I had the opportunity to attend the Gala Premiere of "Ekstra" at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during the Cinemalaya Film Festival. It was a full house despite the heavy rains and floods. The film was introduced no less than by the director Jeffrey Jeturian and the producer Atty. Joji Alonso.
The occasion was made more special by the glorious presence of the star Gov. Vilma Santos (accompanied by husband Sen. Ralph Recto and son Christian). The predominantly Vilmanian audience filled the theater with claps and cheers whenever their idol looked up and waved at them before the movie, as well as during the numerous hilarious one-liners by the Star of All Seasons in the movie itself. That additional dimension made it a very memorable film watching experience for me. It felt like we were watching a play.
"Ekstra" is a very entertaining film that brings us into the world of a bit player or "ekstra" in the punishing world of television soap operas, where hectic daily shooting deadlines are the norm. This was not only a glimpse for the audience, but more of an immersion. We get an in-depth, no-holds-barred, brutally frank expose on how bit players are treated on and off the set of a location shoot.
Loida Malabanan has been a bit player for many years already. This job, however unstable, had enabled her to get her daughter through college even as a single mother, albeit barely.
Here, we follow Loida on one particularly eventful day when she was called to a remote location shoot in a Batangas farm for a hit nightly TV soap opera entitled "Nauna Kang Naging Akin". The production seems to be behind schedule, needing to shoot so many sequences to air that very night, making the director, and everyone else in the crew, super-stressed.
Through Loida, we see every indignity bit players had to endure in order to earn their seemingly measly living. They have no privacy, not enough food nor rest while on the set. They were at the constant beck, call and mercy of the director. the assistant director, the casting director. They had to wait for long periods of time under harsh conditions inflicted by weather, technical difficulties, and the inconsiderate diva behavior of the lead stars.
It was such an inspired idea to get a star of the highest caliber to play one of these unsung heroes of the show business. The fact that it was no less than Ms. Vilma Santos herself playing the lead role of Loida Malabanan makes this film so much more meaningful and special. If the lead was played by a lesser star, it would not have made an impression of such great impact as this film did.
Ms. Vilma Santos is the heart and soul of this film, and she was such a paradox in this role. She portrays her role in the most natural and realistic way, yet we know the character was so NOT her. Ms. Vilma was already the lead star in her very first film, "Trudis Liit"! Incredibly, she was able to successfully dim her megawatt star power to appear inferior in stature to stars like Marian Rivera and Piolo Pascual who were the lead stars of the soap being shot, yet Ms. Vilma still manages to outshine them all. Her most effective scenes had no spoken lines at all.
Ms. Cherie Gil was so deliciously campy good in her villainous Doña Beatriz character. Tart Carlos, more popularly known for her role as the ditsy maid Doris on TV's "Be Careful With My Heart," has a marked role playing Loida's friend and co-extra, where her skills in comedy shone. Musical director Vincent de Jesus was very effective as the harried assistant director, scrambling to accomplish all the orders of the impatient director.
This was such a revealing and informative movie for me, to see what really happens behind those neat and glamorous programs we see night after night on our TV screens. We never would have imagined that there is much chaos and exploitation before those final edits were reached. We have never seen these things behind the scenes depicted so honestly on screen. This could as well have been a documentary to further the cause of fair treatment of bit players. It is a position statement as much as it was entertainment.
Like "Babae sa Septic Tank" (an insider look into indie film making) last year, "Ekstra" is a definite must-see for all film fans to understand more in depth on how their beloved celluloid industry works. This is excellent work by Director Jeffrey Jeturian. An indie 9/10.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."