MG Evangelista

MG Evangelista

MG Evangelista


What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professional work was They Call Me Suki, featured in “AAPI Heritage Heroes,” available on Hulu. The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) wanted to highlight and create a special that spotlights six everyday AAPI heroes from across the country nominated for their stories of service and courage. I was immediately drawn to Suki Tereda Ports due to her extensive activism, from civil rights to HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the Asian-American community in New York. She is tenacious and charming — in a way that makes one sit up and want to listen, so my doc short film became about capturing that spirit.

How did you get into directing?
My mom and aunts loved to talk about their homeland, and the good and even tough times here in the States. Their anecdotes were bittersweet but always had a touch of humor. Ever since, I’ve been striving to be as captivating a storyteller as they were, but using film as my medium instead of the chatter around a nightly table laden with Filipino food. When I got my first camcorder in seventh grade and started making little movies for school projects, it was the beginning for me.

What is your most recent project?
My most recent project is called Duckworthy and is part of TAAF’s “Heritage Heroes” special for 2023. I profiled Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She’s had an incredible journey. I wanted to create a mosaic of the Senator as an AAPI cultural hero through a mix of personal photographs, archival footage, and landscape photography, with the film’s backbone being a candid, straight-to-camera interview. My goal was to draw a strong connection between her remarkable life and how it has informed her legislative and advocacy efforts.

What is the best part of being a director?
The best part of being a director is directing. Production and the thrill of collaborating with other fine artists and craftspeople and making something out of an idea. The film and filmmaking takes on its own life and becomes this organic thing we must respond to in real-time. When I’m on set, I feel like I’m chasing a sense of flow that can happen when everything is aligned, and it makes the homework and all the prep in preproduction worthwhile.

What is the worst part of being a director?
The worst part of being a director has to be the doubting. It’s also an important part of the creative process and I have learned to embrace it and trust my instincts. I’ve been fortunate to have a good team behind me that I trust for those times too and that’s crucial.

What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I love the fast pace, beauty, and pop that can come out of commercials and branded content and my focus is on that while I get my debut feature “Burning Well” off the ground.

My passion is for telling love stories differently especially ones that center unlikely heroes and protagonist. I’m also drawn to dramas and coming-of-age narratives that have hints of levity.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I would love a commercial directing mentor, but watching spots from the best like Spike Jonze and Kim Gehrig have also been incredibly educational and inspiring. I was in the Commercial Directing Diversity Program (CDDP) last year and learned so much from doing and from my cohort.

Who is your favorite director and why?
My favorite director is Jane Campion, director of The Piano and The Power of the Dog. I’ve always admired Jane Campion’s detours into the weird and metaphorical in her films that are more character dramas than plot. That she is able to have such a long and enduring career in movies and even television is something that I wish to aspire to. I love how she is unafraid to tackle any genre, any kind of complicated character, and adore the poetry that is embedded in the atmosphere of her films.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
I don’t know if I have an all-time favorite movie, I love too many. My current favorite movies right now: Passages, Close, Nope, Suspira, and Bottoms.

Renault Clio’s “The French Exchange” directed by Frederic Planchon is one of my favorite commercial spots. The ad is a queer love story told over three decades, following two girls who meet over a summer exchange program. I admire the naturalistic and intimate cinematography that foregrounds the intimacy of the women’s relationship. The direction to use an iconic song like “Wonderwall”, yet to hear the world of the story: minor dialogue, and diegetic sound, creates nostalgia and a sense of remembrance. I admire how it’s tender yet manages to be unsentimental, something I strive for in my own work.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I am a Filipino-born filmmaker who grew up in the East Bay. For fourteen years my family and I were undocumented, coupled with being queer and going to Catholic school until college, I’d say I was pretty good at keeping secrets. Having an active imagination and being creative kept me going, not just entertained but hopeful — my family loved music and theatre so my cousins and I would perform musicals like “Grease”. My first drag show was at 5 as Elvis. By the time I got my first camcorder in 7th grade and watched “Trainspotting” visual storytelling became my passion.

I got my undergraduate degree in visual arts at UCSD and then worked as a digital strategist at an ad agency Mekanism for three years in NYC. But the longing to pursue film only grew and I attended NYU’s Graduate Film Program for writing and directing on a cinematography scholarship. In 2019, my thesis film, Fran This Summer, played at nearly 40 festivals, including Sundance. The film is about acceptance, what we do for love and self-love, as it follows a teenage couple whose other half wishes to transition. It is the basis of my feature film in development called Burning Well which has received support from Tribeca, Sundance, Array and Torino Feature Lab.

Have you had occasion to bring your storytelling/directorial talent to bear in the Metaverse, tapping into the potential of AR, VR, AI, NFTs and/or experiential fare? If so, tell us about that work and what lessons you have taken away from the experience?
Yes! I’ve gotten to make a VR film called Water Melts thanks to a Tribeca Film Institute and Google Fellowship back in 2018. The VR is a dramedy about people who are going to lose someone they love. The short was made with co-creator Lilian Mehrel and premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019.

We approached VR filmmaking with almost a theatrical sense of direction. We made sure we picked the best setting for the story and cast and rehearsed with actors who could embody the characters they were portraying. The film came from a deeply personal place, both of us having finished film school recently and care-taking parents with terminal cancer. The process energized the work we were doing at home with our families, but it’s also a film I don’t think we could have made after our parents passed away. It’s our love letter to our parents and to the caretakers (family/friends) living in that liminal space between so much life and death.