Ron Domingo in “Slow Jam King”
A FilmHelp interview by Greg Pak
Steven E. Mallorca’s award winning feature film “Slow Jam King” is now screening at the Imaginasian Theater in New York City. Click here for screening times. And read on for an interview in which Mallorca talks about everything from his set getting raided by police to his favorite slow jams.
Greg Pak: Tell us a bit about the film and who should go see it.
Steven E. Mallorca: “Slow Jam King” is an offbeat road comedy about JoJo Enriquez, a Filipino-American wannabe gangsta-pimp who, in his attempts to answer his call to the streets, carjacks Vance, a traveling perfume salesman with an affinity to country music. Stuck along for the ride is JoJo’s friend, Devaun, an ex-funkateer and reluctant family man, who tries to talk sense into JoJo and diffuse the situation. The motley trio embark on an escapist roadtrip to Nashville, where they discover truth, love, and the dirty underbelly of the Nashville country music scene. Anyone that’s looking for a good time, enjoys genre-bending films, and likes their humor on the irreverent side with a healthy dose of multi-cultural absurdity should come out to check out “Slow Jam King.” I sort of equate this film to early ’90s Native Tongues hip hop – it’s fun and a little absurd, but with a conscious voice to it – like if De La Soul, or Tribe Called Quest were a hip hop movie…. or better yet Prince Paul. So if you’re a fan of that kind of hip hop, you’ll definitely get into “Slow Jam King.” Also, I think that anyone who’s a do-it-yourself filmmaker or musician can enjoy the film, too.
GP: Congrats on the theatrical release at the Imaginasian! What did it take to make it happen and where do you go from here?
SM: Luckily, we’ve had a nice festival run, with over 15 screenings, and along the way, have made some great fans and spokespeople for the film, which is ideally what you want out of film festivals. Eventually, I met Vince Nebrida with Unico Pictures at the Asian American Int’l Film Festival in New York, and we got to talking, and he asked for a screener of SJK. He really enjoyed the film, and decided to take a chance on us and help our film. Now we’re in the midst of our New York run, and after this, we’re going to start screening city-by-city, with a very grassroots approach to the marketing that will involve leveraging promotional efforts with a few musical endeavors that I’m involved with – my band, P.I.C, and my record label, Riding Mower Records.
GP: You not only wrote, directed, produced, edited, and co-shot your movie, you also wrote several of the songs. What’s your musical background? Anything autobiographical about the movie?
SM: I grew up heavily involved with music – starting with the obligatory Filipino experience of piano lessons and competitions. I sang in the choir when I was little, and was part of a boy’s choir that sang with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I think the craziest experience was when I was cast as Tom Sawyer in our grade school musical, Tom Sawyer. I didn’t think about it back then, but I laugh at it now that here was this Filipino kid playing all-American boy, Tom Sawyer! From there, I started taking up trumpet in the school band, and that led to playing in a jazz band in high school, where I started to pick up other instruments like guitar and drums.
There are a lot of autobiographical elements to “Slow Jam,” but I think one of the most prevalent was that I was actually a traveling perfume salesman in rural Ohio. I was never able to land a normal job – not for lack of trying, but the malls just never would hire me. So one summer job in between semesters at college, I had to hawk fake perfume door to door in anywhere within a 3 hour radius of Cincinnati, Ohio. 3 hours from Cincinnati can take you to Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana…. lots of small rural towns that someone like me wouldn’t feel too comfortable going to by yourself. But I was adventurous and had a lot of fun doing it. And I realized that I had just as many stereotypes of small town folk as I expected them to have of me. That eventually grew into the heart of “Slow Jam King.”
GP: One of my favorite actors, Ron Domingo, is one of the stars of your movie. Tell us about how you found Ron and what it was like working with him.
SM: Ron’s great. I did a few student films at NYU, and Ron was in two of them, and his first film acting experience was one of my films. I first met him, though, at my band, P.I.C’s very first show ever – at a Filipino association event at NYU. Ron went on before us giving a monologue as Jose Rizal on the firing line. We both laugh at how we met and how far we’ve come from that. This comfort reflects in how we work together. I wrote JoJo for Ron specifically, because I know his humorous side. It’s so funny, because I’ve seen him pull of virtuoso serious roles onstage and on film, but as a person, I know he can be a clown. But with Ron, his approach is very serious, even to comedy. We both agreed that the humor behind JoJo is because he has to take himself seriously and really try to convince himself all the time that he is this crazy pimp.
GP: Can you tell us a bit about how you shot the movie? Format, number of shooting days? Any crazy low-budget nightmares/triumphs you can share?
SM: We shot 50 characters with locations spanning New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania on a grueling 31 day schedule with no real off days. The only days cut short were because of the ’03 blackout, and we couldn’t use our lights, so we called off that night shoot. And we had a second unit shoot a week after we finished principle shooting, where we actually took a roadtrip to Nashville and grabbed all the road footage. I shot on MiniDV on a SONY VX-2000 with a Century Optics anamorphic lens. After locking picture, I onlined and color corrected in an Avid Symphony, and did a 24P transfer using a great program called DV Filmmaker. Nowadays, all this is kind of moot with the advent of inexpensive DV 24P technology, and more high end digital projection in theaters.
We had some crazy shoot stories, but the craziest is that we were actually raided by police in New Jersey. We were doing this crazy escape scene from a gas station, involving Ron Domingo to chase a van, waving around a handgun. I got permission from the location’s owner, and he did a great job of telling all his customers that we were filming. But of course, I never notified the police, and some passer-bys probably saw something and called 911. About nine takes later, I was readying the camera inside the minivan, and all of a sudden saw sirens flashing in the viewfinder. Next thing you know, I see a cop, gun drawn in the camera. They made everyone lie face down on the ground while the owner defended us. Ron Domingo, and my AD, Drew Luis, were actually cuffed and put into police cars. At the end, they just told us how stupid we were, but they actually gave the gun back to us and let us finish shooting! To the credit of the cast and crew, they were still very gung ho about finishing the scene, so we did.
GP: How did opening night go? Will you or any of the cast and crew be attending other screenings during the week?
SM: Opening night was great – the place was packed, and folks were sitting in the aisles. A bunch of the cast were there and we did a Q&A, and after that, I performed my songs, as well as other band’s songs from the soundtrack with the Slow Jam King Band. I will be at most night screenings this week, in true d-i-y fashion, working our merch table with my co-producer, Cindy Torres. And of course, if anyone has any questions, I’m there to answer!
GP: The film’s been to a bunch of festivals and won the Emerging Director Award at the Asian American International Film Festival here in New York. Any particularly memorable festival experience you’d be willing to share?
SM: I don’t have any particular memories that stand out because this past year of festivals has been so fun, and exhausting and exhilarating that I almost feel like I’ve been in a time warp. Where in the world did ’05 go? All the festivals have been great to us – just meeting people who have worked very hard to promote Slow Jam because they believe in it. Obviously winning the Emerging Director Award was one of the highlights – because our film sort of came from nowhere, since I hadn’t really been involved with the festival circuit before. Winning that award helped us get into other festivals, I think.
GP: What do you do when you’re not making films? And how did you get into world of filmmaking?
SM: I like to cook for my wife. I like watching Knicks games, although these days, I enjoy ripping their owner and management much more. I’m very involved with music. I write and perform with my band, P.I.C, and we’ve released 2 albums in the US – hiphopunkfunkmamboska, and Sexy Picnic, and last year, released an album in Japan, Brooklyn Incident. In 2003 we were the house band for Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, with Wanda Sykes as the host. So that was really cool, sharing a stage with her and her making fun of us and plugging our album. I also play in a few other bands – a bossa nova band called Blame it on Rio, and the Slow Jam King band has started playing more recently. So I keep myself pretty busy. And that’s what draws me to film. I think this interest in doing music, and writing, and business, and photography made film an obvious choice for me. Film really is a multi-medium medium.
GP: Any advice for other independent filmmakers out there?
SM: Getting any d-i-y film to the point of theatrical release is very much a war of attrition. The amount of tenacity needed to constantly push and believe in your film is monstrous and exhausting, because at the end of the day, you’re the only one pushing for yourself. For us, I was also the co-producer, so I had to learn a lot about the business side, and the deal-making on the job. To me, making the film was so much easier! But it’s essential to know that stuff – know about deliverables, and basically about the more rigid rules that you can’t avoid later in the game. With truly independent film, you can fly under the radar for a lot of production, but once you take the film to the point of distribution, you can’t make up as many rules any more. So make sure you’re covered and you know the business and legal side of things.
GP: What’s next for you?
SM: I’m working on 2 feature screenplays – “Alternate Side” – a comedy about an assortment of characters that alternate side street park in Chinatown, and are brought together with a Prince-type singer and the Chinatown bootleg DVD scene. The other one is another offbeat comedy called “Mayor Mayor,” about a Filipino-America father who uproots his family to a small Illinois town so he can fulfill his fantasies of political office.
GP: What are you favorite slow jams of all time?
SM: Curtis Mayfield “The Makings of You”
Prince “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore”
Stylistics “Betcha By Golly Wow”
D’Angelo “One Mo ‘Gin”
Smokie & The Miracles “Ooooh baby baby”
Marvin Gaye “Shadow of Your Smile”
and many more….