A Hollywood actor/director and a Filipino producer are collaborating on several projects, which they intend to bring to new heights in the Philippine filmmaking industry.
Filipino-American Michael Copon, who starred as Lucas Kendall in Power Rangers Time Force and also appeared in Scorpion King 2, found a partner in Palaweño businessman and film producer Francis Lara Ho.
By destiny or by chance, the two met at a function in Washington DC, not knowing that they were aiming at the same goal for the Filipino movie industry. They are now working on a number of movies which they plan to make locally and release internationally.
Ho is a businessman who grew up in and learned from a Filipino-Chinese family of business owners, military members, teachers, and politicians. He was born in Iloilo City but now lives in Puerto Princesa City.
He went to the United States in 2011 to establish his own business, where he received accolades from Forbes Magazine in 2013 and from Fortune Magazine in 2016 for his entrepreneurial skills.
He then founded Inspire Studios in California in 2018 with the vision of winning the first Oscars for the Philippines and a mission of uplifting and transforming the Filipino film industry into an international and Hollywood competitive image.
As a starter and first collaboration effort, Ho and Copon are set to shoot the outfit’s first film—1521: The Battle of Mactan.
Aside from 1521, Inspire Studios has lined up four other movies slated to be released which will all be shot in Palawan, namely Freedom Fighters, Palawan: Last Man Out, The Rescue, and Open Doors.
Despite enjoying success in Hollywood, Copon decided to leave the limelight and change the course of his career by producing his own movies and, eventually, bringing his wares to the Philippines.
He has since been meeting with a lot of individuals and a group of Filipino-Americans to jumpstart his goal.
“I dedicate this second journey of my life and career to bridging the gap between Hollywood and the Philippines. We’ve got an incredible group of American celebrities who have been meeting together since 2003. Dante Basco (Hook, Avatar: The Last Airbender) and I had been meeting with a group of Filipinos, all the top Filipino producers, actors, directors, and singers, with one goal of bringing up the name of the Filipinos in Hollywood,” Copon said.
“It just so happened that we met at the same time when I was actually telling my wife that I really think that we should put more of our presence in the Philippines. We got to find some connections there, which led to us meeting at the Filipino Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. and that led us to working together on this project,” he added.
He started directing and producing his own movies sometime around 2011, then a series of events led him to meet Ho and they are currently working on their first project—1521: The Battle of Mactan, which is set to start shooting this August.
He expressed his passion for the film industry, particularly making an impact for the Philippines in the international market. He said he was more than willing to give up his career in Hollywood to the point of letting go of bigger projects and trying to make a name on his own.
“My career as an actor, I don’t dismiss it. I’ve had some fun projects. I’d enjoyed my time in Hollywood. I left it early on and went back to Virginia because I wanted a more simple life with my family. I had an incredible lifestyle that I gave up on, and everyone thought I was crazy. It’s like, at that time, I was making great money on Scorpion King and all those big movies, and I let it go to basically not make any money and make my own movies but I just saw the bigger vision and that’s what brought me here,” Copon narrated.
“So I just want to let you know how passionate I am that from this point on, this thing that burst to great ground, I just want to really embed myself in the Philippines. So anyone who sees their interest in working with us, whether it’s me acting or directing, those types of things are what I want to be involved with here,” he said.
Small dreams, huge undertakings
Having found the connection, the two then set their dreams into motion, which they described as having started from humble beginnings.
“Here’s the most interesting thing with this – this is a small town guy’s dream. This is our Rocky (Balboa), started with a very small dream and it became a huge undertaking. This is a story that people, a year from now when it goes out to the theaters, will look back (and say), where is this coming from? Who are these guys? This is a small town guy’s dream that became a reality. I want people to know that, long before, when Korea was still recovering from the ashes of World War 2 and so was Japan, the Filipinos were already creating great movies. I want the world to feel that a dream of a small town boy from Virginia and from Palawan to become a big player in the bigger stage,” Ho predicted.
So when he’s saying two small town guys both crawled from the ground up in their own respective right, that’s what he’s saying too in a more in depth ways that we have done a lot to get here, that we’re not saying right now, we’ve read it as sub-text, but this was not easy for either of us, to the fact that we’re here now in such an incredibly huge problem for the minimum resources we can get up, but enough to make it extremely great,” Copon chimed in.
Filipino film identity
Copon and Ho decided that something needed to be done to make the Filipino film industry stand out.
At a press conference for the announcement of the making of 1521, Copon narrated how he wanted to make a movie that would be shot locally yet offered to an international audience. He also said he wants the movie to have such an impact that it will be identified as a Filipino film that is coming of age.
“I had a moment on stage, I was talking about this opportunity to make movies like action movies that empower us because I’ve never grown up watching movies where I can go, oh Bruce Lee, I relate to kung fu or oh samurai, I relate to Japanese. But I didn’t see any that were Filipino to me.We never had a movie that says, oh that’s our heritage, that’s what we fought for,” he said.
For his part, Ho lamented how the Filipino film industry has lagged behind other Asian countries in terms of producing international-quality movies. It was this scenario that he said inspired him to set up Inspire Studios—to introduce the Philippine film industry to the world.
“What happened? Why were we left behind? Why are the Koreans now global, the Chinese are global, the Japanese are global, and the Filipinos are still playing locally? Is it a lack of talent? No. I firmly believe that, with my interaction with a lot of producers in the Philippines, it’s really just a different vision. We happen to dream bigger for our race, for the brown race,” Ho said.
“Sad to say that Palawan is one of the richest in terms of natural resources, but our poverty level is very high compared to other provinces, that’s why I’m hoping that bringing projects here would change that. So we’re doing this movie (1521) and a whole lot more because of that dream that one day, Filipino filmmakers, or Fil-Am filmmakers, will be mainstream in America and in the world. And that will be our story come a year from now, when we release it in theaters and eventually on online platforms, in time for the 125th Independence Day,” he added.