CHRISTIAN PAOLO LAT: On top of his game

Christian Paolo Lat (CDN Photo/Gerard Pareja)

He almost backed out at the last minute, but thanks to persistence, he gave it a go, leaving behind the Canadian life to own and discover his Filipino roots.

The cliché “stand up and stand tall” holds true for filmmaker Christian Paolo Lat: from tending tables, handing out flyers and the rigors of the usual eight hours, he has proven that a person can be more.

And he is.

Proving once again triumphant, his film “Ginhawa” won the Best Short Film in this year’s Sinulog Film Festival. Bagging the five major awards, Christian who was also the film’s lead is still reeling to have also received the Best Actor plum.

“It was funny because everything you see in the film was all done guerrilla style. A lot of the location shoot was done on the spot. It was done
impromptu and you just have to be nice to people, “Nay pwede ba kaming mag shoot dito?”

Like an arrow gearing towards his target, the man is both sharp in the way he talks, as with his chiseled features. He directs, produces, and acts in many of his films, has produced more than 30 short films, and has won more than 20 awards in Canada and the Philippines.

“Being a director you have to be a leader. A captain of the ship where people have to look up to you. So when you’re in a negative mindset it just sends this ripple effect affecting everyone.”

The Play! pool cornered the filmmaker during one of his busy Saturday mornings and witnessed a person grounded in his ongoing fascination with Kendrick Lamar, while juggling film and business ventures. The man is clearly on top of his game. (NRG)

How’s life after the awards night?

I was of course happy. I mean bagging both awards that hasn’t happened before.

When we won the Best Picture in 2016 I do admit I was not contented, I have to have a Best Actor.

While we were making the film it almost didn’t push through because our schedule was tight.

I was also at that time opening a food place and with all the pressures it was very tough.

I was then training with boxing and we had one week before the deadline. The thought of me and my brother staying awake for 40 hours straight as we shot it in one day seems like a blur.

You were born and raised in San Pedro, Laguna. You grew up in Canada. How did you get to be here in Cebu?

It was totally random. I saw an open house in Taft when the International Academy of Film and Television (IAFT) came to Manila.

I was close to working in a call center para lang for me to have that reason to stay here in the Philippines

. So when I saw that open house invitation I told my parents that this is a chance for me to somehow have that sense of growing up.

“Ginhawa” was intense and in a sense very thematic for the common Filipino. So, why the world of boxing?

The concept was already in my mind a long time ago because I have always been a lover of boxing as well as a fan of Manny Pacquiao.

I admire Manny because aside from his boxing what he also does outside the ring is inspiring.

The man never stops learning and he always tries new things and he just keeps on going.

He came out of nowhere and look at where he is right now.

Was it an instant decision on your end to act at the same time direct the film?

Well, it was really funny because my brother was suggesting that I should just get an actor but I insisted that I can act.

My point there is I can act and I can learn boxing faster than other actors who have to learn how to box.

I put years into acting and even way back before coming here to the Philippines I was already acting in Canada.

One of my executive producers suggested that I should do something for the role so I lost twenty pounds in two weeks.

My training was rigorous and my diet was on point hindi naman sa bata pa lang ako ay magaling na ako sa suntukan, makulit lang talaga ako.

This is something that I saw doing which is acting so looking back and thinking about it, when you have a vision and you just keep moving forward, the win was just so sweet because hard work does pay off.

You seem to be competitive in nature?

I have this favorite quote which says; marry the process, divorce the outcome.

I do admit I am an extreme competitor and being born with not that much, hard work and dedication is the only friend that will support you through and through.

I’ve cleaned dorms, I handed out fliers from door to door, I tried waitering.

I did all odd jobs just to get me here to the Philippines.

I was not at my happiest when I was in Canada because I just love the Philippines.

And I miss my friends who are there though my heart is here in the Philippines.

Back then I said to myself that when I get to be an actor I should be the best at what I do. To be the best for myself and for my family.

So safe to say that it’s really not about being competitive but more of like being the best at what you do.

What ignites your fascination with film?

I was an acting student at Bigfoot dati. I admit I was a bit impatient and with all the waiting, there was a time when you begin to question yourself.

So it was a decision to might as well make films myself. Actually sinali din namin yung first film ko which was in 2014 and I was glad na sinali namin and we we were even one of the finalists.

Not bad as my first film though I really wanted to win in the said competition.

The Sinulog Film Festival has led me to so many things and as a filmmaker it is a good avenue to showcase your wares most especially if you’re just starting.

You juggle between running a business and doing a film. Are you more filmmaker or as a businessman?

In life it’s not all about money.

When I was a kid it was always ingrained in me that having a business is like having your own baby and back then I didn’t get to really understand the notion. It was like you have to take care of something or someone.

So I had my business and when I started making my own film that’s when everything becomes more meaningful because that’s what I am all passionate about.

What to you is the frustrating part of doing a film?

When you’re pressed for time. I do admit that there was a number of push and pull happening before we green lighted this.

When you’re this close before actually doing it and once you get over that phase, when you get to meet the cast as well as the crew, most especially with this project because this happens to be sort of our reunion project with my film school classmates.

To work with them after nearly three years it was all worth it.

What are you like as a director?

I am very straightforward. And I am a firm believer in preparations so I do necessary blockings and whether if you can say your lines slower or faster in this scene prior to actual shooting.

As a director I am not the type who will tell you the back story of a scene or your character.

My acting mentor taught me very well that it’s enough for you to know your goals and objectives for the scene. If your goal is to ask me for a bottle of water and the objective is to do it in a mean or bad way, just make a go at it naturally.

I don’t go as far as complicating things, I don’t even choreograph that much.

Any dream projects?

I want to do an action film. I love Netflix’s “Narcos” and me and my producers were talking about a feature that would revolve around that concept.

An intelligent action film that’s not right in your face. I may act and direct it. Me and my brother we’re talking about it and me quitting acting and I told him that I came all the way here for my love of the craft.

I’ve put in all these hours for acting so why should I pay someone when I can do it myself. I don’t get the point of investing in my education when I can’t even put my heart into it.

Any local personalities that you want to work with?

I have always been a fan of Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz because they’ve made it.

They did it in Europe and in the US and for them to become a sort of a household name in the film circuit, as well as taking Filipino cinema to the world, they are indeed something.

We are not talking about mainstream cinema here, but in terms of their craft, their brand of film, it is something that I also want to explore and learn. I also look forward to doing a film shot in Canada about OFWs with a Filipino cast in it.

What to you is a good film?

Humanity. A film that speaks from the heart. I have a few favorites and on top of my head as a big fan of Hongkong cinema, there’s “In the Mood for Love” and “Infernal Affairs.” Also “Pulp Fiction.”

As well as “There Will Be Blood” which to me is the ultimate. Also for me it’s all about the filmmaker so that would be in the direction of Martin Scorsese in “Goodfellas” as well as Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu’s “The Revenant” and “21 Grams.”

If you were to have it your way, would you be focusing on art film or more into commercial film?

I want to do both. I want to make an art film that’s accessible to everybody like “There Will Be Blood.” Or the classic which is “The Godfather” which we all know is kind of an art film.

A film with a good story that’s beautifully shot and with meaning. A film that touches the audience.

You said that making “Ginhawa” was in a way a test of your character. Killing and winning it during that awards night must be worth the pain.

I always go back at the humble beginnings. I know I was bad at working at restaurants pero at least I can safely say that it’s my own. Just that I can’t afford to go back to that feel of working eight hours.

I day dream a lot. And you may laugh at this and I have to tell you this na ang una ko talagang venture when I came to Manila was I wanted to be a dancer. I was a breakdancer.

It was hard because it never worked out and I couldn’t even land an audition.

I took it with a grain of salt and you only fail when you quit.

No matter what you do there’s always failure and I may suck on something eventually.

I kind of like the feeling of bouncing back.

That’s what I like about film because you couldn’t say that you mastered the craft, it will always take time and I will always be learning. You will innovate and there’s always ways to do things efficiently.

What’s your end goal?

Before I used to plan ahead and eventually I realized that it just made me more anxious and frustrated.

So now I prefer to just live in the moment. What really helped me now is reading Greek, Roman and Eastern philosophies.

I meditate and I use my journal a lot. I’d like to say that it is important for me to have that grounding—the balance. Kasi before you can be passionate with a lot of things but it has always been a question of whether will you be able to sustain it.

Eventually you will burn out and live an unhealthy lifestyle. Once I was also overweight. At one point I was 195 and when we started filming I was 150.

But going back to the question, I think it is all about doing what’s expected of us. Let’s just do our job, do our best with what we can kasi I tried to control outcomes and it’s really not on me.

The world is so much bigger than I am and I can only do what I can do. So as a filmmaker, a businessman, and as an actor I live one day at a time.

What can we expect from you in the coming days? Future projects?

I am so thankful because with the Sinulog Film Festival, I get to have a project.

I get to direct another boxing movie under a film outfit based in Los Angeles.

I need to share this because a few years back before leaving Canada I almost didn’t get to fly because nanakaw lahat ng mga equipment ko. Lahat ng gamit like camera, laptop, lenses.

At the back of my mind I thought that was a bad sign pero I just chose to move forward because when you allow one setback to ruin your dreams, wala ka talaga.

So there’s a beauty behind all this because if I was weak and was easy to give up, everything would have gone nowhere.

I know that we all go through a lot in life and I just put in a lot of hard work. You always choose to move forward.

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