Interview by Edwin A. Santos
Monday, March 21, 2016
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.
For this month’s first FAC In Focus Series, we are happy to introduce to you Mark V. Lagrimas, the producer of They’re Watching by FilAm Creative’s VP of Content, Edwin Santos. Please welcome Mark Lagrimas!
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/