MEMBER MONDAYS | Mattias Marasigan
is an actor, freelance filmmaker, writer, and creator of the Independent Austin Film-scene resource site Austin Film Core. We chatted with him about his journey to wearing the many hats he wears in the Austin film scene!
Although you have a pretty substantial reel for your videography work, you are first and foremost an actor. How do you balance your freelance work in creating content for clientele and pursuing your passion for performing?
Mattias Marasigan: Well that assumes I've achieved some sort of balance [insert laughter here]. The truth is that I don't do anything unless I know I'm going to be fulfilled by it. At a very fundamental level all the projects I pursue or create, even for clientele, are somewhat for myself. Taking on a project means that some part of me knows that it'll either be fun, challenging, or creatively satisfying. I'd like to say that it's some sort of hustle or level of grind that one has to have to achieve balance, but in all honesty my biggest struggle is finding balance in my personal life. I have no hustle. I just don't have any free time. There's always the next thing to accomplish. Whether it's utilizing my time to catch up on a Netflix Original, finally finish a home renovation, go on a date night with Gorgeous (my girlfriend), editing a vlog, or submitting myself for acting projects, I'm always looking to fill the time with something worth doing. My focus is constantly on the next thing. "After this...then I can do this." and so on. Sometimes the only reason I stop is because I'm tired and need to sleep, and I cherish my sleep time. I know the world is always talking about balance. Religion is always talking about balance. We need balance as human beings. So in everything I pursue, even if it's 10 hours of sleep, it's because I know I need it. Sometimes that means putting off something else for a little bit, and it makes me look terribly unmotivated, but in reality, it's because some part of me knows that life is too short to stress about fitting everything in at once. This interview, for instance, is because this is who I need to be right now. After this, I need to attempt to fix my car, because that's just what needs to happen at the moment. If I can multitask - perhaps let some videos export in the meantime - then: Great! If not, then I just move on to the next thing.
What is it about the medium of film television that inspires you?
MM: I believe Film + Television is the only job that's future proof. When the rest of the world is getting taken over by robots and artificial intelligence (see: Upgrade NOT Uprising), we're still going to be pointing cameras a human beings and telling truths. In one of my acting classes our teacher opened up with a quote (I still can't find the originator), "People go to the theatre to believe that humans still communicate." That quote was before advent of film. We live in a time where everyone is lamenting the death of cinema, where the blockbuster will take over, streaming will kill the theatre, or "Content Creation" will be the new standard. I don't think anything is dying. I think there's going to be an ebb and flow to it all. Cinema is still young, and the artform is barely 100 years old. I think the way we'll approach it will evolve, and the perspective of Cinema as a business venture might go away, but we're never going to stop making films. We're never going to stop pointing cameras at humans. Children are never going to stop putting their favorite movie on repeat, every night for 5 years, because that's just what they do. The thing that inspires me about film is that it caused me to jump on the couches in my underwear while trying to swing "lightsabers" at a friend. Last weeks shenanigans aside -
Kidding, I was probably 8 or 9.
He who holds, in his mind's eye, beauty, new worlds, or captains with hooks for hands, has the power to bring it to reality with film. As long as that exists we'll always have it, or else we find a new marble block to chisel away.
One thing I think a lot of our members fret about is "I have the skills to make videos for clients, but I have no idea on where or how to start." When you made the choice to solely focus on your video work, how did you build a clientele base? What is your approach to creating for them?
MM: The choice was actually made for me. I was a server for 5 years. Never wanted to make videos for clients. I made videos for myself, literally. I started a Vlog on Youtube where I pushed myself to create a new video once-a-week, and it was all because I loved doing it, because I wanted to edit something and I was missing the creativity. I started with my phone. Then I used an old camera I bought years ago. Then I finally saved up enough to buy a used camera off craigslist. I continued to create, once-a-week, for about a year and a half, all for myself. That consistency, and the practice, allowed my work to improve, but more importantly it allowed people to see that improvement. I got invited out to things. I told people I would love to shoot an event, but it has to be for my Vlog. It was all for me. Building a clientele base was only natural from there. I lost my job as a server, and I needed to figure out something new, so I reached out to filmmakers I knew that were already freelancing. They put me to work because they saw how consistent I was with my Vlogs, and they enjoyed my style. One thing led to another, led to another, led to another. I got recommended for the jobs that people didn't want. I did some jobs for cheap discounts as I was learning how to manage a business. I took whatever I could get, but with every new project I vowed to stay true to myself and put my own spin on it.
As an aside: I never did anything for "exposure". Any potential client that has ever offered me exposure, I declined. Anyone who tries to feed you bullshit about how great an opportunity this would be, how many followers they have on social media, or how this could lead to more consistent work is really just trying to use you. Exposure's never worked out for anyone. Collaborations maybe, but you have to know the difference and you have to know what you're worth. Don't believe what they're selling. There's no guarantee of views, work, or opportunity, and no one can give you that.
My approach in creating for those clients is as I said before: I create for myself. I do a consultation with each client. I try to figure out what they're looking for. I ask them questions based on my own curiosity - especially if I'm uneducated about their particular brand, product, business, etc. - and I find what interests me. When an idea eventually comes to mind I pitch it to them, and the process continues until we find something we're both happy with. At the end of the day it's a video that I'm making. I want to be proud of it. I want to have some creative control. I don't necessarily want to make what they want to make, so I try to find something that I DO want to make that aligns with what they were hoping for. I lay it all out there, I put it in writing, and we sign a contract. At the end of the day they're getting the product that I'm selling; which sounds very stubborn and hard-headed, but that's the way I approach these things. As I said before, the balance comes in me wanting to do something fulfilling, and if I'm going to do this business I'm going to do it my way. A client can always go to someone else to make the video they want, but if you come to me we're going to do it in the way that makes sense to me.
What made you decide to pursue creating the Austin Film Core site?
MM: We fucking needed it.
I've been pursuing acting in Austin for approx. 9 years. We live in a college town. Young filmmakers are still making the same mistakes they were back when I moved here. The same people I met back then are still struggling now. We're using a yahoo group from the 90s as our main source of casting. Facebook has ruined connectivity with their algorithms. Places like Austin Film Society and Texas Film Commission only care about films with names, bigger budgets, or have the ability to bring jobs to the same union workers who have been doing it for decades. No one cares about the independent market. No one focuses on expansion or education. There's no support for those who actually need it. The site is my crappy attempt at providing some stability for those who are on the ground floor. I want to provide the resources everyone needs to find their own success, and I want to provide tips to help the collective conscious grow. There needs to be a standard for filmmaking if we're going to make Texas stand on its own, and if we're going to bring actual change to a market that's continually struggling. Having a win here-or-there is great and all, but Friday Night Lights left in 2011 and our biggest directors are still struggling to make the films that they want to make. We can either sit around and wait for things to get better (it will) or we can do something to continually push our small industry forward so that the low times aren't so low. I just want to provide consistency for the market, and I don't think this site is solely the answer, but I'm attempting to do something. If we succeed then the potential support we can provide is so much greater, but if we fail then hopefully people will be more connected, more informed, and more inspired.
As a working actor, is there any pointers you would give someone who's considering pursuing doing it professional that you wish someone would've told you?
MM: I'm not sure that I wish someone would have told me this, but it's something I've discovered recently that I wish I had discovered much sooner. Jesus implored us to be like children. He was talking about entering the kingdom of heaven, but I think that was just a fancy incentive he was selling to people at the time, when in reality he just wanted us to stop caring so much about ourselves in this lifetime. To this day the best acting I've ever done has been in my front yard as a child pretending to be a power ranger. When no one was watching but me and my friends, and I didn't care about blocking, line memorization, how to make decisions, or breaking down scenes. As a child I didn't care about who I was acting opposite, impressing people on set, or whether or not I was going to get the part. Today I care about all of those things. I want people to like me. I feel like a fraud half the time I'm on set. I second guess my decisions and look for validation with the people I'm sharing a scene with. I'm constantly worried about what people think of me and whether or not I'm doing a good job - even when I AM doing a phenomenal job. Children. . . They don't worry about such things. They just play. They just "be". The day that I started being more like a child, with my imagination and my acting, is the day that acting made sense to me. Now I'm struggling to get back to that mentality. Trying to get rid of all the stresses and to learn to just play. To be creative and to find joy in what I do and to just. have. fun.
Don't get me wrong, you need talent, you should always be improving, and training (and relying on that training) is important. But talent, it's either there or it's not, and that's why I consider them gifts. If God hasn't given you these gifts then you probably shouldn't pursue it. For those who have it, be more like children.
A big chunk of your work has been collaborations with dance studios and their performers. Both mediums are very visually focused, so there's obvious connection, but can you tell me how you integrate your specific style into working on a collaboration with a dancer?
MM: I think a big part of it has to do with rhythm. You've got to know how dancers move. You have to possess some sort of dancer inside of you as well. The language of dance is so specific. You have phrases and beats and sections and pacing, not unlike a film. I think most people approach dance videography by putting themselves on a tripod, and they let the dance speak for itself. That's fine for certain projects, depending on the purpose of the video itself, but for me I can't be locked down. I have to move with the dancer. I have to feel the music like a dancer does. I have to know when things are intimate and when things are bold and expressive, and I have to adjust accordingly. I'm sure when people see me capturing a dance - or capturing anything - they're worried about me. I'm not afraid to get into the moment. I want to be in the dance with them (I get my best stuff during a dress rehearsal, when I'm not impeding an audience's view). I've had a lot of close calls with dancers on stage, whether they almost hit me or vice-versa, but all the while I've managed to avoid any accidents. That means knowing how to feel the environment around you. That means constantly being aware of who's about to move and who's standing still. That sometimes means standing still yourself while the dancers flow around you, and that sometimes means moving through them as they're constantly crossing the stage. All-in-all you have to know the language of dance, and you have to know how it works. You have to be adaptable, on your toes, in order to catch those moments that only happen once. It's a giant guessing game. It's me searching for the golden moments. Where everything clicks between my camera, my position, the dancer's position, and hopefully my focus (I don't use auto-focus). What makes it so special is that I sometimes only get one shot to find those moments, because once the dance is done it's possibly gone forever.
In your micro-web series Mono No Aware, you gave the directing and camera reigns to other artists to create a focus on collaboration within the Austin film scene, as well as showcase yourself as an actor more. Why was it important to you to create those scenes?
MM: The desire to act was one reason. People saw me - as you so graciously pointed out earlier - as multiple things. Editor, DP, Videographer, Writer, Assistant Director, and Creator, but the one thing that was flying under the radar was my acting. This was strange to me (I've had an agent for the past 8 years!!) that people would overlook the one thing that I WANTED to do in lieu of things that I simply did because I COULD. I wanted to change that perception, and that's why I created those scenes for my youtube channel. It was purely selfish at first, but I knew that if I was going to create something, I was going to do it in the way I thought was right. To me it was taking the advice that all major directors give to young filmmakers: Take a camera and go out with your friends on the weekend and just make stuff. That's what I attempted to do. It was a way to keep all of us from feeling stagnant. It was a way of pushing others to create with me and for us to collaborate on something we could do NOW. Instead of waiting around for the right financier to come along. It was also a way for me to get in front of the camera more, because I'm not doing a very good job in the audition room, or there are not enough jobs going around for me to act in. It was important for me to take myself out of any other job - directing, DPing, lighting, etc. - and just focus on acting. It was practice, and we all needed it, so I gave us permission to do something.
That series also showcased your original writing. Was it nerve wracking to have your writing in the hands of others?
MM: Absolutely not. I never considered any of my writing good, and the point of the series was, as mentioned above, to just make something happen. In fact, it was more liberating to hear my dialogue come from other actors, because it was a fun experiment to try and make the writing make sense. Having a director break down a scene that I wrote, and approach things from their perspective was very fun. It was eye-opening. Sometimes I realized I didn't even know why I wrote a scene, or what truth I was trying to get at, until someone else interpreted it and spoke it back to me. Even with my own acting during the scene, normally I'm like "Why would I write such schlock?" but there were times I came to an 'ah-ha' moment. Those were the moments that I realized, "Oh. THAT'S what is happening here" and my acting became so much better. But because the purpose was just to do a scene, and was never about writing something good, I never felt nervous about that portion of it. I figured if it's bad, fine, because the focus is on the performances, and making those feel as real as possible. I think it was a cool realization, to not put the power on the writing, and instead let the director and the actors do their job. They can create something out of nothing, and that was beautiful to watch.
It'd be corny to ask the very often used "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" because that time frame seems so specific and so vague at the same time. But as someone with a lot of ambition and juggling lots of different hats in the filmmaking world, where do you see yourself in the future? How do you want your career to progress?
MM: 10 years ago I was in the middle of Iraq. I had just decided within that year to move to Austin after my time in the military was up, and to pursue acting as a career. I didn't know what that looked like, but I knew that it was something I needed to do. I had no idea I loved the art of filmmaking. I didn't know what the job of a director, a DP, or a gaffer was. I didn't even know acting was something that could be pursued as a profession until less than a year prior; at least I didn't know that was something that was in the cards for me. One thing that was always true was that I wanted to create. As in, I had this deep desire within my heart to make things. I was just a kid who wanted to express himself, to share my observations of the world, and to show people truths that lay right under their noses every day. I saw it as my mission to point out falsities, inauthentic behavior, and the moments where people lied to themselves. Art, writing, stories, editing, acting - these were all methods for me to do that - and to this day nothing has really changed. I still don't know what I'm doing. I still don't know what the future looks like. I only know that there's this deep desire and I have to find a way to continue pursuing that.
I've wanted to be a creative director since I graduated high school. I didn't know what that meant back then. I thought perhaps I'd have my own studio. Maybe I'd start a traveling theatre and I'd collaborate with artists to create something unique each and every night all around the world. 10 years later the landscape has changed, and though my goal still remains the same, it doesn't look like it did when I first imagined it. Now it looks like a youtube channel. Now it might be a website or a co-op. Maybe a production company. The thing is, none of those things were options for me 10 years ago, not in the way that it looks now at least. So what I've learned is that predicting the future is really, REALLY difficult. I still want to pursue acting. I still have feature films I want to write and direct. I still have shorts and web-series I want to create, even TV shows that I think would be fantastic. I have books I want to write. I have comics I want to draw. I have songs I want to sing. I have dances I want to dance. None of that has changed. None of that will ever change. I just know that however it looks in the future, it's still holding true to that deep desire that I have within my heart. I hope I get a chance to act in some fun projects before I'm too old and my body starts breaking down and I can't do all the things I wanted to, but if that doesn't happen I hope that I'm still creating. I hope that I have the ability to facilitate other creators, and I hope that we're still pointing out the same truths that artists have been trying to point out for centuries and millennia.
If we're not creating in ten years, I hope that when the revolution comes I can be at the forefront, or that when the apocalypse comes I'll be someone worth following. When I trained for Iraq I learned I was an expert shot with a rifle. So maybe that's the direction for my life that I completely ignored. Who knows?
Are there any projects on the immediate horizon for you that we should be keep our eyes open for?
MM: I wish I could say that there were some feature films worth checking out, but already this summer I've been removed or replaced on two features for reasons that were beyond my control. I mention those because I'm either doing something right or I'm doing something completely wrong, and in the case of the latter this whole interview should be taken with a large grain of salt. I'm going through a time where either everythings going to start coming together, or I'm going to fail miserably and end up working as an administrators assistant for someone who's far more successful than me. In the meantime, I recently DPed a music video by Carson McHone; which is supposed to be released by the end of the month (assuming that I actually edit it.) We're attempting to create more content at Austin Film Core, and at the time of this interview I've just launched a new casting service for the website itself. Hopefully, projects will find their legs on the platform, and I hope we set a good foundation for everyone involved. You can always keep up with me on my Instagram or my YouTube channel, where I'm always trying to release something regardless of my freelancing projects. If something's going to happen, you'll find out about it there, and there are certainly some cool things that I'm excited about releasing in the coming weeks. Same old dance stuff. Same old weekend projects. Same old vlogs. There's always going to be something - I hope.
INTERVIEW BY: Spencer Mirabal
MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members and take a deep dive into their work. Gaining an insight into what makes them, them.