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Rising Stars: Meet Manuel Melendez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Manuel Melendez.

Hi Manuel, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I arrived to Atlanta from Puerto Rico back in 2015 to begin my film and video studies at Georgia State University. At first, I began my studies because I was inspired by films like Indiana Jones and Star Wars; I wanted to create that type of uplifting, feel-good films. Not only was I learning the craft, but I was connecting with various artists that are exploring the flourishing film industry in the city. Additionally, I began to learn Japanese at the university which led first to an internship with the Japan America Society of Georgia and later to a summer study program in Japan. In the backdrop of my film studies and ventures into Japanese culture, I began work as a media assistant in the Griffin First Assembly network, now Encounter Life Church. I learned various media fields but I mainly put my film, editing, photography, and even graphic design into practice. I also studied at the new Georgia Film Academy in Fairburn, GA to further polish those skills. I graduated in 2020 and began work at Iwata Bolt, USA, a Japanese nuts and bolts company located in Forest Park, GA. Incidentally, I met there with lo-fi rap artist, ThinkThrice. and we collaborated on a music video that was released in April 2022. Currently, I continue working for Iwata Bolt and Encounter Life Church Newnan as the Media Leader of the Newnan campus. I still put my video, photography, editing, and graphic design skills to use for freelance and church work in my free time from work. I also practice drawing on the side and I aspire to be a manga artist one day.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Most definitely, it has been a very difficult road and I still encounter challenges along the way. I came to ATL to study but I first lived in Griffin, GA with my sister and mother. Although my living quarters were somewhat secured, I barely had any cash to my name to commute and have food for college. In addition, I had to skip my first semester of school because I had not been a citizen of GA for long enough so scholarships and financial help were denied to me. It wasn’t until Winter 2016 that I finally received financial help from the school. Even then, I had to take on some student loans and put myself in debt. Still, I managed to begin those studies. During that time, I had begun working at Chic-Fil-A but it became too taxing to balance school and work. I quit that job the following year and I started work at a landscaping company. However, I was fired within a week. Once more, I was left with not enough money to get through school and life. It wasn’t until I started receiving a small commission at Griffin First Assembly that I could muster some money for college. Even so, it wasn’t enough and I soon felt the pressure so I finally landed a job at one of my school’s cafeterias. I’m thankful for that job as I worked there for nearly 3 years and it supplied most of my needs. By 2017, I had that job and I continued working for Griffin First while attending college. In this span of time, we moved from Griffin to Stockbridge, and then to McDonough. While I was here in the US, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. We didn’t have communication with my dad, second sister, and brother.

After a few days, they managed to contact us and tell us that they were running out of food. In the nick of time, my eldest sister’s bosses paid for their plane tickets and they managed to come stateside. This was a particularly stressful and emotionally scarring event as for the first time I truly felt the distance between my home island and myself. All my family members were there, in danger, and I was here, powerless to do anything. This reality became more apparent when the following year I lost my maternal grandmother and one of my cousins and then lost my maternal grandfather the year after that. Not being able to be there and say goodbye was truly harsh. While all this happened, I still continued work at the coffee shop, at the church, and I continued my studies but I also joined the Japan America Society of Georgia in 2019. That same year I went to Japan and although it was one of the best experiences of my life, I returned at the end of the trip severely sick and it took me months to recover. Then came 2020; I was now living in Newnan and I had but one semester until graduation. COVID-19 struck and that delayed and halted some things for me. Fortunately, that same year I landed the job at Iwata Bolt USA and I’ve been able to stabilize myself and build my career since then.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I dabble in many art fields but I specialize in film. Though my main source of income is my work at Iwata Bolt, I mainly write, record, and edit commercials, short films, music videos, family events, etc. with the hope of being a film director someday. Right now, most of my creative exploits are in the service of Encounter Life Church Newnan. There, I serve as the Media Director and I am primarily in charge of leading the team and doctoring the livestream, video, photography, and graphic design aesthetics. However, I also film and edit the church’s short films, ads, and other odd projects. I also draw, mainly keeping myself attached to Japanese manga styles in the hopes that I can write and draw a manga someday. At the moment, I’m most proud of a music video I shot recently with artist ThinkThrice titled ‘Shut It Down’. I particularly enjoyed this project for several reasons, one being that it was the first time collaborating with a lo-fi rap artist. Additionally, we filmed solely in Atlanta at night, which to me is when the city is at its most beautiful. This project was foremost a message from ThinkThrice but it was also an ode of sorts to Atlanta. I guess what sets me apart from others is my ability to jump headfirst into challenges and take myself out of the comfort zone when needed. This becomes apparent in my work when I try to apply a new editing or drawing technique for example. It becomes first about learning and expanding that limit for me and further developing myself. Once I overstep the boundary, then I can say what I may want to say with my art.

How do you think about luck?
Good luck so to say, or the Lord’s blessings for me, have put me in contact with people that I maybe would have never met. For example, in 2019, after arriving from Japan, I was visiting my dad constantly. I was riding Ubers there several times and on one occasion, I met a TV scriptwriter. She told me she had this acting troupe who had written scripts for short films and were about to film them. However, they couldn’t find an editor to put their films together. I told her I edited and she immediately invited me to join. I met up with the troupe and helped them film their projects before I edited them.

Another such occasion happened around the same time. After coming from Japan, I moved to Newnan. That’s when I started going to Griffin First’s Newnan Campus. Right when I began attending, their Media Director was stepping out and so they were left without a leader for that department. I let them know I was available and after demonstrating my ability, I was promoted to that position.

Finally, because it’s harder to recollect these kinds of things, I’ll mention meeting ThinkThrice at Iwata Bolt. I had started work there in 2020 and in 2021, he started working there as well. For a year, we were just coworkers until he mentions to me that he’s a lo-fi rap artist. We start talking about art and music and a short time after that, he invites me to direct his music video. So in 2022, we met up and recorded his video in Atlanta. I’d say that was a blessing.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Jordan Arbuckle for Personal Photo

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