Kayla Abuda Galang

Kayla Abuda Galang

During the pandemic, Kayla Abuda Galang found herself considering making a short film. While her upbringing was split between San Diego and Houston, she’d studied in the Radio-Television-Film program at the University of Texas at Austin and decided to plant roots there after graduating in 2014. Galang took whatever odd jobs would pay the rent before embarking on a four-year stint as a wedding photographer. “Immersing myself in Texas wedding culture was such a fun detour in my life,” she chuckles.

When COVID hit, Galang felt terribly homesick. Unable to see her large Filipino family in person and cooped up with her long-term partner and their roommate, she was driven by lockdown-induced creative restlessness to helm the four-minute Learning Tagalog with Kayla. Suffused with stir-crazed loneliness and a desire to connect with absent family (while cheekily offering some Tagalog knowledge along the way), the film premiered at SXSW in 2021 and snagged the Audience Award in the Texas Shorts Competition. “I felt like there wasn’t a lot of time in the world left,” she says of her renewed filmmaking drive. “So, why not go back home to San Diego and take a big old swing?” 

Thus, her most recent project, When You Left Me on That Boulevard, was born. Mining from her scene kid days in San Diego’s Paradise Hills neighborhood, the 13-minute film follows Filipina teen Ly (Whitney Agustin) circa 2006 as she gets into some typical teenage naughtiness on Thanksgiving. “I was smoking a lot of weed [while writing the script], so I was like, ‘What if she was just high at Thanksgiving?’ because I never had the courage to do that,” she laughs. Red-eyed and groggy, Ly dozes off after one of her aunts croons a karaoke rendition of Dan Byrd’s ballad “Boulevard,” leaving her era-appropriate flip phone (and clandestine boyfriend’s phone call) vulnerable to snooping relatives. 

The presence of the pandemic was still palpable during the production of Boulevard, requiring Galang and her team to cast and rehearse entirely via Zoom. Yet, these constraints bred a tight-knit crew, mostly composed of Galang’s friends, “many of whom were former scene kids.” Just before Thanksgiving 2021, Galang and her team secured $21,000 through a Seed&Spark campaign. After a few months of principal casting, location scouting and rehearsing, they shot at Galang’s auntie’s home for 10 days during spring 2022. (“Production was one big party, so it was really fucking sad when we wrapped. I had the best cry of my life.”) 

Once again, Thanksgiving heralded good news for the Boulevard team: “We got into Sundance, which was the most expensive, shortest stretch of time of my life and completely destabilizing.” The hustle to finish sound mixing and color grading before the festival—along with the pressure of attending—sent Galang into a “spiral” about what her next steps as a filmmaker should be. This feeling was only exacerbated when Boulevard won this year’s Short Film Grand Jury Prize. 

’06–’07, Galang’s feature debut, was originally slated to begin production during the summer of 2024, a prospect that “deeply terrified” her. “Right now, development just looks like leaning into the romance of life, which is such a compass for ’06–’07,” she says, going on to describe the project as “a suburban high-stakes love story” following three adolescent girls who navigate “love, jealousy and even polyamory” or “aspects of life that we didn’t get to explore or give names to back in the aughts.”

Galang has another feature percolating: On Earth as it is in Heaven, a comedy centered on a Houston family grieving their patriarch that’s loosely based on her adolescent relocation to Texas and her own grandfather’s passing. “I’m still trying to figure out what in this industry works for me,” says Galang. “I’d like to make these films in the next couple of years, but I’d also like to take my time. No one can take the success of these films away from me and my team, and I’d like to honor that by getting reacquainted with the things that I love in life.”—Natalia Keogan/Image: Matt Stryker

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