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Filmmaker Jason Zavaleta: “Why I’d like to see a cinematic movement focusing on micro stories”

I’d like to see a cinematic movement focusing on micro stories. Tales deeply personal to people reflecting a singular event, emotion, or moment in time. We all have the same emotions, how we experience them is what makes us unique. I’d call it: Momentism As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, […]


I’d like to see a cinematic movement focusing on micro stories. Tales deeply personal to people reflecting a singular event, emotion, or moment in time. We all have the same emotions, how we experience them is what makes us unique. I’d call it: Momentism


As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jason Zavaleta. Jason is a multi-racial (Spanish Basque, Mexican, Native American, Filipino, Russian, Polish) and multi-spiritual (Tibetan Buddhist and Jewish) director originally from Walnut Creek, California. At the age of 8, Jason knew he wanted to pursue film directing. At 13 he directed his first project, a public service announcement for the United Nations on environmental sustainability in schools. After seeing Schindler’s List at the age of 14, Jason realized he could live up to his namesake by using the emotional and spiritual communication of cinema for healing. Continuing to be passionate and active for social change, Jason served as Media Advisor for the United Nations Academic Impact Program in 2010 assisting university administrations around the world share via audio-visuals the work they were doing to support the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. This experience led him to Rome, where he met his mentor, the youngest of the Italian Neorealist’s, Carlo Lizzani. During his time at San Francisco State University (B.A. Cinema, 2012), Jason completed more than 8 short films, documentaries, and music videos. Many of his shorts received international awards at Ideas United’s Campus Moviefest (CMF), the world’s largest student film festival, including: Best Drama and nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. CMF took two of his film, In the Forest of Darkness (2011) and The Proceedings (2012) to the Short Film Corner at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Prior to his directorial debut, I Wrote This For You, Jason was a full-time care giver for his paternal grandmother for 4 years after she became incapacitated after his graduation in 2013. She passed away January 8, 2017 and he committed to making his first feature within the year on her deathbed. The film is dedicated to her. Continuing on his mission of Working with Stories to Heal the World, Jason is developing a number of projects. One is biopic on Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio, with his daughter, Princess Elettra Marconi. And together they are also developing a non-profit organization in Italy and the USA for communication arts and sciences to improve relationships via art and technology. He also intends to complete the last project he was collaborating on with Carlo Lizzani before his suicide in October 2013, as well as restoring and preserving Lizzani’s filmography. Jason is also holding the rank of Eagle Scout from Scouting of America and is an avid advocate of equality.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jason! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up a child of divorce. At the age of 7, my parents split, and I grew up mostly with my mother. I saw my father on the weekends and I maintained a great relationship with my parents and grandparents. I was often the “odd man out” in school and was often picked on for various reasons. I spent most of my time observing people interacting and imagining their lives outside of what I could see. It wasn’t a very pretty childhood emotionally, although I had parents who loved me, and I was almost always safe and had fun and meaningful experiences at camps and going on vacations.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was eight, I heard Steven Spielberg talk about E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and how this was a film that he made to explore his own parents’ divorce and how it affects children. As I mentioned, my parents had gotten divorced only a year earlier, so to me the idea of being able to explore my feelings and have them be so powerfully shared with the world was an exciting possibility. I chose to pursue directing that day.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It was February 2017 and I happened to be in the Dolby Theater when the wrong winner for the Academy Award® for Best Picture was handed out. Being part of that and having gotten to know many of the people from both films, it was wild!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While shooting a music video in 2010, we had just wrapped a location and the sun was setting fast. We had a company move to another beach and so we had to hurry. To save time in transportation it was recommended I drive my car onto the beach to collect gear. Long story short, we thought we were going to have to have the car airlifted off the beach. But we made it and ended up getting the shot at the other location too. I suppose I learned to be a bit more discerning in my listening to other opinions after that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Well, I am continuing to work with my longtime friend and collaborator, Brennan Keel Cook on a very ambitious feature film about a woman with hoarding disorder. There’s a sci-fi coming I can’t say much about at this moment, and then two films in Italy. First working on completing the last project I was working on with my mentor, Carlo Lizzani, in Rome. And second, I’m doing a biopic on Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, with his daughter Elettra who just turned 89!

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity is the spice of life. It’s adventurous and exciting, it allows us to expand our minds and experience to new heights while simultaneously deepening our empathy and compassion. If we were more open to receiving diverse stories from around the world then perhaps our attitude towards people might soften rather than harden and turn angry or even violent. Cinema is a powerful medium for peace, we should use it more wisely.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

In some ways I want to say, “stop thinking about it so hard.” As a multi-racial and multi-spiritual person, it’s challenging not to feel like minorities and women are being pushed as what’s “in.” If studios were to welcome minorities because they want to support their cultural, spiritual, social heritage — great! I wish each film about a minority or a controversial issue was paired with a non-profit/NGO to continue the work after the film is complete.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

#1 — There is no “right” time. I chose to take 4 years from trying to be a full-time director because I volunteered to be a caregiver. I thought I was a failure because I had “missed” the “right” time after I graduated to get started.

#2 — It’s okay to say “no.” The people who really matter in your life won’t throw you away because you say “no.” If they do treat you differently, then they’re in it for what they can get from you. Let those people go.

#3 — The grass is always greener. Acknowledging this fact in the beginning and really being okay with it would have helped so much.

#4 — Honesty is the best policy. Skirting around the truth for the sake of saving one’s face or reputation is not worth the pain it can cause with the people you care about collaborating and connecting with.

#5 — There are infinite ways to get a project made. Fact. I never would have thought my first feature would be funded the way it was. It was a miracle.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Be really honest with yourself about how you feel: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Seek to find the balance of all three and when one gets pushed to an extreme, take the time to balance it out. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to see a cinematic movement focusing on micro stories. Tales deeply personal to people reflecting a singular event, emotion, or moment in time. We all have the same emotions, how we experience them is what makes us unique. I’d call it: Momentism

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The first person who comes to my mind is my paternal grandmother. She taught me the value of my word, the reward of sacrifice, and the meaning of forgiveness. She pushed me to grow and challenged me to think differently. She believed in me, even when I wanted to give up on myself. She’d say to me all the time whenever we’d talk about my career as a film director, “be patient, be persistent, and pray. You’ll see. You’ll find success.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In my world, nothing ever goes wrong.” This challenges me all the time to not make judgements about anything. When I remove the idea of things going right or wrong it suddenly creates more space for things to simply be. And that’s a beautiful space to exist in.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Barack Obama. My adult life and professional career really began when I was a volunteer for his campaign in 2008. I’d love to talk about that experience, what happened to me after, and ask if there’s anything we can do together to create healing in the world!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @za_wizard

Facebook: Jason Zavaleta

Twitter: @zavafilms

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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