with the help of 2x panelist, Tess Paras (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
Nico shared an interesting story about the origin of his character.
“None of the characters of Superstore were written for any specific ethnicity,” Nico said. “The only part that had a specific ethnicity was Mateo and he was supposed to be a Latino thug. A butch gangster. He was supposed to be this huge tough guy. But, you know, they were open-minded enough to see me in the role and so I did it as a version of me. And they ended up really liking it and changing it to a Filipino gay guy.”
When asked how Filipinos and Asian Americans have reacted to his character, he said, “They’re super excited! I also didn’t realize how big a deal it was until I started getting a lot of messages on social media. Not only Filipino but like also seeing like a queer Filipino on television. When I was getting into the business, all I knew was Alec Mapa, the only ever queer Filipino I ever saw on television. When I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh! My God! Yes, there’s hope!’ It actually just made me think, wow there really isn’t a whole lot of us if we’re getting this type of response from everybody.”
At the same time, he pointed out that there’s still a long way for Filipino-Americans to go.
“We’re the second largest community in the United States, the largest Asian community in California but we are hardly represented in media at all.”
In 2011, my agent sent me out to a co-star audition forRaising Hope. In the breakdown, I saw the words “Filipino / Asian” used in the description for a guest-starring role.Specifically, Filipino / generally Asian. I was ecstatic. I’d never seen “Filipino” before on a television casting breakdown. I was also happy because it meant that writers were starting to create Filipino American characters!
In the end, talent should win, and more and more, that’s the change we’re starting to see. We’ve seen at both of our panels that Hollywood is starting to open up [link]. They will cast POC talent to roles originally written for Caucasian talent. In addition to Nico, Eugene mentioned that his role in Other Space was originally written for an African American character, and his role in House of Lieswas originally written for a Caucasian character. And now I’m being brought in on auditions for characters written with Caucasian names such as the case in 2015 when I auditioned for a guest star role of a character named ‘Michael Patrick’ for The Real McCoys.
There’s a community of us out here in Hollywood, and it’s growing. I am excited to see who might join us next year and beyond. The future can only get brighter.
Why are Filipino Americans still forgotten and invisible?
Filipino American professor and community activist E.J.R. David asked that question (link) after reading a piece from the New York Times series, “Conversations on Race” (link) where Asian Americans talk about how stereotypes unfairly brand them as the “model minority.” He noticed that out of the twelve participants whose stories were featured and shared, not one name appeared to be Filipino.
He pointed to five key reasons why Filipino American are still forgotten and invisible, even today:
(1) Uniqueness of Filipino American History
(2) Huge Filipino American Population
(3) Large Immigrant Population
(4) Significant Contributions to “Asian American” Identity
(5) Filipino Experience Racism at a Very High Rate
I’d like to add a sixth point: Self Acceptance vs. Self Denial. Identity. This is my story, a Filipino American story.
I first wrote about this subject on my own blog (link), after Filipinos reached a milestone in American TV history…twice on the same week. While every Pinoy and Filipino American publication reported on Crazy Ex-Girfriend when the musical comedy introduced the first Filipino American family on primetime broadcast mainstream television, I noted that history was also made when two different shows that featured Filipino American storylines in the same week. And, it was the lesser known NBC comedy I related to the most.
Truth Be Told starred Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Vanessa Minnillo-Lachey as parents, with Sophie Mackenzie Nack as their daughter. The episode was about self acceptance. [link]
I do not speak for those who came to the United States of America as children and decided to deny who they are. In my opinion, it would be a difficult task because they spoke Tagalog and carried the traits that are specific to the culture. I do not. I was born and raised in the U.S. and my parents never taught and spoke to me Tagalog. I’m English-only. And, despite being exposed to the culture — from family gatherings in the U.S., to summer vacations in the Philippines, to being part of cultural organizations, to even living in the Philippines for one entire year — I continued to deny my ethnicity. Even when faced with choosing my identity on a job application, rather than checking off Filipino, instead I check off Asian. Most of the time, it was not even an effort. In Los Angeles, I listened to KROQ music than the R&B music on KJLH or the KDAY jams Filipinos love. I enjoy baseball more than basketball. Moreover, I told people I am American Filipino. And so on. There was nothing in common between us.
In an interview from Yahoo Style (link), actress Shay Mitchell of Pretty Little Liars admitted she was once deeply unhappy with her half Filipino-heritage and went out of her way to look more Caucasian.
“I hated being asked who I was, and all my friends had blonde hair and blue eyes,” Mitchell says, having grown up in a predominately white area of Toronto. She dyed her hair lighter, wore colored contacts and hid from the sun to leave her skin pale.
I always believed only first-generation Filipino Americans would go through this experience of self denial, and every generation after them would proudly accept their culture. But, every Filipino American faces the question anew, of how to identify with and accept their heritage.
As I matured, I began to embrace the Filipino culture and my early exposure to it in earlier periods of my life. I also started having more Filipino American friends, most of them much younger than me — because they have an experience like mine: American-born and English-only. I felt a sense of guilt of my past denial of my own culture. I finally spoke about this in 2008, at the Chicago Filipino American Film Festival, in a group discussion among other FilAm filmmakers. It was a load off after carrying it for years.
Truth Be Told was quietly cancelled at the end of last year, as NBC struck down the sets and cast lead actor Tone Bell in another series. The final two episodes were burned off on Christmas Day. But, the spark was already lit. Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian ancestry group in the United States of America (link: Page 15, Column 2). We haven’t been fully seen yet. We haven’t been fully forgotten. Our next breakthroughs will come from getting ourselves first, and continuing to share what we see in ourselves.
Opening this Friday, March 25 is the comedy horror thriller, They’re Watching written and directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright. Starring Brigid Brannagh (Army Wives), David Alpay (The Vampire Diaries) and Kris Lemche (Haven), the film is about an American TV crew getting trapped in a centuries-old web of revenge, horror, and blood, when their home improvement show is attacked by angry Eastern European villagers out to kill the show’s star.
Read my interview with Jonathan Wandag, the composer of They’re Watching.
Edwin Santos: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do? Tell us a little bit of your journey? How did you get into this field?
Jonathan Wandag: At a young age, I realized women paid attention to musicians so I started rapping and singing in junior high school. That didn’t really work out for me. However, in the process of learning these skills, I fell in love with creating music. My first taste of writing music to visual cues came during my years at UCLA, where I composed / orchestrated music for the annual Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night held at Royce Hall. I also met Mark Lagrimas, the producer to “They’re Watching” during the process. I eventually joined a rock band call Invid, and graduated to film score after I took classes at Berklee College of Music. It was there that my film score chops started to develop. Early on, the biggest catalyst to my serious pursuit of film score came in the form of an Academy Award, when the film, I scored, “Dragonboy,” won Gold. From there, I was obsessed with it and never wanted to stop. It still doesn’t attract the opposite sex for me though.
Edwin Santos: In terms of composing, who inspires you and which scores do you love?
Jonathan Wandag: That’s tough to answer because there are so many folks that have inspired me and so many scores I love. However, in terms of this film horror genre… I really enjoyed the score to “Let Me In” and “The Ring”. Michael Giacchino (composer of “LOST,” “Star Trek,” “UP,” etc.) wrote really haunting melodies for”Let Me In,” and I wanted to do the same for this film. Hans Zimmer did the same for “The Ring,” but he also used so much awesome high pitched, tension, sound design. The trick was that he made his score beautiful and haunting, but at the same time, really tense with the sound design. Most horror composers only do the tense sound design but forget to add the beautiful and haunting element to it. I wanted to do all of the above for “They’re Watching.”
Edwin Santos: What is your favorite music genre and why?
Jonathan Wandag: I don’t have one, honestly. I like individual songs. If the melody, vibe, concept, lyrics, and / or production moves me, that’s all it takes. That can be me music from Beethoven, Chopin, Bjork, the Beatles, etc. Shoot, if Katy Perry comes out with something catchy and hard hitting, I’m not afraid to say “I’d enjoy the sh*t out of it.” People waste too much time trying to condemn genres even if they secretly like certain songs from that genre… What a waste of time and energy. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder… I want to emphasize that ugly is in the eye of the beholder as well. If somebody doesn’t like a certain genre or song, that’s their fault for not finding the hidden beauties in it.
Edwin Santos: Can you give us insight on how you composed “They’re Watching? The film itself is a mixed bag of genres…
Jonathan Wandag: Sure. As with all the movies I work on… I watch each scene over and over and eventually just start singing to the scenes. I believe melody is king and I want people to remember motifs just like John Williams did with “Star Wars.” Eventually I take my melodies to my beautiful new Mac I have named, “Alita,” (Thanks Micah Ian Wright, for helping me acquire such wonderful computery). For the intro, I watched “Home Hunters International” and tortured myself by listening to all the adult contemporary music over and over. For the villagers in the movie, I wanted something really simple… but at the same time, super haunting and beautiful. So what’s the most effective way to pull that off?… mid to high piano notes and sordino strings in the highest register. For the main antagonist, I wanted the haunting beauty vibe as well… but I also wanted to represent something rustic and ancient. I eventually settled upon an instrument called, copperphone. In my ears, that’s as rustic and ancient as you could get. Don’t forget really low sub frequency rumbles for when something bad is about to happen. Finally, CHOIRS CHOIRS CHOIRS! BRASS BRASS BRASS! Oh and… some accordion, spoons, pitch forks, and guitars for some of the villager scenes. I literally hit spoons against pitch forks for some of the percussion.
Edwin Santos: So, what type of composer are you? Do you mostly rely on practical instruments like the accordion, spoons, pitch forks, and guitars? Or, do you prefer using a computer and ProTools to create?
Jonathan Wandag: I think all composers aren’t one or the other. I think they’re a varying mix of all of it. As for me, my weapon of choice is Logic Pro where I load all my favorite sample libraries and plug-ins. Eventually, I overdub the music with real instruments to give it more depth, realism, and clarity. But you ask what type of a composer am I? I’m an asshole. I yell at my computer so much. I need to be a better man.
Edwin Santos: What methods did you use to capture all genres when you composed “They’re Watching?”
Jonathan Wandag: YouTube is one of my most reliable teachers. I researched heavily into Eastern European music as well as adult contemporary, by watching videos on YouTube. Like I said, I literally hit spoons against pitch forks to create some percussion. My type of horror…haunting piano melodies, big choirs (like “The Exorcism”), aleatory runs with strings, brass, and winds… sub low rumbles for bad stuff, high sordino strings for tension, lots of trem strings. All of that can be Googled.
Edwin Santos: As a soundtrack composer, one must usually adapt to one’s ideas to the film, the director and the audience. How do you maintain a balance between artistic integrity and sticking to your creative convictions versus being professional in your job? How do you find a sense of freedom within these structures?
Jonathan Wandag: Stravinsky once said, “I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible to me… Will I then have to lose myself in this abyss of freedom?” I actually love direction and limitation and having to score to visual cues. There’s a lot of freedom in limitation. It allows more focus. It allows me to allocate more energy in the right places. It allows for more precise emotional value. When I work with directors and producers, I realize that I’m there toserve their vision… not the other way around. I’m not a diva. I want their ideas to come to fruition the way they wanted it to be. Of course I offer some suggestions and use a lot of my intuition to write stuff they might not have thought of… but for the most part, I’m open to their guidance. Fortunately, the writers / directors of “They’re Watching,” Jay Lender and Micah Wright, were the perfect blend of guidance and freedom. Some scenes… like the last big one, they let me run amok and boy did they pay for it… in a good way.
Edwin Santos: The late Jerry Goldsmith once said that as a composer, one “can’t be visual with the music.” How do you see the relationship between image and sound in a film? How directly are you working with the images in the writing process?
Jonathan Wandag: I think I know what he means. Composers don’t have to literally translate what’s going on in the visual cues. A classic example would be using slow, somber, and haunting music while we see all this crazy sh*t exploding everywhere. That’s definitely counterintuitive, but it evokes a feeling you would otherwise get, if you went for bombastic, big, and percussive sounds. My take on image and sound on film is that I look more for what’s not being shown on the visual cues that the directors / producers want to bring out.
Edwin Santos: What are your thoughts about the balance between visual FX and film music…and whether or not, it is a successful one? And, were there any concerns when composing the score for the film?
Jonathan Wandag: Again, I’m no diva so if the music is way behind the SFX, that’s fine. My only concern is that the music is loud enough to have emotional impact. The unsung heroes are the folks that mix and master the entire film at the end. If the team of sound folks is good… they could maximize emotional impact by balancing out all the FX and music.
Edwin Santos: For, or against the use of temp tracks?
Jonathan Wandag: For. Sometimes, they help me find tempos that the editor edits to. A good composer can make a director / producer forget all those temp tracks.
Edwin Santos: What are some of the opportunities and challenges you had being a Filipino American in the film industry?
Jonathan Wandag: I’m not taken seriously until they hear my work and see my credentials. Shoot, I get this from my own people as well. I don’t blame any of them though because you don’t ever see many FilAms as film score composers. That’s fine… I just have to hit a bit harder with my music.
Edwin Santos: What advice would you like to give to aspiring film composers?
Jonathan Wandag: I asked Michael Giacchino the same question… and the answer he said was, “Don’t do it.” Like anything in entertainment, don’t do it. Seriously, don’t do it. It’s as difficult as winning the lottery, but instead of paying for tickets, you’re paying with your health, life, and family. You’ll have to sacrifice time with your family, you’ll lose girlfriends, you’ll start getting heart problems and some months, your bank account will be embarrassing… Now if you don’t care and you REALLY ARE OBSESSED with doing this… Like, you dream about it, you wake up and go… “holy sh*t, I wanna compose RIGHT NOW!”, then you have a chance. And if that’s you… then compose one minute of music EVERY DAY. Regardless if you have a gig, just do it. Your chops will be waaay better within weeks. Also, save up for the high end sample libraries. Otherwise, your stuff won’t sound pro and you’ll lose out to another composer, who might not have better composing skills than you, but possess superior production quality. God I’m a Debbie Downer.
Edwin Santos: No, you’re not. Lastly, what’s next?
Jonathan Wandag: After “They’re Watching” comes out, I have a console game I’m working on, releasing in April, called “Song Of The Deep” by Insomniac Games and Game Stop. I’m doing both the music and SFX for the game. It’ll be out on XBOX, PS4 and PC. After that, I go to Iceland to swim between tectonic plates and explore volcanoes.
Edwin Santos: Thank you!
Jonathan Wandag: Thank you so much for having me! Let’s fight the good fight for our FilAms to get us up in Hollywood’s grill piece!
They’re Watching opens at select theaters and will be available on VOD / iTunes this Friday, March 25th. In California, the film will have its premiere at the AMC Burbank Town Center 8 (in Burbank) as well as openings at the new Laemmle Monica Film Center (in Santa Monica) and the 4-Star Theatre (in San Francisco). It is also opening theatrically in Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, New York, Seattle, Tucson and Washington D.C.
For more information about the film, click here: http://www.theyrewatchingmovie.com/
Opening this Friday, March 25 is the comedy horror thriller, They’re Watching written and directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright. Starring Brigid Brannagh (Army Wives), David Alpay (The Vampire Diaries) and Kris Lemche (Haven), the film is about an American TV crew getting trapped in a centuries-old web of revenge, horror, and blood, when their home improvement show is attacked by angry Eastern European villagers out to kill the show’s star.
Read my interview with Mark V. Lagrimas, the producer ofThey’re Watching.
Edwin Santos: This is your first feature length film you’ve produced. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do? Tell us a little bit of your journey?
Mark Lagrimas: This may be my first movie that I have produced, but I have been involved in making movies and television my entire career. My experience on and off set began as a production assistant for ABC. In addition, I have worked for the Disney Channel, MGM Studios, CBS Studios, and numerous projects around the world. My expertise is in the financial and research and analysis of projects from start to finish so it was a smooth transition into producing and really just the culmination of something I had been gearing up for over a decade or so.
Edwin Santos: Where does an idea for a film usually begin with you?
Mark Lagrimas: It happens different ways, but it all boils down to one question I ask myself: “What would you, Mark V. Lagrimas, like to pay $10.00 for a ticket to go see at the movie theater?” In this case, for our film, “They’re Watching,” it was a simple premise. A film crew taping a popular home improvement show goes on location to do what they always do. It just so happens that on this particular occasion, it all goes to hell. I thought to myself after I hear the pitch, “Yeah, I’ll go and watch that!”
Edwin Santos: As you mentioned earlier, you were a financial consultant and a research analyst, but you also have experience in marketing, publicity, consumer products, theatrical sales, network & cable television sales, television archives, and ad sales prior to becoming a film producer for “They’re Watching.” How was your journey in these aforementioned areas helped you as a producer?
Mark Lagrimas: My experience helps greatly in evaluating whether or not you want to go into a particular project in the first place. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each project? All projects, no matter how great they seem, have flaws. In the end, you have to decide as a producer whether you want to dedicate your time and resources to pursuing a projects despite these difficulties. I’ve also seen a lot of what’s out there in the market first hand so I can help navigate the ship a little better in terms of making sure we make good decision, that we get optimal deals, and our team works efficiently.
Edwin Santos: “They’re Watching” is a mixed bag of genres. What is your favorite film genre and why?
Mark Lagrimas: I can’t say I have one. It’s like asking me to pick which of my children is my favorite. I was fortunate to be exposed to two massive media libraries in my time with the studios: the Walt Disney and the MGM libraries. I’ve grown to appreciate the needs, desires, and dreams of people of all ages and all walks of life simply based on the kinds of movies they love the most. That’s the beauty of Hollywood and the world in general: diversity!
Edwin Santos: “They’re Watching” was shot using the Red Epic. How is using today’s new digital technologies helpful in maintaining and keeping costs down?
Mark Lagrimas: Using higher resolution gave our directors, colorist, editor, and SFX animators and larger canvas to work with. In addition, we anticipated the rise of 4K technology even when HD resolution was just getting into full swing 3 years ago. We’re proud to say that we’ll be one of the best looking films in this genre out today!
Edwin Santos: How does working within tight restrictions such as time, money, location and talent force you to be more creative?
Mark Lagrimas: It forces you to plan better and monitor your resources more closely. That wasn’t so much of a problem as Micah Wright and Jay Lender, our writer/directors have video game, comic book, and animation experience. In those mediums, especially when it requires putting a pencil to paper, you cannot simply go back and redo a scene. It has to be planned well in advance or else months of work by hundreds of people is down the drain…not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are also proud to have shot our film on location in Romania, where the crews are efficient, friendly, experienced, and do world class work at highly competitive rates.
Edwin Santos: What are some of the opportunities and challenges you had being a Filipino American in the film industry?
Mark Lagrimas: The only opportunity I had to interface with my community other than most recently was at the beginning of my career. In 2004, I attended a panel called “Filipinos in Entertainment” put together by the Filipino American Library of Los Angeles. Fritz Friedman, Dean Devlin, Ron Sato, and some of the great names in entertainment were there. What I got out of listening to them speak and later having a lunch with Ron was that this business will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. They were right. There are a multitude of us going for positions in front of the camera but so few of us succeeding at the highest levels behind the camera. At nearly every place I worked, I was the only Filipino on staff. Sadly, in many cases, I was the only Filipino in the building. I am glad to be here where I am, but its likely no surprise to say that I have encountered my fair share of obstacles, which is why I try to help my fellow Filipinos whenever I can. For example, Jonathan Wandag (the composer of “They’re Watching”) is one of the most talented people I have ever met who just happens to be Filipino. I knew that at the first chance, I would do everything I could get him out there. I am glad I had the opportunity to help showcase his genius in our film.
Edwin Santos: Does race make any impact on your work?
Mark Lagrimas: How does it not? You can’t do simple research in our industry without measuring categories of ethnicity, socio-economic background, or the language you first spoke or continue to use predominantly in everyday life. All of these factors determine the audience for your work and how to reach them. Although “race” is more of a social and political construct, it definitely factors into relations in Hollywood whether people admit it or not. Look at the Oscars and the #OscarsSoWhite situation. Look at the jokes made by Chris Rock and Sasha Baron Cohen about Asians on the very show that was supposed to attempt to bridge the “race’ divide. Look, if it was during a stand up routine in a comedy club, you could let that slide, but at the Oscars? I remember having dinner and spitting out my food when I heard those comments on the TV. As an Filipino, as an Asian Pacific Islander, as an American, as a human being…it’s my duty to make sure that kind of filth never rears its ugly head again. And if it does, there’ll be someone to punch that big ugly head in the face.
Edwin Santos: Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
Mark Lagrimas: It’s funny. In my high school valedictorian speech, I made numerous references to movies and even brought out my Forrest Gump and Yoda impressions in front of the crowd. Truth be told, I was actually a frustrated artist who applied successfully to some top tier art schools in my youth. My parents wanted to be a doctor like every ‘good’ Filipino son and basically threatened to disown me if I didn’t go that direction. So I forced myself to study biochemistry for 2 years before switching out to pre-law which was an “acceptable” profession for them. My Disney internship and a really inspiring girlfriend (who became my wife and the mother of my children) actually helped me break the shackles of filial piety so that I could do what I always wanted to do. After years of disagreements, my parents finally understand and are now huge supporters of my work. So the lesson of the story here kids is: Be true to your heart!
Edwin Santos: Indeed. What films and filmmakers are important for your work going forward?
Mark Lagrimas: I am, and always will be a humble student of the entertainment game, so everyone and everything inspires me. However, as a Filipino, I think the film that really touches me to this day is the 1952 masterpiece “Singin’ in the Rain.” Odd choice, no? Gene Kelly is amazing, Donald O’ Connor hilarious, and Debbie Reynolds is alluring. But pay attention to the single line by the amazing Leon Lontoc, a hard working and talented, but long suffering filipino actor in Hollywood’s Golden Age. He may simply be giving directions to the main character but he was playing one of the few real life roles that our people were allowed to play in Hollywood at the time. We have gone a long way from being butlers and valets for the stars and I’ll be damned if we’re simply relegated to that place again.
Edwin Santos: (silently reacting when Leon Lontoc was mentioned, but resumes with Mark’s interview) Will you continue producing films going forward or will we see you directing a feature in the near future?
Mark Lagrimas: I will definitely continue to produce films for the foreseeable future. As for directing, it’s always been my dream to direct a Filipino martial arts film. As a practitioner and a historian, I have seen our fighting arts in everything from the movie 300 to the “The Bourne Identity” franchise. Our time for recognition and praise is coming. I plan to be one of the people who brings that about.
Edwin Santos: What all-time favorite producer, screenwriter, director and actor(s) would you love to work with in your dream film and why? And, other than yourself, one of your dream choices is a Filipino/Filipino American. Go!
Mark Lagrimas: Once as a UCLA student, I met Denzel Washington as he was getting coffee after his premiere of “The Bone Collector” in Westwood at the time. He was such a humble and down to earth guy. I would love to work with him. It’s still my dream to work with any one of the Filipino talents I grew up watching. When I was a kid, “Young Guns,” “Wayne’s World,” and “Aladdin” were awesome to me because those were the first times I was able to hear a Filipino voice or see a Filipino face on the big screen in the United States. Lou Diamond Phillips, Tia Carrere, and Lea Salonga…expect a call from me soon.
Edwin Santos: What advice would you like to give to aspiring film producers?
Mark Lagrimas: The same adage goes just as well for film as it does for any other business. “The customer is always right.” If you keep that in mind, somehow, someway, you’ll always have a job in Hollywood. Around here, we don’t sell burgers or fine tailored suits to the world (not directly at least). We sell dreams, hopes, fears, laughs, and moments that you can live over and over again. How can you NOT listen to your customer?
Edwin Santos: Lastly, what’s next?
Mark Lagrimas: My partners Micah and Jay are continuing to develop numerous amazing projects for Best Served Cold Productions. In addition, I am looking forward to producing numerous projects in the coming years under my newly minted production finance company WarSong Entertainment. We plan to roll out over a dozen film and television projects in the next five years. Stay tuned.
Edwin Santos: Thank you for your time.
Mark Lagrimas: Thank you!
Seems like I learn something new after each of these interviews…
Mark mentioned Leon Lontoc. So, I did some research on the Manila-born actor who appeared in Singin’ In The Rain.
It turns out he worked as a barber and a waiter while making ends meet…and in between or whatever spare time he had, he was a movie actor starting in the early 1940s. He is uncredited as the Filipino butler in the Gene Kelly musical. But, his break came in the form of a new medium called television starting with Adventures of Superman in 1953. From then on, he co-starred, guest-starred and became a regular on such shows as The Loretta Young Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hawaiian’s Eye, McHale’s Navy, I Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Bonanza, Ironside, Mannix, The Brady Bunch and Mission: Impossible. He is best known for his work as a regular, “Chauffeur Henry” on the Aaron Spelling-produced television show, Burke’s Law. He even spoke a bit of Tagalog on the show.
He passed away in 1974. To those of you who never knew of Leon Lontoc’s work (like me, in shame), many of his episodes from his television days can be found online like YouTube. Maybe one day, I will write an extensive #FACinfocus on Leon Lontoc…
They’re Watching opens at select theaters and will be available on VOD / iTunes this Friday, March 25th. In California, the film will have its premiere at the AMC Burbank (in Burbank) as well as openings at the new Laemmle Monica Film Center (in Santa Monica) and the 4-Star Theatre (in San Francisco). It is also opening theatrically in Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, New York, Seattle, Tucson and Washington D.C.
For more information about the film, click here: http://www.theyrewatchingmovie.com/
Tomorrow night’s episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow finds our heroes and villains return to where they began…at Star City. But, home is not where the heart is as they encounter thieves, destruction and mayhem. And, for White Canary (Caity Lotz), she slowly uncovers what happened to Star City’s resident hero and old friend…Oliver Queen / Green Arrow. Stephen Amell guest stars.
Read my exclusive interview with one of the writers of tomorrow night’s sixth episode titled Star City 2046 of the hit television show, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Executive Story Editor Ray Utarnachitt!
Edwin Santos: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do? Tell us a little bit of your journey?
Ray Utarnachitt: My name is Ray Utarnachitt and I’m an Executive Story Editor on “Legends of Tomorrow.” Before this I co-wrote a freelance episode of “The Flash” and also wrote on “The Tomorrow People” and “Person of Interest.” I’m originally from Michigan and studied Film at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I, of course, thought I was going to be a doctor for many years and I was even a Biology major for most of my college years. But to the dismay of my parents, I switched tracks and graduated in Film!
Edwin Santos: Utarnachitt?
Ray Utarnachitt: My mother is Filipina and my father is Chinese born in Thailand. Thus the Thai surname!!!
Edwin Santos: Have you ever wanted to be a writer?
Ray Utarnachitt: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
Edwin Santos: What is your first piece you ever wrote?
Ray Utarnachitt: The first thing I really remember putting a lot of effort into was a story I wrote for a class competition in elementary school. My story took place in the future and the entire Earth was covered in water — and these three scientists had to explore the deep ocean in a futuristic submarine because of reports of a sea monster. Of course, it was terrible and I didn’t win. Haha. But I was pretty drawn to genre storytelling at a young age.
Edwin Santos: Other than a script coordinator, it seems you have held other positions in film and television such as a visual effects assistant in 1999’s “The 13th Warrior.” Were you figuring out what you wanted to do or were you already focused on becoming a writer as those varied positions were just the means to get to your current position?
Ray Utarnachitt: When you move out Los Angeles and you have no real connections to the film industry, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to get started. There are no signs pointing you where to go to be a writer. And because there is no one clear path to get to where you want to go, you kind of just pick one and see where it leads. Most of my film industry experience is actually in Film Production — I started as a production assistant (PA) on set working on commercials, music videos, and infomercials. Then I worked as a PA in Visual Effects for a short while before working in the production office as an Assistant Coordinator. But throughout all that time I kept working on my writing trying to get better. Eventually, those jobs I had which had nothing to do with writing actually led me to people who would eventually hire me as a writer. So, it was a matter of staying focused and always keeping your eyes on the prize. It wasn’t always easy but you have to believe in yourself and keep figuring out how to get what you want.
Edwin Santos: What is your daily writing process when developing scripts for “Legends of Tomorrow?”
Ray Utarnachitt: On any given day, we could be doing any number of things in the writers’ room. It all depends on where we are in the schedule. Sometimes we’re generating ideas for the next episode on the slate or we’re further along in the process and actually detailing specific beats for scenes which will be in the episode. What’s exciting about working in a writers’ room is that every day is different.
Edwin Santos: With such an ensemble show as “Legends of Tomorrow” is, how would you describe your process in fleshing out characters as well as balancing the characters and their story arcs?
Ray Utarnachitt: With every episode we usually try to uncover whose story we’re trying to tell at this point in the season. And once we do that, we try to find another character who could be a good foil for that person in order to express the story. Once we’ve figured that out — we then try to come up with interesting character combinations for the other characters. That’s been the most fun about writing for such a huge cast, with each pair-up you get different results because each character is so unique.
Edwin Santos: This Thursday’s show,”Star City 2046″ is your first written episode for “Legends of Tomorrow.” Are you excited to see something you’ve written on the page to now share it on the small screen? Or, are you very professional and soft spoken about the experience that it is nothing really exciting anymore?
Ray Utarnachitt: It is always exciting to see something you’ve written finally broadcast for everyone in the world to see. So much work goes into each episode from the inception of the idea for the story all the way through post-production. It’s nice to see the outcome of all that hard work.
Edwin Santos: Who is your favorite character in “Legends of Tomorrow” and why?
Ray Utarnachitt: I think my favorite character is Ray Palmer. I like him because of his undying optimism. And he always finds humor even in the darkest of situations.
Edwin Santos: As a Filipino American, do you feel there should be more FilAms (or POC) television writers in the writers’ room to give voice and tell stories about our experiences? Even in the fictional fantasy world “Legends of Tomorrow” thrives in?
Ray Utarnachitt: Yes, of course. I feel there should be more diversity in general in writers’ rooms. It’s essential to get other points of view that are not typically represented in stories on television. The good news is that in the years I’ve been in the industry I have seen some improvement in this area — but we could always do better.
Edwin Santos: And, last question… Currently, DC Comics has Asian American superheroes in their canon but they all have been sidekicks. Which one of them do you feel should appear, hop on the Waverider, join the “Legends of Tomorrow” cast and make a name for himself / herself?
Ray Utarnachitt: I’m not completely familiar with this character, but I read somewhere that there’s a new version of Captain Steel who has Filipino origins. I think that would be very cool to have someone like that on board the Waverider!
Edwin Santos: Thank you for your time.
Ray Utarnachitt: Thanks!
After my interview with Ray, I did some research. I remember a Captain Steel when I used to collect comic books when I was a boy but he was not Filipino. Until I remember about DC’s New 52 comic book canon. In “Earth 2” #13, the character known as Captain Steel was revealed to have Filipino origins.
The New 52 version of Captain Steel was created by writer James Robinson and illustrated by Yildiray Cinar. Robinson told the media he was including a Filipino superhero to add diversity to the book.
Thus, “Earth 2” #13 had the World Army’s Commander Khan describing Captain Steel this way: “Although an American citizen, he’s native Filipino—born in the Philippines. His father—natural or adopted, we’re still unclear—wanted the best for his son.”
Another CW show, The Flash is currently visiting multi-dimensions and parallel universes where their first stopover was Earth 2. But, then again, the Legends of Tomorrow on the Waverider can also make a pit stop at Earth 2 . So, who knows where DC’s first superhero from the Philippines could turn up? Though, I have to agree with Ray. It would be cool to have Captain Steel turn up in Legends of Tomorrow.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow / Episode #6 / Star City 2046 written by Marc Guggenheim and Ray Utarnachitt airs tomorrow night, Thursday, February 25 at 8pm ET/PT on The CW. Check your local listings.
Watch my interview discussing about my career, creative life as well as tips and advice to millennials when working in the entertainment industry with Alexia Anastasio at Sqeegee here: https://sqeeqee.com/streaming/history/uOTIkUQCPvfWImAD
Television history was made last week for Filipino Americans. But, did you know it occurred twice? Last Monday night on the CW, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" introduced Josh's family in the episode, 'My First Thanksgiving with Josh!' where the character Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) spends Thanksgiving with a Filipino family.
Watch the episode on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/871002
This past Friday, I watched the NBC comedy, "Truth Be Told" for the first time. I already knew that Vanessa (Minnillo) Lachey was in it. I knew of her when I was with E! Entertainment when she was a finalist in E!'s competition to replace Brooke Burke as host of "Wild On" in 2007. I didn't know she was an actress so I was curious in this new formula, yet diverse sitcom.
As much as I was celebrating "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," the episode of "Truth Be Told" was a long time coming. In that, I never saw the subject presented on television before -- and it was a subject, a personal subject where I spent most of my life denying being a Filipino.
I don't speak for those who came to the U.S. as children and decided to deny who they are because, in my opinion, that is an impossible task. They speak Tagalog and carry traits that are specific to the culture. Not me. It may have begun when my parents only spoke and taught us English to my siblings and I when we were born in Chicago, Illinois. Our only language is still English. And, even though, I spent twelve combined summer & Christmas vacations and lived one year in the Philippines, and joined Filipino Clubs from childhood to college, I still didn't accept my Filipino culture. I only saw it as a novelty. It was just there when I needed it. Through those years, I got used to the denial and created a monster. To the point, being an "American-Filipino" or a "Vanillapino" was to my benefit. Every corporate employment or job I had, I was promoted 100% of the time because the promotion required I speak to clients. But, truthfully, I knew my skills and my experience got me those promotions.
I remember back in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, there was this popular wave happening that anything Filipino was trendy and hip. It all started with "The Debut" directed by Gene Cajayon. And, even though that was the first time I saw a Filipino character rejecting his Filipino heritage against his immigrant parents on celluloid film, the episode below was a first for TV but, this time, it's a first generation American-born Filipina mother, the parent, who has rejected her culture her entire life -- only to embrace it later when her daughter rejects her Filipino Barbie doll down to stereotypical and almost derogatory societal terms. That hit below the belt...to even hearing a kid say that. I'm pretty sure I said it myself when I was ignorant.
Since the last decade, I have embraced the culture...but that doesn't mean I will sit down and learn how to speak Tagalog again... I mean how do you speak the language without developing stuttering and drool? I tried it. It was messy.
Watch the episode on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/874150#i0,p0,d0
“I'm like a fine wine. I get better with age. The best is yet to come.”
― Richelle Mead, Blood Promise
“I'm like a fine wine..."
Having seen the laugh-riot action comedy Awesome Asian Bad Guys written by Milton Liu, starring and co-directed by Stephen Dypiangco and Patrick Epino (National Film Society) and executive produced by Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man) at the 30th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in 2014, watching the film again with all of my friends and colleagues was an experience!
"I get better with age."
The National Film Society and Angry Asian Man along with Visual Communications presented a Special Screening of Awesome Asian Bad Guys, a Kickstarter-funded, web based series turned feature length film starring Tamlyn Tomita, Randall Park, George Cheung, Dante Basco, Yuji Okumoto and Al Leong at East West Players' David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles last night to celebrate the film's DVD & VOD release that same day. And there were a few things I got out of it.
(1) When was the last time you saw a mainstream American film where the filmmakers and high profile leads are Filipino Americans?
(2) At the afterparty at Far Bar in Little Tokyo, I was hanging out with not just the co-directors of Awesome Asian Bad Guys but also with filmmakers Gene Cajayon (2000's The Debut) and Patricio Ginelsa, Jr. (2003's Lumpia). While Gene and Patricio were directing films about varying Filipino American experiences, I was producing films about other people's experiences such as my first produced film, 2002's Soap Girl). So I felt a kindred spirit among them. However, until I acted in Edward J. Mallillin's 2008 Filipino American film, Brown Soup Thing that I decided that if I do another project, Asian Americans, but specifically Filipino Americans, will be prominent. And, that began with my web series, 2014's No Regrets where the leads were Filipino Americans with a universal appeal. I will do other Filipino American themed projects later this year. With Filipino Americans as the second largest Asian American group in Los Angeles, I don't see why not. In a way, Gene, Patricio and other FilAm filmmakers who made an impact a decade ago have paved the way for Stephen, Patrick and others of this millennial generation of filmmakers to carry on and reach higher than ever before (thanks now to the tools we have that are accessible as well as social media to reach a hungry audience looking for new voices...and, in turn, become the "Voice of the Voiceless" themselves). Asian American representation in film and television has gotten better since the 1990s (i.e. Fresh Off The Boat) but it has also hit below the belt (i.e. Aloha).
(3) There was this running joke in Awesome Asian Bad Guys where Stephen and Patrick would repeat names of movies and TV shows in the 1980s and 1990s of where both saw George Cheung and Al Leong in. And, the joke would end with Stephen exclaiming the CBS TV show, Simon & Simon starring Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker with the maddening look of an Overly Attached Girlfriend...
I'm a bit older than them when I say that I have seen George Cheung on prime-time television shows since the mid-1970s or when my Dad thought I was old enough to watch Mannix. In fact, my Dad loved action movies especially the Rambo and Die Hard films. He was with me in spirit last night meeting these two iconic actors.
And, the only time we saw these two legendary actors were only once every prime-time television show and / or blockbuster movie. This was hilariously addressed during the Q&A when my friend asked "has all Asian American actors appeared in Simon & Simon? One of the leads in Awesome Asian Bad Guys, Dante Basco jokingly mentioned that every year, all Asian American actors are called in to various TV casting offices to audition for that TV show's one Asian-themed episode. This is true. One audition I was called in for was a costar role for the Matthew Perry show, Go On -- and there I saw Dante Basco...and James Kyson...and so on.
Here is a fun fact. The first film I ever worked on was in 1992's Rapid Fire starring Brandon Lee, Nick Mancuso, Dustin Nguyen, Powers Boothe, Kate Hodge, Al Leong, Raymond J. Barry, Tony Longo and Tzi Ma (in the summer of 1991). I just finished my third year at California State University, Northridge and wanted to start making money to pay back my student loans so I did background work only that summer before beginning my final year at CSUN. Thanks to my best friend who was studying at UCLA at the time who saw the ad. Al Leong is the second actor I met from Rapid Fire and I remember seeing him on-location at the UCLA campus. Nick Mancuso was the first actor I met from that same film when I co-executive produced 2011's Violent Blue (in 2010).
Indeed the gathering last night was a different experience for me compared when I first saw it last year at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival...and I could right now type a much lengthier critique as to why it is -- the lack of Asian American representation in Hollywood to this day despite making still small stepping stone strives. But, during the Q&A session after the screening, Dante Basco put me at ease when he said...
" [Awesome Asian Bad Guys] is a cool way for us...celebrating our history as Asians in Hollywood...not complaining about stereotypical things that happened in the past but, a funny way for us and our community to comment about the past and celebrate about the past without complaining about it..."
The best is yet to come.”
To which, I'd like to add, let's keep this momentum going by creating original content, producing projects and create & accept roles that best represent who we are as Asian Americans.
In the meantime, get your hands on the Awesome Asian Bad Guys movie right here:
A possible sequel - Awesome Asian Bad Girls -- could come next!
This past Wednesday, September 24, 2014, someone who I never met (that I can remember), Renee Agoncillo-Frial de Faeldonea, a grand daughter of Don Perpetuo and Doña Fidela Agoncillo (they are pictured at left) and daughter of Maura Agoncillo de Frial, of Dumalag, Capiz. passed away. Rest in peace. My prayers and condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.
I wanted to begin this blog first with the passing because it all relates to my year long (seems like a lifetime of) research about my direct ancestral connection to the first Flag of the Philippines especially for this month of October's Filipino American History Month (Filipino American Heritage Month) as well as my rich family history -- at least, from my mother's side of the family. Plus, I'm a history nut! So, I may be incorrect with some of the dates here or even the relationships of my family...believe me, there is so much information out there as well as too little to confirm online. This blog may be re-edited after it is published.
Since the first time I visited the Philippines in the Summer of 1977, I slowly accepted and embraced my Filipino heritage. You see, for years, even recently, I don't see myself as a Filipino, or even the term, "Filipino-American" or "Filipino American" for that matter. Where does that double terminology identity apply towards? Immigrants from the Philippines coming to America or people like me born and raised in the United States by Filipino parents? It can't mean both? I usually call myself "American" or if I'm feeling jovial, it's "American-Filipino" because honestly, I do not speak a lick of Tagalog.
Nevertheless, that doesn't stop me from learning something new about my culture, my heritage and even my family every time I'm in the Philippines. After a one-year stint living there from 1980-1981 and subsequent summer vacations thereafter, there was always something I'd pick up but, unfortunately forget about it later. Until 1995 after my grandmother passed away. She took care of my younger siblings and I during our one year stint in the Philippines. Aside from meeting my many, MANY relatives back in 1980, many of them were at her funeral. So, assembling everything I heard and was informed about my rich and historical Filipino lineage in 1980, 1995 and as recent as 2013, this is what I gathered...
This is my Great-Grandfather, Dr. Antonio Marasigan Agoncillo from Batangas, Philippines. His family owned vast land even in present day, Makati. He was the first doctor who studied in the U.S. and the first to own a car in Batangas. He was good friends with then-President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon. He was jealous of the President when he danced with my great-grandmother at their mansion in Batangas. Unfortunately, he died way too early...and ironic as I think about it. My Great-Grandfather was on his way home from treating a patient when it started to rain. He was on horseback and perspiring, got sick due to pneumonia and later died in his early thirties.
I have so many surnames of extended families, it's very difficult to keep track. But, the four that has always been consistent are the following: Santos (my Dad's side), Monroy (my mother's father's side), Teves (my mother's stepfather's side) and Agoncillo (my mother's mother's side). Through the years, it's the Agoncillo side I found fascinating. My grandmother was an Agoncillo and so was my great-grandmother (left photo; in Chicago) who was married to the aforementioned Dr. Antonio Marasigan Agoncillo (photo above). It was the Agoncillos I first met the first time I went to the Philippines in 1977 and thereafter. My one year stint was spent with Agoncillos. The first time we moved to Los Angeles in 1981, we were greeted and welcomed by Agoncillos. And, well into the '80s and '90s, I met more of my extended Agoncillo family from Taal, Batangas and around the globe. I learned this past summer that there is a town called, Agoncillo, a fourth class municipality in the Province of Batangas, Philippines. Historically, on April 17, 1949, Executive Order No. 212 was issued by then President Quirino authorizing the immediate organization of the Municipality under the name of Agoncillo, in honor of Don Felipe Agoncillo, a native of Taal and one of the first Filipino representatives to the Spanish Cortes. Someday, I will take a trip there...
The first photo you see above this blog are of Don Perpetuo Agoncillo and Doña Fidela Marasigan de Agoncillo, a prominent couple from Taal, Batangas in the mid to late 1800s. Both hailed from landed families and had eleven children. Don Perpetuo ran a highly successful shipping business during the latter years of the Spanish rule up to the time of the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines. They are either my 5th or 6th generation grandparents! Perpetuo was a close relation of Felipe Agoncillo (illustrated on the Philippines national stamp below and related to my mother's side), the first Filipino Diplomat and husband of Marcela Agoncillo, who sewed the first Philippine Flag. ZOINKS?!?
Marcela Agoncillo, her legacy as the principle seamstress of the first and official Philippine Flag, gave one of her thimbles to Maura Agoncillo. This was donated by one of her daughters to then First Lady, Imelda Marcos during President Ferdinand Marcos' regime. The thimble now sits on display at the Malacanang Museum in the Philippines.
She was a daughter of a rich family in her hometown of Taal, Batangas. Finishing her studies at Santa Catalina College, she acquired her learning in music and crafts. At the age of 30, Agoncillo married Filipino lawyer and jurist Don Felipe Agoncillo (who was the Filipino representative to the negotiations in Paris -- that led to the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War) and gave birth to six children. Her marriage led to her important role in Philippine history. When her husband was exiled to Hong Kong during the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, Agoncillo and the rest of the family joined him and temporarily resided there to avoid the anti-Filipino hostility of some foreign countries. While in Hong Kong, General Emilio Aguinaldo requested her to sew a flag that would represent their country. Agoncillo, her eldest daughter, Lorenza and a friend, Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, a niece of Jose Rizal (HELLO?!?) manually sewed the flag (in Hong Kong) in accordance with General Aguinaldo's design which later became the Official Flag of the Philippines. The flag was made from fine silk which Marcela bought in Hong Kong. It was embroidered in gold and contained stripes of blue and red and a white triangle with the sun and three stars. It became known as "the sun and the stars flag". It was finished in a period of five days, through a difficult process. Marcela, Lorenza and Delfina worked manually with the aid of a sewing machine. They had to redo the flag when the rays of the sun were not placed in the proper direction. Their eyes and hands suffered due to the prolonged work. The flag was personally delivered by Marcela to Aguinaldo, which he brought back to Manila. It was hoisted from the window of Aguinaldo's house in Kawit, Cavite during the proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898. Marcela was not able to witness the first public display of the flag because she had to stay with her husband, who was still in exile.
Last July 4, 2014, we commemorated the 68th Anniversary of the Formal Recognition of Philippine independence by the United States of America. Although General/President Emilio Aguinaldo initially Declares the Independence of the Philippines back in June 12,1898, it was not until July 4, 1946 when the United States of America officially recognized Philippine Independence. (below photo).
Whew! I learned more about my Filipino heritage here than I did when I spent a semester studying Pinoy history at St. Anthony Novaliches High School in Caloocan City during my one year stay...
While the flag itself is the perpetual legacy of Agoncillo, she is also commemorated through museums and monuments like the marker in Hong Kong (where her family temporarily sojourned), at her ancestral home in Taal, Batangas which has been turned into a museum, in paintings by notable painters as well as through other visual arts (below photo).
At an Agoncillo family birthday party this past summer, I was informed I am a 5th generation descendant of Marcela Agoncillo, the woman who sewed the first Philippine Flag. So, today, I have high respect for the flag (as well as my culture and my heritage) because of my lineage to it. To see it everywhere from social causes to sports to social justice and to entertainment, I have a deeper understanding for it. I may be born under the national flag of the United States for which it stands but, there is historical importance to the Philippines' national flag more so than ever before. I guess you can call it (and, honestly, I really don't like this word but), pride.
I may not have any direct connections to world leaders, diplomats or national heroes ... patriots... but, I try my best as an actor and a producer in Hollywood to represent Filipino Americans well in the media and giving us a voice. I have many cousins who are also in the arts doing their thing (as I discovered while doing this initial research) Still, there is much more to learn about our rich history... So, I suggest you look into your family lineage. You'd be surprised to discover how much you're lineage is knee deep into history!
Happy Filipino American History Month, everyone!
It was March 8, 2010 that my actress friend and I decided to study long form improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade here in Los Angeles. Unlike my friend, I have already studied short form improv at a couple of places in town, have seen Room To Improv perform live on stage and, of course, splintered my ribs when I watched Comedy Central's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (both the British and American versions). Moreover, it was redemption for me because in the late '90s when improv was hot (then), I was standing outside Groundlings trying to convince myself to not be scared, walk in and sign up. In seconds, I found myself driving away due to fear (I'm shy at heart). Anyway, Improv 101 at UCB was easy to pass despite my thinking head getting in the way. I thought I'd stop there. But, I didn't. I got addicted. Before we performed the first of two student showcases, to get over my stage fright, I did UCBTLA's Long Hard Improv Jam. I did fine for a while; holding my own with the vets while the laughs continued -- until I went blue. That's what I realized was a big no-no. Obviously, there are things I need to improve or just be smarter in my initiations. One of our classmates from the Level 1 class at UCB, Nick Rasmussen mentioned Monkey Butler to us. So, on January 13, 2011, I contacted the Artistic Director of Monkey Butler, David Magidoff. He confirmed what Nick said. We can go to any beginning class and they are free. Our first class was a Sunday afternoon at a Pasadena church with Nathan Davis for the Foundations Level which was okay...because I decided early on that I will complete the Basic Program at UCB (all four levels) and figured after a month at Monkey Butler, I'll sign up for Improv 201 at UCB. That one month became two months, then later six months and so on. My friend dropped out of MB due to a language barrier (which is understandable). I remember one rainy afternoon where only 12 of us showed up to class and Nathan decided rather than teach, we just do a full improv show in class. I was so excited! At first, I was trying to avoid jumping in or take the initiative. But, classmates kept pulling me in to the scenes (thank you!). At one point, I played the father whose daughter wanted to be a dancer and I happen to mention in character that I once had a dream of becoming a dancer. As soon as I said that, it was time for a flashback. It was happening so fast I had no time to really think or decide what to do. Just do what came to mind first. So, I saw myself doing Robin Williams dancing as Twyla Tharp. Then, I had to mirror it the second time after I said, while in a prison scene, as Donald Duck in character, I once did Shakespeare in the park...and of course, the next thing was a flashback. The last time I did a Donald Duck impression was when I was a boy and the last time I did anything Shakespeare was writing a report about the guy for my friend's final term paper. Let's just say with a growing sore throat and sniffles because of the rainy weather, I did the best Donald Duck impression I could while reciting the soliloquy in the "Nunnery Scene" of William Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet.' I will never ever forget that experience because we were all having fun!
On January 24, 2011, I volunteered to be one of the performers to represent Nathan Davis' Level One Workshop class in a Showcase called One Buck Butler which was held at the Oneonta Church in South Pasadena. Just short form improv games were done on stage. Which was fine. I just needed to get over my stage fright. Being in front of the camera is a whole lot easier than being on stage, for me. Being with Monkey Butler Comedy, I found balance. The other one thing Monkey Butler did for me was to be clean with my initiations as, again, I tend to go blue (which seems to be the norm at other improv shows). But, either indirectly or directly, because Monkey Butler Comedy was part of a faith group called Mosaic -- and also there were children in the audience, I really had to clean up my act.
On Thursday, March 24, 2011 at the One Buck Butler show at the Oneonta Campus, I was a guest performer for another class Level One Workshop taught by Lynn Downey Braswell. This was a test for me. Never having played with other scene partners before, more so, not know them...it was a challenge. The two photos above were of my new scene partner and I performing the improv game, "Whose Line." To me, this was more about acting and reacting than it was about improv. Those little notes helped carry the scene very well especially in the end. I think we did our job when we made a little girl laugh!
Another factor was performing improv with different people from all walks of live in various levels of their improv studies -- at other locations. This is where the support comes in. Supporting your scene partners and each other. Monkey Butler had a show at Alhambra, CA. (above) on April 23, 2011. Just did the improv jam and performed with the MB vets. I remember right after this show, one improv teacher at UCB believed doing jams are a waste of time. I beg to differ but, to each their own, I guess..
I continued to practice with Monkey Butler Comedy at the Level One Workshop. And, even though, I really wanted to advance to the Level Two Workshop and so on, I felt I'd stay in the basic level while I pursue the advance levels at UCB. On August 30, 2011, I signed up for Improv 201 at UCB. Advance weekly practice and study at UCB while having basic weekend practice and study at MB was the thing for a while; also doing student showcases at UCB and MB for the public was good because I was getting comfortable and less nervous being in front of a live audience. Also include doing various improv jams around the city not only Monkey Butler's One Buck Butler and Two Buck Butler shows but also at Crashbar Improv, Tuesday Night Thunder and Room 101, watching shows at UCB and Room To Improv and studying the books.
Monkey Butler Comedy was the Winner of the Harold Competition at the 9th Annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival 2011 held at iO West.
While studying the 2nd level of improv at UCB, I did two more shows at MB. Then, after a year with them, I stopped and focused more on my UCB's studies. I passed Improv 201 at UCB. Then, I signed up for Improv 301 at UCB on November 3, 2011 and failed the class (because of the teacher; totally confused me and others students in the class). So, I went back to Monkey Butler to re-learn the basics of improv. I came to realize that once I advanced in improv, other disciplines and approaches come into play. So, I had to be solid with the basics again for the next four months until I signed up again for UCB's Improv 301 on March 6, 2012. Passed the class! Before I signed up for UCB's 401 class, I knew I didn't want to repeat another class. So, I went back to Monkey Butler on the weekends and also signed up for a daily improv intensive boot camp and later improv scene work. On July 13, 2012, I signed up for UCB's Improv 401 -- and passed!
I continued going to Monkey Butler Improv afterwards but mainly to their Halloween events. I was always El Santo!
Monkey Butler Comedy was the Winner of the Harold Competition at the 12th Annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival 2014 held at iO West.
On August 25, 2014, Monkey Butler Improv Comedy announced they have ended operations. I don't what happened but, if I have to guess -- Monkey Butler was gaining more popularity than Mosaic. On September 19, 2014, Monkey Butler hosted their celebration party. Since then, members and students of MB Improv Universe opened new places to teach a new generation of improvisors, comedians and performers for the servitude of the community. A lot of cool people I met during my time spent at MB such as Nick, Moses, David, Gabe, Ai, Charles, Cristina, Billy, Skyler, Nathan, G., Jane, Ken, Greg, Jessica, Laura, Lynn, Max, Patrizia, Rey, Sean, Steve, Jason, Tad, Zach, Brittany, Janet and others. To which I say, "thank you, Monkey Butler, for everything!"