EPs (executive producers) do all the scrimping to economize on the budget. The director of the soap (Marlon Rivera) wants his leading man (Piolo Pascual) to enter the scene on top of a horse. But a horse is so expensive so they end up with a tricycle as replacement. To cut cost, they use a fake cake for a wedding scene and only one corner is real so that the groom (Tom Rodriguez) can cut it later to give a piece to his leading lady (Marian Rivera). They also have Mother Nature to contend with and they’re so defenseless when it rains. Somehow, they’re able to surmount the obstacles they meet on the set and finish taping all scenes that are meant to be shown on the very same night.
Sponsors also have to be accommodated with special product placements that have to be prominently displayed within the show. Some stars throw a tantrum and don’t show up so they have to replaced with a double at the last minute (this is said to be have been inspired by an incident that actually happened in ‘Iisa Pa Lamang’ with Claudine Barretto.)
In one scene, a lead actress who came late to the set (Pilar Pilapil) hears the director berating her behind her back as a has been, but when they meet face to face, it’s the usual case of “plastikan” in showbiz where people usually flatter and complement each other. It’s obvious Jeturian doesn’t view soaps as an art form as he actually parodizes the artificiality and hyperbolic turns of plot so prevalent in local teleseryes.
But since this movie is Jeturian’s personal love letter and generous tribute to extras, it’s the plight of the extras, their joys and sorrows, that’s really given more importance here, showing several small hilarious but bittersweet vignettes of what they usually go through. They meet in front of a fast food restaurant in the wee hours of the morning to be transported by the service van to the location in Batangas, but when they get to the set, they don’t even have their own comfortable place where they can rest.
While stars have their own air conditioned tents, the extras are driven away by the caterer and by other personnel each time they try to station themselves somewhere. They finally end up resting on the grass. At mealtime, food runs out and some of them end up not being able to eat anything. But it also celebrates the sense of camaraderie that develops among the extras in the course of the taping.
The movie comes truly alive, well acted by the big ensemble cast, from the big name stars who do cameo roles like Marian, Piolo, Pilar, Tom, Cherie Gil, Richard Yap and Eula Valdes, to the production people like Marlon Rivera as the director and Vince de Jesus as assistant director to all the actors who played extras, led by Ruby Ruiz as Josie, the talent coordinator for extras, and Tart Carlos of “Be Careful with My Heart” as Ate Vi’s foremost rival.
Of course, holding up the film together is Vilma Santos in her first indie film. As Loida Malabanan, the extra, she’s there from start to finish. Her character is so well defined. She’s been an extra all of her life. As a young girl, she fell in love with a cameraman, became a single mom and now has a hard time sending her teenage daughter to college. The movie is one day in the life of Loida, showing her preparing breakfast for her sleeping daughter before she leaves for work, how her day goes on the set, until she returns home to her daughter the next day.
Throughout the day, we join Loida in her moments of triumph (she bested another extra in an impromptu contest to be chosen to play the role of a housemaid) and humiliation (she doubles for Eula Valdes and gets mauled by Cherie Gil, she fails to deliver her lines properly in the role of a lady lawyer and was insulted by the director in front of everyone else.)
Your heart will really go out for Loida. More than anything else, she’s a very caring mother to her child. She’s also very caring to the younger extras, like a teener who’s working as an extra for the first time and who she advises to focus on her career and not on romance. She was also so affected when another extra faints on the set due to hunger and another one is subjected to heavy prosthetic makeup as a zombie and isn’t even allowed to answer the call of nature, only to be told that her scene won’t be shot anymore.
The final scene is priceless, the most touching of all. Loida attends a party and she gets to watch the crucial sequence she taped the night before on their neighbor’s TV set. She painfully sees the scene where she was supposed to be playing the lawyer now done by another actress. She was still retained in that scene, but only as part of the crowd. She cannot even tell her friends that she was supposed to play the lawyer part but she was kicked out because she couldn’t deliver her lines persuasively. It’s a wordless scene and you can feel Vilma reliving the embarrassment she went through, but she talks only with her eyes brimming with tears and you just want to hug her and comfort her. It’ll be gross injustice if Ate Vi wouldn’t win as best actress in the Cinemalaya Awards Night this Sunday. Tinulak na siya, tinakluban sa ulo, sinipa, pinaso ng sigarilyo, sinampal, hiniya at ininsulto mula ulo hanggang paa. And she is just consistently awesome through it all.
All extras in real life will love Jeturian and Ate Vi for showing in this film the humor and the soul of the experiences they go through in the course of their job. What’s nice about the film is that, as a real homage to extras, they listed down the names of all the extras who were involved in the film at the end credits.
The movie will be released in theatres nationwide on August 14 by Star Cinema. It has also been accepted as an entry in a major North American filmfest.