It is Asian August and the Summer of Asians continue into the first day of the eighth month of 2018. And, here are the feature length films opening up all over the world with lead talent of Filipino descent.
Erik Matti’s new crime thriller, BUYBUST is setting a new benchmark for Filipino action films — and Pinoy Cinema overall. His last feature was Seklusyon (screened in competition at the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival in 2017) and he is developing the feature film version of Darna for the same studio, Viva Films.
A Hollywood veteran of the last twenty-five years both as a stunt coordinator and a fight choreographer, Sonny Sison has worked on such projects as 2014’s Godzilla starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 2003’s The Rundown starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Ernie Reyes, Jr., 2018’s Showdown In Manila starring Alexander Nevsky and Casper Van Dien and the 2012 viral short film, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry starring Thomas Jane, just to name a few, has led him to reinvigorate the action genre in Southeast Asia as an action director and producer with a focus of bringing international productions to the Philippines.
The action escape film stars Anne Curtis (2014’s Blood Ransom), UFC Fighter Brandon Vera (2006’s The Black Eyed Peas: Bebot, Version 1 directed by Patricio Ginelsa Jr.) and Victor Neri (2018’s Citizen Jake, 1999’s Brokedown Palace). The film opened in the Philippines on Wednesday, August 1, 2018 and opens at select U.S. and Canadian cities on Friday, August 10, 2018.
Based on the best selling novel, CRAZY RICH ASIANS starring Nico Santos (of NBC’s Superstore) and Pinay personality, Kris Aquino arrives in theaters on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 in the USA and Wednesday, August 22, 2018 in the Philippines.
Opening in theaters on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 is DOG DAYS starring Vanessa Hudgens.
And, MILE 22 opens in theaters on Friday, August 17, 2018 co-starring Ariel Felix.
My First Time As A Special Guest Speaker - at Long Beach Acting and Film Association's Asian In Showbiz Panel Series
As many panels I've attended and after seven panels I've created and produced since 2015, last week I was asked to partake as a special guest panelist.
I was asked in 2017 to be one of the guest panelists about Film Distribution, but my plate was full at the time. This year, I accepted the invitation at the Long Beach Acting and Film Association's themed guest panel discussion, "Asian in Showbiz" last week Sunday, May 27 at Forbidden City in Long Beach, CA.
My entire career flashed before my eyes at first look of the other guest panelists on the card. And, this was before I spoke. Some of them I have worked with before in various capacities while another handful were of mutual friends we've known for years.
I was the last one up and decided to speak the truth. My first time as a guest speaker who has gone thru the trenches for more than twenty-five years, the intent was to have all those listening (including some of the panelists) to be alert and to be prepared. Because there are "sheeps in wolves' clothings" out there. No one is immune from the negatives the Hollywood industry seem to attract, unfortunately.
I was about to write what my speech was about but, I remembered I was rambling on near the end .. like as I did three times while typing this sentence and deleting it three more times. I think it is best for me (and to my readers) to expand more about my speech in greater detail on future blogs (under Beyond The 4th Wall category) from here on out. So much has happened since; each with defined increments of hindsight, perspective and outlook.
It's Friday today and I have a busy week ahead of me. I want to spend this weekend to not think of serious things.
Although, the one thing I was reminded of before and after my guest speaking engagement as well as networking with the attendees just starting out -- as I try to expel my knowledge to them without rambling -- was that I am not comfortable being me on stage. I am very comfortable playing and portraying characters in front of the camera (it is the actor in me) and very comfortable playing an exaggerated extension of myself on stage (it is the improvisor / comedian in me).
But, being real? I had my MTV: The Real World moment last week. I was real with battle scars and war stories at LBAFA. I was honored to have been asked to participate and to share my experiences.
Born in America, but trained and wrestled at Japan’s World Wonder Ring Stardom since 2014, Filipina American wrestler Kris Wolf recently embarked on her 2018 Wolf Tour currently competing at various wrestling promotions all over the world. Third time’s a charm as she returns to the Los Angeles region at Baldwin Park’s Bar Wrestling this Thursday, April 12 with a match against current Impact Wrestling’s Knockouts Champion, Allie.
The following interview is almost a year in the making since July, 2017 as I found Kris’ story fascinating; from how she began to where she is going. Not to mention, she is the first female wrestler of Filipino descent that came to my attention. Finally met up with her at the RISE 6 – BRUTALITY wrestling show in October, 2017. Intuitive and personable, her journey is universal — especially among creative artists.
Read my exclusive interview with the Box Breaker, Kris Wolf.
Edwin Santos: This interview is going to be a bit about creativity and inside the wrestling ring, it is all about telling stories. Your backstory is close to becoming folklore. So please, introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little bit of your journey -- presented in a folkloric tale..
Kris Wolf: My animal beginnings started two weeks into my stay in Japan. Prior to my migration, I worked as a freelance photographer, running around hustling and juggling five part-time jobs. As my photography took off, I was able to shed the part-time work. Unfortunately, my fiancee at the time felt distanced and decided that we weren’t gonna work out. I was devastated but understood. Yanno? I mean feelings change, people grow apart. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen. Nevertheless, I was broken. I had a friend living in Niigata, Japan who offhandedly suggested I come for a visit, and without much thought I bought a ticket and set out to another world. I spent two weeks crying on the sofa watching Breaking Bad. When I finished the series, resolved to GET UP. I rented a bicycle and tent, and cycled from Niigata to Hiroshima. It was almost 1000km and I spent twenty days crying up mountains and camping and pissing wherever I pleased. In the madness of hallucination, fever, hunger, and exhaustion, I think the soul of Kris Wolf was born…or released. Somehow I made it to Hiroshima. The biggest lesson I took from the experience, was that no matter what the odds, risks, or opinions of others are…if I want something I can get it…as long as I just keep going.
Edwin Santos: Wikipedia states you’re originally from Chicago, Illinois while other interviews mention New Jersey. Which is it? Or, are you one of those transcendent werebeasts?
Kris Wolf: AHAHAHA Good question! I flew out of the birth canal in Chicago, but spent much of my adolescent years in New Jersey.
Edwin Santos: Two years ago, I was there with my friends at the live taping of Lucha Underground when I saw the match between Pentagon Dark against Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani and Kairi Hojo (currently Kaire Sane at WWE NXT). If it wasn’t for Lucha Underground, I wouldn’t have known about World Wonder Ring Stardom. Tell us about your home promotion and why you chose them to train at.
Kris Wolf: Stardom I imagine is like any other promotion that grows and evolves with time. The promotion I’m in is not the same as the promotion I joined in the beginning. I think there are many things that have improved since then and management knows how to handle their product. Believe it or not, was the first result in a YouTube search, and was also a suggestion from a friend. The fact that they were these little Asian girls, flying through the air doing all these amazing things made me believe I could do it too. Their image was much different from the image I had of the average pro wrestler.
Edwin Santos: Tell us about Oedo Tai? And to see original member Ruby Riott(Heidi Lovelace) challenging Charlotte Flair’s WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship title at WWE Fastlane?
Kris Wolf: I may have grew up in Stardom, but Oedo Tai is my home. For everyone that didn’t quite belong, Oedo Tai became their family. Misunderstood monsters is how I like to think of it. Misunderstood outcasts with the biggest hearts. I…f**king…love Heidi…and her as Ruby Riott makes me so proud. She has worked so hard and continues to do so. I admire her and wish her all the best! Nikki Storm (currently Nikki Cross with the faction, Sanity at WWE NXT) is also Oedo Tai alumni. But yes, Heidi is OG.
Edwin Santos: Are there any wrestlers, then and now, you look up to, appreciate the work that they do or motivate you to keep on going?
Kris Wolf: Act Yasukawa, Kairi Hojo, Alpha Female (Jazzy Gabert), Kay Lee Ray, Nixon Newell, Deonna Purrazzo, Toni Storm, Viper (Piper Niven), Thunder Rosa, Santana..man…really there are too many. Reality is I admire all the girls I meet. I admire each and everyone for gambling their luck and health in this game.
Edwin Santos: Being from a Filipino American family, I take it that your parents weren’t too thrilled with your career choice? What did you major in college? And, what career choice(s) your parents wanted you (or still wants you) to pursue instead?
Kris Wolf: Haha yeah, my mom wasn’t exactly thrilled with my decision. I majored in photography and graphic design, which she eventually approved of….but really now. What Filipino family doesn’t want their child to be a nurse, doctor, or some sort of lawyer?
Edwin Santos: Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, Filipinos are the second largest group of Asian Americans in the U.S. and are the largest population of Asian Americans within the City of Los Angeles. Since your first visit to Los Angeles in 2015, how was the welcome like when you returned two years later with RISE Wrestling and the Alternative Wrestling Show (AWS)?
Kris Wolf: It was raaaad. I saw some fellow “Balut Club” members out in the crowd. I felt the love. I hope this time around I can grab some FILIPINO FOOD cuz it’s been a while yo.
Edwin Santos: What are your thoughts on the growing interest of women in professional wrestling overall (examples: the Knockouts at Impact, WWE’s Mae Young Classic / WWE’s pay-per-view main event women’s matches and Ring of Honor’s Women of Honor tournaments?).
Kris Wolf: I think it’s amazing that women are getting featured more all over the place. I love that women’s rights and issues are being discussed more openly. And I’m proud to have been in a ring with these awesome humans. Having these different talented women on TV and in these tournaments is great. It shifts the idea of who can be a wrestler and what’s cool or admirable. More variety and appreciation for all is what I’m after.
Edwin Santos: Tell us about RISE Wrestling, its mission statement and your involvement with the promotion?
Kris Wolf: They’re pretty neat! They’re a wrestling promotion that holds seminars and gives chances to new wrestlers of all backgrounds to connect with people in the business who can help them grow as wrestlers and within the business. I’m pretty new to RISE myself, but I assisted Bull Nakano as her translator and helped with a training session before. I will be doing the same again in Chicago, so I’m looking forward to that.
Edwin Santos: What would be your dream match?
Kris Wolf: A deathmatch with Jelly beans, dorito chips, and tacos…ah..and beer….Also I would like to wear a sumo costume…or something of that nature.
Edwin Santos: Who are your musical influences? I ask this based on your singing, guitar playing and piano playing from your videos. Were there thoughts of pursuing a musical career early on?
Kris Wolf: I grew up listening/watching Broadway musicals and old folk bands that my mom liked. So that definitely played a hand at developing my musical tastes. I thought about singing or being in a band for a bit, but not seriously. I don’t think I sing that well to be honest. I like to do it though.
Edwin Santos: If you were inducted into a wrestling hall of fame, who would you want to induct you and why?
Kris Wolf: I think they’d have to be some crazy mofo, I’m not so much for awards to be honest. I think I live too much in a realm of chaos where nothing means anything. My prize is energy and adventure.
Edwin Santos: If you could go back in time, what would Kris Wolf today say to Kristina Hernandez then before she made the big life change?
Kris Wolf: Keep going…you’re gonna hit something that’ll change your life…but stretch and do yoga!
Edwin Santos: Lastly, to end this interview, do a promo as Kris Wolf, or in a folkloric presentation (or both). Your choice.
Kris Wolf: DEAR UNIVERSE,
THANK YOU FOR ALL THIS TERRIFYING, EXCESSIVE ENERGY.
I WILL TRY MY BEST TO USE IT EFFECTIVELY AND SHARE MY JOY.
I just realized that after originally writing these memories back in February 13, 2018 - when it was announced that iO West was closing - that I never took a class in improv or sketch writing there...
I knew of Improv Olympic's existence since its Complex Theater years and while I was with Monkey Butler Comedy (the latter closed in 2014). After studying improv at Upright Citizens Brigade in 2012, I was indecisive on which sketch classes I'd take... iO West or the Pack Theater?
During that time, I joined the sketch comedy team, Oi! Oi! Oi! (Elizabeth Ebeling, Javier Ortiz, Kate Rodman and Corey Slater) and we performed live at iO's Mainstage in the last three consecutive Saturday nights of 2013 -- performed a Christmas sketch called Twas The Night Before Drunk at the Sketch Holiday Theme Party Show hosted by Animal Style...
...performed a musical sketch at the Comedy Music Circus! show hosted by Keith Saltojanes...
...and performed a sketch I originally wrote for Go Sketch Yourself hosted by CLIVE RICE! -- in front of Saturday night audiences (except for the one drunk guy in the back who was booted out of the club).
Recorded the 13th 'Super Awkward Funcast' episode with Elle Latham and Linnea Snyder at iO during the SNL 40th anniversary year...
...help in making the documentary short for the host about improvisor, actor and teacher Craig Cackowski about improv at iO...
Our team "The Olympian Beers" from the last two games became "Brainiac 3" and won the Pub Quiz hosted by Suzi Barrett. Also, I joined the three-persons team at the "Win, Lose, Draw, or Drink...The Booty Call" drawing competition at iO WEST Main Stage (April 27, 2012). We were tied from the get-go against the other team but, sadly we lost. But, I did learn how to draw simpler illustrations to get my team to guess the right answers quicker.
Received words of wisdom and practical applications from casting director Dorian Frankel, Jessica Makinson, actress Janet Varney, comedian Jason Horton and Joshua Mattingly at iO's 10th LA Improv Comedy Festival. And, supported my friends' (Nick Rasmussen, Moses Storm, etc.) shows by seeing their shows at iO. Lastly, assembled and edited a video tribute about my late friend, Billy Spindler. It was screened at his memorial hosted by Joanna Ke and Ai Yoshihara held at iO West in 2014
Participated in afternoon trivia games with other improvisors and comedians while I wondered if that one comedienne/actress who hosts a popular podcast stared at me or stared out the window from the bar, attended live WWE Viewing Parties hosted by Joshua Lassman and Steve Kaufmann along with other improvisors and comedians who happen to be wrestling fans (thank you!).
...and took a date to see a show at iO only to be abandoned when she went to Second City to get her friends yet never returned. Still wondering if that was a bit? In any case, iO West will surely be missed especially all my favorite improv teams. Most importantly, the trio of Dasariski. Because with them, it is okay to perform improv slowly...and not always quick and fast all the time. The trio consists of Bob Dassie, Rich Talarico, and Craig Cackowski. And, Dasariski is known for their “slow play” style of longform improvisation, creating an hour-long piece of theater with a focus on believable characters and relationships inspired from a single audience suggestion. Love them! iO, thanks for the crazy and humble memories -- like this February 23, 2013 (4 years ago today) Harlem Shake video we did at iO.
This past October, I produced an educational panel discussion and networking event for the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival held at the Cinemark Cinemas at the South Bay Pavilion Mall featuring special guest panelists bridging the Philippines and Hollywood who represent the craft and the business sides of being a working actor.
Actors Panel Discussion:
"From Aspiration To Action: What Does It Take To Be A Working Actor"
Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 12:00pm to 1:30pm
- Ruben Maria Soriquez (Of Sinners & Saints, ABS-CBN's Dolce Amore)
- Bernardo Bernardo (Imbisibol, Home Along da Riles)
- Sheila Tejada (Sequins, Showtime's Ray Donovan, Driving While Black)
- Abe Pagtama (Lolo Pepe, Kamera obskura, The Diplomat Hotel, Rekorder)
Moderater: Angel Qinan
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH:
That was my second actors panel I assembled together in 2017. The first one was my third panel I produced this year for FilAm Creative back in June at the Clubhouse in Hollywood. The special guest panelists were with:
Vincent Rodriguez III, Actor/Singer; (The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, ABC's Designated Survivor)
Angela Relucio, Actress; (CBS' Code: Black, History Channel's SIX , Casual Encounters, The Cabining)
Manny Jacinto, Actor; (NBC's The Good Place, ABC's Once Upon A Time, The Romeo Section)
Aina Dumlao, Actress; (CBS' MacGyver, IFC's Brockmire, HBO's Ballers, ABC's The Fosters)
Moderater: Maurus Dumalaog
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH:
Filmmakers Panel Discussion:
"From Creative Artist To Business Producer"
Friday, October 27, 2017 from 1:00pm to 2:30pm
- Lawrence Fajardo (Director of "Imbisibol")
- Rolando Sanchez (Director of "EJK")
- Rommel Andaya (Director of "Back To One")
- Dale Fabrigar (Director of "Sequins")
Moderater: Angel Qinan
Actors Panel Discussion:
"From Aspiration To Action: What Does It Take To Be A Working Actor"
Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 12:00pm to 1:30pm
- Billy DaMota (Hollywood casting director) *
- Bernardo Bernardo (lead actor in "Imbisibol")
- Sheila Tejada (lead actress in "Sequins")
- Mon Confiado (lead actor in "EJK")
Moderater: Angel Qinan
Screenwriters Panel Discussion:
"INT. THEATER - Screenwriters Discuss Writing For Film"
Sunday, October 29, 2017 from 12:00pm to 1:30pm
- Atom Magadia ("Dagsin")
- Rolando Sanchez ("EJK")
- Ruben Maria Soriquez ("Of Saints & Sinners")
- Rommel Andaya ("Back To One")
Moderator: Craig Obligacion-Wilson
An educational panel discussion and networking event featuring special guest panelists from the Philippines and Hollywood who represent their crafts. Hear the panelists discuss about their explorations of the process, profession and business of their crafts; their reflections on personal experiences and artistic influences that informed and shaped their careers; their discussions of past and current projects and share valuable insights into the craft and the industry both in the Philippines and in Hollywood; how each have similarities and differences. Get a chance to ask the panelists questions, learn about open opportunities, and build your network.
Cinemark Carson and XD
inside the SouthBay Pavilion Mall
20700 South Avalon Blvd #285
Carson, CA 90746
Join hostess Elle Latham and her guest Edwin A. Santos (Samurai Cop 2) in this long-awaited Oscar Edition episode of Super Awkward Funcast as they discuss Oscar-worthy films from Moonlight to Captain Fantastic, The Young Pope, the Grammys and more! Your Academy Awards rundown before this Sunday's live event!
To listen to the show, click the link here: http://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hneux-67cfe9 Or, you can activate the podcast player above.
You can also listen to it on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-16-academy-awards-edition/id672079467?i=1000381367198&mt=2
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/