Success Can Wait: Jason Magbanua's Toughest Job

He wasn't always a brand name in videography. Out of college, Jason Magbanua took a job that worked him to the bone and paid P7,000 a month.

Everyone knows Jason Magbanua as the man who changed the game when it came to wedding videography. Every couple who's planned a wedding in the last 15 years knows his name. But before all this, he once gave up his dream job to teach in the province.

Right out of college, he was offered a position at Pre-Post Inc. "This was the advent of digital editing, and Pre-Post was the biggest [production house] in the land," Magbanua explains. "I was scared sh*tless at the interview—it was the youth and inexperience. I was surprised I got in." It was the perfect opportunity to work his way up the ladder, especially since video editing was the aspect of production he felt most drawn to. 

But at the same time, Nim Gonzales, then the head of the Communications Department at Ateneo de Manila, asked him if he was interested in teaching at Sacred Heart College, Lucena City. The job involved establishing a Communications program along with teaching a few English courses, for a salary of only P7,000.

Magbanua had just finished a documentary about the Jesuit Volunteer Program for his thesis. He followed young men and women as they left their comfort zones to share their knowledge and skills with underprivileged communities around the country.

Nagpunta kami sa bundok, nagpunta kami sa malalayong lugar. What do people think when they enter this kind of vocation? Why are they doing this? I got to know them firsthand, and I figured out that there is sense in what they were doing,” Magbanua explains. “So maybe because alam niya na konting tulak na lang ako, yung department chair ko na si Father Nim Gonzales said, ‘May mga kilala akong madre sa Lucena City. Magtatayo sila ng bagong course. Gusto mo bang magturo doon at mag-volunteer?”


Jason Magbanua (second from left) with his Communications classmates

Choosing to teach over a job at a prestigious post-production company seemed like a foolish choice, especially to Magbanua’s mother. “As a person coming from the middle class, you don't go into Ateneo and then get a job like that afterwards,” he explains. “Because you are not well off, you are expected to get a good job and help the family in whatever way you can. So it was tough for my mother because my dad passed away when I was in sophomore year. Probably not because of the money, but because I left home after graduation.”

Besides, didn’t most people establish a career first before teaching? But for Magbanua, it was the perfect time to do something meaningful, while he was still young and free from financial responsibilities. “Hindi naman mawawala yung talino ko, hindi naman mawawala yung skills ko, pero kailangan ako dito. I wanted to answer that call at that particular moment in time because three years or five years down the line, somebody might ask me the same thing, and my circumstances might not allow me to say yes to that call. Siguro may anak na ako o nakatikim na ako ng pera at hindi na ko babalik sa walang pera. I needed to do that first because I felt it was the right thing to do.”

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Founding a Communications program at Sacred Heart College wasn’t easy, especially since they were starting from scratch. Magbanua slept on a stretcher in the clinic during his first few weeks of school, since they hadn’t found lodgings for him yet. “There was nothing—no course program, no instructors, no facilities,” he says.

He came to Sacred Heart College with a classmate, but she resigned after one semester because she couldn't handle the homesickness. "It was hard. It wasn't a bed of roses because you were always thinking, 'Oh sh*t, tama ba 'tong ginagawa ko?" After all, he hadn't received any training as a teacher in college. 

His workload was no joke—on top of Communications, he had to handle English 101 classes as well, since that was where his salary would come from. Everything addded up to 25 units. It didn't help that he didn't feel too confident about teaching English. "It was also a struggle. I mean, I knew how to speak but I didn't know how to teach, so I really reviewed my grammar. Grabe iyon—you go to work at seven in the morning, and it's hard work being a teacher. " he recalls. "And then I also had to do paperwork, make course outlines, look over students' submissions. It wasn't the kind of job where you go just three hours a week. Oh my god, ang hirap-hirap noon. Sobrang pagod."

In the second semester, he was able to convince the Daughters of Charity to build an audio-visual room. He got Mang Tony—Ateneo’s communications department editor and all-around technician—to help him buy equipment in Quiapo.


Jason Magbanua with his students and his dog, Mufasa, at the audio-visual room

During his time in Lucena, he realized that people tended to look down on Communications as a course as well. “In the eyes of many people, it wasn't a viable course of study," he says. "I didn't feel that at all when I was in college because it was my choice. But then people would say, ‘Ano gusto mo pagkagraduate mo, newscaster? Sa radyo?' Those were the stereotypes then, especially in the provinces: that graduates from the liberal arts are madaldalmay itsura, mahilig sumayaw, walang skills—not like graduates from BS Commerce or Management, who had solid skills. This was 20 years ago, and look where we are now. The top courses are multimedia arts, film, comm tech, and information design, which all stem from Communications.”

When it came to overcoming the stigma surrounding communications majors in Lucena, Magbanua gives his students full credit. “They were not the most intellectual or most fluent in English, but they were hard workers. They had a vision and they were all in. They really believed in themselves and they established that they are to be taken seriously. Parang sobrang mala-Mighty Ducks.”

Some of Magbanua’s best memories include entering—and winning—inter-college competitions with his students. “In the grand scheme of things, these were minor competitions, but we would always prepare for them. We would spend sleepless nights practicing and put our hearts and minds into it, and we would win.”

In fact, Magbanua treasures the time he spent in Lucena because of the strong bonds he formed with his students. On Friday nights, they would hang out in Lucena’s one McDonald’s branch, or drink at Magbanua’s house. One of his students even gave him a dog named Mufasa, who quickly became part of their class.

“I would walk to school and this dog would follow me to my classroom, to the point that the guard would try to block him, but he would know how to get through. He would just lie down in the classroom while I taught, and everyone would pet him. Talagang class dog siya.


Jason Magbanua, his students, and their pets

As an instructor, Magbanua was able to hone a lot of skills that would prove useful for his present career as a wedding videographer, such as public speaking. It’s hard to imagine this man as anything but gregarious, but apparently he used to lack confidence in his English-speaking skills. “Hindi ako ganito dati! Mahiyain ako kasi ang galing ng mga kaklase ko kapag nag-E-English sa Comm.” Since Magbanua was the only one in school who knew how to edit, he was able to improve his skills in that area as well. He would edit all his students’ raw footage and correct them while doing so.

On top of teaching, he took up a part-time job as a disc jockey in a local radio station, where he was exposed to different musical genres. “I was able to grow my deep appreciation for music there. I really feel that music selection is one of my strengths as a person who does wedding videos, because of my work as a DJ.”

Despite everything he was learning, Magbanua had his moments of doubts. After all, during the years he spent in Lucena, his batchmates were moving forward in their careers. One of his friends was working in McCann, while another had become associate editor at FHM.

But as fate would have it, his career as a wedding videographer began as a result of his choosing to teach. One day, his student came up to him and said, “Sir Jason, since you teach video, would you like to film my big brother’s wedding?” Magbanua agreed, and they covered the wedding using a classmate’s extra camera. “I enjoyed it and that’s when I said, ‘Hey, this is something I would like to do,” he explains.

When he returned to Manila to start his business, all of his employees were former students. Many of them are still with him to this day. “Because of my time [in Sacred Heart College], I knew of people who had great work ethic, who were industrious. When it was time for me to hire, there was no other place that I looked and I think that immensely contributed to the success that I have right now, knowing that I have dependable people. The tenure of the people I have is 7 years, 10 years, 12 years. Even if the brand is called Jason Magbanua, it’s a team effort. From my time at Sacred Heart, there is a direct link to how I grew my business, so that’s fantastic,” he says.


Goofing around in the classroom

By all counts, Magbanua’s decision to go off the beaten path and teach seems to have been paid off. Not only did he wind up establishing a wildly successful production house, but he's also changed his students' lives.

Teena Llorente Lim, one of his former pupils, started out as a nursing student. But while taking Magbanua’s classes, she realized that her passion lay in visual storytelling. After graduating, she worked as a visual effects artist at ABS-CBN, and is now a news and production editor at CTV Winnipeg, Canada.

“I had no idea which direction I was going to go in, but he helped me realize what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “I really admire that he held back on pursuing his own dreams right after college to mold other young men and women, so that they too can go after their own dreams. He's never been madamot about sharing his knowledge with us. He doesn't hold back. He shares everything he knows. Even when I was still his student, I already knew that he was meant for greatness. I would have been so disappointed if he stayed there just to teach, because I know he was definitely going to go far with all that potential.”

To this day, Jason Magbanua teaches for free at various workshops

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Angelica Gutierrez
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