Fine Cut

Q&A: 'Present Trauma' Director Mark Manalo

Present Trauma

"Present Trauma" is an award-winning psychological drama directed by Mark Manalo. The film aired as part of the 2014 edition of "Fine Cut," KCET's 17th annual festival of student films.

Here, we speak with Mark about his decision to purse filmmaking as a career.

Mark Manalo's Bio:

Mark Manalo

Mark Manalo is an award-winning LA-based writer-director. He was born in Jersey City, N.J. and spent most of his life in Trenton, where he received his B.A. in film production and history from the College of New Jersey.

Mark was accepted into the prestigious graduate film program at USC's School of Cinematic Arts in 2010. His film "Present Trauma" won best drama at USC's First Look Film Festival 2014, best narrative at the GI Film Festival 2014, and the grand jury award at the International Film Festival of Hollywood 2013. The movie has also played at the prestigious Santa Barbara International Film Festival and several other noted festivals around the nation.

Mark also directed the short film "No Child Left Deprived" based on his experiences as an inner-city school teacher. The film went on to receive first place for narrative at the MyHero International Film Festival as well as a finalist award in the PovertyCure Film Festival in NYC. In addition, a film that Mark co-edited called "A Second Chance" won the student academy award for best documentary in 2013. Mark was then invited by the Director's Guild of America to take part in their Asian American directing mentorship program.

Mark graduated in 2013 and is currently pursuing his dream of writing and directing feature films and television shows. He is most interested in drama and comedy projects ranging from small character driven pieces to large-scale historical epics. Mark wants to make compelling and emotionally engaging films that reach audiences around the world.

Present Trauma

Q&A with Mark Manalo:

Describe how the idea for this film originated.

It all started with a documentary that writer Jeff Chanley and I had co-edited together called "A Second Chance." Among the footage we didn't use for that film was a story recounted by a marine involving another marine who was experiencing a hallucinatory episode while at a friend's house. I don't want to give away the ending, as it was the inspiration for "Present Trauma," but I will say that how our film ends is how that story ended, thankfully. Needless to say, Jeff and I were both affected by that story.

Jump ahead a few months and I asked Jeff if he could write a script based on that moment for a highly competitive class at USC Film School that selects three scripts every semester to be made into a short film. Jeff's script was chosen as a finalist, and then I was selected as a directing finalist, and we paired up as a team, pitched to the faculty, and were chosen to make this film. It really was a perfect pairing since the story meant so much to the two of us. We were both extremely passionate about telling this story the right way, and we felt well-equipped to do so after our experience working on that documentary together.

Present Trauma

How/When did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker towards the end of my first year in college back in 1999. At the time, I was studying to become a history teacher, but I soon realized that I wanted to reach a larger audience. I started to realize that a big reason why I loved history so much was because I loved history-based movies so much. I had recently purchased my first DVD player, and I began listening to all of the director commentaries and watching the behind-the-scenes footage. I'd been addicted to movies for as long as I could remember, but for the first time, I realized that the art of filmmaking is a craft that can be pursued as a serious profession. The next semester, I changed my major and declared myself a film and TV production student.

Present Trauma

What influences have inspired your work?

Many things have influenced my work. I have an eclectic taste in music, which gives me inspiration for the feel and tone of films that I make. I was also heavily influenced by comic books as a child. So the visual component and composition of my films largely comes from that. In terms of filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Lars Von Trier, and Robert Zemeckis are among the filmmakers who have inspired me the most.

Name you top three favorite films.

I'd have to say (in no particular order) "Magnolia," "Braveheart," and "The Godfather"

What is next for you?

Several members of the "Present Trauma" team and I are working on turning the film into a feature. In addition, I am constantly working on writing scripts that I do hope to be able to direct in the near future.

How can we follow you?

Personal Facebook page:
Personal website:

Film's Facebook page:
Film's website:

Click here to watch the trailer.

Present Trauma