Director Mia Maramara: How I Got Started in the Industry

Looking back, I would say that my life’s theme is, “There are no wasted moments.”

It’s a lesson I have clung to working in the film industry, where there are all sorts of twisty roads lined with the bloated corpses of dead passion projects and empty promises of paid work. In film and in life, I’ve learned that the people you meet in year one might just be the same people who come back and change your life in year twelve.

Born and raised in the Philippines, my favourite childhood memories were of days spent at the cinema watching back-to-back screenings of the most random movies available. It was a lawless time, back when a 10-year-old girl could watch The Sixth Sense at the theaters, and it was glorious and revelatory.

I originally thought I was going to be a comic book artist and author, some kind of 5ft tall Filipino Alan Moore. I loved film but the thought of becoming a filmmaker felt sacred and untouchable. Unable to shake the urge to try, I wrangled a job at an advertising company earning what would now amount to NZD450 a month. I had a short stint working on Filipino independent films doing random odd jobs before moving to New Zealand, where I did a year at film school.

Being an immigrant in the film industry is harrowing, especially when you have a less desirable passport, as I did. I’m the only international student from my year who managed to find work and, subsequently, a visa that allowed me to stay. I traded four years of my life for a chance at a resident visa, meanwhile, unable to apply to any local film programs or get paid for any creative work.

But – there are no wasted moments.

While I was treading water, I networked and volunteered to get on set whenever I could. I worked on music videos and passion projects, hopping into any role that would have me, trying and testing and learning my own strengths and weaknesses. I learned that I loved being on set and that I could thrive in the vicious ups and downs of late nights and cheap pizza.

Director Mia Maramara and longtime collaborator Hweiling Ow at 48 Hours / Photo: Provided

Most importantly, I made contacts — and friends. I saved up enough money to cobble together my first short film, a zombie movie called Bites, which got into Tropfest that year. There’s something to be said about the blind confidence of your early years, where a good attitude and some stamina can net you a zombie movie for NZD2,000.

I did Foodie as part of the Someday Stories program and participated in 48 Hours for a few years, where one film became a Grand Finalist and won me Best Female Director.

Along the way, I met my longtime collaborator, Hweiling Ow, who won me over with a bucket of vomit. We won awards and money, which gave us the opportunity to keep on trying to win more awards and money. We co-wrote a feature film, Grafted, which finished filming this year and is being distributed through international channels.

Hweiling and I co-founded MHM Productions, a genre-oriented production company, with fellow horror fiend Morgan Leigh Stewart. Through MHM, I wrote and directed a TV episode called Albularyo that, as far as I’m aware, made me the first Filipino director to helm a slot on New Zealand TV.

Mia and Hweiling on set of ‘Albularyo’ / Photo: Provided

Other key career highs include writing Candy for anthology feature film Kāinga, the third in the portmanteau trilogy that includes critically acclaimed films Waru and Vai. Another personal highlight was working with the writing team of Power Rangers, where I fulfilled my childhood dream of pretending to be the Pink Ranger.

My career careens wildly about due to the fact that most of my work is self-generated. It involves a lot of quiet, tortured nights hunched over a keyboard, trying to write something good before my bank account hits zero. But it’s a fulfilling way to make use of my personal talents, and I’ve never lost sight of what a privilege it is to be in my position.

I haven’t yet cracked into my dream of being a full-time features director, but I’m taking my time and enjoying the journey. After all, there are no wasted moments.

About Mia Maramara

Mia Maramara is a Filipino-born filmmaker with work that has been screened both locally and internationally. Her passion for authentic, trailblazing stories has led her to wear different hats in the industry, most notably as a writer and director. In the Philippines, she participated in Philippine National Artist Ricky Lee’s Cinemalaya Masterclass. In New Zealand, she won the SPADA New Filmmaker of the Year award in 2021 and participated in DEGANZ’s Emmerging Women Filmmaker Incubator in 2022. She is currently one-third of MHM, a collaborative production company between her and fellow creatives Hweiling Ow and Morgan Leigh Stewart.

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

Last updated on 9 October 2023