February 25, 2014
There’s nothing quite like starting your day with a 30-mile drive from Hermosa Beach to Van Nuys, a city north of Los Angeles and Hollywood. We arrive at the home of Mitchel Dumlao, a Filipino-American filmmaker and the owner of a digital marketing and media company. He’s also the co-founder of the popular online B-Boy and breakdancing channel Strife.tv and the street art brand LA Street Art Gallery. On his free nights, he’s a DJ with quite the LA hip-hop following.
Mitchel welcomes us into his house with a wide grin and a hug. Then he makes us drink our breakfast, literally—he blends an intimidatingly green smoothie for us in his Vitamix with kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, freshly grated ginger, bananas and vitamins. I’m skeptical at first because green juice frankly scares me and I grew up on a breakfast of frozen Eggo waffles and Pop-Tarts, but it’d be bad manners to refuse.
The most striking thing about the day we spend with Mitchel is the genuine ease about it. He’s so comfortable in his own skin and so aware of himself and others that he makes everything feel effortless, like every problem you encounter is something you can totally solve with a Jedi mind trick. In his case, Mitchel visualizes the way things can go right, choosing to focus his energy on what he can control versus the things he can’t (LA traffic being one of them). And then he goes out and dominates the marketing world and street art world and the B-Boy/breakdancing world as an entrepreneur and artist, mixing worlds so effortlessly like samples in the hip hop mixes he’s known for.
Hanging out with Mitchel turns out to be an exercise in radical sincerity, one that leaves us feeling more optimistic and energized. Even though I may have directed a few curse words towards the truck that cut us off and made us miss the 101 Freeway on-ramp, I wasn’t fazed because I knew that I’d still get us to our destination. In case you’re wondering, nearly all freeways lead to Downtown LA but only the 110 and 10 will really get you there directly.
Coming to America
One of the most amazing things about Los Angeles that’s easy to take for granted, especially if you live here, is the incredible diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Born in Manila, Mitchel was only three years old when he emigrated from the Philippines to Australia with his family.
“This was during the Ferdinand Marcos era so everyone left the Philippines. Dad had family in Sydney, and Australia is close to Asia, so while we were waiting for our visa [to America], we lived there for about six years. I had an accent and everything.”
After six years, the Dumlao family moved to Santa Barbara, California, where Mitchel grew up and eventually attended college. He mentions that he doesn’t know Tagalog too well, but is very determined to relearn his family’s language.
“As a person of color, I think that learning your language and native culture is a duty in a certain way,” Mitchel says. “Being Asian, where everything is about honor and making sure that your family name stays honorable for generations, it’s one of those things that you always have to do to protect the family.”
He grins at us while parting his still-wet hair with a fine-tooth comb. It’s hard not to smile back at his reflection in the mirror; he’s so grateful for every day and every opportunity in his life that I start to feel a little guilty about any complaining I’ve done in the last 24 hours.
“I want to make sure that I know my background as much as possible. Just by living as yourself and being proud of it and not ashamed and doing well—being successful is proving to people that I did it and that there are no boundaries of what I can do because of my race.”
Mitchel shares a story about his trial-and-error learning process with grooming and how he developed his current style, a neatly trimmed, angular beard that’s just as sharp as the rest of his look. Like most of the funny facial hair stories we share on Bevel Code, this one is about a girl.
“The funny thing is that when I was a senior in high school, I couldn’t connect my sideburns with my chin hair so I was just shaving it off. But when I started shaving it off, it started growing thicker and thicker. It wasn’t until after college that I was just being lazy and didn’t shave for one week. My girlfriend at the time told me, ‘Wow, your beard looks really good on you.’ So for her, I kept it.”
“We parted ways eventually, but I kept the beard. I’ve always had a baby face, so it’s easier for me to keep it and look more mature, since I always get carded when buying alcohol and stuff,” Mitchel continues.
“So now my beard is just part of me. I feel like it’s a tattoo on me and I can’t get rid of it. I’ve tried shaving it off for weddings and stuff before, but I just don’t like it when I’m all shaved. One of these days, I’ll go clean-shaven.”
One of the biggest challenges of having thick, wavy hair is that it can have a mind of its own. Good products are essential tools in taming both the hair on your head and the hair on your face, a fact that Mitchel affirms.
“My hair has shown some interesting trends over time. Sometimes, for a couple of years I can part it one way, but then it decides, no, you need to part it that way. I’ve had a lot of phases with my hair, which is one of the challenges of having coarser, wavy hair. So I’d rather keep things simple and be who I am, rather than having someone tell you to try something that you’d find on a pop star or celebrity. I want to look like a professional because I am one.”
“Every morning, after my morning workout and before I take a shower, I usually trim my beard because it’s easier when it’s dry for me. When it’s wet, it’s really hard for the trimmer to cut the hair. Then I take a shower so I can get all the hair off my face,” Mitchel explains.
“When I get out, I pat my face with warm water and then get the shaving cream, lather it on, take my razor and I just trace a line around my face and chin to kind of create a defined chin line. I used to have different ways of shaving and edging it, but whenever I feel lazy, it’s the same line.”
Mitchel laughs as he shares his grooming secret, a facial hair optical illusion that requires some talent and a steady hand to pull off. “I can’t connect my beard to get a goatee and get a full beard so when I try to grow it out full it looks really weird. But if I trim it, it looks like I have a full beard. Then it’s lotion on my face and arms and then wax for my hair. After that, I start dressing.”
His style is relaxed yet polished and professional, mixing a fitted chambray button-down shirt with straight-leg, dark-rinse jeans and dope black leather sneakers. The breezy shirt has short sleeves and is the essence of LA in winter, while the sleek kicks are a nod to his love of street art and hip-hop.
The Art of The Hustle
What’s Mitchel’s secret to staying grounded and driven in his pursuit of personal and professional success? Is it the shockingly green smoothie he handed me or is it something more mental? For a guy who used to be a development executive and talent manager with over 40 clients at any given time (he began his career at Miramax) and worked in a virtual pressure cooker, he’s totally calm and down-to-earth.
“I meditate, actually. That’s how I work out, in addition to my physical workout. I meditate every morning, and I can’t go three days without meditating. I just read a lot of books and articles about successful entrepreneurs and how most of them visualize their days and their future. Just to make sure that when you start off in the morning, you’re not stressed.”
Mitchel believes that meditation is possible for everyone, even for the most anxious people; in fact, he admits that he used to be a meathead. He was all about working out six times a week and eating a crazy diet of protein shakes and chicken breasts. But one day, while leaving 24 Hour Fitness, he got stuck in his T-shirt because his bicep was way too big for the arm hole. He struggled in his car for 20 minutes, trying to free himself from the shirt and seriously considering calling someone for help. He finally just had to rip the shirt off. And that’s when he realized there was no reason for him to be that obsessed with getting crazy muscular and working out all the time.
“When you start off your morning with stress, that leads to more stress. I visualize my day, my week, my future. It’s easier to base my day around it. So today, I have a film shoot to complete. I visualize what’s gonna go well and perfect without issues—so I won’t be finding issues, I’ll be finding solutions. That’s one of the most important things in my day—meditation and juice.”
At this point in the conversation, I’m trying to drink my green juice more quickly so that I can absorb all of its nutrients and start my day off right. My body silently thanks me for not eating the McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin and Hash Browns that I was very tempted to order on the drive up here.
Mitchel continues. “Say you have meetings for the day. You visualize every meeting being successful, having a business opportunity coming out of the day. Every transaction is smart, and it helps you plan things unconsciously.”
“If you think about it logically, if you know your goal and the steps to get there, you will subconsciously do it. Get all those steps done and just go. Now it’s just executing. I’m just really confident about my practices and resources and knowledge and talent. I’m always growing; I’m not a master at anything I do, but I’m pretty damn good at some things.”
“I have a business—three, actually: a breakdancing brand, a street art brand, and a media/marketing business. Now I want a nonprofit division where we actually teach kids the arts. The arts are kind of being forgotten and fall by the wayside when budgets are cut. But art is essential to developing kids’ intelligence, creativity, and their ability to deal with stress. I used to be in my school marching band and played clarinet, which helped me so much. I was able to really understand hand-eye coordination, how with music you have to read while playing it and keeping time; it’s a lot of coordination. I want to start an organization that helps teach kids a range of the arts: film, music, dance, singing, DJing/production and more.”
“I also realized how we really take it for granted that we have good food and vegetables around us, after watching a documentary on how food is insecure in America. I want to create food drives where we give people juice and produce, and to not add to the problem of most local food drives where you’re giving poor people and families government cheese and chips and starchy stuff. I don’t want to give people Cheetos or Twinkies. Fresh food changed my life so much when it came to my energy and thought process.”
He also credits Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training for keeping him disciplined and focused in his line of work. “I’m kind of the guy who’s an entrepreneur because I don’t like authority and being told what to do. But as a martial artist, you have to follow instructions from your coach or you won’t be your best—and you’ll get your ass whupped.”
Mitchel explains that the present-focused nature of martial arts reminds him that there are very few actual life-or-death situations. Even when he’s at a meeting and he’s afraid that someone’s going to say no to his proposal, he asks himself: “How does this affect your life physically, mentally and spiritually? As long as you’re well and alive, there’s no reason to panic.”
He’s absolutely right. I need to stop panicking so much, from little things like my computer crashing to the dread I often feel when trapped on the 405 Freeway on a Thursday. We all could ask ourselves this question on a daily basis.
Wine & A Movie
It was time to get back in the car and drive to our next location. We head east, past Downtown LA, to watch Mitchel conduct interviews and direct a video at San Antonio Winery, one of the city’s oldest wineries. It’s home to the popular semi-sweet wine brand Stella Rosa Wines (they have striking billboards on nearly every freeway), one of Mitchel’s media clients.
We watch him stroll into the back room area and greet the staff like they’re old friends, set up his equipment near large silver vats of cooling wine and traditional oak wine barrels. The space is a bit “I Love Lucy goes to Italy” meets “Breaking Bad.” After spending a few hours at the winery, I feel compelled to buy a bottle of Stella Rosa Peach, a delicious Moscato-based blend. It might also be partly due to Nicki Minaj’s influence on the current Moscato craze, but the wine is really good.
During a bit of down time, I ask Mitchel about what drew him to film in the first place and what made him want to pursue it as a career.
“I got into filmmaking because my mom and dad love film, my mom especially. Where I grew up in Santa Barbara, there was a video store with a 2-for-1 special every Thursday. My mom would get 2 VHS movies every Thursday and we’d watch them. I equate movie watching with my family, and I started getting into Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chow Yun-Fat—I was all about action films.”
“In high school, I got my parents’ camera and made silly music videos. While at UC Santa Barbara, I went to film school and got into the history of cinema. I love how it’s a worldwide language, from English to French to Italian to German and beyond. Now I want to use film to tell stories of subcultures and communities that no one’s heard before or ones they’ve only heard told from a mainstream perspective.”
I didn’t think it was possible to get more inspired by the guy, but it really is. Mitchel takes a deep breath and continues. “I started the business I have now so I can provide film resources and cinematic techniques to companies who need marketing, especially to people who don’t have access to it. There’s a lot of power in video and film, so it’s essential for a company and brand to use to market their products. Film reminds me of a time when I was a kid and how everything I watched was a new world. I was such a chameleon growing up, exploring different cultures like hip hop and underground parties and the street art world and learning about them—it’s a natural fit.”
“With film, you’re not judged; you’re part of the world. It has the power to touch the masses. With film, TV and platforms like YouTube, the whole digital landscape is evolving, so younger people who don’t have that much money can take advantage of it. The Internet democratizes it.”
Now that’s something we can definitely get behind. The Internet, while not without its flaws and grey areas, can be pretty awesome like that. In Mitchel’s world, everything is, or has the potential to be, awesome.