Origin Story, Laos Angeles: An Interview with Kulap Vilaysack

Photo by   Sela Shiloni

Photo by Sela Shiloni

A year after the West Coast premiere of her debut documentary, Origin Story, at the acclaimed CAAMFest in San Francisco, we had the pleasure of catching up with Kulap Vilaysack to see what she’s up to now that the documentary is out on Amazon Video.

It’s one thing to undertake making a documentary but especially another to make one following a deeply personal story. Were there moments you were scared of how vulnerable you would be while filming and editing “Origin Story,” especially when factoring in the idea that a wide audience would be able to see it?

Absolutely there was fear, but I’ve learned the hard way that being vulnerable is a strength.

Embarking on such a journey, searching for your biological father and confronting relationships both present and past, bears the risk that you would possibly get unsatisfying answers to your questions or dead ends. Did you have a plan in place if the story went either way?

No, unless you count keeping the cameras on and pressing forward regardless of the outcome—as a plan.

What was the most challenging aspect of creating “Origin Story?”

Getting past my own self doubt and my fear of hurting the ones I love.

How has that journey influenced you or how you carry yourself these days?

It has been the catalyst to my evolution. I am more confident, more self loving and more free than I have ever been.

How has your concept of your identity changed over the years?

I know now. I understand my past and I know who I am. I no longer let the stories of my past tie me down at the ankles. I let it be my wings.

How do you maneuver being a woman of color in media in spaces that previously didn’t know how to handle people like us?

I am a doer. I am a person of action and manifestation. I find my people, my tribes and my communities. I do not wait to be chosen or wait to be handled. I show up. My mantra is to do no harm and take no shit.

We’ve been seeing a concentrated push of mainstream entertainment and media featuring, led and produced by Asian Americans in the past year or so. Where do you think Lao Americans fit in the grander picture? How do we go about bringing more Lao-centric stories to these arenas?

We need more Lao creatives to commit to a career in production and post production, and they need to produce work. I’m talking about talent in front of and behind the camera. We need the support of the community at large to uplift the culture by encouraging people to tell their stories in any way they can.

Where did the concept of Laos Angeles come from and what future do you want to see for it?

Photo by Somlit Inthalangsy

Photo by Somlit Inthalangsy

Locally, the Laos Angeles Roots started with five. At the Lao American Writers Summit in San Diego, I met Rita Phetmixay, Lina Luangrath and Sourita Siri and found out they were living in Los Angeles. Later, I met Saengthong Douangdara when he catered a Legacies of War event I held at my house. I decided to invite the four of them for a series of writing and goal-setting monthly workshops after I was butt hurt for not being invited to participate in the LAWS in Seattle. LOL. Not a good look, but entirely true. In October 2017, I started a Facebook group, which is the hub of our community—and currently we have 200 members.

The concept came from the desire to be a part of a Laotian community and movement that I wish I had back in Minnesota growing up...  and frankly all of the 20+ years I have lived in LA.

Laos Angeles is a Los Angeles based, progressive and inclusive movement featuring the Laotian Diaspora.

We seek to advocate and advance Laotian identity and representation in mainstream media.
— Laos Angeles, "What We Do"

Universal Mission:

  1. Search and connect with self identified Laotians across the world via social media.

  2. Promote and amplify the works of existing Laotian organizations, individuals and businesses.

  3. Participate and collaborate with the above, other AAPI organizations and more.

  4. Inspire individuals of Laotian descent to pursue careers in TV and film, in front of and behind the camera.

Who are up-and-coming Laotian folks in your industry we should be keeping an eye on?

  • Anneston Pisayavong: Actor, Singer, Songwriter, Dancer

  • Brian Sounalath: Actor, Writer, Casting Director

  • Carol Rasaphangthong: Multi-media Content Creator, Freelance Video Producer/Editor

  • Chao Thao: Director, Filmmaker, Producer at 2U, Inc.

  • Coby Douangpanya: Actor, Dancer

  • Deanna Pak: Actor

  • Duke Yang: Actor, Comedian

  • Izaac Wang: Actor

  • Jerry Huang: Actor, Model

  • Jim Ounniyom: Actor, Writer, Stuntman

  • Joy Tuck: Actor

  • Julie Thoummavong: Producer at Three Flames Pictures, Actor

  • Leilani Chan: Founding Artistic Director at TeAda Prod., Writer, Performer

  • Lukas Seely: Comedian

  • Nitsa Kuangvanh: 1st AD, Producer, Director

  • Olivia Mekdara: Actor

  • Ova Saopeng: Co-Artistic Director of TeAda Prod., Actor, Writer

  • Phetkhanya Mahathongdy O'Donnell: Actor, Writer, Director

  • Sandy Chansamone: Stand-Up Comic

  • Scott Paophavihanh: Actor

  • Somlit Inthalangsy: Actor, Dancer, Filmmaker

  • T.A. Phal: Event/TV Set Production

  • Tiger Souvannakoumane: Graphic Designer, Video Producer

  • Victoria Bouttavong: Media Coordinator, Fox Entertainment

  • Seraphina Lotkhamnga: Creative Manager, Film/TV + Ads at Pulse Music Group

Check out our growing directory, https://www.laosangeles.org/laos-angeles-roots-directory

What accomplishment, whether personal or professional, are you most proud of?

My marriage to Scott Aukerman, the family I choose, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, Origin Story, Laos Angeles… the list keeps growing.

What are you working and focusing on now in your life?

I’m developing a new TV show. Stay tuned!