Sal Gatdula Talks About ‘Finishing the Game’

By Joseph Pimentel/

Despite not getting recognition for roles that he produces in his films, Gatdula still plays a most important part.

“I’m like Mr. Everything [on the set],” he said. “Whatever they need me to do I’ll do. I make sure that everything is taken care of,” he said.

The 35-year-old Gatdula is a producer for Trailing Johnson Production. Justin Lin, an Asian-American director, is the founder of Trailing Johnson Production. Lin is best known for his films, Better Luck Tomorrow and The Fast and the Furious.

This weekend, Lin and Gatdula’s latest work Finishing the Game will play with limited release at the Landmark Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica. The movie is a 1970’s period comedy that centers on the casting process for Bruce Lee’s replacement after the actor and martial arts expert passed away unexpectedly while shooting the Game of Death.

“Everyone always wonders who took over Bruce Lee [after his death],” said Gatdula. “We thought it would be funny to make a movie about it.”

The film also examined the role of Asian Americans in film. With a large minority cast of Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other Asian ethnicities, Finishing the Game aimed to study the Asian American identity and how it is related to the entertainment industry.

“I love the film,” he said. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously and I think it makes a statement. It’s about [Asian American] visibility and our struggle to be seen especially in front of the camera,” Gatdula added.

Lack of recognition

Gatdula is all too familiar with the lack of recognition for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry.  It was the reason why he did not pursue a career in the entertainment business after he graduated from UCLA.

Gatdula was fortunate enough that he used to be Lin’s former UCLA college roommate.

“Six guys in a three bedroom wasn’t too pretty,” he recalled. “But [it was] a lot of fun. Justin [Lin] was the most passionate person. You knew that if he didn’t make it, Asian Americans would have a hard time.”

But sharing a room with Lin proved to be more than just mere luck. Gatdula admitted that while growing up, it has always been his dream to be involved in the entertainment industry.

“My parents always told me to be an engineer, or a doctor. Something stable, ” Gatdula shared.

Gatdula graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics and worked for a small consulting firm. He kept in close contact with Lin. When Lin got his first big break with Better Luck Tomorrow, Gatdula helped him in anyway he could. “From there, when Justin started his company he asked me to join him and I did,” he said.

After five years of working in the entertainment industry, hobnobbing with famous celebrities, Gatdula realized that the entertainment industry was only glitz and glamor on the outside. Inside, it was rugged and harsh  – especially if you’re an Asian American man or woman trying to become a mainstream actor.

“I would say the entertainment industry is one of the toughest industries to break,” he admitted. “It might be easier for an Asian woman to get a part [than a man] but her part [would be] stereotypical.”

Gatdula said that during the pre-production of Finishing the Game, Lin had to go to marketing meetings with the distributors.

“Basically, it’s a room full of people and they had a pie-chart of all the different slices of people who would watch the movie,” he said. “There was a Caucasian slice, a Hispanic [slice], and an African-American slice but there was no Asian category. They basically said that Asians have the same buying habits as Caucasians.”

“We [Asian Americans] are invisible in the heads of business people,” he added.

Asked how long before this is going to change, Gatdala said he wished he knew.

“Ten, maybe 15 years,” he said. “I don’t know. It took African Americans a long time to break in the industry. We see the Hispanics making their movies now. As for Asian Americans, it starts with support.”

“It needs to start in our [Filipino] community then spread it into the different Asian markets. The problem with Asians is that there are so many of us, it’s so broad, that we all can’t unite,” Gatdula further said.

Finishing the Game opens this Friday, October 26.

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