October 2022 - "OKAY LNG AKO'' was awarded Best Short Film at the 12th Annual International Film Festival Manhattan. The said film which is a drama about a Filipina working abroad was written, directed, and produced by beginning filmmaker hailing from GenSan, Kenneth Alex Anderson.
How a 'kid from Mindanao' not only got to participate in but also triumph in such a huge filmmaking event, read on and find out as The Film Dream virtually interviews the Festival Director Award recipient.
Kenneth Anderson or Ken was born and raised in southern Philippines. As a child, he has always been fascinated with movies, his interests piqued even from watching cartoons when he was around 5 years old.
"I would watch and I would think to myself - bakit ganito nangyayari sa scene? Why is this person coming from the left side of the screen? Bakit itong person na 'to coming from the right side?" Ken recalled his curiosity, always present as he grew up and continued to wonder, "How do they make films? How do they do this? How do they do that? What is a director? What is a producer? What is a cinematographer? What is a DP?"
In response to his own curiosities, he decided to get his own answers by delving into the world of filmmaking.
Being a fan of horror films, Ken began his filmmaking journey in 2017 with a short film titled "Lola." He shared that he joined multiple film festivals during this time, however, he did not get in. "I did not get accepted, which is okay naman," he said with acceptance, "That was my first [time] ever talaga, na ako mismo humawak ng camera, ako nag-direct ng lahat."
Treating it as a vital learning experience, Ken was far from discouraged and was actually grateful for the mistakes.
When asked what could be the greatest struggle he had to win over, he revealed that it was during this film when he felt the most challenged as a new filmmaker. "In your mind kasi when you're writing [the script], you think, 'oh this is a good idea', but when you're in person and you're shooting, andyan na 'yung artista mo, everyone's ready to go, and when you do your blocking...[you realize] ay, hindi pala bagay, or something like that - that's where I had trouble with.Directing actors, and how to make the film move according to plan."
Fortunately, he also found out that maintaining composure helps. Rather than panicking, he remained grounded. "I just stopped for a second, don't overthink it masyado, don't overthink every shot."
He also added that he was blessed to have seasoned actors who helped him by sharing their ideas with him. "Always be open to other people's ideas."
After "Lola," Ken went on to make his first documentary with "Ocean Child" following the story of a young boy named Kal Madja, who dives and spearfishes to support his family.
"...it kind of went more smoothly than my first one, Lola, because it was a documentary. There wasn't much acting," the budding filmmaker shared, stating that he couldn't and didn't instruct Kal to do anything different than what he normally does. Ken believed that it would take him out of his element. "Go ahead, do your thing, kung ano man ginagawa mo, I'm not gonna change you, tell you to do this or do that, do what you need to do and I'll follow you with a camera."
After these two projects, Ken took a break from filmmaking, and worked on mini commercials for advertisements, YouTube, and social media. He came to New York to focus on Black and White Films, where he later learned about the renowned film festival, when his new big project was about to be born.
OKAY LNG AKO
"[In the beginning] I didn't want to," Ken revealed that upon being advised to join the International Film Festival, he was not as optimistic, thinking that he did not have any materials sufficient to join. A good friend of his, Luis Pedron, who supports Filipino filmmakers through Fanclubx.com, was the one who informed him about the festival.
Still, Ken did not reject the idea and asked for a few days to think about it. In those few days, inspiration hit him unexpectedly - at a restaurant near his residence.
The story starts with him in this restaurant, and observing one of the staff actually being a Filipina. He watched her through the smoke rising from her barbecuing. "You could tell sa mata niya, she's tired, she's very exhausted," Ken motioned towards his own eyes. "Then someone called her sa phone niya, she was speaking tagalog."
Unintentionally overhearing the conversation, he found out that the Filipina employee was talking to her mother. Whilst affirming her mother she is alright, Ken could see and feel that she was far from it. "She looked like she was about to cry, and all I can hear her saying was:
'Okay lang ma, okay lang ako dito.'
'Nareceive mo ba yung pera, ma?'
'Sige, ayusin mo muna 'yung bubong ma, para hindi na kayo mapapasukan ng tubig sa bahay.'
'Okay lang ako.'”
Suddenly reminded of the bittersweet reality Filipinos working abroad struggles with, Ken felt stunned. "Grabe," he exhaled. "This is what our kababayans go through here sa abroad, they'll do anything para sa pamilya nila."
Instantly, he experienced that 'light-bulb moment.' "Okay lang ako."
Inspired by the strength and courage from his fellow kababayans, Ken knew what he wanted his film to be about. "Filipino pride and doing anything para sa pamilya. Okay lng ako."
When The Film Dream asked how he felt about finally joining the IFFM, Ken likened his experience to being a proud parent: "When it comes to filmmaking, when you do a film, parang anak mo yan, you love it. When you send it off to the film festival, it's like sending your child off to college."
Upon receiving the acceptance letter, Ken's happiness doubled. When he was informed that he won an award, he was overjoyed. "It's like [being] a father: My child made it! Step by step by step, you watch your film progress to something that you didn't know it could be in the beginning. It's a big blessing talaga."
"Ito ang highlight of my life!" Ken enthusiastically answered when asked if this could be his greatest filmmaking journey moment. "I don't want to downgrade myself pero that's why I always say, I'm just a kid from Mindanao, with a dream. I won, I won in one of the biggest film festivals in the world!"
While he was informed about an award days before the actual festival, the award was not specified. He did not assume, or expect that it would be Best Short Film. He was almost speechless with surprise.
Following this feat, several producers have reached the independent filmmaker regarding future projects. "They're asking me if I have anything in mind, pero syempre with everything that happened [and] so fast, sabi ko wait lang, let me just sit and process," Ken shared his response with a laugh. Trying not to be overwhelmed, he is taking his time to think about what's coming next. Assuringly, he added, "Of course, I'll always be a filmmaker, I'll always be creating art, I'm going to be doing a film soon."
Photo: Instagram @blackandwhitefilms_
Prior to and between producing films, Ken performed acting roles in local films and television series including My Fantastic Pag-ibig (2021) and Karelasyon (2015). Being an actor and being on set of professional production greatly contributed to his knowledge on filmmaking.
"When I was doing acting pa, kasi 'yung mga ibang artista pag-cut, after ng take, andoon sila sa tent, nagpapahinga." Ken explained."Ako, I wasn't. When I wasn't shooting my scene, andoon ako nakaupo ako sa likod ng director, pinapanood ko siya. I was learning."
Ken also took a 1-year filmmaking course at the International Academy of Film and Television (Bigfoot) at Mactan, Cebu, as well as workshops at the Asian Pacific Film Institute in Manila. While this educational background has been important and helpful to his passion, Ken told The Film Dream about his most valued teacher:
"My number one influence and teacher in filmmaking is films itself, if you want to learn how to make movies - watch movies. 'Yun ang mga tip ko sa mga up and coming filmmakers. If you want to learn movies, watch movies."
Straight to the point and practical, Ken shared another important tip. Showing TFD a small, rectangular chip through the virtual interview, he announced: "Anybody who wants to do video work, kung ano man 'yan, filmmaking - please, please never ever, forget, never forget your SD card."
Recalling a not-so-pleasant situation a filmmaker could be caught in, he personally recently experienced the mishap of arriving on the set of shoot and finding out his camera has no SD card just as he opened it to record. Luckily, he was able to buy one at a run last minute. Nevertheless, it was stressful and memorable enough. "When you're shooting events, it's not like shooting a film na pwedeng cut, let's do it again - sa events it's real life, we can't say wait let's do that one more time. Always be prepared."
On a more serious and equally sincere note, Ken encourages all filmmakers to never give up. As a filmmaker, his ultimate goal is to inspire, not only film viewers but creators as well.
"Just keep going, keep going, if anybody tells you - hindi maganda yan, hindi dapat ganyan, just keep going, keep learning - everyday. The day you stop learning, that's the day na parang, wala na - you finally gave up.”
Ken takes motivation from the origin story of Stan Lee's Spider-Man. The late comics creator had revealed in interviews that his idea of a teenage superhero was 'the worst.' "Pero he believed in himself," Ken explained. "He believed in the character, he believed in what he wrote. Look at Spider-Man now, probably one of the biggest franchises ever."
"If you have a dream, if you have something sa puso mo: keep it, protect it, go with it."
At the present, Ken has yet to work on his next film project. Meanwhile, he's diving into music video creation, continuing with working Black and White Films - which is active in both the US and Philippines.
If you are looking for high quality video and photo content services for events (birthdays, weddings, drone shots/aerial, etc.), you might want to consider this production company. "We're very affordable and we'll make sure to catch your wonderful memories. And we'll make sure magbabaon kami ng SD card..." Ken assured.