East LA Gang Member Turned Filmmaker
From the street gangs of East Los Angeles to the high school wrestling
mat to the silver screen. One street kid was saved from gangs by sports
and later turned his experience into a career in film!
should be given an award for the things you do to represent our sport
in Hollywood" says Olympic Champion and legendary wrestling coach Dan
Gable about independent film producer and former high school wrestler
Henry K. Priest.
the years Henry has become the "go to" guy to produce wrestling scenes
in commercials such as Nike, Adidas, SBC Global and many independent
films. But that's not the only interesting thing about his story...
says Robert Ferraro, the Executive Director of the National High school
Coaches Association about Henry's true-life story.
K. Priest was born and raised in the urban barrio of East Los Angeles,
California where gangs are a not a way of life, they are the way of life
for many. His life is a trial of adventures from gangs to the silver
screen. His unique experience has been recognized as an inspirational
story of perseverance.
At an early age Henry participated
in gang activity. For over three generations his family and friends had
succumbed to the pressures to join the local gangs in the community.
Henry fought the peer pressure and refused to join them. In high school
Henry joined the wrestling team and things began to change for the
better. As a member of the Varsity wrestling team he found new friends
and mentors who helped him direct his life in a new direction. His
attitude changed as he learned how to set and accomplish goals. His
grades improved and he was on his way to a successful wrestling career Henry's
experience growing up in a community of gang violence truly tested his
commitment to sports and school. On a daily bases he was challenged by
gang members, many of them were even his own family members who were
stirring him away from the sports. While Henry was wrestling on the mat
his is cousins were participating in gang violence ending up in jail or
getting shot.Ã‚ His stories about his battle to stay out of the gang are
shockingly powerful. Although he was continually tested Henry
maintained his grades and stayed on track.
from high school Henry did not have aspirations to attend college since
no one in his family had went before him. To his surprise his wrestling
coaches presented him with a $300 scholarship to attend the community
college. "If you could succeed in wrestling, you could succeed in
anything else in life." That was the message his coach relayed to him.
That message still resonates throughout Henry's life today. In the Fall
Henry began his college years and joined the wrestling team.
on the team his coach received notice that Walt Disney Pictures was
filming a movie about a high school wrestling team and he sent the team
to audition. Without any formal acting experience, Henry was fortunate
to be selected to be an actor in the film starring Robert Urich titled
Spooner. Nine months later the film was broadcast nationally on the Walt
Disney Channel and other major TV networks. Henry was seen on the
television screens all across the country.Ã‚ Although this was Henry's
introduction to the film industry he didn't pursue a career in film at
this point but rather continued his education. Henry eventually
obtained his Associates degree from East Los Angeles Community College, a
Bachelors degree in History form Whittier College and a Professional
Clear Single Subject Credential from Whittier College. Upon
graduation from college Henry began to coach wrestling and started a
career as a teacher. During that time many of his wrestlers won state
titles and All-American honors. He even coached the youth wrestling team
to three Southern California Championships.
Eventually Henry returned
the favor his coach once extended to him by allocating over $30,000 in
scholarships to his alumni in East Los Angeles. With his unique
experience growing up in an urban environment and overcoming the odds by
pursuing a career as a teacher Henry focused on working with the "at
risk" student population to develop programs to curtail high drop out
rates in the community. While Henry was on the path to make change in
the educational community he also kept a foot in the industry by acting
in and producing many independent films.
In 2002 Henry
decided to pursue a career in the film industry full time. Today he has
served the industry as an actor, film and TV producer, special event
producer, film festival director, casting director and amateur wrestling
technical advisor. Henry is "go-to" person to produce amateur wrestling
in film. He has written, directed, choreographed and produced scenes in
commercials like Nike and Adidas and other companies. He has also been a
casting director for feature films and a commercial for America Online.
In 2004 he received an award at National Association of Latino
Independent Producers Conference (NALIP) for producing the award winning
film UnderDog. "Wonderful, truly wonderful" says Terry Davis, the
writer of the epic wrestling film titled Vision Quest about UnderDOG.
The following year Henry received a second award at the event for the
film Sunday Evening Haircut written by and staring Reginald VelJohnson
(Family Matters). Live event productions include Urban Graffiti Acting
and Poetry Slam, Future Estrellas Young Latino Performers Conference and
the American Latino Film Festival in Hollywood.
Henry has many projects in development including a story about his life.
Other projects include American Identity, produced by and starring
Jesse Garcia (Sundance winning film Quinceanera); Co-Producer of Lola
Goes to Roma, penned by Josefina Lopez (Sundance winning film Real Women
Have Curves); Beyond the Mat, a feature film slated as the next high
school wrestling epic. His latest acting credit is in a music video for
the song titled Work It Out by the hip hop band Jurassic 5 currently
This Fall Henry is traveling through out the state
of Pennsylvania presenting leadership workshops for the National High
School Coaches Association. He was recently appointed the Executive
Producer of the National High School Coaches Association Productions.
The organization produces over 20 national championship and 75 state
championship events in a variety of sports. Henry is developing feature
film and television programs for the organization. Their projects
include a true story based on the life of former World Heavyweight
Boxing Champion Larry Holmes, among others.
include Nosotros, an organization founded by Ricardo Montalban to
improve the image and create resources for Latinos in entertainment and
the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. Currently he
serves on the Screen Actors Guilds Ethnic Employment Opportunities
Committee. Henry resides in Los Angeles and enjoys independent film and
surfing on his free time.
"Wrestling saved my life. I
joined the team and things began to start making sense. With new
friends, grades going up and mentors guiding me along... I knew I was
doing something right." said Henry about his introduction to the sport
that he credits for helping him develop many life skills.
Henry is available to present his inspiring life story. He will share
his shocking stories of growing up among a family of murderers, drug
dealers and deviants, all while he was trying to do right by his
coaches. In the end, he will leave audiences inspired to set and
accomplish goals and motivated to make change in society.