Although she's just starting out, Jules is already proving that she's a force to be reckoned with. Her first foray into filmmaking started in 2009 when she spent a few weeks filming a short informational video under the Department of Justice for the UFW (United Farm Workers union) highlighting and recognizing racial discrimination in the workplace and workers’ rights. After completing her first semester in film school, she was chosen to participate in a film program abroad, and traveled with a group of 12 students to Burkina Faso, Ouagadougo, Africa, to film a number of short narrative films and a documentary. There, she was immersed in the African culture and had the opportunity to collaborate on a number of short films with students from the L'isis film school located in the capitol. The film Le Fetisher (The Prophetess), in which she was the head Gaffer, has made it to several film festivals within the year it was completed (Pan African Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival). In the Spring of 2013, she was awarded a prestigious Kodak Film scholarship in recognition for her achievement in Cinematography at Dodge’s annual "Women in Focus" event. In attendance were a few prominent women in the film industry including: Diablo Cody (Juno), Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, 27 Dresses, Step Up), Donna Langley (Identity Thief, Ted, Pitch Perfect, This is 40, Bridesmaids), Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want, The Parent Trap), Maya Rudolph (The Way, Way Back, Up All Night, Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live), and Penelope Spheeris (Black Sheep, The Little Rascals, The Beverly Hillbillies, Wayne’s World). The latest film where she was the Director of Photography made it to several film festivals in the last few months, including the Saint Louis Film Festival and the 17th Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. She recently completed her first thesis film and was selected among her Cinematography class of 14 students to shoot a second thesis in Spring of 2014. She currently works for Chapman University’s Panther Productions, and is in the preproduction phase for her second thesis, scheduled to go into principal photography in February of 2014.
Here is Jules' story and her advice to her fellow FilAms. The links to some of her recent work are listed at the end of this piece. Read on for the rare perspective of a future Pinay cinematographer. We hope that Jules' story inspires you to pursue your own dreams. Don't forget to leave us your feedback about this Jeepney Hub exclusive here or by posting a comment below.
I’ve heard time and again about people having the passion to pursue a career in film but fail to meet their goals because of the notion of “practicality”. There is this theory that a profession in the film industry is unstable and highly risky, and I can understand where that idea can come from. But at the end of the day, if you’re doing what you love and you wake up with the drive to be better than you were the day before…isn’t that worth it? I know that may sound cliché, but I believe that the best way to have success in any career is to maintain a positive attitude, build a strong mentality, and to always remember that today, you are not as good as you will be tomorrow.
I didn’t always want to become a filmmaker. In fact, the traditional notions of femininity within the Filipino culture pushed me to believe that when I grow up, I will eventually become a nurse. Fortunately for me, my inability to sustain consciousness when it came to anything bloody or medical-related, helped me realize at an early age that the medical field was not for me. So I explored. “The sky is the limit,” my mother would always ingrain in my mind, and as a result, I luckily spent most of my adolescent years believing that there were no limitations to where I could take myself in life, and especially no restrictions on who I could become. Though my father disapproved of my resistance towards the medical field, I continued to explore other career options.
After graduating with a B.A. in Sociology from UCLA, I didn’t feel quite accomplished. I knew there was something more for me, but before I would make any rash decisions for my future, I took the time to figure out my possible career paths. I spent two years as a substitute teacher back home in Delano, CA. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I almost entered an “accidental career” where I found myself at the beginning of an unintended career path. I highly respect educators and strongly believe they can hold the key to success for our youth, but I couldn’t see myself engaged in that career for the rest of my life.
I needed to open my eyes to other possibilities and realized I had to start over. If there is one piece of advice I could give you: never be afraid to start all over. It's the only way to realize one way didn’t work out as you had planned. I like to believe that we learn the most valuable lessons through trial and error, and maybe even perhaps experience the most life-changing circumstances. So I began to look back at my previous experiences and started to recognize them less as a ‘failure’ and more as learning processes that were necessary for my growth. Taking that time to explore allowed me to clearly understand the direction ahead of me.
Research and networking played the biggest roles in moving my career planning forward. In my search for possible routes into the film industry, I was able to interview individuals who shared my common goal. I searched the web and found forums geared specifically towards people looking to apply to film school and found a few spaces online (though limited) where I asked questions, shared my concerns, and discussed techniques in building my portfolio. Being proactive about your own life and taking progressive steps isn’t the easiest thing to do on your own. In fact, I can confidently tell you that it can be a bit heartbreaking sometimes. So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, reaching out to others who can relate to you could be one of the healthiest decisions you can make.
I’ve always been aware that the majority of the film industry is predominantly ran by men. In fact in 2012, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films (2% of which were cinematographers). This represents no change from 2011 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998. (Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2012, Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, 2013.)
The notion that I was about to enter a profession with statistics like these never really affected my drive to follow through with my plans until I started meeting people in online forums. As I began to connect with strangers, it became more evident that I stood out. I was a woman, and more specifically, a Filipino woman. Can you name one Filipina who’s ever received an Oscar or Academy Award, or simply has “succeeded” in filmmaking? Neither can I. I knew full well what might lie ahead of me, but I couldn’t allow my fears or insecurities to disable me. “The sky is the limit”, my mom said, so I continued to push on, aware that I will potentially (and most likely) face a variety of bumps ahead with regards to my gender and ethnicity. I pushed myself to view any possible problems ahead of me as temporary challenges and tried to keep in mind that with God and the strong support of close friends and family, I’d be alright regardless of what happens.
Entering film school exposed me to a whole new world and a whole new environment. I was surrounded by a sea of new faces. This particular world didn’t have a strong Filipino community like I had back at home throughout high school and throughout undergrad at UCLA. It was different, and it was clear that I stood out. I was the ONLY Filipino student in my whole incoming Cinematography class, and later became the only female student in my Cinematography emphasis after the only other female left.
It wasn’t easy entering this new space. In an environment that consisted of 13 other students who were all male, I couldn’t help but initially feel like I didn’t belong there. For almost a full semester, I didn’t feel comfortable speaking up, I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions, and most especially, I didn’t know how to feel about my goals anymore or whether this was all worth it. As a Filipino woman, I felt distant from everyone who I was supposed to call my “peers”. For the first time in my life, I felt isolated in a strange land. No one here knew anything about my culture, my roots, or my community. Since I’m deeply rooted in those things, how could any of them understand who I am as a person?
I expressed my concerns to my parents, and they said something that completely changed my mentality—“Kaya mo yan!” (“You can handle it!”). Maybe it was because those words came from my father specifically, out of all people, but it somehow motivated me more than I expected. With those words, I stood up straight, raised my head, and told myself that from that day on, I wouldn’t allow gender or cultural differences discourage me. After all, we should always be proud of who we are, where we come from, and where we want to take ourselves. We all have a story to tell. I promised myself that I would thrive in this school and be recognized not only for my gender or the color of my skin, but also for my talent, my skills, and my ability to tell a story well. I didn’t want to JUST be “that female cinematographer,” I wanted to be the baddest one out there. So I worked hard, I studied hard, I experimented with projects, I networked, and I tried to soak in that school for everything it offered…and I grew.
Though I may stand out in my program, my goal is to continue to shine a light on my gender and ethnicity, and be recognized for my hard work and talents. I am a Filipino-American woman pursuing a career in Cinematography and there is nothing that makes me more proud. There is no point wasting time being ashamed of our differences and allowing it to discourage us, we just have to continue to fight on. No one ever said pursuing something you’re passionate about was easy—but I can tell you there’s a good chance it would all be worth it. My mom once told me the sky is the limit, and so I never stopped reaching. You shouldn’t either.
Designing a career path can be overwhelming, so I’d like to share these helpful tips. Keep in mind that this is my personal journey and I am not where I want to be just yet—but regardless, I hope any little bit of this can help you. Everyone has their own path towards a bright successful future, and I wish you nothing but the best.
- Research. Research. Research. Understand and know what programs and steps are most suitable for you, your capabilities, and current lifestyle.
- Network. Meet everyone and anyone (especially in your particular industry). You’ll be surprised how far down a network line you can get from just making small talk with the person serving coffee at an industry event.
- Share ideas. Build a solid foundation of people you can share ideas with, and find people you can inspire and who can inspire you back.
- Take your time to figure it out. We are all on different timelines and your future will always be ahead of you.
- Avoid comparing your life and your current career path to others. Your success is not a result of someone else’s hard work.
- Understand that you might have to start over, but that starting over doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It is after all, the only way to find out that one way didn’t work out as you had planned.
- Stay confident and steadfast in your abilities and skills and never be afraid to shine a light on it. You’re a lot more capable than you think.
A few Resources that helped me along the way:
Director: Julie Paholio
Tagalog with subtitles. A man from a Philippine tribe is forced to confront the truth about recent crimes made against his village and the people closest to him. What he learns is not what he expects.
Total Run Time: 05:13