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…

China Study Abroad Reflection

August 17, 2012

With our month long trip to China finished; I am able to write an overview of the experience in this final reflection paper. In order to take a look at the overall experience in China I will need to address my initial motivations in joining the trip. The largest opportunity I saw from joining the China study abroad trip was the chance to learn some Chinese. Learning Chinese was a major subject in my first reflection paper and the reason for this importance I placed on it was my love for language learning, especially East Asian languages. Most of my reasoning and expectations about learning Chinese on the study abroad trip was address in that first reflection paper, but I will summarize it here shortly. I have learned Japanese through self-study methods and I had a level of confidence in the ease of Chinese. This confidence led me to challenge Inteus in obtaining more of the language by the end of the trip. The exact words were, “I’m going to be better in Chinese by the end of the trip.” I planned to accomplish this by using my electronic flashcards and creating an immersive environment. These were my expectations before the trip, however during the trip I found more difficulty in achieving this goals than I initially expected.

The difficultly of learning more Chinese was a combination of both my classroom environment and my attitude. Because I had no history of taking any college level Chinese courses, I was put into the beginner level of Chinese. The first week of classes was spent on solely pronunciation alone. The following week was then spent on vocabulary presented in the first lessons. The pace was staggeringly slow. I had an idea of what the pace would have been like because I’ve taken language classes in the past. Students who are struggling with understanding the lessons presented would continue in a trend of holding the class back. Students who are at a higher level or faster to learn the lesson would be bored during class. The ideal classroom environment would be where the students are at a similar starting point and the class being taught at a suitable level for all the students. I fell into the category of the students who was bored during class because of the pace. The pace did however speed up but only to the days leading up to our final exam. During those days, a lesson from our textbook was taught in one class day and we were expected to understand and learn everything within that lesson for the next day. When this pace was in place, I enjoyed the class more than previous times in class.

The second expectation, that was somewhat inaccurate, was my assumption on Inteus’s proficiency level in Chinese. From talking to Inteus before the trip, I knew he had taken at least one quarter of Chinese at the University of Washington, but I did not expect him to have taken three quarters of the language. The difference and significance of the time is the amount of time he has already spent learning Chinese. I also had the goal of being better than him with the assumption that he had a quarter or so of actual in class Chinese instruction. If that were true, then my goal would have been more achievable. The way I discovered his level was higher than I thought was during the trip and his conversations with Chinese people. Inteus was able to speak and have conversations with some Chinese people with some difficulty, but he had conversations nonetheless.

During the trips we took, I watched as Inteus talked more Chinese and I started to enjoy the trip more of a time to relax. When classes start each quarter in UWT, I like to get work done early and get a head start on the work assigned in the quarter. In the same fashion I typed all of my reflection papers after each eventful trip or lecture we went to. Right after a trip or lecture was ideal because I remembered most of the details and assignments are better to get done with and out of the way early. Writing this quickly resulted in me being one of the first one done with the reflection papers during the trip. Because of my typical habit of stressing to get my work done, I didn’t recognize the other side of the trip, enjoying the trip in China. Eventually this changed after finishing my last reflection paper. I knew others were not finished yet, so I decided to relax and enjoy the trip more, and that was exactly what I did. I enjoyed exploring the places we visited and did not concern myself with any other work assigned. I did the minimum required for the Chinese language classes we had remaining and still found it adequate. My effort was adequate in finishing the necessary lessons in class but not adequate enough in learning Chinese. After the initial enthusiasm of learning Chinese and discovering the pace of the class, I came to the conclusion that these Chinese language classes would not provide me with what I needed in order to learn the language fully. Instead of learning through the class, I conceded to teaching myself Chinese at a later time through self-study. Through self-study I could enjoy the pleasures of going at a faster and more comfortable pace and not having to wait for anyone else. I could dictate what I wanted to learn and when I would learn it. The remaining duration of the trip I would focus on enjoying China and the trips we would go on.

My academic concentration quickly transitioned to enjoying getting to know the other students on the trip and getting to know China better through my own way. Before the trip, I only had limited contact with the some of the students from the Tacoma Campus, and I had none with the students from the Seattle Campus. This did not have a large effect on our ability to get to know one another through the one month living together. One month may seem like a short period of time, but I felt that it was just the appropriate amount of time to become familiar with one another fairly well. Combine that time span of one month and the fact we lived, ate, and travel in a foreign country together, the possibility of not learning about one another was low. The majority of my time was spent with the other guys on the trip. I am not completely sure how this arose but there seemed to be some gender segregation in moments of the trip. During some planned dinners, one guy would sit at a table and the others would simply follow. The end result would be a table with all the guys with a few girls and another table with everyone else. I saw this pattern and tried to purposely do something different for the sake of changing things up. After I would try to change this during dinner, after dinner I found myself going out with the other guys to look around the city.

The nightlife in Beijing is what to be expected in an urbanized city with millions of people, lively and concentrated in a few areas. I was able to explore these areas with the other guys in one of our many trips around the city. We would enter into clubs and enjoy our night with other people in the Beijing area. I was surprised at the amount of Chinese people able to speak English when I started to speak to them. The people I talked to had varied levels of comprehension and speaking ability, so I attempted to use the phrases I learned from class. I could say the basics like any beginner in a foreign language; Hello. How are you? What’s your name? etc. This conversation would rarely last long because of my limited knowledge of the Chinese language, but I was able to communicate through other means. I met a girl who couldn’t speak any English and there I was not able to say anything but those basic phrases. I thought quickly and I got my phone out and opened the Japanese-Chinese dictionary application. Through using my dictionary and knowing simple body language, I was able to communicate with this person for a couple of hours. We would then take turns handing my phone back and forth. I would write a word like “hobby” and the dictionary returned the translated Chinese word. It turns out that she liked to draw and so we spent time drawing on my phone together. This was a memorable experience for me because it shows the multiple ways people can communicate with one another even with a language barrier.

Aside from the time I spent out with the guys at night, I also enjoyed the conversations during our long bus trips or in the hotel. We got along well because our mutual interest in business and economics. Each of us represented a foreign country whenever we talked. Sonar gave the Mongolian perspective; Terrance gave the Chinese perspective, Ben the Korean perspective, and me a combination of the Filipino, Japanese and American perspective. This unintentionally resulted in a greater cultural trip then I expected. Each of our individual countries had strong historical connections with China, so conversations turned historical often. Sonar talked about the Mongolians that invaded China, and Terrance gave more historical Chinese context into the conversation. As I listened to Terrance talked about China I learned more from him than the rest of the trip. He taught us that tapping with two fingers on the table while someone pours you a drink was a polite way of thanking the pourer. This was one of the many mini lessons I had the pleasure of receiving each day.

Through Terrance’s Chinese cultural lessons, readings in the book, and other sources of valuable Chinese knowledge, I gained a greater understanding of the China’s culture and its people. Initially when I came to China I had the impression that the Confucian and modest way of carrying oneself in Japan, was not as strong in China. This struck me as surprising because China was the origin of Confucianism. In lectures and in my interview with a Chinese student I learned about the spread of competition and desire for money in China in the recent decades. There came a China where sacrificing old historical buildings and China’s past for new modern commercial apartments or buildings became common. Where becoming powerful meant doing many bad things. During our stay, I saw the changes from older traditional values to newer economic values appear in front of me. When I thought all the old values were gone I came across people who still adhered to them. Just by being with Terrance, a native Chinese person, I learned about the older traditional values some people continue to have. Terrance assigned himself the role of the host of his country China towards us. He wanted us to feel welcomed and enjoy our time in his country. At dinnertime he would wait for everyone else to get his or her food and eat before starting himself. When there were older people, he would pay the proper respect to them. Seeing his actions showed me there were still some of the traditional values in Chinese people.

While Terrance showed traditional values, there was the Chinese student I interviewed who showed me the modern forward thinking generation. 南韩 was fully aware of the situation and problems that arose from modernization within China. People are so competitive to the extent that they would try to sabotage others who were better. The connection with other Chinese is thin because a person cares more for the individual. From reading China in Ten Words people placed more importance on the self and their immediate family than they do on society as a whole. Even though 南韩 was not a full exception, she talked with a great sense of understanding of the underlying problems. She felt a bit different from the majority of the population. She is able to be more moderate and less aggressive towards her goals because her financial situation was not stressful. Not having a lot of stress in her life allows her to take a step back and gives her perspective on the situation in China. She even included that she was not a unique person for thinking in this fashion but there were many others she knew who thought that same way. Knowing this allowed me to see that there was not an overpowering gravitation towards one philosophy but instead many different kinds of people in China.

The people of China came in many different shades of colors but the environment was surprisingly familiar to the Philippines. I wrote about the similarities between China today and the Philippines more in-depth in one of my reflection papers, but I contribute my lack of culture shock in China to the strong similarity. Both countries are still developing, so the environment suffers as the economy and cities grow. The weather when I got off the plane in China was similarly hot. The views on the streets of Beijing and the Philippines were riddled with vendors and stalls. The similarity allowed me to learn more of the culture without worrying about getting used to the environment. It also allowed me to draw some conclusions based on the Philippines.
The overall experience of the study abroad trip allowed me to gain more perspective on the Chinese people and culture as well as gain good friends in the process. Now after the trip, I can now have a topic of conversation when I meet someone from China. Not only a topic for conversation but a way of understanding and connecting with a culture I had only limited exposure to previously. This would give a less shallow understanding of China. Instead of thinking of its growing economy and communist state government, the typical threads of conversation when a common American talks about China, I can talk about the beautiful variety of scenery throughout China, the hard working and competitiveness in the country, and how enjoyable the nightlife in Beijing was. One of the best ways to gain experiences and stories would be to travel to a foreign country. I found this to be true now at the end of our trip.