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Being an extra is no joke

Any visual—or audial—treat especially with a narrative requires a protagonist and an antagonist. Even a painting, a still life or animated work or a dance has a conflict inherent in them or given or implied as in semiotic. Stories in real life are no exceptions either. Tension, therefore, makes the whole experience more exciting and interesting as in the battle between good and evil. 

We always hear around that a story is never complete without a bida (hero) and a kontrabida (villain) as in teleserye(television series). A story is a whole society. One isn’t complete sans the other. Then and now, the parts make up the whole. A film, as they say, isn’t a film without extras, walk-ons, props or simply a dot onscreen.

Movie (in general term) extras are as important as the main cast or so we are made to believe.

But in the production mode, they are what they aren’t or they aren’t what they are. 

Take the case of these film and TV extras controversial Fil-Briton filmmaker Jowee Morel has talked with recently. They were a bunch of upstarts who might or might not be big dreamers of being at least, a starlet, or star in any magnitude or in a more ambitious manner, a superstar. Who knows they might just want to act or be seen onscreen or just to make a living out from acting.

Certainly, it’s no joke being an extra with all the travails, frustrations and sacrifices and whether they admit it or not, the little joy and pride, that go with it.

One showbiz neophyte, Efron Mark Cinco who has appeared in ABS-CBN and GMA Network TV dramas, took it to social media his thoughts on being an extra and the condition he and his cohorts have been thrown into like the sights and sounds the photo he posted in his Facebook where they slept on collapsible boxes sprawled in the ground. The picture has no caption whatsoever only description which told vignettes that elicited many reax as the author solicited them. “Sa likod ng CAMERA ito kami mga TALENTS or Kilala bilang Extra Artist. Basta may mapahingahan kami wala ng maraming arte. Mga talents pag out door scenes? Ito ang Tunay na Buhay Namin. REACT KAPWA TALENTS (Talents like us known as extras behind the cameras. As long as there is a place to rest, no have no airs. We are the talents during outdoor scenes. This is our true lives. Please react, fellows).”

According to Jowee during their FB chat, Efron said that it’s okay to write about them but not to be taken out of context or to put them in bad light and derogatory position.

In Cinco’s post later, he stated a reaction about his shout out going viral. “Kanina sa Taping” (A while ago in the taping) STAFF(“Bading/Sungit”(Gay/Cranky)): “Talents dalian nyo, may nababasa pa naman akong article sa fb sa talent nagrereklamo” (Hurry up! I read especially somewhere in Facebook that a talent is complaining).”
EFRON(“ako”(me)) : excuse me sir! ako po yung nag viral (I am the one who goes viral), Di poko nagrereklamo sa post ko, basahin nyo maigi caption ng post ko, unedited yan na misinterpret nyo lang (I don’t complain in my post, please read the caption in my post carefully, that is unedited which you only misinterpreted).”
(Girl and Staff nagtitigan (look intently at each other))

Photo courtesy of Efron Cinco

A certain Dimple Jimenez reacted: “Para sau tol Efron Mark Cinco saludo ako sau.. Wala naman maling ipakita ang tunay at reyalidad sa likod ng camera bilang isang talents... Sa mga nag cocoment at ikumpara pa ang gawain ng production staff, direktor,crew etc.... Na keso di na papagod di natutulog heeleeeeerrrrr basa basa maige wala nmang pagkukumpara sa post nya.. Pinakita lang dito ang tunay na buhay ng talents simple lang dba! So bakit may pag kukumpara na kesyo mag aral kung ayaw maging ganyan or what..PAALALA LANG PO! HINDI PO LAHAT NG MAY PINAG ARALAN MAY MAGANDANG BUHAY OH PROPESYONAL NA NGAUN .. MARAMI DIN PONG TAO NA WALANG PINAGARALAN PERO MGA PROPESYONAL NA NGAUN NANINIWALA AKO DI BASIHAN ANG PINAG ARALAN..OO SIGURO MERON TAYONG DIPLOMA OH TITULO NA MASASAVE KAPAG NAKAPAG TAPOS TAYO PLUS YUNG DAGDAG NA KAALAMAN .NANINIWALA AKO BASTA MADISKARTE, MAABILIDAD,DETERMINADO AT MASIPAG WALANG IMPOSIBLE.. MAY KANYA KANYA PO TAYONG GALING HINDI LANG PAREPAREHO WAG MASYADONG MAPANG MATA NG KAPWA AT MAPAG MATAAS ..YUN LANG AND I THANK YOU. “

“(Brother Efron Mark Cinco, I salute you. There’s nothing wrong with the reality being portrayed by talents behind the cameras. Those who are commenting and still comparing the jobs of the production staff, director, crew with the talents…that they are just relaxing and not sleeping…hello…please read it carefully because there was no comparison in the post. It’s just simple. He just presented the real life of the talents. Wondering why is there a comment that talents just go to school and study so that they wouldn’t be like that?  JUST A REMINDER! IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT ONE WHO FINISHES COLLEGES WILL HAVE A GOOD LIFE OR WILL BE PROFESSONAL. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T GO TO SCHOOL BUT THEY ARE PROFESSIONALS. YES, ONE MIGHT HAVE A DIPLOMA OR ADDITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AFTER SCHOOLING BUT THAT’S JUST IT. I STILL BELIEVE THAT IF ONE IS SMART ENOUGH, CAPABLE, DETERMINED AND DILIGENT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. WE HAVE OUR RESPECTIVE TALENTS. LET US NOT BE TOO CONDESCENDING AND AS IF HIGH AND MIGHTY. THAT’S ALL AND I THANK YOU.”

Another reactor was a certain Thomas Gale Tobias O’Brien: “Thank you kay Efron Mark Cinco! Siya ay isang matapang na talent na nagpost ng picture ng talents na natutulog lang sa mga kartonMasama ba sabihin ang katotohanan kung aasenso naman ang mas maraming tao?

“Ako mismo ay nangangarip din maging artista. Kahit hindi kasingsikat ni Coco Martin o ibang mga leading man, okay lang saken. Kahit suppporting actor lang masaya na ko kasi magagawa ko ang totoong pangarap ko. Pero nakakalungkot kasi parang second class citizens ang pagtrato sa mga talents, pati na din sa mga stuntman. Gusto kong maging actor pero dahil sa mga nakakadismaya at nakakalungkot na reyalidad ng industriyang Pilipino ay parang mas susugal pa akong maging OFW at sumikat sa ibang bansa.

“Nakahiga lang sa mga karton ang talents at stuntman imbes na may sleeping tents. Wala man lang bubong pag merong ulan at mainit na sikat ng araw. Pag pangit ang panahon kanya kanyang paghanap ng maayos na masisilungan. Parang mga pulubi ang mga talent at stuntman. Hindi naman tayo humihingi ng magarbong sleeping tents at home trailers pero sana mabigyan tayo ng disente at makataong higaan.

“Kapag almusal, tanghalian, meryenda , hapunan o kahit anong kainan, yung mga artista at ibang mga matataas na tao tulad ng director, producers at writers etc. nasa plato sila kumakain. Yung mga mabababang tao tulad ng mga talent, stuntman, cameraman, etc. nakatakal sa styrofoam. Hindi naman sa umaasa tayo na may magarbong eat-all-you-can buffet pero sana kumain din tayo sa plato. Sa ibang bansa tulad sa America, Japan at Korea maayos ang pakikitungo ng mga boss sa mga empleyado nila, kasama na sa showbiz industry.

“Isa pa, hindi issue ang budget para mabigyan ng makataong pagtrato ang mga talent at iba pang mga empleyado. Ang mga matataas at mayayamang tao sa showbiz ay nakakabili ng Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Lacoste, designer bags, luxury clothes, sports cars at iba pa na halagang PHP 1 million, 10 million at pataas. Lagi nating sinasabi na maging mabait sa kapwa mo pero sana lahat ng tao ginagawa talaga yung sinasabi nila.

“Based on a true story talaga yung indie film na Esktra ni Governor Vilma Santos. Walang malaking film company ang magpo-produce nung ganong eye-opener kasi parang sila mismo ang magpriprito sa sariling mantika nila. Sana marami pang mga tao ang makapanood nung EKSTRA para mamulat sila sa katotohanan at sana magbago na ang sitwasyon sa Pilipinas.”

(“Efron Mark Cinco is brave enough to post a photo of talents sleeping on boxes. Is speaking up the truth bad if it is for the betterment of the majority? 

“I also dream of being an actor. Even if I wouldn’t be as popular as Coco Martin or any other leading man, it’s okay with me. Even if I would just be a supporting actor as long as my dream is fulfilled. But it’s sad because talents and stuntmen are treated like second class citizens. I am dismayed and sad about the realities in the Philippine industry to take chance in being an OFW instead and become popular abroad.   

“The talents and stuntmen are like beggars who sleep in boxes, roofless and unprotected against rains and heat of the sun. We don’t ask for grand facilities, we are just asking for decent place to stay put while working.

“Important persons on the set eat in plates during breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and other mealtime while the lowly are food rationed in foams. We don’t wish for luxurious meals but how we wish we could also eat in plates. In other countries, bosses including from showbiz treat their employees with respect.

“Budget isn’t an issue to treat the talents and other employees humanely. The authorities and moneyed in showbiz can afford to buy designer items for one, ten million pesos or more. We always say that we should be kind to others but we hope that what we practice we preach.

  “Governor Vilma Santos’ indie film ‘Extra’ is indeed a true story. No big company will produce that kind of film because it will give them a dose of their own medicine. We hope many people will still watch ‘Extra’ to expose the truth and hope change happens in the Philippines.”

Morel has also encountered a certain Bernadette Roy Acerdin who shared him an FB message from other fellow extras. According to Bernadette, a certain Dhiel Sapiro is feeling tired with Bell Joe Banao and sent this soc med message to Bernadette: “YUNG SERVICE NAMING MGA TALENTS NA NAHULI DAHIL WALANG SEAT BELT. TAPOS CODING PA KAYA BINBA NA LANG KAMING LAHAT GOING TO MANILA. TAPOS ANG REASON SAMIN HINDI RIN DAW SIYA BINAYARAN NG TAMA NG PRODUCTION. ALAM NIYO SOBRANG INIT, BUONG MAGDAMAG SALANG AT PAULIT ULIT PA KAHIT SIMPLENG LAKAD LANG NA DINAIG PA ANG COMMERCILA. TAPOS YUNG MGA KASAMA MO KONTING PAGKAKAMALI MUMURAHIN KA AT PAGIINITAN DAHIL SA KAPALPAKAN NG IBA, TAPOS ANG TATAGAL NA SA TRABAHO AT TINUTURING NG BATIKAN SA INDUSTRIYA NG SHOWBIZ PERO NAPAKAUNPROFESSIONAL PARIN YUNG TIPONG IKAW YUNG TAMA PINIPILIT NILANG PALABASING MALI PARA HINDI SILA MAPAHIYA.”

“THE VEHICLE ASSIGNED TO US TALENTS WAS APPREHENDED BY ROAD AUTHORITIES BECAUSE OF SEATBELT LAW VIOLATIONS. IT WAS ALSO CODING TIME THAT’S WHY WE WERE ASKED TO GET OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET GOING BACK TO MANILA. WE LEARNED ALSO THAT THE VEHICLE RENTED WAS UNDERPAID BY THE PRODUCTION. IT WAS TOO HOT AND WE SHOT THE WHOLE NIGHT WITH SEVERAL RETAKES OF A SCENE OF OUR SIMPLE WALK WHICH COULD RIVAL A SHOOT OF A COMMERCIAL. TO PICK ON US WE WERE SHOUTED AT AND INTIMIDATED BECAUSE OF A MINOR MISTAKE TO SAVE THE FACES OF OTHERS. MANY OF THEM ARE VETERANS YET UNPROFESSIONAL TO EMBARRASS US AND TO MAKE US FEEL THE ONES GUILTY.” 

Sob stories, happy memories. 

This millennium, any spectacle—real or imagined scenes—conjures up various interpretations and representations from a spectator’s point of view etc. Given as they are, conflicts still thrive in them. That makes it more worthwhile a look. It draws discussions, intelligent, probing or simply superficial. What is more important is its implication and relation to the human condition.

There are many ways to skin the cat as well although labor cases in the entertainment industry are as complex as the state of arts and culture in the country. More or less, delineations are in order. 

One doesn’t only lay its blame on the government and its inter-agencies in charge of overseeing the labor situations in the Philippines like the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Education (DepED) etc. It goes beyond the state but it is also primarily the job of the government to regulate labor problems in various areas of the toiling nation. Even state media are belabored by bureaucratic practices.

The private sector has also its duties and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution in protecting the welfare of the labor force, glamorous or greasing. A media business as film and TV has also its share of labor management but as is, is muddled with intricacies within the web of vicious corporate meanness as it is an arena of the survival of the fittest.     

An individual person—artist and artisan—is also a source of the problem like bad work attitude, prima donna style, indifference in the workplace, getting ahead in life no matter the cost etc. A coterie of megalomaniacs within a film or TV production can also trigger labor unrest. The eternal Filipino culture of vassalage and subservience is inimical to change.

Morel has summed up his observations on his empirical inferring as an indie media producer and director who has worked with big studios like Viva Entertainment: “It’s tough to want to have talents lalo na pag maliit ang (especially small) budget pero ang (but) treatment and interaction, d’yan na lang sana bumawi (should make up for underpayment). “Hindi ‘yung kinaltas-kaltasan ka na, tinatarayan ka pa (being deducted of talent fee and still being bitched around). “All because production knows na (that) these people would do anything for their job.” 

Economics is just one plight of extras. For instance, if a talent is paid shortage P2,000.00. Normally, it doesn’t reach them the whole exact amount. It passes off to not just two or three but four hands for cuts and percentages—for example, by the manager, the talent coordinator, the middleman, the agent etc. until a measly P500 or less is just left on the extra’s palm or he or she goes home empty-handed. 

How do you solve then a problem like talents? Exploitation which has nuances is an understatement. Or is it over? It is easy to accuse. But let us also analyze the socio-political structure and the economic-cultural landscape that affect talents.

Let us count the ways to keep the fire burning.

On the one hand, how principled are the talents? How politicized are they or even critical of the status quo although this is going ahead of the story? Or are they vulnerable and gullible as well? How comprehensive and encompassing are they as run-throughs in bigger roles to play and create tension on and off-cam? Are talents organized? On the other hand, how liberal are the employers or the media capitalists? How really giving are they? How assertive and freewheeling are the hierarchy of media workers and other managers in between? Protest movements and mass actions, letters of protest and other legitimate means are in a way, hopeful answers to these nightmares if not complaints and grievances because we are a free country, a democratic state that allows peaceful assemblies etc. It’s not creating anarchy and noise if one organizes a rally or a picket against unfairness and injustice but simply presenting a slice of life, a problematic situation that needs an investigation, a conclusion and a solution. A dialogue between talents and employers or their reps is also one way to settle a standoff.

  What could Asia’s Sentimental Songstress Imelda Papin do about the rampant disparities in the working conditions in media business, particularly acting job? Being the president of the Katipunan ng mga Artista ng Pelikulang Pilipino or KAPPT or the Actors Guild, the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP)’s ministerial segment to the interests of actors as workers? As Founding Chairman and President, Imelda has just formed another group, namely Showbiz Industry Alliance (SIA), friendly to the other significant workers in show business like magicians, dancers, singers, ventriloquists, talent managers etc. How can its members benefit from its mission and vision?

How can the likes of Cinco, Jimenez, Acerdin and O’Brien be of mutual pivots with KAPPT and SIA?

Let’s see.      

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