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Mark Labella Interview

Mark Laabella
Photo by Walter Tabayoyong

You're in the TV series, S.W.A.T. Did you do any preparation for the role? And if so, what did you do?

I have a friend whose father was a child soldier. And the trauma that families go through because of inherent trauma. It's very inherited and passed down from generation to generation because of the trauma that he went through. As an actor, I have to approach that character like that, as a fully realized human being. And I did a lot of introspection, I did a lot of thinking. And I want to make what the incredible writers on S.W.A.T., and they're amazing... And this season it's just starting off with such an incredible bang, and I really want to do that justice. And you'll see on this second episode the layers that this character has.

Do you think that fans of the show will enjoy this season?

Oh my gosh, that is quite an understatement. It is stunning and cinematic and grandiose. This season starts off with an absolute cinematic experience and I hope and pray that Lek, who is such a rich and beautiful character, you'll see him again, and you will see him on the next episode.

You were a Navy veteran and medical doctor. Why did you ultimately choose acting and producing as a career?

Screenwriting is my number one love. I have loved writing since I was born. Storytelling. I used to take my Legos and I used to pretend that they were on a show, in a TV show, as opposed to building with them. And so I knew that storytelling was in my bones. But if you know Filipino American culture and Filipino culture, it's like we are almost predetermined to love medicine and work in the medical field. A lot of Filipino American doctors and nurses work in the hospitals today. And I chose that path. I went into the military, I served my country because it was right after 9/11 and I really believe in the ideals that the country stands for.

I went to medical school. But I realized, especially after the pandemic, you have one life to live, you have to live it to the fullest with the things that you love to do. During the pandemic, with my experience, I wrote a show that gardened awards and recognition in the Hollywood industry, which gave me a name which helped me produce and got my work optioned and other scripts. And it was just an incredibly fast turnaround into doing this full-time. And am I happy? Absolutely. This is something that I've wanted to do since I was a kid, and I'm here not taking any minute or every second of it for granted.

Is there a specific type of story that you like producing?

Oh wow. What an incredible question. The human experience, I think, that people don't get to see on a daily basis. That's what I want to show. I want to show that people of different experiences exist in the world. When I was in Philippines and I was doing medical work, there were people that couldn't afford the basic things like women delivering babies couldn't even afford the needles that we needed to just sew them up after a perineal tear or things like that. And there are stories of people that people don't know yet. And I think stories are so important to help us empathize and put ourselves in other people's shoes that we can't do without telling those stories and seeing those in TV and movies. And that is my number one goal.

Are there any specific challenges when screenwriting or do you find that process easy?

I find screenwriting completely in my boat. Do I find it hard? Absolutely. But do I find it worthwhile? Yes. So it's difficult, yes, but am I enjoying every single process? Absolutely. So to say that it's easy, no, because it's a teamwork thing. There's directors and producers and all these actors that you have to work with and also make sure that they feel validated in their art form. And so it is hard, but my God, is it worth it.

What do you like more, writing, producing, or acting?

Of course writing. That is absolutely no question. Producing is logistical. Producing is the necessity. Acting is great and I love it and I respect it. And especially my friends who are actors, I have so much respect for them because you have to give up so, so much to be an actor, because a lot of actors aren't making what they need to. They have to have second jobs and there's so much sacrifice that goes with it. And for anyone to say, "Oh, you just had one line on that show." I've seen actor friends that other people tell that to. But do they understand there are thousands of people that they had to go against for that one single line on that single show of that single year? And so I appreciate and love it, but writing is in my bones and that is the one thing I want to do for the rest of my life. And I can do every single minute of every single day and I won't complain one iota complaint for it.

Do you like producing and acting simultaneously?

For me, it's an impossibility. I also truly believe that a movie is written three times. A writer writes it, a director directs it, and the editor edits it. And that's what I love about it, it's the collaborative process. I can't do it all on my own. And no man is an island. And that's what I know that filmmaking is, is it is a team sport. And so do I like being two different positions? No, because the best part of it is collaborating. The best part of it is putting great minds and great talents together to work on one important thing that means a lot to them, which is the art form of filmmaking.

What are some ways that you get funding for your own productions?

There are many ways to get funding for your own productions. You go with a production company that can help you get funding together. Some production companies have quite deep coffers. Some of the productions are funded by friends and family who just believe in my story. The very first thing that I wrote and got recognition for was a piece called Unconditional. These are people who are both conservative and progressive and both sides of the political spectrum, but they just wanted me to tell my story and my truth.

And some of them were military veterans in entertainment and some of them just gave their free time just because they wanted me to say something about my life, about the story that I wrote. And I have to be honest, that was the best experience that I've ever had in my life. My friends to this day who are now helping with this in international feature film that crosses two different countries, United States and Philippines, that marries two different styles of filmmaking. It has been quite a journey and I'm loving every minute of it.

Are any causes important to you? And if so, what are they?

Diversity is a huge thing for me. Like I said, being able to tell stories that we don't normally see on TV and film. I especially want to tell stories that promote being able to put ourselves in other people's shoes. Another cause that's not film related for me is the medical cause. I still do medical missions, I still help with a lot of medical related things. Like during the pandemic I put my own time and my own effort to really save some lives.

And so I just love helping others and being with others and collaborating with others. So there's a laundry list of causes that are near and dear to my Veteran causes are huge to me. And working with veterans and being with fellow veterans of the US military have been the most fulfilling. And I'd say I would work with a veteran, drop what I'm doing and work with them every single day of my life if I could.

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