My modeling/acting career in the Philippines

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I’m writing this on the flight back from my three months endeavor to become a model/actor in the Philippines. Here I want to write about my experience.

For the longest time, my brother and I have heard from other Filipino family and friends that we were good looking and that we could become ‘Sikat’, popular. We would hear, “If you went back to the Philippines, then you could become ‘artista'”, or an actor. For the most part we appreciated the compliment but left it at that for many years. It wasn’t until I was not attending school and I was considering interesting experiences I wanted to try, did I finally decide to take the leap and try to become an actor in the Philippines.

The conversation with my mom started with me telling her my plans to return to college in the Fall after taking a year off after my sophomore year. This was around the end of May and during the Summer months of the Philippines. She was planning to go to the Philippines anyways for my Grandmother’s 70th birthday, so she asked me if I wanted to go. Lastly, off the cuff and casually she suggested that could also try becoming an actor while we’re there and she would help.

When such suggestions are made I typically ask myself, “Why not?” I’ve been told that I could make it for a good part of my life. I had nothing locking me down to being in the States until school starts in September. It sounded like an unique experience to say the least. Best to take chances and risks while you’re young and without too much responsibility. All of these thoughts eventually brought me to say yes.

May 24, 2014, I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The week I arrived consisted of seeing family and hanging out with the family. While we were catching up with family, my mom and I talked about how I came to the Philippines to try to become a model/actor. Once they knew, they supportively told me about people and places I should talk and go to. An uncle I only just met, though I was told otherwise, told me co-founded a talent agency in the Philippines and knew a lot about the entertainment industry. He gave me a few contacts I should try to get in contact with.

The contact’s name was Patricia AKA ‘Pat’. My uncle describe her as a socialite. She supposedly hanged out with people in the industry and could provide introductions. We started messaging, and she asked for a “set card”. I had to good what a set card was and create one in Photoshop. [SET CARD]

We tried to setup a lunch with one of her director friends, but the scheduling didn’t work out. Despite her being quite responsive and promising via messages, nothing really came from talking to her. A dead end.

At the same time I was messaging Pat, I followed up with a someone my aunt knew. This person, Jane, knew talent agencies in Manila and even had her daughter in appear a few times on TV and in print ads. She was willing to bring us around and show us the agencies to register at. These agencies included Discovery and ModelShop. Discovery ended up being another dead end, but ModelShop ended up being one of the three agencies that messaged me the most with new castings.

When my mom, Jane, and I arrived at ModelShop we got out of the elevator around the 30th floor of a tall building right in the middle of hot and humid Makati. I had a white t-shirt on, but a yellow sweater in my hand. This was my first time visiting an agency, so I nervously rushed to the the bathroom to change before anyone saw me in my street clothes. I really had nothing to worry about since I eventually realized this agency wasn’t as good as Jane brought me to believe. Nonetheless, I got dressed and filled out the necessary paper work to register my contact info and bio data. Then I was off to the shooting room for my first VTR, Video Tape Recording.

The VTR is the most fundamental thing every talent has to do for each casting. It is the only thing they really judge you own to begin with. So what is a VTR? [VTR VIDEO]

Please follow the following: 1. Your name, age, and height? 2. Any previous commercials or acting experience? 3. Any sports or hobbies? 4. Please turn to the right, turn towards the camera, and smile. 5. Please turn to the left, turn towards the camera, and smile. 6. Face front 7. Facial expressions. Please make the facial expression for each word I say while saying “Yes” 1. Happy 2. Sad 3. Surprised 4. Scared 5. Thinking 6. Worried 7. Super Happy 8. Thank you.

This whole process typically takes less than a minute to complete depending if the caster has extra things for you to do, in which case it is a good sign that they might like you. When I said this is the fundamental thing you’d do for castings, I meant it. You don’t only do this for filings agencies but for every single casting you’d do.

Some VTRs or Go-Sees vary on what they want you to do. Sometimes there’s fun and memorable VTRs. I remember one where you had to pretend that the camera was your crush and you needed to do cute things towards the camera. Another casting had me drink coffee with an expression of it tasting great. I specifically remember this one because the room was so cold. It was serious cold. I think they actually put the air conditioning on the highest they could in order to have all the talents actually cold for when it was their turn to drink the coffee. I felt sorry for the girls in their dresses.

I am not sure how I got this far into this post and I haven’t mentioned the girls. As you can imagine the girls you’d see at VTRs are attractive. Even though we were in the Philippines, there were some from Brazil, France, and other parts of the world. I joked with my brother that if I wanted to find an attractive girlfriend, then I knew were to go. Although my type isn’t Filipinas, I actually found a few I was attracted to. This all being said, after being surround by attractive people for a while, it becomes the norm. Not to say the girls were less attractive, but the effect you get lessens.

After doing a filing with ModelShop, I also filed with Reco and Monaco. These three were the agencies that I got casting texts from the most frequently. The way you find out about castings was through text messages. You would just wait for a text with a time, place, and any special requirements like type of clothing. The interval between VTRs spanned somewhere between a day and a week or so. I’ve had it where there were multiple VTRs in a day that took up the whole day.

The VTRs take up the whole day because of the waiting. For anyone interested in doing the model/acting route, I definitely recommend going earlier. If the text says you have a VTR between 1pm – 5pm, then get there a little before 1pm. Not only would you get done quicker, but it also has the effect of you staying in the mind of a caster longer. [Reference to casting tips about getting there early]

The combination of both the wait and the doing the same exact VTR was so annoying I actually consider creating a SaaS, Software as a Service, online web app to streamline the whole process for both the talents going to the castings and the casters selecting which talents they want in the commercial. This is one of those startup ideas I wish was out in the world but not so much that I want to actually build it, thus I’m writing it here for anyone to execute on. You’re welcome.

The core inefficiency in the casting of talents for commercials etc are the agencies. The agencies receives 30% of the the project’s payment for representing a talent. The agencies justifies this 30% because of their overhead in finding more opportunities for their talents. Since I did not sign a contract with any agency, although I was offered two contracts with one including a free gym membership at Gold’s Gym, I was technically a freelancer for three modeling agencies. Sometimes the agencies would send the same exact message with the same details on when and where to go. The only difference would be the name they attached to the bottom. So obviously they all had similar sources but wanted to “brand” the message so they get the proper credit for when a talent is selected. If only a talent had access to these “White-label” castings, then a talent would not need to share that 30%. Aside from finding opportunities for a talent, an agency can also help with career advice. This advice would have some bias of course.

Another inefficiency I alluded to earlier was the wait and the VTR itself. Depending on how many other people are also there and how early you get to the venue, the typical wait can be anywhere from 30 minutes to as much as 5 hours… After the wait you’d be asked to do the same exact thing you are always asked to. There are exceptions, but the base VTR stays the same. The way to solve this is to have each talent have a profile page with a video doing the normal VTR. It’s really that simple. The internet has had profile pages since the day of Myspace.

After you create a profile page, you open up models/talents to be messaged with more opportunities directly. That means the talents get more of the project’s fees and spend less time waiting to do something repetitive. The casters benefit by having a larger pool of talents to pull from and at lower overhead. This has the potential to even lower how much a project’s budget is as well. Of course you can’t just allow any person on the internet message these people, there should be some sort of verification that the person/organization indeed has an real opportunity for work and is real.

This type of web app should sound familiar. It’s a marketplace. Like all marketplaces you have the chicken and the egg problem. Which side should you focus on? I would suggest focusing on the models as they are open to more work and a larger cut of the project’s budget. The companies and faster searching are fewer but are more frequent in their search for talent. The business model could be priority listings, ads, or transaction fees. This marketplace tries to eliminate the middleman, the agency.

There you go a startup idea that anyone can take and run with. I would love to hear if anybody actually does work on this or even if someone has critiques to give. Feedback welcome.

Back to the story about my career as a model/actor. By mid-June my brother had joined me in the Philippines to also pursue this whim, this dream, this notion of becoming an “artists”. We both enrolled in singing and acting classes. Our 14 singing classes were taught at Ryan Cayabyab School of Music in Ortigas. Our month-long acting class was taught at Actor Studio East in Cubau.

Part two some time in the future…

University Application Essay

I’ve been applying to transfer into a few universities lately, so I had to write an essay for these applications. The following is the essay I have been sending with these applications.

After I was hit by the reality of a disappointing high school grade point average, I sought to do better in university. Up until this point, I have succeeded in that goal by keeping a steady 3.7 university grade point average. This improvement from my high school GPA should be evidence of an improvement trend. Lately however, I have been questioning the motivation to go to university or even get a degree. Is a degree necessary to accomplish success in life? How is success, even defined? These thoughts have always been present in the recesses of my mind, but they were only recently pushed to the forefront. The catalyst of these questions was my exposure to the business startup culture. The location of this cultural shift can arguably be Silicon Valley in California. Silicon Valley is a place where an idea and execution is enough to start a business and a company. Somewhere it would be not surprising for someone from Stanford or any other university in the area, to go off to launch a startup. The common figures of this movement are Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Each founder dropped out of university to start something. People call these famous founders statistical outliers or lucky, but this does not dissuade me from considering the idea of dropping out of university.

I am the first generation to attend university within the United States. My parents grew up and attended university in the Philippines before moving to the States. My father received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, and my mother received a degree to become a Doctor of Optometry. Years after graduating, my father joined the US Air Force. He now works as an information technology technician. My mother initially started her own optometry practice in the Philippines and later in the states. Circumstances changed when she found an opportunity to sell cars on the side. This side business quickly became more profitable, and she now owns a successful car dealership. Managing a car dealership may be a great deal of work, but she did not stop finding more business opportunities where she could. At the same time, she started to work on creating leads for local real estate companies. If the leads rented from the company, my mom would receive a commission. She also started a restaurant and worked as the cook to bring Filipino cooking to the local area. From my point of view, both my parents graduated with a degree but no longer need that degree to sustain their present lifestyles. My mom’s success is more amazing considering the challenges of being in a foreign country with no formal background in business. My family environment further deepens my consideration to drop out of university.

These business success stories lead me to consider what I am capable to do now. Now that I realize a disconnect between business success and a university education. When I am interested in a particular subject, I tend to fixate on the subject. My fixation grows in the form of reading and learning as much as I can. When I became interested in starting a startup, it was no different. I started to read known books on business. I listened to the online audio podcasts from successful entrepreneurs. Eventually, a common saying soon arose from these resources, “There are many good ideas, but these good ideas lack execution.” The first time I heard this was from a professor who had background working in business.  I was telling her of a business idea, when she told me this same saying. I felt as if she slapped me in the face. I thought she was rudely disregarding the idea that I thought was so great. It took me a few days to calm down and realize that her message was true. Ideas not put to action, are just ideas.

From that point on, I decided to reduce the amount of books and podcasts I was reading and listening to, and take action. So I took a year off to see what I could accomplish.

I didn’t have a technical background, so I looked into hiring a freelancer. The rates for a freelancer in the United States were way too high for me to afford, so I started to look for alternatives. My mom suggested the alternative I eventually chose. She suggested that I go back to the Philippines and find a freelancer willing to make the web app I wanted for cheap. This seemed like a good alternative, so I found a freelancer online who lived in the Philippines. I wasn’t sure about having the whole transaction based solely online, so I flew to the Philippines to meet with this freelancer. Once I arrived to meet with this freelancer, he told me he was unable to work on my project. He recommended a higher priced web development company he knew instead. Unable to afford the company, I was left in the Philippines without a real purpose.

I was a little distraught, but I made the decision to just learn to program and make it myself. Simpler said than done. With unfound confidence and motivation, I fixated on finding, reading, and practicing programming on my own through online resources. I am learning more each day to build on whatever idea I have. After going back home to Japan, I was fortunate to find and start a design internship at a startup back in Tokyo. After working closely with the startup founder, I learned that I liked working with other like-minded people. More specifically people building useful things for other people.

This is the biggest reason I am looking to re-enter university. I would like to move to a university that has like-minded people who are challenging themselves to build for others. Although I have taught myself to program, I intend to major in business. Given my mom’s businesses had surrounded me the majority of my life, I cannot see myself not majoring in business in university. Also with the world’s economy increasingly relying on technology, more people in business should have a deeper understanding of technology and its composition.