The participant observation activity I chose is a shooting of ABS-CBN’s, teleserye, “Ina Kapatid Anak.” My key informants for this endeavor are my cousins, Lakambini “Kam” Chiu and Kimberly “Kim” Chiu. Kim is currently playing the part of Celyn Theresa in this series; thereby, enabling me to observe the set. Kam, as my primary informant, was only free to accompany me in the set at 10 pm; hence, I participated and observed the activity until it ended at 3 am. I would like to present my notes in the sequence as I went through the night.
The scenes were taken in a rented house in Lagro Subdivision, a middle to lower class subdivision. The set took the whole street; there were approximately 30 crewmembers from all departments and around 20 fans staying at a fixed distance. The lighting of the set illuminated the filmed area that made it seem like it was still daytime. When Kam and I arrived, Kim introduced us to both the director and the assistant director and generally, the whole crew. Interestingly enough, they weren’t apathetic about me. Most of them were in awe of the fact that I study in Ateneo. When I explained the nature of the activity, they were very accommodating and the directors authorized me to scrutinize the set. In fact, they even gave me a chair to sit together with the directing team. However, approximately 60% of the crewmembers were smoking cigarettes and the persisting smell of second hand smoke was present the whole time. Kam informs me that most of them smoke and eat a lot to keep themselves awake as the night progresses.
Basically, I observed 4 different scenes from different perspectives and I participated in one of them. In the first scene, Celyn conversing with her mother, I noticed that both directors stood beside the actors and demonstrated the actions and movements that they should do. Also, during this time, the actors are still holding their scripts and memorizing their lines. Kim tells me later on that it is a common practice for young adult actors to memorize on the spot whilst rehearsing. It is only the senior actors who rehearse their lines a night before. After the rehearsal, the assistant director says, “take”, which is echoed loudly by two other crewmembers and counts off from 5. Then, there was absolute silence. Incidentally, the neighbor’s dog started barking. Indignant, the director said, “patayin ang aso!” Indeed, someone went and hushed the dog. Also, after every take, the assistant director, replays the scene through the sequenced camera.
In the set there are portable tents constructed: the sequence monitor tent—the system where all the cameras connect to, the male and female tents for the actors and actresses, and the male and female comfort room tents. Amusingly, all these tents also have individual air-conditioners appended on them, including the female comfort room. Once the scene ends, the actors all went back to their air-conditioned tents while the crewmembers prepared the necessary changes for the next scene. I observed that the transition process was very systematized. It seems that the Philippines film industry has adapted the specialization system, wherein the roles and responsibilities are subdivided to as many departments as possible. This entails lesser training and wages but greater efficiency and competency. Some departments and their tasks include: light—handles and moves the lighting system; sound—cares for the lapels/microphones used and the wirings that are taped on the ground; camera—changes the positions of the cameras; wardrobe—prepares the clothes and accessories the actors will use, and work with each actor’s personal assistant to find replacements for the apparels the actor is unsatisfied with; sentry—accompanies the actors back to their tents and strictly counts one to five when fans attempt to take pictures together with the actors; make up—handles the make up retouches; cleaning—gathers the waste produced by the set; catering—provides meals, snacks and midnight meals (reason why most crewmembers are corpulent); producing—executes the sequence guide and informs the actors when their turns are up; directing—weaves all the departmental functions together, paying attention to all the details and demanding changes to those that are found substandard.
As I asked questions and clarifications from my key informants, they decided that I could not possibly be Kim’s assistant, as I don’t know the organization of her belongings in her second home van (has a bed inside). Therefore, they asked the director if I could be a free, additional talent, the extra casts of a scene. Fortunately, the director agreed. I was glad that people recognized and respected my presence there. But once it was my turn to be under the spotlight, it was both terrifying and exhilarating. For the second scene, Celyn’s conversation with her grandfather, I was one of the talents told to walk on the road outside the house. I was very pressured because the instructions the assistant director gave were general. He just told me to walk normally as I do and not to look at the camera. Had I made a mistake, there would have been a retake and everyone’s time in the set would be prolonged. Kam told me that their daily call time is 7 am and they normally work straight until 4 to 5 am every MWF.
In the third scene, the arrival of Celyn’s car and her implied rejection to a suitor, I perceived the scrupulous attention the director had on details. For instance, the light department took around 10 minutes to adjust the beam of light projected towards the scene because the directors weren’t satisfied. Also, the car’s headlights were a tad too bright so the crewmembers had to use durable tissues sprayed with Lysol to cover and dim the headlights. In addition, even the shoes that Kim wore were changed. The directors demanded consistency with what she wore in a previous scene. Therefore, the wardrobe team had to coordinate with Kim’s personal assistant to locate those shoes.
I observed the fourth scene, the bedroom conversation, in the perspective of the director in the sequence monitor tent. It is interesting to note that the director saying “action” and “cut” is actually just the assistant. The main director essentially decides the camera angles that will be used. During the taping of the scene, the director just snapped his fingers while the controller announced which camera he was switching to. At one point, the director snapped his fingers so many times that the cameras switched four times within seven seconds. Furthermore, the director speaks through a microphone that informs the cameramen to move the cameras when needed. It is fascinating to discover that the angles we see in TV are actually edited on the spot and only little improvements are made afterwards. After the director says, “cut,” he then immediately reviews the recorded section and makes vital modifications. This went on for hours until the pack up signal was finally given and all the crewmembers lined up to get their daily salaries.
When I participated, everything changed. I became accountable for something. I played a role in the bigger picture. There, I saw how the director conveyed instructions for different tasks. I became more aware of the people from different departments. For instance, I saw the person controlling and moving the camera as I looked directly at him. I noticed the cues given by the assistant director and the people who reiterated these gestures. Moreover, I realized the patience talents needed to possess. Their job involved a lot of waiting while maintaining a satisfactory appearance. In my opinion, participating served as lenses that magnified my understanding of the filming industry’s culture. I realized that the seemingly disconnected departments that focused only on their own tasks at hand are linked together by the instructions and commands given by the directors. Although the measurement of each department’s performance lies on their efficacy and productivity, the directors make them realize that the entirety of the whole production depends on their synchronization and coordination with one another.
Having key informants were imperative for me to have understood anything. It was Kam, my key informant, who updated me on who’s who. For instance, I would have assumed that the assistant director was the main director because of the notion Hollywood films has established: that main director is always the one sitting on the special chair. Also, she pointed out to me the make up artist, the wardrobe head, the lights head, the sound head, the sentry head, etc. while explaining their duties and responsibilities.
Participant observation provided me with a lot of information that an interview would miss. These include: ways to check for nonverbal expression of feelings, determining who interacts with whom, how the system works, grasping how the crew members communicated with one another, and determining how much time was really spent on different activities such as rehearsal, shooting, waiting, etc. On the other hand, interviews depend on what the interviewee is unable or unwilling to share when doing so would be impolitic, impolite or insensitive; therefore, there are some information that would be overlooked or neglected. Furthermore, participant observation helped me identify distortions or inaccuracies in description provided by my key informant. For instance, Kam said that it is the assistant director who speaks through a microphone to the sequence-monitor-tent-in-charge to change the cameras’ angle; when in fact it is the director who stays inside the tent and takes care of it. Moreover, participant observation allows me to make a richly detailed description on the processes that goes on in the activity. It can better answer the HOW and WHY questions as compared to interviews and questionnaires.
Conversely, interviews or questionnaires are better applied when the information a person needs are easily attainable. This includes WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE questions that can be straightforwardly answered. Interviews are better used when the questions delve on the personal or individual level rather than a collective level. It will help the interviewer discover what individuals think and feel about a topic. Likewise, questionnaires should be employed when large amounts of information from a large number of people need to be collected in a short period of time. This is because the results can be hastily quantified and analyzed in a more scientific and objective method as compared to participant observation.
Jed Jefferson C. Sinco – SA 21 P