Flip the Record Q&A
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the respondents.
Writer, Director, Editor and Music Supervisor Marie Jamora spoke with PBS about the history behind young Filipinx DJs from California and how they inspired the creation of her film, "Flip the Record."
PBS: With turntablism and music being the central focus of “Flip the Record,” how did you approach sound and sound mixing while creating this film?
Marie Jamora: I started my career as a musician playing drums and singing for my indie rock band Boldstar, and eventually started directing music videos. So sound and music, as much as the visuals, have always been integral to my work. Typically, I start my writing process with a playlist. I’ll compile a list of songs that capture the emotion I want for a certain scene or character, and from there I’ll start to write. I have a close group of composers that I always work with: Jazz Nicolas, Mikey Amistoso, and Diego Mapa. They are some of my closest friends (and previous bandmates) and they've scored all of my films. Since this was our first narrative about DJs, unlike other genres where a single song can carry the emotional arc of a scene, with a DJ movie you can be mixing anywhere from two to infinity tracks in just one sequence; so we knew we needed a lot of music. I learned really quickly that licensing songs is darn expensive – especially when it comes to classic '80s hits – so we decided to create all the music from scratch. We made about 10 original songs that could pass as ‘80s dance and hip-hop, as well as some tunes that would substitute the OPM (Original Pilipino Music) disco songs from the late ‘70s.
I always envisioned that Vanessa and her brother Rome were two different types of DJs. If Rome was more of the budding turntablist, then Vanessa was meant to be more of a non-stop mixer – someone that keeps the dance floor alive by combining music from different genres with seamless transitions. She [steals] music from her parent's OPM disco collection and mixes them with American hip-hop. Knowing this, we needed a dope DJ with a ton of range to design both Rome and Vanessa's performances. I wanted a Filipino-American DJ who lived through the era when Fil-Am DJs were rocking every garage party, school dance, and showcase on the West Coast, so we approached DJ Icy Ice from The Beat Junkies for this task.
DJ Icy Ice designed unique routines for each character and recorded self-tape videos breaking down his techniques and movements for the actors to study. Our producer, Matthew Keene Smith, actually brought his own personal turntables to the actors so they could practice at home along with Ice’s video tutorials. Since we made the film in such a short timeframe, the actors only had a day each to practice before principal photography. Ice also came to work onset as a Technical Consultant (along with DJ Kaleem) to help coach them as they performed his routines. Our actors, Michael Rosete and Courtney Bandeko, really did an incredible job learning all this with such little prep time.
During post-production, I worked closely with our Re-Recording Mixer (and music producer) Jorel Corpus. He recorded my vocal track for the final song over the end credits, and we worked very hard to bring an immersive sound mix where the music fluidly moves from being diegetic to non-diegetic, sometimes within the same song.
PBS: We see the challenges that Vanessa faces from her family and peers in an attempt to pursue her passion to be a DJ like her brother. What was the inspiration behind introducing the sibling rivalry and sharing this story from a woman’s perspective?
Marie: I’ve been researching this subject for a long time. My partner and I have been making a feature documentary for almost five years about these young Filipinx DJs from California that quietly shaped American music through the ‘80s and ‘90s. Through all our research we’ve met some amazingly strong women – DJ Symphony from The Beat Junkies, DJ Kuttin’ Kandi, and MC Lani Luv. These ladies came up through the mobile DJ scene and were some of the first role models for Fil-Am women. Although I’m not a DJ myself, as a musician and as a filmmaker, I have an appreciation for the struggle of having to prove oneself to your male counterparts, and that’s what inspired me to tell this story from a woman’s perspective.
I’m also the youngest of five siblings, so I deeply know how it feels to compete for attention and wanting to hang out with the older kids. Also, my kuya (big brother) used to bully me a lot as a child, so I drew a lot from my own experience for Rome and Vanessa’s dynamic. I don’t think I ever really had my brother’s respect until I immigrated to the U.S. on my own, and like Vanessa, I never stopped pushing back in terms of making myself heard. Now my brother and I have a great relationship, and I think maybe the acknowledgement and respect Rome shows Vanessa at the end of the film is a bit of a reflection of how our affinity has evolved over the years.
I never stopped pushing back in terms of making myself heard.
PBS: Can you tell us more about mobile DJs and the history behind turntablism in Filipino-American communities?
Marie: When I moved to the States five years ago, I was surprised by the overabundance of Filipinx-American DJs I encountered. It seemed like every Fil-Am I met was either DJ or had a brother / sister / cousin / uncle that was a DJ. Having grown up in the Philippines during the golden age of Manila’s indie rock scene, everyone I knew coming up had a guitar and a band, but the Fil-Ams I met here all had turntables and crews. It’s a peculiar phenomenon that makes a lot more sense when you break down Filipino culture – Filipinos love to party! We throw parties for every major life event, from birth ‘til death, (literally, even some funerals have DJs) and every party needs a DJ.
Mostly all the Filipinx DJs who are still active and operating at the highest level, e.g. Q-bert, Mix Master Mike, Shortkut, Apollo, Icy Ice, Rhettmatic, etc. all came from one of two major Fil-Am hubs Daly City or Los Angeles. These two towns were like crucibles for talent. Seminal to the young scrappy kids that didn’t want to join gangs or just assimilate and blend in like their parents; they chose to form crews, invest in equipment, market themselves, and learn to be successful businessmen while still in high school.
These Fil-Ams transformed the DJ into a global phenomenon. They pushed the scratch movement and elevated the turntable into a musical instrument, and yet hardly anyone knows about their contribution. The New York and LA hip-hop stories have already been told, and through “Flip The Record” and our documentary, “Legions Of Boom,” we want to shine a light on the Northern California/Bay Area scene, and share how important these kids were to American music.