The Debut
The Debut is an independent
Independent film
An independent film, or indie film, is a professional film production resulting in a feature film that is produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system. In addition to being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies, independent films are also produced...

 feature-length film directed and co-written by first-time Filipino American
Filipino American
Filipino Americans are Americans of Filipino ancestry. Filipino Americans, often shortened to "Fil-Ams", or "Pinoy",Filipinos in what is now the United States were first documented in the 16th century, with small settlements beginning in the 18th century...

 filmmaker Gene Cajayon. It is the first Filipino American film to be released theatrically nationwide, although regionally and every few months starting in March 2001 in the San Francisco Bay area ending in November 2002 in New York City.
It is also one of the first feature films to take place within the Filipino American community, one of the largest Asian ethnic minorities in America.


Dante Basco
Dante Basco
Danté Basco is an American actor, voice actor, poet, and dancer. He is best known for playing Rufio in the 1991 live-action Peter Pan film Hook...

 (Biker Boyz
Biker Boyz
Biker Boyz is a 2003 film about a group of underground motorcycle drag racers. It stars Laurence Fishburne, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Luke, Meagan Good, and Larenz Tate and is written and directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood...

, Hook
Hook (film)
Hook is a 1991 American fantasy film directed by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, and features Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall, Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott, and Dante Basco. Hook acts as a sequel to Peter Pan's original adventures, focusing...

) plays Ben Mercado, a talented high school senior who enrolls in a prestigious arts institute in order to realize his dreams of becoming an artist. However, his plans come into conflict with those of his strict immigrant father Roland (Tirso Cruz III
Tirso Cruz III
Tirso Cruz III is a Filipino actor and singer. He is one of the famous actors in Philippine show business.-Biography and career:...

), a postal worker intent on seeing Ben become a doctor. Their long-simmering feud—for Ben, a struggle to be accepted by America and therefore reject his Filipino heritage; and for Roland, a quest to give his children a better life than he had—threatens to boil over and ruin the elaborate eighteenth birthday party of Ben’s sister Rose (Bernadette Balagtas). However, it is at the party where everything starts to change for Ben. The celebration emerges as a cultural stew of old world traditions and contemporary urban lifestyle, challenging Ben’s sense of misplaced identity, his choice of friends, even the way he regards his father. He also finds an unexpected confidante (and perhaps a love interest) in Rose’s best friend Annabelle (Joy Bisco
Joy Bisco
Jocelyn "Joy" Bisco is an American actress.A Filipino American, she graduated from University City High School in San Diego, California and is 5'2 tall...

). However, the evening’s challenges to Ben are just beginning to surface. The arrival of the Mercado family’s overbearing patriarch (Eddie Garcia
Eddie García
Eddie Garcia popularly known as Manoy is a Filipino film actor and film director.- Biography :...

) exacerbates tensions between father and son, while the temptation to ditch the relatives to be with his friends at a kegger across town tugs at Ben throughout the evening. Worse, his budding romance with Annabelle is complicated by the presence of hot-headed Augusto (Darion Basco
Darion Basco
Darion Basco is an actor who has appeared in several television series in guest-starring roles. He is also co-director and co-producer of the film Naked Brown Men....

), a former boyhood friend-turned gangsta wannabe—and Annabelle’s ex. In one night, Ben will face the true nature of his relationships with his family, his friends, and himself.

The history/making of the film

The Debut is based on a ten-minute short film Cajayon had made as his thesis project at Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount University is a comprehensive co-educational private Roman Catholic university in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions located in Los Angeles, California, United States...

and incorporated themes from co-writer John Manal Castro's short film, Diary of a Gangsta Sucka. The full-length film took eight years to produce and raise funding for (from 1992 to 2000), and another year to be released in theaters, and two years to go on DVD in 2003 and television.

After shooting the first ten minutes of his thesis project, Cajayon sent the movie script to potential private financial backers but was turned down.
Cajayon and Castro shopped the film to major Hollywood studios (Disney
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio owned by The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios and the main production company for live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, based at the Walt Disney...

, Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of films and television programs. MGM was founded in 1924 when the entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer...

, Paramount
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

, 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

, Columbia
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies...

, Universal
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

), but were rebuffed.

Eventually, producer Dean Devlin
Dean Devlin
Dean Devlin is an American screenwriter, producer, television director and former actor. He is the founder of the production company Electric Entertainment.-Personal life:...

became associated with the project, and the film was able to garner a grant from NAATA (National Asian American Telecommunications Association). The filmmakers were able to set up the film independently. Cajayon tapped Picture Bride producer Lisa Onedera, husband Greg Spence, and Celestial Pictures to produce the film. Adult roles in the movie were cast in the Philippines, where casting director Ernest Eschaler held casting sessions in Manila. The filmmakers were able to cast Tirso Cruz III, Gina Alajar
Gina Alajar
Regina Alatiit also known as Gina Alajar was born on in Manila, she is a FAMAS and Gaward Urian Award winning Filipino film actress and television director.-Present Career and Issue:...

, Eddie Garcia, and comedian Fe De Los Reyes.

Back in the US, the filmmakers put out a casting call for the lead character, eventually selecting Dante Basco of the movie Hook
Hook (film)
Hook is a 1991 American fantasy film directed by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, and features Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall, Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott, and Dante Basco. Hook acts as a sequel to Peter Pan's original adventures, focusing...

. Actress Joy Bisco was cast as the female lead.

Production started on October 21, 1997 at the Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, California. Reshoots were done a year after production finished. The musical score and licensing of songs for the soundtrack was done in 1999.

The film had its world premiere as the Opening Night Attraction of the 15th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival on May 18, 2000.

Early success

Prior to the film's theatrical release in 2001, the film was shown at various film festivals around the United States, including the Hawaii International Film Festival
Hawaii International Film Festival
The Hawaii International Film Festival is a film festival held in the U.S. state of Hawaii. It was started in 1981 by Jeannette Paulson Hereniko and has been held annually in the fall for two weeks...

 in November 2000. American film critic Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

, in attendance, was given a private screening of the film and gave the film a "thumbs up." The Debut won the 2000 HIFF Audience Award for Best Feature Film, beating out heavily-favored Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a 2000 wuxia film. An American-Chinese-Hong Kong-Taiwanese co-production, the film was directed by Ang Lee and featured an international cast of ethnic Chinese actors, including Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen...

. The film was also awarded Best Feature Film honors by the 2000 San Diego Asian Film Festival
San Diego Asian Film Festival
The San Diego Asian Film Festival is an annual event organized by the San Diego Asian Film Foundation. The festival was first held in 2000 at the University of San Diego by the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego.-Organization Overview:...


Theatrical Release

The Debut’s success on the film festival circuit inspired the filmmakers to launch a theatrical self-distribution campaign. For two years, The Debut’s promotional team (consisting of Cajayon, co-writer John Castro, associate producer Patricio Ginelsa, and a full-time staff of five) traveled to fifteen major cities across the United States and promoted the film directly to Asian Pacific American and mainstream communities. TV commercials were shown on local channels and on local cable systems. The Debut eventually grossed $1.8 million at the box office and won the 2001 Ammy Award for Best Independent Feature Film.

The movie's success in theaters led to a domestic and international distribution deal with Sony Pictures. The film has now been released in theaters, DVD, home video, and television in over fifty countries worldwide.


The film has been given positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes post a 74% "fresh" rating for the film. Film critics like Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

 of the Chicago Sun Times, Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

applauded the movie.

The actors

In addition to Dante Basco in the lead role, the film also features other members of the Basco family (Derek, Darion, Dion, Arianna), along with Eddie Garcia, Tirso Cruz III, and Gina Alajar, as well as character actor Abe Pagtama. Joy Bisco of the ABC daytime soap operas Port Charles
Port Charles
Port Charles was a daytime soap opera which aired on ABC from June 2, 1997 to October 3, 2003. It is a spin-off of the serial General Hospital, which has been running since 1963 and takes place in the fictional city of Port Charles, New York...

and Days of our Lives
Days of our Lives
Days of our Lives is a long running daytime soap opera broadcast on the NBC television network. It is one of the longest-running scripted television programs in the world, airing nearly every weekday in the United States since November 8, 1965. It has since been syndicated to many countries around...

rounds out the cast as Annabelle, Ben's love interest.

External links

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