November 20, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Patricio Ginelsa '99

By Jason Ng

Patricio Ginelsa '99 always seeks to include his community in his works. From creating Lumpia which spawned from shooting superhero-type movies with his friends in the neighborhood when they were kids, to writing and directing music videos for Grammy-Award winning artists Black Eyed Peas, Patricio is a proponent of storytelling with community collaboration as every story and music beat in his library of works is infused with rich elements from his Filipino culture. His most recent project, Lumpia With A Vengeance, is set to make its premiere at the Hawai’i International Film Festival and is the sequel to his original film which has been lauded by Variety as bringing “low budget to new heights.” He joins us in this alumni spotlight to explore how he arrived at this sequel project that is seven years in the making, and how his community played a huge role in bringing the movie to life. ?

What is ‘Lumpia’?

Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll and arguably the most well known Filipino dish. Since it's so well known by non-Filipinos that lumpia almost defines the Filipino community as the food that brings everyone together.

How did you arrive at making Lumpia With A Vengeance?

We were celebrating the tenth anniversary of the original homemade Lumpia movie with a hometown theatrical screening and we decided to launch our first Kickstarter to make a sequel. For me, it was a way to test the waters and see if there was an appetite out there for Filipino American movies. My first credit after graduating USC was as the associate producer of the Filipino American film The Debut. We self-distributed that movie and drove cross country for two years playing in theaters and reaching out grassroots style to all the Filipino communities throughout the U.S. That phenomenon of seeing the community coming out in droves to watch the film opened my eyes and made me a firm believer that representation indeed mattered. And on the last day of our Kickstarter campaign, just when we all thought we had already failed, we went viral and we were greenlit. That initiated the long road in what became seven years of developing, producing, and completing Lumpia With A Vengeance

How did crowdfunding play a part in the development of this feature?

A huge part. There would be no Lumpia With A Vengeance if the initial Kickstarter didn't happen. The original seven hundred and twelve backers actually served as the main motivation to finish the movie. Any time we felt like giving up, or if the challenges felt too overwhelming, we always thought of the backers and "lumpia lovers" who believed in us and were waiting for our movie. Yes, the money and resources were never always there, but we always took comfort that we had an eager audience ready to watch our movie. It helped us reach certain checkpoints in the filmmaking process. We also relied on other crowdfunding campaigns like Seed&Spark to push us into production and our fiscal sponsor Film Independent who helped us raise funds for post-production.

Your movie is filled with action. Can you describe what it was like to film the action sequences, especially when you are working with Mark Muñoz who is a trained mixed martial artist and used to compete in the UFC?

I tried to be more inventive and resourceful with the action. I had done a few action-centric short films and music videos testing this anime-influenced style and blending it in with the comic book aesthetic I introduced in the first Lumpia movie. Those projects also gave me a chance to work with a stunt team for the first time and my stunt coordinator friend, Mark Elefane. I didn't storyboard the whole movie, but I did it with the movie's key action scenes. Working with Mark Muñoz (A.K.A. "The Filipino Wrecking Machine") was already a dream come true. His reputation as the nicest guy in the UFC was the biggest blessing on set. He truly embodies the heroic character of Kuya in the movie. His work ethic was amazing but I don't think he was prepared to “fake” fight. How do you tell a trained fighter to act like he's fighting? Regardless, he had the best job eating all the delicious Lumpia on set.

Lumpia With A Vengeance is set to make its world premiere at the Hawai’i International Film Festival. What does it mean for you to see your film make its debut in Hawai’i where there is a large population of people of Filipino descent?

Our original homemade movie Lumpia screened there back in 2003 and the reception was overwhelming. It also gave me my first ever Hollywood review. So for Lumpia With A Vengeance to make its world premiere there feels fitting!  Aside from giving us a one time nationwide virtual screening, they've set up a couple of theatrical screenings there and they just announced that they selected our movie as part of their drive-in theater movie night section.  So yes, we have Lumpia supporters out there ready to support and I also have family out there excited for me. My wife, son, and I are going to travel for the first time during this pandemic to be there for the festival.  

We have to talk about the original Lumpia, which is heralded as “the ultimate home made movie.” Can you reflect on the mindset you had when you were making that passion project as someone who had recently graduated from SCA?

Our first movie Lumpia was actually a reunion movie I shot one summer with my neighbors after returning home from USC. I grew up in Daly CIty, California and every summer I would shoot these superhero movies called “Kid Heroes” with the kids in my neighborhood. I would pass the VHS tape of that movie to all my high school friends and make them sign a "slam book" where they would fill in what was their favorite or least favorite scene or characters. It was like the early days of social media. That VHS tape was passed along and made the rounds and would inspire more folks to want to take part in the next movie.

So, I had more cast when we shot the next movie the following summer. After three summers, we had a whole trilogy of Kid Heroes movies. When I was about to start my junior year at USC, I felt the need to reunite with the folks who got me into filmmaking. I was also inspired by Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi at the time. So instead of a Mexican hero with a guitar as a hero, my brother and I thought of a Filipino version and the best we could think of was a Barong Tagalog-wearing, silent avenger who uses lumpia as a weapon. It was a ridiculous concept, but comic book culture already allowed us to accept a man dressed up as a bat or spider. I felt I could justify that by making it look visually cool and funny but also telling a unique story. I felt more strongly about the main storyline centered around in-fighting within our community, which is the conflict between Filipino-born and American-born students.

It was a challenge I needed, to wrap a serious theme with a wacky superhero idea. Being with my friends and neighbors again made it an even better experience back then. That's why reuniting with them again for Lumpia With A Vengeance at this point in my career was refreshing. It started out with just us Filipino kids in a small neighborhood making movies for fun and it has now expanded to include Mark Muñoz and Hollywood icons like Danny Trejo!

The trailers for both Lumpia and Lumpia With A Vengeance seem to be inspired by comics and comic book art. Furthermore, you have a comic book coming out to accompany the feature as a prelude to the movie. How might comics influence your style and who you are as a filmmaker and storyteller?

I'm a huge comic book nerd. I'm actually a fan first and a filmmaker second. So it's always hard to contain myself when I'm working with people that I'm a huge fan of. Our premiere was initially set for this past May until the pandemic canceled all film festivals. The extra time has allowed us to reconnect with our supporters, and this past summer they crowdfunded (again) our comic book prelude. It gave me a chance to fulfill a lifelong nerd dream of writing a comic book and now self-publishing my own comic book.

I also got to work with a lot of creators I looked up to, including Whilce Portacio, a legendary Filipino comic book artist who drew the same X-Men comic books I read when I was in high school. We live in a time now where superhero movies are the norm and geek culture is in. That wasn't the case when I was growing up but I always proudly showcased my love for comic books. My love for all Spider-Man, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Batman stories which I read as a kid influenced a lot of the stuff I wrote. A lot of the people I surround myself with are comic book nerds and pop culture enthusiasts.

One of the things I'll always remember was my brief interaction with Kevin Feige at a USC screening where we "nerded" out and then he told me: "Make a great film and I'll notice." I don't know if he'll ever think Lumpia With A Vengeance is great but it's definitely soaked and covered with nerd DNA.

You operate under your company Kids Heroes Productions. What do you consider to be your brand as you make movies and content that are fun and appropriate for audiences of all ages?

Kid Heroes Productions was named after the original movies I made as a kid but like those neighborhood projects, we focus on a brand of community filmmaking that empowers those that don't have much of a voice or opportunity, in front of and behind the camera. While not all of our content will be fun, we always provide a safe and fun platform for others to learn and hone their skills and talents. Our sets always feel like a family gathering and that's what I'm most proud of- that representation matters behind the scenes as well as onscreen. And like I mentioned before, filmmaking always makes me feel like that kid grabbing his dad's camcorder and shooting his friends next door.

You are currently the technical coordinator of the Experimental Learning Center at the Marshall School of Business. How might you still be pursuing your filmmaking interests even if it’s not necessarily taking place on a movie set?

Working at the Experiential Learning Center allows me to work with not only the best boss and co-workers I could ask for, but with students full of drive and energy. One of my responsibilities is hiring and supervising a group of over fifteen student workers. As a team, we develop and produce training videos for our simulations and exercises. Working with them always reminds me that filmmaking isn't a dictatorship, but a team collaboration. The job has always supported me in developing my skills further aside from writing and directing. I was able to utilize a lot of them to help with the editing, VFX, and motion graphics with Lumpia With A Vengeance.

What is your advice for aspiring filmmakers who are confronted with the issue of budget when it comes to making a movie?

If there's a will, there's a way. In our case, if there's an audience, there's a way. I always believed we had the opposite problem of what most films have which in our case is a lack of financing but having a built-in audience ready and waiting to support us as opposed to having the financing but struggling to find an audience for the movie. The budget was always an issue with us, and we were lucky to always find just enough funds from angel donations and whatever merchandise we offered to squeeze out for the completion of the movie. All of the producers including myself had full time jobs, so the biggest expense for us was time, which we could afford. What kept us going was that we really believed in the movie we were doing and we were determined to make sure we made a movie worthy of all the support and backing we got.

So my advice is simple - make a movie you strongly believe in, a movie you are willing to invest years in making, and surround yourself with like-minded team players who will support and empower you through thick and thin to make the movie you all believe in. Fight On!