Coffee and cigarettes philosopher Esqueleto is teaching nubile young women TV Production now, God help us. He’s put up a blog where he encourages his disciples to post their thoughts. One student posted a few questions and and here’s my two cents’ worth:
Is it true that artistas are picky people; that they better have this kind of food/water or else they walk out? Are they even allowed to do that on the set?
Honey, if you’re a bigshot TV star and the network needs you so that shows would sell to the masses and attract truckloads of advertisers who will then generate immoral amounts of money, you can do whatever damn well you please just so you won’t defect to the rival station. That also goes for the old superstar directors who, a lot of times, are even bigger douchebags than TV stars. There’s this hotshot director, for instance-- a truly nasty man notorious for his evil temper-- who once threw a glass of water at a production assistant and bruised the poor girl’s arm. There’s another director who had no qualms about hitting production grunts on the backside of the head. When this dude died recently, everyone was weeping and talking about him like he was God’s only begotten son. It’s sort of a feudal system out there and television culture is built around the status quo. I remember when I was but a wee slip of a writer who’d just finished his first mainstream teleplay. I felt like a million bucks, I must tell you, and I sashayed into the location like a man deliriously in love. When the lunch bell was rung I went ahead and fell in line behind a jeepney where the caterers were handing out lunch packs to the grunts. One of the show’s staff spotted me and pulled me out of that line and into an air conditioned tent where the bigwigs, the director, and the artistas are having their meal on a long table, served by utility people. All men might have been created equal but in television production, some men are more equal than others. On the flipside, there are directors and stars who insist on eating the same food being fed to everyone else. These people are a pain if you’re a producer because then you would have to shell out more money. You can’t feed a superstar carinderia food. It won’t look good. You have to at least order Jollibee. That means you have to provide Yumburgers or Jolly Spaghetti for every single bloke on the set. No caterers dishing out inexpensive slop from the back of a jeepney.
You're a writer. Are syndicated TV shows a help or a nuisance to you when your network carries one? Are writers part of the translation team?
Well, the dudes who translate the dialogues are called writers but it’s a different skill altogether and I wouldn’t call them writers in the truest sense of the word. If you’re a translator for these foreign shows you’ll have to preview episodes with subtitles on them, usually in English, and translate them, keeping in mind that you have to time your lines to the mouth of the characters. It’s a job, true, but you’re not going to do anything near what real writers do; that is, snatch stories out of thin air and slam the wretched things into the goddam page. My opinion is that foreign shows are necessary for the expansion of the audience’s taste. At the very least, these shows give the masses a look into other cultures. If all we had were local shows we’ll be suffering from artistic inbreeding. The downside is that these shows aren’t generating a lot of jobs. All the network needs to air these shows are dubbers, a dubbing director, and editors.
Still on syndicated TV shows but more on the network-produced ones (e.g. Betty la Fea, Kim Sam Soon, Lalola etc). What is your 'professional' opinion of them?
A pox on your houses, that’s my ‘professional’ opinion of them. Look, there are very few truly original stories being produced in the world these days-- maybe none at all even-- but one of the joys of writing is taking all those books, movies, videogames, graphic novels, etc. that you’ve devoured throughout the years and mixing them up in the blender in your mind until you make something new and awesome. These shows are worse than rip-offs. Rip-offs at least pretend to be original. Look, if a TV executive tells my gang to make something like, say, Wanted, because it’s really cool, we won’t really make Wanted, Pinoy rip-off version. We’ll try to identify what makes it cool and make a story that utilizes these elements. And then we’ll pray to whatever gods we hold in our hearts that what comes out doesn’t smell like a rip-off. Then again, if you wag enough money in my face…
On award giving bodies: which one says red carpet… Welcome to TV Land...You Made IT (the Emmy and Golden Globe type)?
Oodles of money in the bank, mainly. I can say the Urian, or maybe the FAMAS, or the Catholic Mass Media Awards, etc. etc. but come on, the reality is that writers are the most demeaned of creatives. If a prestigious award-giving body is going to hand out bragging rights to anyone, chances are that it’s the director who’s going to go up that stage and bring home the trophy to put in his den. The writer, who may have borrowed a nice suit or barong tagalong so he won’t look like a hobo in the affair, will simply go home and weep. Or maybe blog about it. Lemme tell you about a young dude who created one of the most profitable shows in current memory. The only thing he got out of it is that he had a job for a few months. He never got any credit for pulling that mewling thing out if his brain’s vagina. That concept generated DVDs, toys, comic books, and other merchandize but he never got a cent out of it by way of royalty. After the show ended he was out begging the network gods for another writing assignment. In the end he felt that Philippine TV writing is a dead end so he went abroad and is now herding camels in the dessert.
Are ratings the ultimate decider of TV shows?
Christ in a bucket, yes, for good or ill. Mainstream television is totally free so a network earns money through advertisements. Advertisers watch the ratings like starving vultures and pounce upon the shows on top of the ratings game. That means the major networks will do everything to guarantee that their shows rate. Before I got into TV I’ve always wondered if the people who make local TV shows are all fucking retarded. The day I finally chucked my principles out of the bus window on my way to the Big Kamote of Quezon City to apply as a writer for a major network was also the day I met the man we call Papa Jesus, whose brain can easily be called the Seventh Wonder of the World. Man is so damn smart his mindwaves cause grotesque mutations in invertebrates. Why does he put so much bakya in his shows? It’s a complicated beast that would make your nose bleed, your nipples throb, your vaginal muscles spasm in multiple hyper-orgasms, and your sweet little cunny juice stream down your thighs-- but the meat of it is that the audience is dumb so what comes out of the telly is dumb. The ridiculous thing about it is that the companies that go about the mysterious process of determining the ratings don’t really know with great certainty what the people are watching. What they have is a few hundred sample households. That means a kickass show that got embarrassing ratings will get axed not because the teeming masses hate it but because a few hundred people flipped the channel.
Which one is the lesser evil: GMA or ABS?
Mention names, why doncha? I say neither. Or both. Both giants are businesses that want to make the greatest profit. The problem is that we’ve been accustomed to thinking that competition naturally betters the products, meaning the consumer wins. In the case of mainstream TV, it’s the opposite. To generate greater ratings, the networks are pandering to the inadequacy of the audience. The zombified bloke glued to the boob tube doesn’t like to think so much so the shows are made increasingly brain-free. He looks away when the opening credits are rolling so the opening credits are done away with. He’s too impatient to wait another week for the next episode of his favorite show so the network turns everything into a daily serye. Once, fantasy shows were aired on a weekly basis because special effects take a lot of time to prepare pre- and post-productionwise. Because even fantasy shows have been turned into seryes nowadays, the quality of the episodes have suffered. A show about swords and sorcery these days only have the big fantasy sequences every Monday and Friday. In between that are mostly characters doing a lot of jabbering and crying and breaking each other’s hearts or balls. The fantasy is generally half-assed. A lot of times you get the feeling that you’ve been duped because you’re watching the show in anticipation of the awesome parts but the awesome parts are few and far in between. The intensity of the network war, I must say, has already entered the realm of the bizarre.
No go back to imbibing Esqueleto’s teachings, young padawan, and make a change in the mainstream scene when you’re the ones calling the shots.