Bubbles Bubbles

by Katski

Hindi ko sasabihing ideal ang proseso ng paglikha ng kuwento for soaps sa Pilipinas. I’ve been a headwriter 3x and a creative manager (someone on top of a headwriter) twice. 12 years na rin akong on and off sa tv bilang isang creative person.

Inside the flawed system that facilitates the creation of a soap, maraming boses, maraming sumasali, maraming experts (real and self-proclaimed) sa kung ano ang maganda at tatangkilikin ng manonood. Higit sa lahat, maraming givens na sinusunod, commercially (what rates) and artistically (what will make your show GOOD). Katulad nang sa kahit na anong genre, gumagalaw ka sa loob ng isang kahon. Nasa galing na ngayon ng nagsusulat kung gaano sila kahusay sa paglikha sa loob ng isang kahon.

Pero hindi dahil may kahon, walang craft, walang art at walang puso ang mga taong gumagawa sa loob nito. I still remember Ricky Lee’s words to a group of young, would-be soap writers undergoing a workshop years ago. “Mas mahirap lumikha nang hindi malaya.” This multi-awarded and internationally celebrated filmmaker, who has served as one of the creative pillars of ABS TV for more than a decade, meant it as a challenge. It is a truth any creator working in ANY industry where art and commerce try to fuck each other senseless, must embrace.

May givens, here and around the world, para kumita o panoorin ka. But we don’t blanketly say all outcomes are trash. You have gems and you have garbage. Sometimes you luck out on the creative team, the actors, the director and sometimes you don’t. I’ve been on the receiving end of “it’s too smart” comments from the top suits myself. But really, sometimes, “it’s too smart” is actually “it’s just boring.”

Filipinos who love soaps would rather be emotionally engaged than mentally engaged, that’s true. At dahil ALIW ang pinag-uusapan, sino ba nagsabing mas mainam ang isang engagement over another? Let me tell you, it takes the same amount of skill to create a show that is as emotionally gripping as it is smart. A show will die if all it stands on is intellect. A show, no matter how terrible, will survive when fueled by pathos. And even if you don’t agree, who are you to prescribe your engagement preference or declare it superior?

Kaya siya soap opera, it is meant to be emotionally stimulating more than intellectually complex. (Be that as it may, do you know how hard it is to graph a character’s journey from grief to joy in a span of three gaps in a soap episode? Hard.) A soap opera is just a form, neither superior or inferior to any other form. Yung uri ng kwento na angkop sa soap ay emotional, externalized and narratively “simple.” Yes, it is exaggerated, inflated, excessive, overstated stories about amnesia, mistaken identity, rags to riches, family clan wars, affairs, love, tragedy, love, murder, love, revenge, love and more love. So is almost all of Shakespeare’s work. Talk about excess. Haluan mo pa ng incest, fairies at mga hayop na nagsasalita.

There is beauty to be found in any form when it is done well. Sa soap, the objective of every show is to own the emotions of its audience and sweep it along. Does enjoying that experience make a person stupid? No. Is a person who watches HBO or Showtime series more intelligent than a person who watches soaps? No. Are makers of one better than the makers of the other? No. Is one genre better than another? No. Why? All they do is serve preferences for entertainment, they don’t determine your character or your abilities. Hindi mo masusukat ang lalim, talino at kakayahan ng taong maging mahusay na tao sa pinapanood niya sa TV. Kung yun lang ang batayan…talo lahat ng adik sa TV, ke soap opera ang pinapanood mo o mga show sa US tungkol sa mga duktor, abugado, detectives at police. (I mean how many shows about lawyers, doctors and cops can one country make? Oh yes. One for each of the 50 states.)

You can’t critique a genre you don’t fully understand nor patronize.

Do you want to critique local soaps?

Talk about the structural narrative differences of a weekly, daily and mini series. Talk about the relationship of local tv with their audience, which behave uniquely from that of other countries because…uh….they’re from other countries.

Talk about cultural idiosyncracies, talk about whether or not the stories of our soaps are effective in capturing what the majority of Filipinos want to watch or the values they cherish-then discuss why and if there is room to elevate anything- and should we even be so arrogant as to assume that task and then ask again, why. Dissect a soap’s failure or ability to connect with its audience, care about the characters and again ask, why.

You want to be taken seriously in your rants against local tv content?

You must first show an active interest in the lives of people outside your miniscule circle in social media. You know, beyond those who love Sherlock, Suits, Scandal, Downton Abbey, OITNB, Breaking Bad and the like. Beyond those who go for the more obscure shows like that soap opera on heroin and steroids combined, Game of Thrones or beyond the ones who still love the “classics” like…Grey’s Anatomy (still airing?), House and CSI.

Because I promise you, hindi tinuturing aspiration o gold standard ng local TV teleserye makers ang Hollywood. And why on earth would they.

Ang ganda kaya ng Pangako Sa’Yo, Mulawin, Angelito at AnnafrickingLuna y’all! And Mara Clara (the original) was as addictive as Penny Dreadful (na naging interesting lang after 4 episodes). There are a lot more obviously. The examples are somewhat ancient. The point is maraming basura sa tv, dito at sa ibang bansa. Marami ring maganda, malikhain, no-excuses-for-prod-budget-groundbreaking shows na rin ang ginawa na ng abs, gma at tv5, yung iba pinanood, yung iba hindi nag rate kaya nawala agad.

Do you even know what Filipinos aspire for? At the core of their being, what they dream about? Do you even know who it is that watch local tv? Would it suprise you to know that actually, they are NOT stupid? Oh that’s right you don’t believe they are, you just believe they don’t think about what they want to watch on TV,they are mindless drones who can be so easily controlled by soulless creators. Right?

Let me gather all those notions in a bus set to detonate AND fall into a cliff. Let me kneel on a mountain of garbage exactly like Smokey Mountain, cry unto the heavens as TORRENTIAL RAIN falls down on me, on cue and shout (sa camera na naka mount sa crane:)

MGA HAMBOOG! WALA KAYONG ALAAM! TIKMAN NINYO ANG BATAS NG ALIPIIN!!

If only that were true. Ang sarap siguro ng buhay ng mga taga TV kung totoo yun. Get this straight. The Filipino audience is not stupid. Stop thinking they are. They know what they want and you can’t fool them with glossy production designs, breathtaking locations and big name actors. They love soaps, they know what makes a good soap good and addictive. Sure the networks try, as they must, but everyone involved knows it is not a guarantee. And one thing research has consistently shown is, it is always the story and the way it is told, that captivates an audience.

It’s a drug but isn’t all entertainment? If you can’t deliver the high, they will leave you for better goods. At hindi bagong impormasyon yun sa mga gumagawa ng ganitong show. Soap creators have data given to them telling them WHAT that audience is looking for. That is in and of itself a different discussion but I will invite you to join only if you can participate intelligently in a conversation about escapist entertainment and dealing with an economy-driven sensibility.

Not interested? Thought so.
Doesn’t matter.

I say this to enlighten you on one thing. Soaps do not feed audiences. It is the other way around. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and try to realize what that means.

TALK smartly along those lines and let’s engage in a real discussion about the business and process of creating soap content on local tv.

But don’t come at the soap makers with Hollywood comparisons because that’s not going to get you anywhere, you will be rightly dismissed as an infant or a fool not worthy of a second look.

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