We had the good fortune of connecting with A.J. Lising and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi A.J., what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I started taking my journey seriously as a filmmaker and photographer in the summer of 2017. I was always interested in all forms of visual arts but what captured me the most was dissecting a story behind every motion picture or still frame that was in front of me. That summer, I told myself to take my videography and photography hobby to the next level so I worked on my craft as much as I could by shooting almost everything that I enjoyed – fashion, sports, concerts, and even a passion project talk show (s/o SofaBoyz!!). Literally everything. With all the experience I was gaining, I slowly started to figure out who I was as a creative and what type of stories I wanted to tell. Eventually, I started to shift my focus primarily on directing narrative and branded projects. In 2019, I co-directed a spec ad with my friend Doulos Kun for Musicbed’s 2019 short film competition and it ended up winning people’s choice award! It was probably one of the most rewarding feelings ever. The best part of it all was collaborating with very talented filmmakers on the project who continue to help me better myself as a director today. Majority of all those people on that project became a mentor to me and I’m forever grateful for their professionalism and teachings. Although it was just a 2-minute piece, the whole creative process from start to finish convinced me and it has helped me realize this is what I wanted to pursue. There is still so much to learn and I’m barely scratching the surface, but I’m constantly curious.
Please tell us more about your career. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I take pride in my craft as a filmmaker and photographer to tell a story behind all my visual work. Aside from my narrative passion projects, I work freelance with brands to produce both videos and photos that highlight their company mission statement with the intention to stylize their media cinematically. I’m proud of my progress so far and I’ve had the privilege to work with brands that I look up to.
I believe I got to where I am today by treating all productions I was involved in as professionally as possible. No matter the production size and budget, I made a habit of applying that perspective on every project I’m on and just focus on executing what I’m responsible for. Sure I’ve took on projects where the shoots were smooth and the schedule would flow, but something will always go wrong. That’s when I started to learn that I had to be quick to resolve problems on set and you are forced to step out of your comfort zone and work with what’s in front of you.
Another challenge for me is that I didn’t go to film school. Not that it matters, it really doesn’t, but I have to hold myself accountable and educate myself daily. Continue to pick the brains of the very talented pool of filmmakers in front of me while positioning myself as both a student and a teacher. The ultimate goal is to direct feature length films, but create stories that showcase my community and culture. Have more productions that involve more women & POC and spotlight the unawareness of intersectionality in the entertainment industry. I feel like we’re making slight progress but they’re still largely unrepresented. I hope to change that.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Food tour to my favorite spots around me in Los Angeles hands down. Everyday I start my morning off with a cup of coffee. I’d go to Vanilla Black Coffee located near Silver Lake or Obet and Del’s Coffee in Hollywood. Both offer a smooth cold brew to wake you up and innovative lattes. Next, Burgers Never Say Die located near Silver Lake as well. Shoutout to my roommate Erik for showing me this spot, we can both agree that every time a friend has visited this is the first thing we recommend. Dinner, this place I just recently discovered called Guisados! They have multiple locations surrounding Los Angeles and they hold a roster of flavorful tacos and Mexican food. Lastly. end the night with Magpies Softserve. I believe they have multiple locations but the one I frequent is the one in Northeast LA. They have a variety of swirls and offer many vegan options. Of course, in the midst of a pandemic we’d indulge in all this food safely in an outdoor environment!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First, I’d like to shoutout my parents. They both challenge me in different ways that only bring the best out of me. I’d like to thank them for taking the training wheels off in everything and anything I wanted to pursue. They constantly remind me that failure is part of the process and to stay ebb and flow throughout adversity that comes my way. I’d like to also recognize the fellow creatives and filmmakers who continue to inspire me: Erik Luminarias, Alvin Octoman, Doulos Kun, Cristian Mercado, Darrell Ann, Cory Irwin, and Ryan Esteban. They’ve dedicated an immense amount of time and energy in giving me valuable advice throughout my journey. Another person I’d like to give credit to is my mentor, Amoila Cesar. He was the first person to give me an opportunity in LA as a creative. He believed in my vision and has trusted my creative ability to tell his story on his platform. Lastly, a huge shoutout to the cast of very supportive friends and family. Truthfully I’d love to list out all of you, there’s just not enough space in this box I’m given. Ya’ll know who you are, and I appreciate you guys so much for always showing love. I mean it!!
Martin Mamangun & Alvin Octoman