KEssa Ocampo and her pomeranian cover
KEssa Ocampo and her pomeranian cover | Foto: KEssa Ocampo and her pomeranian cover

Lights, Camera, Action! Keesa Ocampo’s Story

Por: Karen Limón

23, November, 2021 en Luxury Trending

Even as a child, Keesa Ocampo valued the importance of happiness and each time she blew her birthday candles, that’s what she wished for. “I knew that reaching my goal wasn’t going to be dependent on a career, but on a mindset, a work ethic, and in carving out my own path. I was the eldest child of divorced parents and so furthermore, I always wanted a happy family,” she shares.

Keesa grew up in the Philippines in a lovely home along the Pasig River, in a political family, which included her congressman grandfather and congresswoman aunt. Her granduncle was the mayor and her father was the city councilor. “Campaign season was so much fun for all of us, in the center of the fanfare that is Philippine politics. My cousins and I were assigned to visit the neighborhoods around the district and city, sang at campaign parties and participated in religious festivals, wearing our beautiful bespoke Filipiniana outfits,” she recalls.

Being raised in an environment that revolved around public service provided a lasting impact on Keesa, molding her to be independent, compassionate, outspoken, brave, and never shy in front of a crowd. Keesa’s mother taught her the value of hard work, prayer, and finding joy in all things. Her father demonstrated unconditional love and her grandmother, Gloria, exuded gentleness and compassion. “I belonged to a family whose genetics dictated excellence, whose expectations were to achieve it all for our family and our country,” she discloses.

Despite their prestigious status, Keesa faced some setbacks. “My grandmother once took a bullet in a political ambush. My parents had separated which led me to feel like I was thrust into a position of great responsibility too soon,” she confides. Yet, the best parts of her life today are stemmed from a remarkable childhood and family.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, Keesa was gearing up on following her father’s wish to be a cardiac surgeon, but luck and divine providence intervened and she landed a PR writer role at the largest TV network in the Philippines. She became an executive assistant for one of its top honchos, and then spent a decade in the corporate side of the international business, involved in community relations, corporate & government affairs.

With sixteen years in international broadcasting, Keesa helped launch Lifestyle Network in the US eight years ago and this opened opportunities to work in production. “I worked for amazing female managers who not only saw my potential but also pushed me to keep doing better. The pandemic and Philippine politics have recently impacted my trajectory within the network that I had called my home, where I had that happy family I always wanted. But breakdowns lead to breakthroughs and setbacks are nothing more than setups for the next match. Sky’s the limit from here.” She smiles with optimism.

As a distinguished writer, producer, and director, Keesa has worked on several shows but the most meaningful project that’s close to her heart is the travel reality series, Discovering Routes. “What began as a project for multicultural millennial audiences opened up the most unforgettable experiences for my team. The travel reality series brought Filipino Americans to the Philippines for the first time in cultural exploration and adventure. During filming, we lived with indigenous tribes, danced with inmates at a maximum-security prison, met shamans, learned the country’s fuller, truer history.” she beams with pride. This experience revealed a part of Keesa’s culture which she had paid little attention to before. “I walked away with another award-winning series that forever changed the way I looked at creating content for TV. It woke up my childhood fervor for my home country.”

Keesa’s hard work, diligence, and passion led her to be a two-time Emmy Award-winning writer, director, and producer whose preparation met opportunity. “A colleague of mine was scheduled to go on maternity leave and my Managing Director at the time, told me to produce a few episodes of a TV series. I thought I heard wrong but quickly found myself in an ambitious crash course on producing for television,” she says. “A couple of weeks later, in the middle of a polar vortex, I found myself in New York with two camera operators. It was raining and we were filming Filipino minaudière and handbag designer, Rafe Totengco. I remember crying, thinking – I don’t want to fail. We won our first Emmy for that piece.

Those maiden projects were later expanded into half-hour TV series. As we filmed our pilot episode for a show called Spice to Life, my Director of Photography said that while he would direct the cameras and lighting, I was better positioned to direct the show. I recall crying, thinking – Yikes! I don’t want to fail. We won our second Emmy for that. In a nutshell, I was given amazing opportunities and I wanted to earn the honor of the role and earn the trust of my colleagues. So I made it a point to study hard, learn from the best, and work twice as hard,” she narrates.

Everything Keesa touches turns into gold. She finds excitement in new challenges, a constant learning process, creativity, and most of all, building and managing teams. She also draws inspiration from people’s stories, believing that everyone has a good story to share. “Whether it’s triumphant, failed, extraordinary, or common, it plays an important role in the larger script of life. People connect to stories and the best storytellers are those who are good at listening,” she states.

Her work requires a creative and disciplined process bookended by clear goals and parameters. “I start by writing everything down and building mood boards, then I’ll sleep on it before the mad brainstorming begins. It’s a methodical process as I’m trained to think about creative solutions and map those plans out as far as audience development, monetization, and distribution. If I had to make a list of the things I can’t create without, I’d say they were colored markers and giant post-its. I need the right creative environment and frame of mind,” she says. “Sleep is incredibly important to me and I love listening to music while working. And when I find the right people to work with, I’ll move heaven and earth to keep that team.”

When Keesa first moved back to California, her job involved community relations for The Filipino Channel and she loved meeting people, attending events, and seeing how she could bridge the gap between community work and the platforms of the company. “This allowed me to serve on the boards of several nonprofits. From there, I went into fundraising and that opened up meaningful partnerships with groups like Glide in San Francisco, the Lincoln Child Center, Books for the Barrios, Global Fund for Women, and later, political campaigns and the presidential campaign of President Barack Obama,” she remarks.

Given her upbringing and passion, Keesa was drawn to support advocacies for women and children that represented communities of color. This carved out a path to serve on the San Mateo County Commission on the Status of Women which was a role that united a family legacy with causes that were near and dear to her heart.

Aside from the many dynamic hats she wears, food has played a romantic and nurturing role in Keesa’s life. “Memories of the most significant women in my life revolve around the kitchen. I cook when I’m happy. I cook when I’m in love. I cook when I’m grieving. Working with the Filipino Food Movement at this point in my life has been nothing short of a blessing and an honor. At the forefront of bringing Filipino cuisine to mainstream tables and kitchen, I can tell the story of our culture through food,” she claims.

Regardless of her accolades, Keesa faced some challenges in her career and did not have enough mentors from mainstream media. “There were several occasions when I would be the youngest and only female of color in larger organizations. That’s still something that I want to change. Another barrier in my youth, I believe, was my ego. I thought I had all the answers and the mistakes I made taught me to be humble. They also reminded me to work harder than everyone else so I could earn my rightful place in the incredible teams that I belong to.” What some would regard as obstacles – her youth, courage, femininity, culture, and upbringing – Keesa turned into tools to help her bust through doors and defy all barriers.

As it has been for many, she describes 2020 as a rollercoaster year. “I am aware that this pandemic has hit the world in the most unimaginable and painful way. So many people have lost loved ones, have had to shut down their businesses, and have been faced with the pain of isolation. And while I grieve the very recent loss of my grandmother, I know that she would want me to spend this time focused on graciously surviving and helping others. I want to be intentional about how to shape the next chapter of my life, optimizing my strengths, knowing my worth, and building a legacy I can be proud of,” she acknowledges.

In the United States, October commemorates Filipino American History Month which compels Keesa to broaden her passion for Filipino food and culture. “My plans involve playing a large role in mainstreaming Filipino cuisine. Through our food, I want the world to know our culture, understand our ingredients, and shine a light on the purveyors of our cuisine,” she emphasizes.

Storytelling has been Keesa’s greatest asset and as her career evolves, you can guarantee she will always do it with love and compassion. “It may be through a TV show or a cookbook. By standing up for someone or taking an active role in my own healing. Love should always begin with the self because if we love and honor all that we are, we can love and honor others without condition,” she says with conviction.

She concludes her interview with a powerful message: “Show up prepared and claim your place. Respect and love are things for us to recognize within ourselves and never just for others to give. Be kind. When you do well, make sure to keep the door open and lift others as you climb.”

Keesa Ocampo defines the true meaning of graceful strength. Her passion, hard work, and determination serve as ingredients for the success she has achieved in her life, which clearly and abundantly overflows with love and happiness.


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