On Saturday, June 4, 2016, FilAm Creative hosted their 2nd annual industry expert panel devoted specifically towards Filipino American actors in addition to providing useful information to all.
Much useful information was presented by the diverse panel: Casting Director Dea Vise (Casting Society of America), Talent Manager & Founder Phil Brock (Studio Talent Group) and FilAm actor/standup comedian, Nico Santos (NBC’s Superstore) and returning, FilAm actress, writer, producer Tess Paras (The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
After the introductions were made by our special guest panelists, Edward J. Mallillin (co-founder of FilAm Creative and a Board of Director) begins the panel. Throughout the afternoon, the panelists engaged on such topics as how they got started in the business and what do they enjoy most about their careers. But, five hot topics were brought up that Saturday afternoon and are essential for any actor.
Edward J. Mallillin: What is the hardest part of your career?
Phil Brock: When an agent or manager is submitting talent, you lose thousands of other actors. Every time you submit, someone else may not get that audition. So, you learn how to take those morsels when you get that audition for somebody and treasure that. Because in the end of each day…you may have submitted your actors to hundreds of times between TV, commercials and film and theatre…and you find out you get back a little stack of auditions, but you submitted this huge stack. That’s distressing.
Dea Vise: The thing I guess that frustrates me the most is that when actors are given that rare opportunity for an audition, they are not off book. And, it’s amazing to me why even do it? Waste everybody’s time?
Tess Paras: The toughest thing, but it’s also a job requirement is keeping at it. And, a lot of it is, at a certain point, you do what you do whatever your strengths are and you kind of have to let it go and realize that the project sometimes isn’t for you. Or, you could do the best you can do, but they want somebody who is taller or who’s older, etc. So, the biggest challenge there is to know that you did the best you could do, you did the work, you came prepared…and then realizing that — walk away, that’s all you can do. As long as you brought your “A Game,” that’s all you could do. Because it doesn’t really do any service to be hung up on stuff you didn’t get. You got to keep looking forward, and keep creating and doing your thing.
Nico Santos: I came to a point where I had to accept and realize that the “Big Dream” may never happen. You just have to resign yourself to the fact that you have to enjoy the process of being here (Los Angeles) and going for it. But, you know, for a lot of people, I’m sure we all know this, I have friends who’ve been here 15 to 20 years who haven’t book or went further for that guest star role. That rejection you face everyday is so just brutal.
Edward J. Mallillin: What motivates you? What keeps you motivated?
Tess Paras: I love something somebody made that’s great. Like a “happy envy” or a “positive stress,” anytime I see a new show or something, I’m like “That’s brilliant. Why didn’t I do that? Okay, back to work.”
Phil Brock: I’m motivated to do better everyday. I look at each day as something fresh and beat the day before in all areas of my life. I stress to my actors they’re supposed to do better. I stress the people that I teach that they’re supposed to do better everyday. And, personally I do other things outside my job. But, my best thing is being a coach to others and myself, too.
Dea Vise: I died…twice. But, God motivated me to change everything. After casting for a long time, I went and got my Masters in Clinical Psychology just because I want to help people with PTSD. And, I finished my Doctoral Studies and I’m working on my dissertation. So, I’m a casting director everyday and I treat clients two nights a week.
Nico Santos: I let my, “your haters be your motivators.” I love proving people wrong.
This topic about motivation segued towards the topic about stereotypes – with Tess having faced such discrimination early in her career.
Tess Paras: I think that’s the struggle for a lot of people, it’s like, “Oh, we don’t know how to place you because you don’t have a stereotype in our head. So, therefore, you can’t breakthrough because there is no stereotype.” Well, you need to break thru what you think “normal” is. And, you need to break thru what you think representation is, and what stories can be told. I think that is the larger conversation about the industry as well as our vehicle for storytelling and what we consider everyman is not everybody’s everyman.
Phil Brock: That’s even more absurd because if you live in Los Angeles, we are Jesse Jackson’s rainbow every single day. And, the frustration has always been is that we weren’t seeing what we would see when we walk down the street on TV and film. And, we’re just now starting, and we’re still at the infant stages, of seeing real true racial diversity on screen. I used to say 10 to 15 years ago…did writers ever actually go out in the sunshine in L.A. and see what was walking down the street? Go down Vermont Avenue. That is L.A. and that is America. And, that’s incredible if someone is saying they can’t place. Then create it.
Nico Santos: Specifically for the Filipino thing, we’ve always been a little bit under the radar. It’s 2016 and Tess, me and Vincent Rodriguez on your show [Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] as well, like we’re the only Filipino characters on network television. 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.
Dea Vise: What’s interesting to me about that is I always put out breakdowns all the time and I always do “all ethnicities” breakdowns, but I put one out the other day and I didn’t write “all ethnicities” on it and only white people submitted. I have to put “please submit all ethnicities” because people will assume it’s a white role by default. If it doesn’t say a specific ethnicity, submit.
Tess Paras: And, demand it of your shows, too. I feel like, Filipinos, we need to say what we are. Like you brought up that statistic. We are the second largest Asian American population in the United States (http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-11.pdf, Page 15, Column 2). We need to demand that and demand that of our characters and demand that on-screen. We need to be part of that conversation and be angry about it and say we need people who look like us. I think that’s why I was so compelled to write and demand it and say I’m going to represent my stories and keep pushing it the other way. Because as an actor…the first time I ever saw a Filipino in a breakdown was for Grimm. They had an episode a couple of years back about the Aswang folktale, and that was the first time I ever saw that. I called up my manager to get me this, demanded it and I ended up playing the role. But, that was the first time that I’ve ever seen a guest star specifically Filipino American woman for this role. (https://youtu.be/SdtZocgm7xE)
Phil Brock: We do make progress. I was with the cast of Fresh Off The Boat yesterday and just to see them on stage is incredible. And realizing they were going to be the first Asian show in twenty years since Margaret Cho [All American Girl]. And, they’re proud in the way that they feel are helping change culture.
Tess Paras: And, how great is their writing room. Nahnatchka Khan is running that writers room.
Phil Brock: They were real proud of the fact last night that they felt they were integrating their Asian experience in the terms that other ethnicities could understand and now they were talking about how they could bring more people of other ethnicities into the show to enlarge their experiences as well. And, the purpose, I think, in twenty years from now, you don’t see Blackish or Fresh Off The Boat. You just see TV or whatever TV becomes at that point.
Tess Paras: Hear that, America?
Nico Santos: That’s what I love about Superstore is that four out of the seven series regulars are people of color. And, actually there’s like, including two of their recurring characters, four people are Asian. I mean Nichole Bloom and I are Asian and the guy who plays Bret and the lady who plays Sandra (Kaliko Kauahi). So, I was really surprised and so thankful for the people behind Superstore that created the show. And, the show isn’t really about any immigrant or ethnic spirits. We’re just like a store in St. Louis with different backgrounds.
Dea Vise: When I used to cast commercials when I started seventeen years ago, we’d check marked, you know, we had to have one Asian, one African American, when there are a million types of Asians and African Americans, what are you talking about? So, we would always cast the extras as mixed and the principals as white people. I mean, that made me crazy. It was like, I don’t understand. I mean, it was like, you’re talking half the country that isn’t white or more, at this point, probably 75%. And, now we see all these commercials with multi-racial marriages and children…
Phil Brock: …yeah, but you know what? Donald Trump is gonna solve all that.
Laughter howls out!
Phil mentioned an old casting company called The Monkey Brothers, and one time his talent management company submitted his client, a Persian actor to breakdowns for commercials looking for white-middle class characters. And, the Monkey Brothers one day bit. They brought him in and he also gets a call back. That submission changed the stereotype of the breakdowns the commercial agency wanted. The same also occurred on the other side of the camera with his experience with a name brand cereal commercial when his client, a child actress was in a commercial two years ago that had a mixed-race couple talking about heart health. The furor and backlash from the Kentucky-based parent company of their cereal product as well as the agency were receiving from consumers, they wanted to pull the commercial. But, Phil advised not to, not just about changing stereotypes in America, but also the commercial had a clear medical message that African American fathers can take home to their families because the African American population has a higher risk with heart disease than Caucasians. In these two cases, in my opinion, the actor really have no control what is going on behind-the-scenes.
Edward J. Mallillin (to Tess and Nico): How has your prominence or your positions as Filipinos in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Superstore, have been with Filipinos and Asian Americans?
Nico Santos: 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.
Tess Paras: Yes, as for the feedback people are getting…I have nothing to do with it. I just want to say big ups to our writers and producers of our show. Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna…they really did stay true to what the demographics of West Covina are. And, I think that it’s important and that they were really pioneers to push story and story rules and you’re not going to have a story takes place in Southern California that doesn’t feature Filipinos and they were really big advocates of that. And, I’m just so thankful I get to be a part of it. So, I feel like story needs to rule and the stories are going to be about people and Filipinos exist and include them.
Nico Santos: I’m really grateful to the creators of Superstore that they were so open-minded enough to change the role of Mateo for me because none of the characters of Superstore were written for any specific ethnicity. Like Amy (America Ferrera) was not written to be Latina, Garrett (Colton Dunn) was not written to be black, Nichole’s character Cheyenne was not Asian at all. Actually, 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, which I’m clearly am…
Nico Santos (continues): 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. (https://youtu.be/Xg5q7onyaoE)
Edward J. Mallillin: What are your thoughts on self-producing?
Tess Paras: I can speak to that immediately. I have a career because of YouTube. I mean, I can’t speak to it enough. I’m quite vocal talking about diversity in Hollywood and my first video I put up went viral because I was keying into the conversation and exploit my thoughts on that thru comedy (https://youtu.be/FSwhRZwFjfY). Most recently, I did a video on my thoughts about Donald Trump and that had three million views within a week (https://youtu.be/xDgy37kPOZ4). And, I feel even from that, I got a lot of calls and have been working to be a writer / actor since I have started self-producing. And, I have booked acting jobs I did with Seeso. They found me because of my videos. So, yeah, I can’t say enough about self producing. Get out there immediately. If you something to say, say it. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Write it down, refine it and get it out there immediately. This is the time and place to do it in this day in age with the resources you have and the town you are in, get out there and self-produce for sure.
Nico Santos: You can’t wait for Hollywood to write those stories for you.
Dea Vise: But, don’t forget about your acting training when you’re making your YouTube videos because without training, you’re not going to book when you come into the room. And, being a personality, there’s reality shows for that absolutely, but you’re not going to compete with the ones with twenty years of training. I think stand-up, improv and self-producing are all great, but get real training, too.
Phil Brock: Yes, be trained. From social media to producing your web series to doing your work as well, for those of you who don’t have their SAG card, that’s a quick way to get your SAG card by doing a New Media series. And, be accessible. Steven Spielberg is not walking around a house in Van Nuys knocking on doors. “Sir? Are you an actor? I’d like to cast you.” It’s not going to happen. You’re on Facebook, you’re on Twitter, you’re on Instagram, you’re on SnapChat, it’s part of your work as an actor to be on social media and be active, and it’s also part of your work to find ways to create. That’s your workout. And, you find things to do, outside what you do, whatever your specialty is. It’s a way to keep yourself visible and a way for you to stay creative. If you’re behind the camera, you need to get out and film. If you’re in front of the camera, you need to be filmed. As these things are important, do not let any of that substitute the real work from understanding that this is a craft. You have to be prepared. You have to be someone who walks into an audition and in that three minutes and deliver.
Dea Vise: On the YouTube stuff, please write it. Don’t talk about the butterfly on the plant. Come up with something creative and interesting. And, if you can’t write, go on to Casting Directors For Actors on Facebook and ask for writers. There are thousands out there.
Nico Santos: Tess and I met at the CBS Diversity Showcase and we wrote for each other and we met so many people there and we’re all working together. There are a lot of people here in Los Angeles you can collaborate with.
Next up were questions from the audience. They ranged from how important is it to have a SAG card to what groups are they actively part of to how do go about collaborations to what resources does it take to get seen to training studios, scene study and improv & sketch writing schools to survival jobs, etc.
Dea Vise: If you can do anything else for a living, just go ahead and do it. Because this is really hard. It’s an amazing process to get thru it from booking to working a lot.
Tess Paras: And, good luck to having those conversations with your Filipino parents…
Nico Santos: Don’t have a Plan B because if you do, you’ll end up doing that.
Dea Vise: And, always remember, we’re all in this together. Everyone in the industry are all in the same team. And, everyone is on the same level whether she (Tess) is in a series or you’re brand new, you’re both actors and you resonate with each other. And, as the artist in yourself just never forget, always remember that little baby part of you that was five years old and got up on stage and made your parents’ laugh and you got that feeling and that bug and never ever let that go because that will get you thru this.
As the panel ends, raffle prizes donated by Johneric at The Park’s Finest were announced…
…and now the networking begins!
Tremendous thanks to our Special Industry Guest Panelists for taking the time to be with us at our 2nd Annual FilAm Creative Hollywood Actors Panel for Actors & Networking Event:
Follow Nico Santos on Twitter @ and Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/nicosantoscomic/ Also, support Nico’s show Superstore when it returns for its second season when it makes its season premiere on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 8pm on NBC.
Follow Tess Paras on Twitter: @TessParas and Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TessParas/ Also, support Tess’s show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when it returns for its second season on The CW moving to Friday nights starting October 21, 2016 at 9pm.
Follow Dea Vise on Twitter: @deavise
Follow Phil Brock on Twitter: @stgactor
Tremendous thanks to them as well as the event producer Edwin Santos and the FilAm Creative staff. Special thanks to Rian Kountz, Rebecca Drysdale and The Clubhouse for having us again, Johneric from The Park’s Finest for their donations for our raffle, Tyrone Tann and Stauros Entertainment for providing media coverage, our volunteers Brandi and Kahlie for hosting the front table and Edwin’s mother for making and donating her fresh turon.
Until next year for the 3rd Annual FAC Hollywood Actors Panel for Actors event in 2017!
Panel discussion transcribed and tweeked for this blog entry by Edwin Santos. Video panel by Walter Boholst. Tech board by Edwin Santos. Photos by Walter Boholst, Edwin Santos and Gabe Pagtama.
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