Kiana: Behind The Scenes

This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Kiana credits her love for film and documenting memories to her father. Growing up, her dad would always have an action film playing in the background. He was always behind the camcorder documenting whatever the family was doing. There are countless family home videos of Kiana throughout the years. He mostly recorded for the family to have home videos to look back on, but also because he was into photography as well. As his daughter, Kiana feels as though she got his creative gene.

When Kiana was about 10 years old, her dad bought her her first camcorder. She was fully immersed in capturing moments visually. Just like her dad, Kiana was always behind the camera. Kiana and her cousins would come up with random skits, and she would always be the one recording it. But it didn’t just stop at recording the footage – Kiana would take it a step further and edit the videos as well. She laughs at the idea of editing her family content through Windows Movie Maker, but a girl gotta start somewhere!

“When I used to film stuff when I was younger, it was more for fun on the spot skits with my cousins,” Kiana explained. “I think that’s where my love for documentaries came from because when you’re filming a documentary you’re literally getting footage on the spot. Nothing is scripted.”

Kiana always had a gut feeling that she wanted to turn her love for documenting, editing, and being behind the camera into a career pretty early on. She remembers a school project her senior year of high school that stuck with her. Her and 4 other classmates had to make a video about domestic violence in Polynesia, and that’s when she upgraded from Windows Movie Maker to iMovie! Her contribution was shooting all the of the videos and editing the footage. In the end, they didn’t even do the project correctly, but Kiana was very proud of the final video.

Even though Kiana knew she wanted to pursue film, she still ended up taking classes for a major she had no business being in. She chose occupational therapy. How the hell did she end up with that? When it was time to try to figure out what she was going to study in college, her mom and cousin threw out the idea of occupational therapy. This is partly due to the the fact that her cousin was an occupational therapist. The game plan was simple – the goal was to study to become an occupational therapist, work as an occupational therapist for a couple of years so she could pay for film school. Looking back, she admits that idea was nowhere near practical.

When it came down to it, Kiana just couldn’t be in those classes. Her heart wasn’t in it, and she knew that occupational therapy wasn’t a road she wanted to take – or never really wanted to take from the get. She had a talk with her parents and decided to drop community college and go to Academy of Art the next fall. The talk with her parents was really difficult to have, but it was so relieving at the same time. Her parents were iffy at first and needed some convincing – they had no idea how she could possibly make a career in film or TV. Kiana had to explain that there are so many different career paths that she can take in the industry – it’s not just directing, screenwriting, and all the roles people first think of when they think of film. Even though her parents were hesitant with the switch, they couldn’t deny how much Kiana was struggling trying to pursue occupational therapy. They knew their daughter’s heart wasn’t in it, so they supported her decision to make the switch.

Kiana’s glad that she made the switch because it changed the direction of her whole career and future. She graduated from Academy of Art University with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Motion Pictures & Television with an emphasis in editing. Now, she’s a Studio Technician for NBC Sports Bay Area, and freelancing on the side! There’s many different tasks as a studio technician, but she mostly works as a tape operator, working on live pre and post-game shows for the Warriors, Giants, and A’s.

To build her portfolio to be qualified for NBC Sports Bay Area, Kiana just kept creating and collaborating with others. One of the most important things that’s a must in this industry is networking. She kept creating, kept networking, and kept putting herself out there, and that’s how she landed her role in the industry. At first, seeing all the professional equipment was really intimidating for Kiana. She’s seen the equipment in some of her classes at the Academy of Art, but actually operating it without the help of her professor was definitely something she had to get used to.

“I personally prefer editing,” Kiana said when asked what role she prefers. “I love editing because it allows me to create and shape the story that the director and cinematographer envisioned. It’s kinda like I have the last say on how I want the film to be seen.”

Being an Asian woman in the sports industry can be pretty intimidating, but Kiana finds solace in the fact that she gets to represent. For her, it’s so much more than just her having a job, it’s letting the generations after her know that someone that looks like them did it as well. Everyone relies on the media for entertainment, so it’s important to Kiana to be that representation for them, it’s something that she wishes she had. Kiana didn’t grow up seeing too many Asians in sports or on TV, and even though it’s currently headed in the right direction, media still has a ways to go to make things diverse.

Creating and documenting is equivalent to Kiana writing in a journal. It’s her way of expressing herself, from whatever she’s thinking or going through in life. Majority of her work and projects are somehow related to her own journey and personal experiences. If she’s working on someone else’s project, Kiana would have to resonate with their story or relate to it in some way. It’s hard for her to put her all into something if she doesn’t feel connected to it, that’s why she’s so passionate about what she does. She takes pride in knowing that what she produces will only come from her and nobody else.

In fact, her film, “Love, Kiana,” started off as a journal entry. Kiana always wanted to create a film focusing on mental health. During that time, she was really diving into mental health in Asian families, more specifically, Filipino families. She wanted to create something where people who look like her could relate. She is well aware that the Filipino community is still very dated when it comes to talking about, accepting, and dealing with mental health. It was really important for Kiana to explain her own journey with mental health because the film also acted as an explanation to those around her. It was different for her to be in front of the camera rather than behind it, but she felt compelled to do so.

“…Whenever I tried to find visual examples I could show my parents, or my cousins, or anyone actually, the content was very limited,” She said when asked why she chose to make the film about her own personal experience. “So I wanted to put the spotlight on it. I needed it to be real, raw, and authentic because I wanted to show people how I’ve been really feeling deep inside.”

Kiana’s work is inspired by the people she’s met, the places she’s been, and the things that she has seen. When creating, her goal is to make something she hasn’t seen on the screen before. She loves watching other people’s work. The different styles of writing, directing, or editing always inspires her to think outside of the box for her own projects. It’s a crucial part of growth – to take everything in around you and find a way to make it your own.

Aside from her sports editing job, Kiana makes sure to feed her creative side whenever she has the chance. Most of her personal side projects start off as just for fun. But there are times where she gets emails announcing film festivals that are open for submissions, and when she sees one that aligns with what she’s working on, she’ll submit it. Currently, she’s working on a “Stop AAIP Hate” campaign and a personal project focusing on San Francisco State’s women’s basketball players’ work ethic and journeys. One of her favorite projects that she’s worked on is a project called “The Crossover” for MYX Global. The Crossover highlights popular artists crossing over to new international markets for the first time like Inigo Pascual, Kiana V, KZ Tandingan, Moira Dela Torre, and more.

Most of the jobs and gigs that Kiana has gotten are through networking and referrals. Kiana tries to capitalize on all of the events and sets she attends where there are a lot of people that are in the same industry. She scopes out the place and tries to make out the individuals that she would want to work with in the future or get to know more. She is one that respects people’s time, so she always tries to think of what she’ll talk about with them before approaching. Kiana’s advice is to try to leave a lasting impression with whoever you’re connecting with because you don’t want to waste their time. Don’t be afraid to follow up with the conversation in the future. Kiana has found that networking casually in person is a lot less intimidating than a formal interview. It allows her to be herself and make natural conversation.

“I feel like as a creative, the most important thing you can do is collab and network with other creatives/filmmakers,” She said. “I love surrounding myself with people who are open-minded and also like-minded when it comes collaborating.”

Even someone like Kiana, who has successfully found her niche in her profession, still has doubts from time to time. With all of her success, there are still moments when she doubts herself as an artist. Kiana tends to compare her work to other people’s and will overthink her own ability, accomplishments, and talents. “Do people even like my art?” “They’ll probably hire someone else,” are some of the thoughts that cross her mind. When those thoughts of self-doubt creep up, Kiana tries to remind herself that her art will reach the audience it’s supposed to and everyone has their own different style when creating. She is aware that she’s her own worst critic. Another thing she likes to do is take a social media cleanse and draw inspiration from reading, watching movies, and just hanging out with family and friends. Her family and friends have been her biggest supporters throughout her whole journey. They’ve been there through it all – her burnouts, her long days, the times she’s sitting for hours on end at the computer editing. The love and support they give her does not go unnoticed.

Kiana doesn’t let her own negative self-talk sabotage her art, so she practices every time she gets the chance to. There are times she goes out and films random things to edit when she gets back home. Other times, she goes into old project files and messes around with them to see how different her cuts and style is now. It’s the perfect way for her to see her progression as an editor, to look back on her old content and edit again with more experience and different techniques. Those old pieces that she dibble dabbles in every once in a while is a constant reminder of where she started, and it truly humbles her.

It usually takes Kiana about 1-2 weeks to complete a short doc. But she admits that she gets very picky with her cuts, so she’ll watch something over and over again until she’s satisfied with it – and she’s completely okay with that. Her goal in film is to finally make her short narrative film come to life. She feels as though her whole film career has been focused on making documentaries, so she really wants to tap into the inventive and imaginative side of storytelling.

Kiana’s advice to other creatives is to keep creating what you want. It doesn’t matter if others think your idea is dumb – you are allowed to create what you want to create. She tries to remind herself that the best part of working in a creative industry is meeting new people and building connections and relationships with them. Somewhere out there will resonate with your work.

“It’s gonna sound hella cliché, but I would tell younger Kiana to never give up,” She said when asked what she would like to tell her younger self. “It’s gonna take some time, there’s gonna be people who doubt you – especially being a woman of color in this industry. You have to work 10x harder than some other people but it’ll be worth it.”

Joniel: Representation In Modeling

This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joniel’s intro into the modeling world is not what most people would think. He was always into fashion and interested in modeling, but never really had the motivation to take those necessary steps to get his foot in the door. It was actually a traumatic experience that motivated him to change his style, which led to him modeling for well-known companies like Nike and The North Face.

It was 3 days before his high school graduation, and Joniel was racially profiled in front of his Bay View home. He remembers there were about 6 police cars and 2 S.W.A.T buses. Joniel was detained at a block party because he matched the description they were looking for – Black male, his height, wearing a black hoodie with white writing. Joniel was in disbelief that he was in this scenario, it was this moment that changed his life completely.

“I was like, ‘Well I live in a black neighborhood, you can ring anyone’s doorbell or go down the street and you’ll find someone in the same thing,'” Joniel said as he remembered what he felt in that exact moment.

The trauma from being racially profiled switched something inside Joniel’s brain. He got motivated to look more into one of his interests – fashion. Before this, he tried to achieve the Bay Area hypebeast streetwear look. Joniel made a conscious effort to dress differently, drop the hypebeast look, and invest in a completely new wardrobe. His motivation was to differentiate his style from others so he no longer “fit the description” from the traumatic experience.

Joniel started doing his fashion research. He was really inspired by GQ and took notes on their style. Growing up, he always looked up to Will Smith for his fashion and acting. David Gandy inspired him because Joniel feels like he changed the game of male models – from the slender, more feminine looking men, to beefy bulky guys. He was also inspired by Joshua Kissi – just a guy from South Africa who didn’t grow up with a whole lot. Joniel admires how he made his statement in the fashion industry by not giving a shit what people think.

Getting into fashion is a whole other ballgame for creatives. Simply for the fact that this is a form of art where you have to dish out a lot of your money to achieve certain looks that you want. Joniel wanted to stray away from streetwear looks and shifted his style to looking dapper. He wanted to be that one guy in the room dressed up in a suite, pulling it off, but yet maintaining a chill persona and not trying too hard. Joniel had to put in a lot of his own money to stay creative. There was a point where he realized that changing his whole wardrobe was getting too pricey, so for a while, he attempted to make his own clothes. At the end of the day, the price of his clothes didn’t worry him too much because it was an investment worth doing because the garments would always be his to keep. And most importantly, the clothes made Joniel feel good about himself.

Growing up, Joniel wasn’t the most confident kid. He had his fair share of feeling insecure, self-conscious, and overanalyzed things about himself. So finding the new found confidence through fashion made him glow in a different way. He loved that he was investing in himself to make him look good, but feel even better. Joniel’s uncle really liked the way he dressed when he changed up his style and asked him if he was finally modeling yet. “No, but I should,” Joniel responded. It was always something that crossed his mind, but at that moment he decided to actively try to pursue it.

Joniel took the researching stage pretty seriously. His goal was to get signed by an agency, and he was going to make sure it happened. He spent a good chunk of time looking at reviews and talking with people about certain agencies. Joniel took matters into his own hands and reached out to other models under different agencies and asked them how much work they actually got and what their experiences were like with the company. All it took was Joniel taking the initiative to slide into their DM’s to get the relevant information he needed. His research narrowed down his options, and at the end of it, he knew which company he wanted to work for.

When Joniel finally decided which agency was a right fit for him, he stalked them on social media. At the time, he didn’t have a portfolio and no one was helping him out to get discovered, so he used social media to his advantage. He kept up with their whereabouts often and waited for the agency to be at a certain place at a certain time. They would post when and where they would be scouting, so Joniel was always alert on when they would be coming close to his area. Finally, the day came where the agency posted that they would be scouting at the mall. The only problem was that the workers wouldn’t be at a table, but walking around the mall. Joniel made sure to wear his best clothes and went to the mall, in hopes of running into them.

Joniel’s tactics worked, because a photographer started following him around. He knew exactly what was happening, but decided to play it cool. Joniel asked them why they were following him, to which they said, “I work for this agency, are you interested in modeling?” From there, he got to meet the owner. It was really important that Joniel worked under an agency where the owner was a person of color, this is information he already knew prior to meeting them. When they finally met in the mall, he felt as though he was meeting with an uncle, whereas other agencies went straight to business. The owner had Joniel walk down the mall and back, and he left with the owner’s contact information.

It took 2 and a half months for the agency to contact him back. But after that, Joniel was signed to hist first modeling agency. Joniel has always believed that closed mouths don’t get fed, so he really took matters into his own hands to make his modeling career a reality. He played it smart by utilizing social media to his advantage. He laughs and jokes that in a way, he manipulated them into signing him. Joniel signed with an agency in 2013, fresh out of high school. It’s crazy to think that that was almost a decade ago.

Being a model and being able to represent people that normally wouldn’t make it on your screen is something that is very important to Joniel. He wants to help other people feel confident about themselves because he knows that he wasn’t the most confident kid growing up. Joniel explains that being Black, Filipino, from Bay View, and has Vitiligo on his face are all the reasons why he wouldn’t be a potential candidate to be a model. According to him, “the odds weren’t in my favor,” but he still made it happen. Now, he takes pride in representing the people that look like him, come from the same upbringing, and can relate to him in any way.

Social media has never been Joniel’s strong suit, in fact, it is still a work in progress for him. Before getting into the modeling world, he had about 500 followers. When he finally got signed, he would try his best to post consistently to get engagement. That would mean posting 3 times a day. It was a lot to keep up with, but in a year and half he grew his following from 500 followers to 10k. It took him 2 and a half more years to get to 19.6k. Joniel and some other friends from the agency started a social media group where they would text when they posted something so everyone could comment, like, and engage with it.

All in all, it took Joniel about 3 years to see progress in his modeling career. In the beginning, it was hard for his old school parents to get on board with his modeling. They constantly told him that he needed to get a real job. His dad was a little more understanding, due to the fact that his dad also modeled back in the day, but he also wanted Joniel to have something more serious with a steady income. After his first year of modeling, he mad about 12k for the whole year. This gave his parents more grounds to prove their point – he needed a new job and needed to start taking school more seriously. Joniel changed his parents’ minds 2.5 years into modeling when he took them to their first runway show.

“That’s my anak (child/son)!” His mom cheered happily.

“That’s so cool!” His dad later confessed.

Now, whenever he’s on TV or does a shoot with a well-known brand, it’ll definitely end up on mom’s Facebook page or the family group chat. They have learned to support Joniel and be more open-minded with where modeling can take him. It’s a very surreal moment when you see your child walking down that runway or on that ad. They finally understood his passion.

Modeling has challenged Joniel’s creativity in many ways. Fashion helped him find himself. Focusing on his sense of style and what made an outfit “him” really helped him discover the true him. He feels as though all of his modeling experiences has made him more open-minded. He dresses how he feels and does it for himself, not for anyone else. The different kinds of shoots he participates in allows him to just have fun as well. He enjoyed working with Nike because he didn’t even feel like it was work. Joniel described it as if a camera was just there and he was just having fun playing games on the field with other models.

When Joniel graduated from college, he was modeling full-time. He humbly admits that he was really busy and making a lot of money. But when his 26th birthday loomed around the corner, he started to reconsider his career path. Once someone hits 26 years old, they are no longer eligible to be under their parents’ health insurance. This encouraged Joniel to dip his feet into the personal training gym world. When COVID hit, he stopped modeling and training all together. When things started back up again, Joniel picked up from where he left of training and modeling. Now, he doesn’t have plans to model full-time anymore and prefers to do it on the side for fun. He loves that modeling allows his to express himself and do his thing. He loves it a lot, but he’s making realistic steps for his future, and future kids and family.

“It can either be really great or really shitty,” Joniel said when explaining being a full-time model. “And I got to make sure everything’s really great all the time.”

Joniel’s advice to other creatives and models is to keep your head strong and take everything with a grain of salt. Not everyone in the industry is going to be nice to you, so just stay true to yourself. From experience, Joniel has dealt with snobby models and models that throw shade because the industry is a competition. In those cases, he advises to keep your distance. But for the most part, if you’re on the same set, there is mutual respect and understanding that you were all hired to do the same thing, so there is no jealousy or reason to be stand-offish. Joniel thinks it’s important to remain humble.

Joniel thanks his upbringing for his humble demeanor. Growing up without a silver spoon in the Bay Area has shaped him into the man he is today, and it’s important for him to represent the Bay Area every chance he gets. It means a lot to him to maintain the Bay’s original culture, but to also represent the different groups he falls under. He wants people to know that he’s a very caring, protective, and passionate individual.

“I very much care about how people feel, making sure that I can help them avoid some of the feelings that I have felt,” Joniel said. “It’s important to help represent different groups so they can have their own journeys in a safer environment.”