TRAILBLAZERS

Against all odds, before the time or circumstances were even prime, they charted their own course, something that might at first be called crazy but later will be called revolutionary.


Written by: Meryll Yan

Photography by Geric Cruz (Paul Soriano and Rolando Laudico) and JC Cerilla (Bobby Lopez)

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Rulebreakers.

These are people who forego the tried and tested to carve their own paths.

These are people who play all or nothing.

Against all odds, before the time or circumstances were even prime, they charted their own course, something that might at first be called crazy but later will be called revolutionary.

What cliche bumper stickers talk about, they have actually done: Believing something to see it. Planting even where there was no field to be found. Betting all in to reap a dream.

PAUL SORIANO

DIRECTOR

To the baby boomers, he is the grandson of sixties matinee idol Nestor de Villa. To the film world, he is the son of Jeric Soriano, director of hundreds of television commercials, among them the classic Palmolive ad whose “I Can Feel It!” launched the career of the young Alice Dixson. To the mainstream, television-watching public, he is the boyfriend of A-list star Toni Gonzaga, and the question of the moment – as dictated by screaming headlines – is whether he is proposing, is planning to propose, has already proposed.

His name is Paul Soriano, the baby-faced heir apparent to a legacy that straddles both ends of the multibillion-peso entertainment industry.

“I kind of accepted the fact that I was born into this family of actors and directors. But that’s not going to get me work every day. It may get me an interview. It may get me a chance. But if I want to continue working in advertising, or film, then I have to do great work.”

He is young and soft-spoken, and habitually understates his good looks with a baseball cap and a deprecating grin.

“It’s been eight years already. So I’d like to think that I’ve made great work, that I’ve developed my own identity, that outside of my grandfather, my father, my girlfriend, I’m creating something different.”

"I direct because it’s an amazing feeling when you can actually turn your imagination into reality."

Into the ad world

“Getting into advertising wasn’t so easy for me,” he says. “Everyone thought, ‘Is it because his dad is going to help him get into the industry? Is he as good as his father?’”

Unlike his father who launched his career with a feature film, the younger Soriano dove straight into commercial work. He drew a following of top advertisers: Pizza Hut, Smart Communications, Unilab, Unilever, Insular Life, Western Union, Anlene. For two years, Paul saved up to finance his dream project.

The turning point came on the heels of Thelma, a 2011 film about a provincial girl with a talent for running. It was Soriano’s first real initiation into filmmaking and its trinity of writing, directing and producing. The film reaped both commercial and critical acclaim for Soriano – 4 Star Awards including Best Digital Film Director, a Gawad Urian Best Actress trophy for lead Maja Salvador, and the Bronze Palm for Excellence in Storytelling at the Mexico International Film Festival.

“At the end of the day, the reason I was so happy with Thelma was because I could really put my name to it. It was my direction, my concept from beginning to end. Of course, there was a big collaboration and I couldn’t have done it without the big team.”


"The only person who will stop you from achieving your dreams is yourself. It is not the situation you’re in. It’s not because you’re not rich. It’s not because you’re too rich. It’s really up to you."


Transit

In 2012, Soriano founded his own production company, TEN17P. It was not easy. He invested his entire life savings, signed off his apartment and mortgaged his car to get the company going.

In 2013, Soriano found himself in an unfamiliar role – the producer of a full-length film called Transit, set in Israel and directed by 25-year-old Cinemalaya neophyte Hannah Espia.

“I pretty much put all of my chips on her. I think 9 out of 10 people told me I was crazy. Even from my girlfriend to my parents, ‘Who is this young girl? She hasn’t even made a movie. And you’re going to Israel and making a film with her?’ But I always tell myself, if the idea is not crazy, it’s not worth the risk.”

The gamble paid off. The film collected 9 awards in the 2013 Cinemalaya New Breed Category, including Best Director for Espia, Best Actress for Irma Adlawan and Best Supporting Actress for Jasmine Curtis. Transit was also the Philippine entry to the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

In 2014, the neophyte Espia became only the third female in history to go home with a Gawad Urian for Best Director.

"I’ve failed. I think that’s what comes with being better and better. It comes with learning."

Let’s make a movie

TEN17P, in its two years in operation, has already produced four films. It is now the first Filipino company signed with Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment. Devlin is the producer of blockbusters Independence Day, The Patriot and Stargate. Initially, he acted as Soriano’s sometime mentor, playing creative consultant to the fledgling company.

The partnership has extended to Soriano’s current project, Kid Kulafu, a biopic on the early days of boxer Manny Pacquiao.

The recently victorious eight-division world champion was hesitant when Soriano first pitched the idea 3 years ago.

“I told Manny, Let’s make a movie. He was like, ‘Another movie?’”

Soriano persisted. “It’s about his early years, from his birth to his first world championship. It’s the untold story. I think it needs to be shown so you know why he is the person that he is today.”

Pacquiao agreed and signed a contract, going so far as to turn over rights to his life story to TEN17P.

Despite his years of advertising and film work, Soriano admits there are still moments of doubt.

“I have to think I’m great. You have to think that of yourself. Or else, how will you get other people to believe you? You’ve got to believe in yourself. It’s the vibe that you send out. There are times when I can’t do it. But I find a way.”

Kid Kulafu is set to launch in early 2015. General Santos City, Pacquiao’s birthplace, has become a second home for the young director.

“I always say I’m a storyteller. I like to be that person who is able to make his dreams work for him. People say it’s good to dream but I always ask, did you make your dream come true? Dreaming is just half the battle, but what are you going to do about it? Is it just going to be a dream for the rest of your life?”

Kid Kulafu is still unfinished, but the tag line is certain: “Before he conquered the world, he had to conquer himself.”

Soriano might have been describing himself.

ROBERT LOPEZ

SONGWRITER

Sung by men and women the world over, covered by everyone from an African choir to the US marines to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the song that broke the Internet in 2013 was not about sex, war or wrecking balls. The song came from the animated lips of a cartoon ice princess in a Disney film, and has since been translated into gay anthems, ripped apart by church conservatives and become the favorite driving song of fathers and their small daughters. It was a song about letting go and breaking free, and one of the people behind it is Robert Lopez.

“Let it Go” is a collaboration between Lopez and his wife Kristen.

“When we were working on the story, with the writing team and the directors, we realized that we needed the moment where Elsa went from the shy, repressed, tortured perfect princess to being herself and letting her powers out.”

The couple went to Prospect Park and pretended to be Elsa.

“We stood up on picnic tables and pretended we were on top of a snowy mountain. We started improvising lines and it probably looked very silly. People walked by and probably wondered, ‘What are they doing?’”

The couple called it “Elsa’s Bad-Ass moment.” A year later, Lopez has what he calls his most important moment, when he accepted the Oscar for Best Original Song and kissed his wife while the world watched.

Never grow up

In a few months, Robert Lopez will turn 40 years old. It does not matter, because, as he says, there’s a side of him “that’s never quite grown up.”

“I’m a kid and I love to joke around that I’ve never really had a real job.”

The man may claim to be a child, but even a desultory Internet image search will show him at various events wearing various tuxedos, holding gold statues and grinning at the camera. This year, exactly 10 years since his first production, he hit the grand slam.

At 39, Lopez is the youngest person in history to be an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) awardee, the crowning achievement of performing arts and film. In what he describes as the most important moment of his life, he accepted his Oscar and kissed his wife and collaborator Kristen Anderson.

Frozen might have catapulted Lopez into stardom (and a spot in the 2014 TIME Most Influential list) but years before, Lopez was just another twenty-something Brooklyn resident. Not of the Park Slope area where he lives with his family now, but one of many single tenants living in a shoebox apartment, working temp jobs while dreaming of a career in music.

"I found, after some therapy, some comfort in the Buddhist idea that the only thing that you can be sure of is that everything is going to change."

The Manhattan-born Yale graduate, son of a Filipino-American father who was the Director of Publications for NYU Langone Center, found himself wondering what all his education was for. “How come I’m now getting coffee? Why am I now getting photocopies?”

The frustration channeled into his first production, an adult puppet show called Avenue Q, in collaboration with Jeff Marx. The fictional Avenue Q, inspired by Sesame Street, takes inspiration from the Coney Island-bound New York subway, whose stops include Avenues H, J and U.

“When you were little, it made you feel special, made you feel like your opinion mattered,” Lopez explains. “These puppets were helping you learn, count, read and all that stuff. So what if there were grownup puppets like that to guide you through this period of being lost and not knowing what your purpose was in life?”

But unlike their politically-correct counterparts, Lopez’ Lucy, Rod, Kate Monster, and Princeton have sex onstage and pepper discussions about homosexuality, careers and taxes with a flurry of F words.

The musical won three Tony awards.

“I found – after some therapy – some comfort in the Buddhist idea that the only thing that you can be sure of is that everything is going to change. And there’s comfort in that idea whether you're in a good situation or in a bad situation. You know it's going to change.”

"I made it so that music was my only choice. If I really want to achieve this crazy career that no one gets to have, I had to give myself no way out."

Spooky Mormon Hell Dream

If Avenue Q described the struggles of a generation, Lopez’s second project, Book of Mormon, poked fun at the messiahs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was religious satire with a musical edge, following the misadventures of unlikely duo Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Lopez collaborated with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to create songs like “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” and “Joseph Smith American Moses.”

Book of Mormon swept the 2011 Tony’s with 9 awards. As of October 2014, it has already breached the 1500-show mark.

“It was so much fun and laughs and a lot of hitting our heads against the wall,” Lopez remembers. “But music is always a lot of work and takes an incredible amount of time. It seems like so much fun but most of it, when we weren't laughing our heads off, we were just bummed out, sitting in a room. Stuck.”

The only choice

There may be a row of trophies at home, but awards were never Lopez’ motivation.

“One of my songwriting teachers always said, ‘No matter what you achieve, no matter how big a deal your project is, you have to start from scratch the next time. You're as dumb as you ever were for your next project.’”

The point, for Lopez, is to say what he wants to say, the way he wants to say it.

“When we did Avenue Q and we won that Tony award, well, I thought, “Gee, my life just peaked.” And then Book of Mormon happened and I thought, ‘Oh, wow! It's lucky, my life peaked again.’ And with Frozen, it's happened again. I never expect that next one to be better than the last one and I don't expect this next show Up Here that’s coming up to be better than Frozen.

“You just try and enjoy what you do and you try and say what you want to say in these pieces. That’s hard enough.”

There is always a next musical, a next song, a next peak in the next mountain. Lopez is not afraid. He chose this, and he’ll take what comes.

“I made it so that music was my only choice. If I really want to achieve this crazy career that no one gets to have, I had to give myself no way out. Either success or nothing.”

ROLANDO LAUDICO

CHEF

His grinning face is everywhere – wrapped in sticker around buses plying Edsa, printed on banners hanging from lampposts, inside the lifestyle sections of national newspapers, on television, tutoring pint-sized cooks. He hawks jasmine rice and cooking oil, baking butter and chocolate truffle ice cream, toothpaste and mobile phones. His name prefixes a chain of local restaurants. He posts photos of his family on commercial shoots.

It is an odd career for a man who spends most of his time in the kitchen, but it is a welcome one.

After all, he admits, “I always wanted to be a rock star.”

"I get tired of doing the same things over and over. I always like new challenges."

Bets are off

It began as an experiment, pushing cuisine built around Filipino favorites. Chorizo and ubod lumpia shaped like a cone and topped with spicy ice vinegar. Sisig in rice baskets. Adobo reimagined as a garlicky thick mushroom cappuccino. Bagoong upgraded to a salad vinaigrette. The classic kare-kare, beautifully plated, instead of in the usual clay pot we have come to be familiar with.

“When we started 15 years ago, nobody knew who we were,” says Laudico. “A lot of people, even our chef friends, said that we were crazy to do a fine-dining Filipino restaurant.”

Laudico was willing to gamble, even if he was told the prices were too high for a restaurant that was “just Filipino.”

Today, international food critic Andrew Zimmern calls Filipino food “the next big thing,” and the man who learned his craft as a 7-year-old in the family kitchen launched what was perhaps the most acclaimed fine dining Filipino restaurant in the metropolis – Bistro Filipino. Now he has Guevarra’s, a buffet restaurant that serves its well-coiffed customers out of a restored colonial house in San Juan.

“Cooking for me was something very natural, very easy, very fun,” says Laudico. “I love it. I never thought of it as a job. Eventually, when I was nearing college, I realized that there was such a thing as chefs, restaurateurs.”

Hell’s kitchen

“More often than not,” says Lau, “That celebrity chef you’re watching on TV has been through hell.”

Laudico’s father was a doctor who would often take his son to work. By the time he was in high school, the young Laudico was certain he never wanted to work in a hospital.

He was a Tourism student in the University of the Philippines taking up an accounting class when he met his wife Jackie – a kindred spirit who began baking at the age of 5. He wanted to go straight into a culinary school, but there were none in operation at the time. Eventually he dropped out, and found himself clutching his CV in front of legendary chef and restaurateur Werner Berger of Santis.

Berger never looked at the CV. Instead, he asked the young Laudico one question.

“How do you make carbonara?”

While most people would have replied with the obvious ingredients – pasta, eggs, cream – Laudico replied, “I will start by looking for some good pancetta.”

He got the job as a dishwasher, first in La Primavera, later in Carpaccio. After a year, he ventured alone to New York to study in the Culinary Institute of America. He did his time in the back kitchens of Europe and Australia. In Chambery, France, he performed 17-hour daily shifts for three months without a single day off, walking home exhausted each night in the freezing cold, only to repeat the whole process the next day.

“And yet you still love what you do,” he laughs.

Unforgiving

It was not an easy life. To get their catering business off the ground, his wife had to work as a sales executive by day and baker by night to supply their clients. Eventually, she gave up the day job out of exhaustion.

Laudico calls cooking one of the most demanding jobs in the field – “and it’s unforgiving.” Laudico, in spite of the success, is not immune to bad reviews.

“Food is something that is basically relative to the person eating it. You may find one dish absolutely wonderful but somebody will find it unappetizing. So it’s very heartbreaking sometimes.

“My worst feeling is someone would hate my food. But through the years, I’ve sort of learned that you can’t please everyone. Even if you work your butt off, sometimes, it won’t go the way you want it.”

"There’s no such thing as the best chef because it’s impossible for you to learn everything about cooking. I just want to keep getting better."

Welcome the celebrity chef

Today, Laudico is one of the fiercest defenders of the national cuisine. He is happy his gamble paid off, especially with the rise of more and more fine dining Filipino restaurants in the country and all over the world.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Filipino cuisine,” he says, “but we need more passionate chefs, cooks and restaurateurs who do it the right way from scratch and not rely on shortcuts.”

This is a man who gets stopped for photos on the street, whom mothers hauling teenagers call out to in malls, a man so used to cooking for mainstream broadcast that he punctuates mundane tasks in his own kitchen with the bombast of the television performer. It is not a surprise. This is, after all, the same boy who had his own band called Icons.

“For me, if you can give happiness to other people through whatever you’re doing, regardless if it’s TV, if it’s cooking, it’s actually a privilege – and not a lot of people have that privilege to make people happy.”

Rock star or otherwise, he refuses to claim the position on top.

Laudico believes that the greatness of a chef is not in being better than everyone, but in learning from everyone. “For you to be the best, you have to top everyone, and for me, regardless if you’re a culinary student, a cook in a carinderia, or a fine dining chef, for sure, you know something that I don’t. I’m sure that I will learn from you. To be the best chef is not to top everyone but to learn from everyone.”

Rolando Laudico, celebrity chef, endorser extraordinaire, culinary gambler, is content with his life, with the exception of one small dream.

The cherry on the cake, he says, would be an album and a rock band.


Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story, we mistakenly stated that Laudico worked in Paris. The correct location is Chambery, France. We also failed to make clear that Laudico took an accounting class, not a course. We regret the error.



PRODUCTION MANAGER Bianca Gacad, PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT Jonathan Palaca
SPECIAL THANKS TO CMB FILM SERVICES (Paul Soriano) and GUEVARRA’S (Rolando Laudico)


They are Trailblazers – men who have forged their own paths in industries where tried and tested is the rule, and competition is brutal.

There are many reasons why these men are where they are today. There’s bravery. There’s ambition. There’s the belief that failure is never fatal. But their one defining quality is their independence. They will choose the road not taken, and take it to the end. And if there are no roads, they create new ones.

It doesn't matter the career - art or accounting, music or the kitchen, whether you're a manager now or a student with a fresh diploma. This is about risks and dreams, sacrifice and imagination, about serving a purpose and the pursuit of happiness.

Choose your dream. Blaze your trail. The road is just ahead - all you have to do is drive.

Get to know the Trailblazer for Trailblazers. Visit www.chevrolettrailblazer.com.ph

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