Behind the scenes of the NUJP TV ads
How do you make people remember the horror of the Ampatuan massacre a year after it happened?
Not a full-time member at the time, but simply a posse to then National Union of Journalists of the Philippines secretary general (now vice chairman) Alwyn Alburo, I thought we’d do the usual press releases for our media friends. But TJ Besa, a public relations guy Alwyn and I know, came along. He suggested that we do more than press releases and produce television ads (or more precisely PSAs, or public service ads as I’d later come to know). Ibang level na ‘to.
We were able to get the approval of other NUJP officers, but we didn’t have the budget. TJ was able to convince the big bosses of three production houses (RSVP, Underground Logic, and Unitel) that this was a worthwhile project and agreed not to charge NUJP for the use of their facilities.
Initially, we were shown a list of equipment that we might use, and the daily rent (we had to choose what type of lights, cameras, dolly, microphones, etc.) was a staggering P800,000! RSVP, whose equipment we were using, simply asked that we pay the crew their daily wage, and give them a P60,000 check bond in exchange for the media plan (where and when the PSAs will air).
TJ also connected me to the directors and the cinematographers - the great Nap Jamir, Jim Libiran, and Luis Liwanag. Later, I think Jim would connect me to Jing Garcia, a member of Cyber Press who was into sound art. They didn’t know me from Eve, but like the production houses, they all agreed to waive their fees for a good cause. Shoot day was just about a week away, so we scheduled a couple of meetings - one at the Unitel studios and the other at UGL offices - to discuss the scripts, the equipment (the direks used the Phantom High Speed Camera and the RED Camera with much excitement), the talents, and the schedule. Hala! The scripts (we had a call for scripts from NUJP members) were not yet in. The directors were all koboys and agreed to wing it from several storylines that we already agreed to. We resolved to come out with a story board (a frame by frame representation of what you wanted on screen that we were still rushing on shoot day itself while the other PSAs were shooting). NUJP officers Sonny Fernandez and Rowena Paraan were doing the groundwork for the money we would still need to spend and other media men we needed as talents (ahem) for the PSAs. Like a good PA (production assistant, even though the credits promoted me to production manager), I also had to contact a hair and makeup artist for everyone who would face the camera.
Shoot day was November 10, a Wednesday, when some families of the massacre victims would be in Metro Manila for the weekly trial. Eve of that day, we still didn’t have the money. TJ lent us P10, 000 just so I would have something by call time at 7 a.m. I was a little late because I had to talk to the one who delivered lunch at Inquirer.net so that we’d have food for lunch, merienda, and dinner. (Originally, I was thinking of expensive Japanese fare, not knowing that some 40 or so people were involved and that there was hardly a budget). When I got to the Unitel studio, Nap was already there and had already bought food for the crew so I immediately reimbursed him.
Alwyn, TJ (who rushed in with a water dispenser), Jim, and Luis came soon after, and we talked about the many little things that we needed for props: newspaper, strings, candles, etc. I bought all these plus water, coffee, and some biscuits. I also brought about 10 black shirts because we needed people in the shoot to be in black. The biggies started trickling in and helping out with the scripts (yes, the scripts!). TJ’s son Gab Besa and a friend helped make the paper kite, boat, and plane for the Saranggola script (which TJ was only able to shoot around 1 a.m.)
Vergel Santos of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility tweaked the English version of the omnibus media Don’t Forget script, while Jim and Luis were already talking to Ed Lingao of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Inday Espina-Varona about one of the four PSAs (we would eventually manage to finish five PSAs as many more volunteer talents arrived; we had a Filipino and an English version of the Don’t Forget script with the journalists as talents).
Inday came through with the talents we needed for two of the scripts we did. Aside from the media stars already mentioned above, we had journalists from print and broadcast (and also from human rights groups): Kiri Dalena (ABS-CBN), Nikko Dizon (of Philippine Daily Inquirer), Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN, Pat Evangelista (ABS-CBN), Evangeline Hernandez (Hustisya), Cecille Lardizabal (Radyo Inquirer 990), Maria Ressa (who had then just resigned from ABS-CBN), Paolo Romero (Philippine Star), and Paolo Villaluna (ABS-CBN).
The Unitel studio was reserved only until 10 p.m. but the rains flooded the streets going to the Vito Cruz extension area where the studio was, the families of the victims were able to get to the studio at past 10 p.m. We had to prep them (simultaneously, they had dinner, makeup, and review of the script, which was also on Manila paper to cue them when they are already on-cam). We ended at around 4 a.m., with me and Alwyn almost coming to blows because we were both tired and hungry and sleepy and there were still lots of things to finish.
You’d think that was the end of it. No. For the next week, just before the press conference to announce the NUJP activities for the first year commemoration, the direks did the post-production (one at UGL and another at RSVP), walking back and forth to their Legaspi Village offices. Again, it was a last-minute finish at 5 a.m. TJ and Alwyn went to the 10 a.m. press conference with the PSAs and with their sanity barely intact.
We were also talking to the advertising agency BBDO-Guerrero whose creative director Tin Sanchez (a college friend of NUJP member Avie Olarte) told us the PSAs were worth at least P5 million! And to think that actual cash out for NUJP was about P50,000, all in all, with allowances for fare.
This year, we are again showing three of the five PSAs (there’s a Tagalog version of Saranggola which did not make it to post-production because we really didn’t have enough time).
Indeed, it took a village of willing, dedicated, and creative people to produce the PSAs that would hopefully make people not forget the horror that happened in Ampatuan.