Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 2011 The Filipino-American Story: Hollywood Celebrity Photographer Sthanlee B. Mirador

Sthanlee B. Mirador-August 2o11 The Filipino-American Story

 Patricio Ginelsa (July 2011's The Filipino-American Story) was not wrong in nominating you.  Reading about you I find very much a Filipino in the sense that you are so multi-talented! 

So acting, dancing, directing, creating short films, and photography, which one came to you first?

Well,  growing up I went to a performing arts school in San Diego called San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts Mabel E. O’Farrell.

There I was exposed to acting and dancing. We didn’t have Physical Education so Dance was our PE. And yes, I had to learn tap, jazz, ballet, and hip hop back then. A lot of my friends including my teacher at SDCPA Mabel E. O’Farrell were actors and were in movies and TV shows. Because of that I became interested in the entertainment industry. I wanted to be in movies and TV too.

In high school, I was involved with theater and performed a lot at the Poway Center of the Performing Arts. Growing up I realized that acting wasn’t my thing. I was doing it because my friends were doing it and actually it was making me popular. I then became more interested in the production side of it whether it was film or theater.  I watched a lot of Steven Spielberg films growing up and he inspired me to want to make films.

In high school I took my very first video production class. I started making short films with my relatives and for my video class. I wanted to go to UCLA for film school, but since I got rejected from UCLA and got accepted to UC Irvine I had to take a different route in what I wanted to do in life and later found my passion into photography.

How did you find your way to Hollywood?

Ha! ha! I went through many obstacles to get where I want to be (Hollywood).

Growing up I've always wanted to work in the Entertainment Industry doing anything whether it was working in production or directing. 

First year in college, I never really had any guidance or knew anyone to look up to that will help me break into the industry.  So what I would do on my spare time, is do some research on what is being filmed in the Orange County and Long Beach area by looking in the production section of the Hollywood Reporter and find out where TV and movies are being filmed at.  And what I would do is sneak into the sets to learn the process of filmmaking, watch behind the scenes and network. 

Since I was UCLA reject for film school, and UC Irvine I never really had a good Film Production program, sneaking on the sets was a way for me to learn and educate myself in film production. 

The first set I snuck onto was a TV show called "Melrose Place" filmed in Long Beach at a hotel. I pretended I was a hotel guest and walked around the set when the crew was on their lunch break.  An AD (Assistant Director) came up to me asking if I was an extra and I said no and the AD asked if I wanted to become an extra for the day. So I said YES and became part of a wedding scene that took place in the show. 

Melrose Place-Sthanlee's first extra role
Being on the set gave me the opportunity to network and ask crew questions on how things work and what their position is.  At the end of the day, I was given a Non-Union voucher so I can be paid and they told me that I should sign up with a Background Talent agency so I can work on other sets.  So I did, and started becoming a Background Talent for Movies and TV Shows.

Being on the set I became interested in the Still Photographer’s job. During my freshman year in college I started photographing and documenting college events. Since I wanted to stick into the whole entertainment industry and wanting to photograph celebrities I started doing my research and finding out where Hollywood event and premieres are being held at.

Again I relied on the Hollywood Reporter to provide me info on upcoming Hollywood events and a contact number to where I can book myself into these events.  Back then I had no clue on how I would get into events and that I needed a publication or assignment to cover the premieres.  So what I did was I lied my way into these events and pretend I work for a certain publication that never existed and got myself booked into photographing Hollywood Events. 

The first event I ever covered was the Re-mastered "Star Wars" Premiere in Westwood. From then on I started getting myself cleared into more and more Premieres, award shows and Hollywood parties. From all the events I covered I was building my portfolio.  At the same time I was doing Background Talent work and working as a Production Assistant on sets. As a freshman in college I would do anything, whether it is sneaking or lying my way into the entertainment industry. 

As years passed by and concentrating with school at the same time, I've learned a lot from being on the set and kept in contact with certain people I've worked with and built my celebrity photo portfolio. 
When I graduated from college in 2001, I wanted to take the Celebrity Photography to a higher level and wanted to see my work published in magazines and books.  It took me 3 years for someone to notice my work.

In 2003, a photo editor on the line who happens to be Fil-Am named Michael Anthony Hermogeno have seen my work and told me to sign up with the photo agency he works for.  So I applied for a photographer position at a photo agency called Shooting Star International Photo Agency, which is one of the oldest Celebrity Photo Agency in Hollywood and got the job on spot because they were really impressed with my portfolio. 
At that time, agencies were in that transition from switching from film cameras to digital cameras.  Since I knew Adobe photoshop and worked with a lot of digital images in college, transforming into digital photoragphy became easy to me. Photographers who were working for Shooting Star for years had a hard time transitioning themselves into the digital world because they didn’t know how to use photoshop and work on the computer when they were so used to having their film being developed and working on their slides. 

Black Eyed Peas: Bebot Production

Because of my skills, I moved my way to the top in a matter of weeks and was assigned to covering more big Hollywood Events.  The photographers who worked for Shooting Star for years end up leaving because I was given the better events and they felt they were in competition with me. I felt bad because I was taking over their position and I respected them for being in the business for so long.  But it wasn’t up to me in what events I cover, it was up to the assignment editor and the head of the agency, so ever since till this day, I’ve been covering all the major Award Shows, movie premieres to major Hollywood Celebrity events.

My work can be seen published in magazines domestically and internationally.  My work has graced the covers of magazines, to books, posters and can also be seen in the Entertainment News Channels.  On the side I still do a little production work with friends who are aspiring Directors, Producers and Artists and build this big relationship with those I’ve became good friends with.

From time to time I would do Still Photography on some independent film sets and music videos. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Director Patricio Ginelsa on a couple of music video shoots especially the 2 Black Eyed Peas Music Videos The Apl Song and Bebot as a Still Photographer. I hope to someday work as a Still Photographer on major film sets and be able to travel all over the world during filming.

Working with Black Eyed Peas

Are you born here in America?

I was actually born at the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines in 1978 and a year later came to America and settled in San Diego, CA.

Are your parents both from Philippines? Which part of the Philippines?

Yes both of my parents are from the Philippines. They are from Alaminos, Pangasinan.

I saw that you are an alumni of Poway High School, is that here in San Diego?

Yes I'm a Poway High School Alumni. Go Titans!

When did you move to LA?

After I graduated from High School, I went to college at UC Irvine from 1996-2001. Moved out of Orange County after I graduated from college and settled in the Hollywood area.

Do you speak tagalog still?

I don’t speak tagalog fluently but I can speak a little. But I do understand it though.

Have you been to the Philippines, do you still visit Philippines?

Yes I’ve been to the Philippines. The last time I was there was back in 2006 I believe.

What is your favorite Filipino dish?

I love adobo, pork or chicken. Kare Kare, Pork Sinigang and Pinakbet.

How did you find your passion in Photography?  

As a freshman in college I was taking pictures for fun but then I realized the passion for it was when I realized that photographers can make a good living working on movie and TV sets. 

It sounds silly but how did you decide it’s going to be taking pictures of celebrities?

 I realized I love photographing people. I loved photographing and documenting Fil-Am artists who were up and coming back then such as One Voice, Kai, DnH, Premiere and many others. Then I started taking pictures of other Asian American artists and started getting my photos published in 2 big Asian-American magazines back then, A Magazine & Yolk. After covering my first Hollywood premiere which was the Re-Mastered Star Wars Premiere I became more interested in celebrities. The fact of them being in front of you posing for you was so surreal for me at the time. I was like whoah it’s the real Han Solo, Princess Lea and Luke Skywalker.

What is a day like of a celebrity photographer?

Oh man it’s a lot of waiting around till an event starts ha ha.  An event usually starts in the late afternoon depending what event it is. Shooting a movie premiere would last around 3-4 hours. An award Show usually starts mid-day and end later in the evening. It all depends what the event is.  After an event I’de usually grab something to eat for dinner and end up working all night till the later morning editing photos to meet morning deadlines.  I end up sleeping around 6am in the morning and waking up at 12 noon the next day and prepare for that day's assignment.  I’m usually working on other projects and assignments at the same time besides that one event. Everyday is a non-stop working day catching up on a lot of work and projects that pile up as the week goes by.

Sthanlee at work
My job as a celebrity photographer is to document and photograph Hollywood events.  Not only moments are to be captured at these events, but also headshots and the fashion of what they wear.  Mind you I do not do any paparazzi work which is stalking and following celebrities. I get invited to cover red carpet events where we’re hired to photograph the talent up close and personal. 

Do you have a favorite celebrity or celebrities to photograph?

Oh man umm Jessica Alba and Janet Jackson are still favorites. They always give me the photos I wanted. Lately it’s the cast of Glee that are my favorites. I know a few of them that are on the show so it’s easy for me to photograph them. But my favorite out of the cast to photograph are Heather Morris and Naya Rivera. There are others that are favorites but too many to name and there are some that are my least favorite and hard to work with. Ha ha

Did you ever get star struck? If so, with whom and why?
When I first started in the indsutry I was actually a little star struck but never acted crazy or anything.  I was really more excited and a bit nervous at first to be working and photographing these big Hollywood celebrities. Everything at the time was so surreal for me and I couldnt believe that I was actually up close and personal with these celebrities.  I remember the first time I covered a Hollywood event was the World Premiere of the Re-mastered version of "Star Wars" in Westwood, CA back in 1996.  I was excited to see the cast from the film because I grew up watching "Star Wars" and to actually see them up close was like "Wow" for me.  As months and years go by covering so many events, I don’t really get that much excited in seeing a celebrity.  I'm just there to do my job, get the job done and head back to the office and work on the images.  There are times when I will get star struck and excited when I meet an old timer celebrity like Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Shirley Temple Black, Elizabeth Taylor to name a few.  I'll admit I'll get excited to meet and photograph some Pop Icons like Michael Jackson and Madonna, celebrities I hardly see and are hard to photograph unless you are working as a Paparazzi. 

Even with all the stuff that goes on in Hollywood I see you have not forgotten your roots and still find the time to cover FILAM events, how do you balance it all?

It’s by making time for my people. A lot of my friends have been there since the beginning and always been supporting me. And when they have a Fil-AM event it’s my turn to give back in return for all their support and believing in me. Sometimes I just want to cover Fil-AM events because I miss it. I sometimes want to get away from the whole Hollywood scene and just be around people I admire and inspire me, doing coverage for the FilAM community and or the dance community.
You worked for different movies as an actor, which one was your favorite experience, why?

I would have to say working on the set of Crazy/Beautiful with Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst because it was the first film I actually worked on the longest. I was on that set for 3 months and the cast and crew were all amazing. I was actually working on that set as a Production Assistant, but thanks to director John Stockwell who thought I was Mexican gave me various small roles to play in the film. From a student to football player and my first small talking part.

If it was all up to you and money is not a factor, what is your dream job?

To be a Set Photographer for one of the biggest Hollywood directors.

Being a very young Fil-Am who has done so much what do you advise another Fil-Am who would also want to work in Hollywood?

It is to never give up! Keep moving forward and put yourself out there. Patience is a key to this business because things don't happen overnight in Hollywood. It takes time. And ALWAYS SUPPORT other aspiring Fil-Am artirts.

What is the best part about being a Fil-Am?

Is being proud of who I am and being able to represent in what I do in the entertainment industry that will inspire other Fil-Ams out there who want to work in Hollywood as well.

How was it starting as a Filipino-American working in Hollywood? What were the challenges that you encountered and how did you deal with them?
As a Filipino-American working in Hollywood as a Celebrity photographer, I thought it was going to be difficult because majority of the Hollywood photographers are Caucasian and I'd feel like the outcast. Majority of the photographers I work with are in their late 30s-60s.  These photographers actually treat me with respect as being the youngest and only Fil-Am Hollywood Photographer out there. They know that I’m there at an event to work, do my assignment and get the work done. They know that I never get into their business.  A lot of people thinks it’s glamorous in what we do but if they only knew the drama and politics that goes on between photo agencies and other photographers…  When working in the field, race never became an issue.  Majority of the photographers are white and there are few minorities.

What is your ultimate goal in your career?
My ultimate goal in my career is to be successful in what I do and keep moving to the top. I want to be the next Annie Lebowitz or David La Chapelle, Celebrity photographer. And with my success I want to be able to give back to the Fil-Am Community and help out other young aspiring Fil-Am artists who want to be photographers. Since I cover a lot of mainstream events, once in a while I will cover Filipino Events and Concerts when in town.  I hope to gain more respect from the Filipino Community and be more exposed to photographing Celebrities from the Philippines.

Please tell us a funny or memorable experience you had in your job and why you will never forget that incident.
My memorable experience for me was back in 2006 when I covered the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards for the very first time.  Just being there was so surreal.  As a little kid watching the Academy Awards, I would tell myself someday I will be there on that red carpet. And now I’m actually there working on the red carpet.  The whole first experience of just being there and actually working the event is one in my lifetime I will never forget.--MaG
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  1. my husband's passion for photography was rekindled after reading this!

  2. I've seen Sthanlee's photos everywhere. I know he has done so much not only in the fil-am community but for the dance community as well. Such an inspiration!

  3. Just feedback, you do not have to take it :-)
    Your choice of font kills my eyes, I couldn't finish reading your post.
    50 Shades Movie