UBC student Jaenna Cali's new music video is proof of where ambition can take you

In her high school yearbook, UBC BFA + MM student Jaenna Cali wrote about how one day, she wanted to “write, direct, produce and star in a music video.” Last month, she did that, in the video for her song “Expiry Date.” You heard it here first — manifestation works.

But to make this happen, she’s had to wear a lot of artistic hats.

On top of being a singer and songwriter, she has experience in acting, directing, playwriting and VFX. Being a quintuple (or even sextuple) threat may seem hard to manage, but Cali believes all her artistic endeavours complement and inspire each other.

Cali was born in the Philippines, and attributes her love of singing to her heritage and family, particularly to her father, who’s also a singer.

“I like to joke about how the moment you're out of the womb, they hand you a karaoke mic,” she said. “I grew up singing around the house, writing songs, dreaming one day I'd be Hannah Montana.”

Clearly, songwriting has always been second nature for her — she wrote “Expiry Date” in just 10 minutes, right after a long walk by the seawall with a friend who had also recently gone through a breakup. They talked about “that feeling of struggling to let go of someone you've been with for a long time.”

Cali’s past songs, like “Simply You” and “Standing By,” have traditionally been focused on themes of self-love and self-worth — things she considers underrepresented in mainstream music. “Expiry Date” focuses on romantic heartbreak instead, but to Cali, the song isn’t too big of a departure from her usual themes. Regardless of your interpretation, the idea of letting go and moving on is universal, whether that be a relationship, job or other aspect of life.

Although she was the driving force of the project, Cali credits her wonderful support system. Last October, at a dinner with a few friends, she asked (via a Canva presentation, being “extra,” as she describes herself) if they’d be interested in helping with her music video.

Word got around about the project, and what started as a group of 5 friends eventually grew to a team of 20 people. Three weeks later, they shot it.

“Expiry Date” focuses on romantic heartbreak instead, but to Cali, the song isn’t too big of a departure from her usual themes.
“Expiry Date” focuses on romantic heartbreak instead, but to Cali, the song isn’t too big of a departure from her usual themes. Courtesy Jaenna Cali, photo by Marvin Herrera

Cali said this project was especially rewarding because it “amalgamated [her] love for music and film together” — she noted that all her time spent on film sets as an actress prepared her well for navigating how to shoot her own video.

Her acting career so far includes background roles in Riverdale and Descendants, as well as the titular role in the short film Miss Fortune, which Cali and her sister Jayzee Cali wrote, directed and produced together. Miss Fortune premiered at TIFF, and has won Best Film, Best Actor and Audience Choice awards at other Canadian film festivals.

“We kind of did this for fun, genuinely not expecting to win any awards or anything … I think my love for film grew from there, working a little bit in the acting industry, a little bit in film and also VFX.”

Cali worked as a VFX production coordinator on the new Disney+ show Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and revealed that she got to work on that fantastic minotaur scene in the first episode — although any more details might get her in trouble with the big mouse upstairs.

Having grown up reading the books, Cali says that her “nerdy little Disney self was so excited.” As I’m sure all Percy Jackson fans are dying to know, she’s a self-proclaimed “hopeless romantic,” so if she was a demigod, Aphrodite would be her godly parent.

Cali got the chance to work on her dream project, but it also happened to be her first VFX job ever. She did gain some animation experience at Disney during the pandemic, but had no prior experience with VFX.

“I went to the interview and they were like, ‘Do you have experience?’ And I said no. They were like, ‘Why should we hire you?’ I [said] ‘Because I'm a Virgo … I'm organized and I'll get it done.’”

Despite a somewhat unusual interview experience, Cali got the job; she credits her mother as the person that planted that strong sense of ambition and determination in her.

“My mom — she's a very ambitious woman. She actually grew up in poverty in the Philippines … I got my work ethic from her.”

Her advice to other young artists is to set goals, regardless of whether or not they seem like they’re in reach, because you never know where you might end up.

“You never know where you're gonna go, what you’re gonna do … But I'm a big believer in making something happen for yourself [and] being ambitious.”

An earlier version of this article misstated the festival at which Miss Fortune won its awards. The Ubyssey regrets this error.