by Jeanne Lee
MARK LABELLA is an award-winning screenwriter, Executive Director to FilAm Creative, boasts the record of being the ONLY sailor, in the history of the United States Navy, to have his very Asian mother show up at her only son’s barracks. Why? Because he did not answer his phone for two days.
He uses such experiences growing up with his beautifully-strange Filipina single mother in his writing and his array of adventures, from his U.S. Navy days providing care for Marines and Sailors to his misadventures as a doctor delivering babies in the middle of the street during an earthquake.
And though he has a medical doctorate, he gave his mother another reason to pop yet another blood vessel by quitting medicine for the much more stable and highly dependable work that is screenwriting.
Today, he Hamilton-writes like he’s running out of time, not simply because writing has always been his first love– FILMMAKING. He fights to succeed and give back to his aging mother, who, despite her quirks, worked hard selling chewing gum and comic books in the streets of Cebu all the while going to nursing school to provide a great life in America.
Tell us about your entertainment background.
I am a producer/ screenwriter. I started all my work as an actor and still do it once in a while (i.e. I’m recurring in this season’s SWAT), but my bread and butter as a screenwriter and producer. Thankfully, I have received many writing awards, which gave me my start in the industry as a screenwriter. I recently produced the first major Filipino studio film here in Hollywood with two of Philippines’ most prominent, most popular stars.
What is FilAm Creative all about? FilAm
Creative is a 13-year nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating and supporting Filipino Americans and AAPI creatives in all art forms, especially here in Hollywood. Our theme for 2023 is “A Rising Tide Raises All Ships.” As the 2023 Executive Director, I am deeply passionate about representation and inclusion. I am here to serve the greater purpose of uniting and building bridges. We’ve come so far, yet there is still so much work to do.
What are some projects your are working on now?
As a screenwriter, I have a few scripts that have been optioned. One of which, is Soul&Spice— there were a lot of interested parties including Matt Alvarez (producer for Straight Outta Compton and Barbershop), and many other big names. This script was written at a time where I needed to see a guiding light in the darkness for AAPI and people of color in this country. I was lucky to have garnered a top 25 honor at the Page International Screenplay Awards out of 9,453 scripts submitted that year. However, I put my faith and trust in a production company led by Livi Zheng called Sun and Moon Films. They have allowed me creative control, the ability to produce, and the opportunity to grow as a more well-rounded filmmaker. I also have a script in the works with Relativity Media called Flawless. It’s an exciting time to be a writer!
How has the entertainment industry changed for minorities over the years? Are there more opportunities that you are seeing?
I remember having to go to Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and ask the folks that worked there to help me with saying my lines in whatever accent was asked of me. I ONLY received fresh-off-the-boat auditions. I was fed up. I wanted to be a storyteller. Thankfully, the. WGA foundation’s writing program gave me access to these incredible, inspiring WGA mentors who have since guided me every step of the way. They gave me the roots to form these branches. They allowed me to grow and approach my work with professionalism and hard work.
How do you achieve higher consciousness?
I don’t know if I’ve necessarily achieved “higher consciousness, but if that means an elevated perception of other people and the world, I think it needs to start with empathy. I started my life in medicine. In fact, I do have a medical doctorate. My greatest weakness was always my heart and how I empathized a little too much. But my weakness as a doctor became my most potent strength as a writer and producer. I walk with empathy. Always.
Why is gratitude so important?
Being grateful is something so simple, but it is such a life-changing mentality. There is so much blessing all around us. We are so lucky to live where we live. Eat what we eat. Do what we do.
One’s reality is achieved through the thoughts one believes in their head. How do you take a thought and manifest it into your dreams?
It’s all about manifestation. But we have to work hard for that as well. We can dream and dream and dream, but we have work for it, we have to train our minds to visualize it— we WILL SUCCEED.
Everyone has a past…sometimes, it can be quite dark. How would you suggest letting go of your past so that you can achieve excellent results in the future?
The past is what makes us who we are. But I’m a sense; it can be what drives us to succeed. However, harboring hate and hurt is too heavy. We have to learn, and forgive, even though we won’t forget. As a writer, I have to embrace all of it. It is what taught me lessons to learn to become the fully realized and still imperfect self that I am.
What is the best way of connecting with someone?
Be genuine—approach with love. Never approach people with “what can I get out of this person.” It’s not about you, and people can see that a mile away.
How would you recommend anybody to take their career to the next level?
Take feedback well. I mean professional feedback. Rejection is okay. Move on. But persist— no matter what.
Who inspires you?
My mom. She was a single mom- she sold chewing gum and comic books in Cebu to pay for my baby formula while she went to nursing school. She worked hard to give me a good life in America. I owe her. I owe my entire being to her. She inspires me to succeed. For her.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty. WOW. This is a tricky question! When I meet people, I look for inner beauty. I fall in love with what’s on the inside. Truly. Be it man or woman… it’s a person’s heart that I find beautiful.
How would you describe success?
Success is having purpose and enjoying the journey of achieving that purpose.
Where can we find you?
I’m on Instagram, markjlabella. Facebook Mark Labella. You can also call and email me, especially if you want to volunteer your time to serve the community. Join FilAm Creative. It’s an inclusive group that serves and connects with underrepresented communities.