There is a lot of talk these days about diversity in Hollywood and the rest of the film industry. The hashtag #oscarssowhite, for instance, encouraged many fans and industry workers to discuss the lack of diversity in film. Filipino-American filmmaker Bernard Badion recognizes this and “can pretty much count” the other Filipinos who worked around Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. But he also adds that being in the film industry is difficult for everyone trying to get their foot in the door.
“This is a hard business and if you want to make a living doing it, no matter what it’s going to be hard,” Bernard says. Because of this, he advises all people aspiring to the film industry to work hard at their craft, whether it be writing, directing or filming.
“If you keep going, you’ll get better…I know I’m not Aaron Sorkin, but if I keep writing it’s kind of impossible to not be good at it.”
But before he was working on films in Los Angeles, Bernard was tricking his elementary school teachers in Sunnyvale. The first in his family to be American-born, Bernard recalls that he was “spitting Tagalog like crazy” when he was younger, but he could speak English fluently. Yet, Bernard pretended to not know English at six years old as a joke to his teachers. They placed him in a program at his school that taught English to students who spoke another language at home.
“They notified my mother and she told me, ‘They think you don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Bernard laughs a little in our phone conversation, “After a year they figured out that I could actually speak English.”
Even so, Bernard stayed in the program until sixth grade because he was able to get out of class for an hour. Being a “English Second Language” student, however, had lasting effects. Bernard’s mother kept him from speaking Tagalog at home so he would be a better English speaker. As such, his Tagalog is at an elementary level.
“I feel like I’m an idiot when I’m in the Philippines…my cousins speak to me in English,” Bernard says, “But Tagalog is still in my head somewhere, just as long as I have someone to speak to me.”
Even though Bernard lost his fluency in Tagalog, he kept his connection to Filipino culture through Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Filipino club during his undergrad years. His interest in technology and background in high school broadcast journalism led him to making videos for the club to promote their culture night show.
Producing promotional videos encouraged Bernard to make films with his friends in the Filipino club. He made a rom-com film his senior year, and there was large crowd at its screening; it was even covered by the student newspaper. The confidence Bernard gained from the screening and the support from his friends in the Filipino club encouraged him to pursue a career in film.
“I didn’t know who those people where [at the screening]. But I was in the [Filipino] club and I made things and the response was positive.” Bernard says, “And it was really where it started.”
Bernard worked in various shows and projects in the industry, and got his Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing and Producing Television from Loyola Marymount University. Two of his more recent films, I Won’t Miss You and Sounds We Have No Letters For, have been screened around California and feature Filipino leads. Although Bernard doesn’t nessecarily write to cast Filipino actors, “if it fits, I’ll go after them.”
“If I don’t cast them, it’s kind of like, who will?” Bernard asks.
Even though it’s a tough industry, Bernard doesn’t see himself doing anything else, and believes that film can do much for the Fil-Am community. Good films, according to Bernard, can affect even viewers who are having a bad day. Through that same vein, films can be used to empower viewers or to help them learn about other cultures.
It’s for this reason he tries to connect with and support other Fil-Ams working in film, because many Fil-Ams opt for high-salary jobs. Bernard stays in the industry “because I’m not trained for anything else.” But he also creates films because he hopes that they would resonate with people, especially Fil-Ams.
“It’s good to have more stories from people who look like you and have the same experiences as you,” Bernard says, “I feel like it’s important.”
If you want to see Bernard’s work for yourself, Sounds We Have No Letters For will be screening in Little Tokyo this Thursday, July 28. See more details here.