In the glittering world of Showbiz, there are so many people who are lured to be part of this seemingly glamorous and colorful world. Many people dream of becoming a showbiz star but “lady luck” is indeed elusive. Most of these “wannabes” have realized that the first stage of this journey to fame is becoming an “extra”—also referred to as”talent”, “crowd”, “background”, “support”, “bit player”, “amuyong”, “insektos”, “pamparami” and so on and so forth.
Fortunately (Or unfortunately), I was given the opportunity to experience the life of a bit player, and for a “newbie” like me it was definitely something that was totally unexpected and outrageous.
I received a text message from a talent handler asking me if I know how to drive and I made a quick reply saying “kahit ano kaya kong i-drive huwag lang truck”. I received another message asking me if I could play a role of a driver in a TV show, and without hesitation I said “yes”, thinking it would be an easy task just driving and since I’m also a TV and Film making enthusiast, there’s an added feeling of excitement for it would be a firsthand experience of seeing actual “taping” of a “teleserye”.
The taping was scheduled the following day, and I would admit that due to excitement, I wasn’t able to sleep well that night prior to the “big day”. The call time was 6 o’clock in the morning and the talent handler told me to be in the pick -up point at least 5 o’clock, and I arrived at the exact time as I was told.
And soon, right after all the extras and some crew members have arrived, we started traveling going to the taping location somewhere in Antipolo. On our way, inside a closed van I was seated beside a veteran bit player who claimed to be in the business for 11 years now. Let’s call him Jay, who was so friendly and outspoken. “Buti na lang air-con itong sasakyan at bago. Doon sa ibang nasamahan kong taping, mga luma nang sasakyan ang gamit ng mga extra kaya ang init. Pagdating mo sa location pawis na pawis ka na.” he said.
An hour later, we arrived in the location and it was a mansion inside an exclusive subdivision in Antipolo. Upon our arrival, the talent coordinator had given all the extras and talent handlers instructions on where to stay, the Do’s and Don’ts, and where to get the costumes. After that, the breakfast (which was sinangag with egg and sausage) was served by a caterer. “Wow, sarap ng pagkain dito, mukhang OK itong TV network na ito ah.” said Jay as we joined the queue in front of the buffet table.
Surprisingly, time passed by seemingly fast that day, and still I hadn’t digested the breakfast, we were told that we could get our lunch from the caterer. It was 12:00 o’clock noon, and still the extras hadn’t been called for the taping. Everything seemed fine, since I and some of the bit players were having a fun conversation about their experiences.
Jay told us he has appeared in so many teleserye already portraying different roles such as doctor, lawyer, “albularyo” , “aswang”, and even appeared in one show with different roles without people noticing it. “Basta nakalusot ka sa talent coordinator at di ka natandaan, okey lang yun”. He explained.
One female extra on her first stint as a bit player told us “Naku excited na excited ako,kinuwento ko sa lahat ng mga kamag-anak ko, pati ka-baranggay. Sabi ko, hoy, lalabas ako sa TV, panoorin n’yo ako! Namputsa, likod ko lang ang nakita sa TV, gusto kong magpakamatay sa kahihiyan.” She narrated animatedly as we burst into laughter.
After lunch, we (the extras) returned to the corner where we were told to stay, and then suddenly, rain fell and I saw some of the technical crew having difficulty setting up the electrical system and some equipment. Then I heard someone saying “O mag-alay na kayo! Tawagin n’yo si Boy, marunong ‘yun mag-alay”. After a while, the rain stopped and the camera started rolling taking scenes of some of the lead stars. It played in my mind that the rain stopped for it must have something to do with the “Alay”, well that’s another story.
So, to continue, as we all still waited for our part of the taping, although I wasn’t sure but I felt strange because there’s seemed to be a sudden shift of mood among my co-extras. I asked “Ano ngapala ang gagawin natin? Me sasabihin ba tayo?” Jay replied “Hintay lang tayo kasi sasabihin sa atin ng director kung ano ang gagawin”.
I asked again “Ibig sabihin di pa n’yo alam lahat ang eksaktong role ninyo?” One girl named Angela answered “Sabi maid daw ako, ‘yun lang sabi ng handler ko, sabi pa nga sandali lang daw ito, kasi nga di ako pwede magtagal. Kaso hapon na di pa rin tayo nakukunan ng eksena natin.”
“Naku, siguradong gabi na tayo matatapos dito, madalas pa nga inaabot ng madaling araw, Ganun talaga pag extra, kailangan maghintay ka hanggang matapos lahat ng eksena,” said the veteran extra Jay.
That conversation apparently triggered my co-extras to tell their grievances as bit players.
“Naku, totoo yan. Hindi ka puwedeng umuwi hangga’t di ka pinauuwi ng talent coordinator o ng assistant director, kaya talagang tiyagaan at puyatan. Madalas nga sumasalampak na lamang kami sa sahig o naglalatag ng diyaryo para umidlip sa gabi. Wala na kaming pakialam sa mga lamok-lamok na ‘yan.” According to another male extra.
“Buti nga dito okey ang food, sa ibang shooting na nasamahan ko, ang sama ng lasa ng food, iba ang para sa mga stars , iba ang pagkain ng mga extra.” Another female extra said. “Tapos pag minalas-malas ka pa, pag di ka nakuhan ng eksena, uuwi kang luhaan, halimbawa na-pack-up, patay tayo d’yan, walang bayad ang byuti mo, Day!,” another male extra butted-in jokingly.
“Hay, buti nga kung di ka nakuhanan. E sa iba nga, nakunan ka na ng eksena, magbabalik-balik ka pa para maningil. Me kilala nga ako, mga dancers naman, inabot ng tatlong buwan bago nasingil ang talent fee nila,” Angela stated.
Our conversation was interrupted because the handlers have arrived and informed the extras to be ready and to proceed to the set.
During the taping, scenes were taken meticulously, with several rehearsals before the actual shoot. And when it’s time for the scene where I was included, I was surprised to know that I wouldn’t be driving but instead I would act with a few lines. Well, I felt a bit nervous at first, and I even wanted to talk to my handler, but then I realized that I could just consider it as another exciting and maybe once in a lifetime experience. So I memorized the script (my lines about 2 to 3 sentences) within 10 minutes, and proceeded acting during the actual taping, giving my best shot, “feeling” and pretending like a “professional” extra.
After my scene, I talked to my handler and asked if I could leave because my role was a driver who’s been kicked-out of work, and she said she’ll asked the coordinator first. And while waiting for the handler’s advice, I asked Jay “Musta ang taping? Ano balita?” He replied grinning “As usual, umaga na raw matatapos kasi may production number pa.” We just both laughed and I said “Good luck!”
A few minutes later, my handler handed to me my talent fee while informing me that the assistant director said it’s alright for me to go. After waving goodbye to my co-extras, I left the location. And it was a good thing that one of the talent managers was also going out because I was able to hitch ride, for if not, I would be trekking the long road going out of the subdivision.
On my way home, I looked at my wristwatch. It was already 10:00 P.M. I was having a mixed emotion of excitement and sadness. Excitement because I know as soon as the show is aired, if I’m Lucky I might see myself on TV, and sadness for I’ve realized how difficult it is to be a bit player. There’s no security and transparency at all because everything seems to be vague.
As an extra, you don’t know your exact role and the exact number of hours you’ll going to stay at the location. You don’t know what kind of privileges you‘ll going to get, if you’ll be having a comfortable corner or not during the shooting which most of the time ended the following day. And lastly, but very important, you don’t always know how much talent fee you’ll going to bring home because deduction from talent suppliers depends on how many talent suppliers and handlers have been involved before you get the “role”.
In that moment, I remembered the article written by Mr. Alex Socorro entitled “PMC Commission For Movies”, where he suggested a Philippine Movies Commission in which one of the duties is to function as an over-all Human Resource that will supply talents and movie workers to the industry and will make assurance that rights of all parties concerned will be protected. (See Link:http://filmacademyphil.org/?p=1965) Indeed we need clear rules on benefits and rights of the small movie workers especially the bit players, for after all, even though extras are just part of the dark-colored background of the glittering stars, still without their presence, we wouldn’t be seeing the BIG stars glitter more beautifully and brighter in a movie or TV show which definitely would never be completed without the bit players.