Sari Arambulo on screenwriting, film and winning the Asian Women Fellowship

Lalaine Alindogan sits down with Sari Arambulo, inaugural fellow of the Asian Women Fellowship to learn more about her experience with the Fellowship, upcoming film and television projects and her take on Filipino American representation.

First Inaugural Asian Women Fellowship awarded to independent filmmaker Sari Arambulo

In March 2022, Hyde Park Entertainment & Warner Music Entertainment announced Sari Arambulo as the inaugural winner of the Asian Women Fellowship, an initiative aiming to cultivate the skills of Asian women-identifying writers and directors part of the Asian diaspora. 

The avid and bubbly Arambulo is not your regular Filipina American who loves going to concerts, checking out new restaurants, and obsessively categorizing her Spotify music into monthly playlists.

Cold Tea Collective had the joy of chatting with Arambulo about her experience with the Fellowship, her upcoming film and television projects, and her take on Filipino American representation. 

Winning the Asian Women Fellowship 

The Asian Women Fellowship chose Arambulo out of ten finalists as its inaugural fellow and awarded a $12,500 grant to support the development of her script, Family Style. She will workshop her feature projects under the mentorship of industry advisors and supporters – including actress Gemma Chan and Academy Award winning director, Chloé Zhao. The Asian Women Fellowship, partnered with Film Independent, aims to sell the final screenplays to major studios and media streamers. 

Photo submitted.

Actor, writer, and producer, Arambulo is currently training in the Film Independent’s intensive 2022 screenwriting program, which dives into participants’ project scripts and pitches. The program also provides opportunities to network with other screenwriters and filmmakers. 

“It’s been amazing, I feel incredibly inspired,” said an excited Arambulo, who had just finished a Zoom call with the program before our interview. 

“It’s been such a great learning experience. Film Independent is such an amazing resource. I feel really lucky to be a part of the fellowship and to be surrounded by so many amazing filmmakers.” 

Falling in love with screenwriting 

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Arambulo found her calling growing up in close proximity to the entertainment industry. In school, she attended basketball practices, dance lessons, and musical theater. Throughout her youth, Arambulo says that acting or “auditioning for roles here and there” was just like another extracurricular. 

Around the age of 18, she fell in love with the entertainment industry and pursued it, eventually landing the role of Grace on NBC and Peacock’s comedy A.P. Bio. Arambulo starred in the show while studying and graduating from the University of Southern California in Communications, French, and Film. 

“That was really the time, being at USC as well as on the show, being surrounded by a lot of amazing filmmakers and my classmates on the show… it really inspired me to get into writing,” said Arambulo. 

She enrolled in screenwriting classes and found great fulfillment in the writing aspect of film. For her, screenwriting is the most fundamental part in film, as “everything starts with the script.” 

“That’s where you fall in love with the characters and you fall in love with the story, you fall in love the emotional arc and journeys,” expressed Arambulo, “I think that storytelling is incredibly important.” 

Bringing diverse stories to the forefront of film 

Arambulo sees the Asian Women Fellowship as an opportunity to “bring to life a story that has not been seen before,” with its mission of advocating for ongoing diversity and inclusion in filmmaking. She aims to highlight the humanity of Asian Americans with stories that can be universal across the board. 

Photo credit: The Personage

Arambulo looks forward to bringing the script of her feature film, Family Style, to life, which is the working title of her original project, Foodie.

Foodie depicts the tale of a Filipina adoptee who feels like she doesn’t quite fit in, and strives to learn more about her birth mother. Telling a story about self-discovery, food, and friendship, the character decides to work at a Filipino restaurant where she meets Sam, a picky-eater, who encourages her to pursue the search into her culture. 

See also: Filipino is just the first level

“The story is very close to my heart and where I grew up in my own experiences as a Filipino American, trying to fit in and understand what it means to be Filipino American,” expressed Arambulo, who would like to play a potential role in the film herself. 

Apart from that, the creative Arambulo has many irons in the fire – working on passion projects alongside a film collective she began with friends from USC, as well as a TV show pitch with a former castmate, Eddie Levy. 

An exciting time to break into the industry 

As a daughter of Filipino immigrants, Arambulo has paved her journey as the first member of her family to break into the entertainment industry. Above all, her parents are unconventionally, very supportive, she says.  

“I’m incredibly grateful for my family,” expressed Arambulo, “Specifically my mom… Growing up, she has been such a support system in my life in terms of my acting career, and now in my writing. [My parents] are super excited about this fellowship.” 

Photo credit: The Personage

According to Arambulo, it’s an exciting time to be an Asian American actor and writer. She joyfully counts the instances where she auditioned for an actual Filipino American role – recognition that there have been more opportunities for Filipino Americans in TV and film.  

“I get chills just thinking about it because I get so excited by the idea that there are more and more roles for Filipino Americans coming to the forefront of entertainment,” said Arambulo, “It’s exciting to think about all the different Filipino Americans that are pursuing their careers and making it.”

See also: A Thousand Cuts: A documentary on the jeopardization of free press in the Philippines

More work to be done for representation 

Arambulo feels there is still more that needs to be done in the industry for Filipino American representation. In front of or behind the camera, she believes that opening doors should include all facets of the entertainment industry and that it involves actions from “the higher-ups.”

“It’s the people in development who are helping choose these stories to be made into production,” explained Arambulo. “Allowing space for Asian American actors, writers, producers, or directors provides a broader, diversified range of voices in the industry, which to Arambulo “is what makes media better.”

Photo credit: Starrymag

Moreover, Arambulo asserts that screenwriting is crucial for Asian American representation in media. 

“If we are trying to push forward these stories of representation and Asian American stories in particular, I find that screenwriting is the perfect vehicle to do just that.”  

While the industry has made strides in the right direction, she recalled how most of her auditions for Filipino characters were mainly supporting roles. 

“More needs to be done in terms of seeing Filipino Americans, and Asian Americans in general, as leading characters, that they can carry a story and that they are important, and our stories are important and need to be told,” said Arambulo.

See also: How Disney kind of saved my Filipino pasko

Paving the road for future hopefuls

Years from now, she hopes to be someone that proves a young Filipina American can make it in the film industry. 

“If I could be someone that could provide guidance or mentorship to other Filipino Americans who want to work in the film industry, that would be my goal.”  

Whether it’s acting, producing, or writing, Arambulo wants others to be able to look at her and say to themselves: 

“I can do it, too.”

Featured photo: StarryMag

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