As filmmaker Patricio Ginelsa gears up for the release of the long anticipated follow-up to his feature film, Lumpia, he took last Friday to reflect back on another previous project of his, when he released the test shoot for the music video for the Black Eyed Peas’ “The Apl Song.”
The reason for the release of the footage was to commemorate that on that day 16 years ago, Ginelsa and his crew shot the music video. To this day, that project remains to be his favorite, not because he got to work with the Black Eyed Peas, but because his family was involved in it, both in front of and behind the camera.
“It felt right to lift the curtain and show what happened behind the scenes,” he said in an interview via email. “That test video shows my first meeting with [Black Eyed Peas member] Apl.de.Ap and my last few moments shared with my late uncle.”
When his father passed away, it was Ginelsa who made a trip to the retirement home his uncle, Marion Ginelsa, was living in to break the news. Around that same time was when he had also first heard “The Apl Song” off of the Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 album, Elephunk.
“The experience of hearing that song and seeing my uncle all alone inspired all these visuals that I put to paper,” he recalled. “My friend, Roslynn Cobarrubias, pushed me to finish it and eventually showed it to the Black Eyed Peas.”
The music video for “The Apl Song” contains a dual narrative — one is the story of a neglected Manong World War II veteran (played by Ginelsa’s uncle) living in a retirement home, the other explores Apl’s upbringing in the Philippines.
“Filipino World War II veterans not getting their proper benefits was a huge issue in the community and I decided to shine a light on that struggle by making this character a forgotten World War II veteran,” Ginelsa explained. “The lyrics didn’t exactly match that narrative. However, it matched the tone and meaning when you take into account that Apl wrote this song in memory of his late brother.”
Little did Ginelsa expect for life to have imitated art even more so. His uncle passed away a few days after the music video was released. At his funeral, Ginelsa learned that he actually was a World War II veteran.
The music video was made at a time where the Black Eyed Peas weren’t yet the global phenomenon that they are now. With the filming location being a retirement home and Ginelsa’s family, friends, and Lumpia crew visiting the shoot, it felt very much like a family gathering.
“We had Filipino food. We had some Filipino World War II veterans as well as other celebrities on set all mingling together. It was the first time I ever shot on 35mm film,” he reflected. “That shoot alone is flooded with so many great memories, but one that always stands out is what happened afterwards. Driving home, my wife Melanie broke the silence and yelled out, ‘OMG, you just directed a Black Eyed Peas music video!'”
The presence of the Asian American community — and specifically in this case, the Filipino American community — in mainstream media was scarce compared to now. Part of Ginelsa’s motivation for taking on this project was to tell a story about the community by the community.
“I treated the opportunity more as a responsibility than a job,” he said. “Yes, a music video’s main goal is to sell music, but I wanted to use it as a rare platform to showcase our community. If a three-minute clip was able to push a viewer to learn more about the Filipino World War II veteran struggle, then we accomplished more than what we were asked to do.”
Ginelsa also took this opportunity to highlight the Filipino Americans working in the industry. Creatives who worked on three prominent Filipino American-centered films of the time — Lumpia, The Flip Side, and The Debut — were cast in the music video, alongside Filipino American musicians Chad Hugo and DJ Rhettmatic.
Looking back on the experience 16 years later, Ginelsa is glad to know that “The Apl Song” music video still resonates with audiences to this day. He also finds the retrospection well timed, for as he noted, “Is it a coincidence that after all these years, Apl.de.Ap and I just recently collaborated on a project that we will announce soon?”
Patricio Ginelsa’s Lumpia is available for streaming this week only as part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Virtual Showcase. Tune in this Saturday May 23 for a Q&A with Ginelsa and the rest of the filmmaking team.