I did not realize it had been a little more than a month since I ended my term, and to be honest, the transition wasn't as easy. After six years of fully dedicating my time to be of service to the film industry, it was quite an adjustment returning to the slower-paced days outside of government, to suddenly go back to being in front again of the camera instead of behind an office desk.
Six years of hiatus was long, and I did not realize how much I missed it. But I found myself holding a script, packing my things, and preparing for a week-long locked-in shoot outside Metro Manila to play a guest role for a new teleserye. I remember back then, a lot of people have asked me why I did not accept acting jobs during my term as FDCP chief even if there had been a few acting projects that came my way. For some reason, there was something in me that knew I would be able to serve best if I put my first love, acting, aside and focus on being a public servant. Perhaps it is also because when I came in, many were doubtful of my sincerity and capability to lead the national film agency. I knew there was a lot to learn.
I saw it as a challenge to improve myself and soak in all the experience and learnings — from attending every conference, training, and workshop to learning more about the film industry and, at the same time, understanding government processes. I thought it was best to have my acting career temporarily take a back seat so I may devote myself to taking on the job and being the best public servant I could be. From thinking about how I can show my acting chops or how to get to act in the next film that can take me to Cannes, my priorities shifted to thinking and planning for the possible changes I can effect through this new role to fulfill the dream of creating a culture of safety for the film workers of our industry.
And so I faced the challenge of leadership head-on, rolled my sleeves, and went to town. For the next six years, it became a personal mission to be able to champion the importance of occupational safety and health for our workers. It wasn't an easy road, pillars of the industry who came before me have long been fighting and pushing for workers' welfare, but it has always been an uphill battle to achieve because of the entrenched culture that has long been cultivated in the sector.
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Then the pandemic hit. But with government guidelines in place through FDCP's partnership with concerned government agencies and the inevitable realization of the sector to make drastic changes to ensure safety at work, the industry crafted protocols and safe filming plans to create a safer environment for production shoots amid the pandemic.
So imagine the feeling of what my first day on the set looks like. What a "new normal" for me looks like being back as an actress and a witness to the new normal in filmmaking — I was secretly jumping for joy. As I was given the call sheet with a 12-hour workday breakdown, I couldn't help but feel so emotional because it was my first time experiencing firsthand the significant changes that are slowly happening in our industry. Below are some of the crucial provisions to create better working conditions that are now being implemented in productions:
The mandatory presence of safety officers on set. One of the significant changes in productions is normalizing the mandatory presence of Safety Officers on set. Before the pandemic and before the issuance of government-issued filming guidelines, the practice of having Safety Officers is only exclusive to big productions and foreign projects, even if this mandatory provision is already present in the OSH law since 2018. Today, it is mandatory for every audiovisual production — whether it is film, television, or other content production. DoLE has also been more mindful of its enforcement. The FDCP's safe filming program has produced around 260 safety officers through its training program since 2021. It continues to champion the importance of creating a safety culture within the audiovisual industry.
Twelve-hour work day. What seemed like a lofty dream is slowly becoming a norm in film and TV productions. Before, production shoots could go for as long as 30 hours in one work day where the cast and crew would start at daybreak, around 5 a.m, and end at 2 p.m. the next day because there were no strict guidelines in place that would guide workers in understanding the allowable working hours.
My recent work commitment follows a 12-hour work day which is an industry-standard even in other countries. While the latest government-issued guidelines allow a maximum of 14 hours exclusive of breaks, adopting a 12- hour work rule is ideal because you are training your cast and crew to understand the work required within this period.
Proper turnaround time. Turnaround time represents the period of time that stands between the end of the workday on the set and the specified call time for the next day. This is the time that workers use to rest or do anything they need to since this is personal time in between work.
A set turnaround time is essential because it provides a guaranteed opportunity for film workers to rest and relax. Burnout can happen without these rules and regulations for the workers in production. Current government guidelines prescribe a 12-hour turnaround time for workers, including the travel time. Since most productions currently conduct a production bubble set-up, a 10 to 12 hour turnaround is being implemented since no travel is required from the workers to get to their locations.
Accommodations for cast and crew. Another significant change I experienced was the provision of accommodations and lodging for the cast and crew members. With my recent acting work, the cast and crew, even some of the background actors and stunt performers, were billeted adequately in a hotel in compliance with standard protocols to keep the whole production safe. Actually, production bubbles are no longer required with the current Covid restrictions at Level 1. Still, I welcome the stringent measures being implemented by these productions because it creates a much safer environment and workspace for the people in the production.
Meals. Giving credit where it's due, the usual practice of breakfast, lunch, merienda, and dinner in the Philippine film industry is actually above the minimum standards. It just means that Filipinos give so much importance to feeding our staff on time. This practice compensates for the lack of craft services tables on film sets. Craft Services Table is a staple in international productions but is not a usual practice in the country. The craft services table is where the crew and talent can grab breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks while on set. The table is stocked with food that may not be provided by the catering company for the cast and crew.
In other countries, the meal standard is every six hours, meaning breakfast is not typically included. However, there is an area called the "craft table" where the cast and crew can feel free to eat snacks when needed. Remember, the key to a crew's heart is through its stomach. It may not seem as necessary, but the kind of food served on set can genuinely affect the quality of the film. When your team is happy, they will work hard to produce good work. When they're not, everything suffers.
I don't know if this is already the norm or still a one-off, but this is how things are supposed to be at the bare minimum. I am so happy that the first project I'm going to take after years of hiatus gives a premium to the welfare of its workers.
I am fully aware that this is just the beginning. Not all productions may be adopting this new standard of practice. Still, I hope this one-off becomes a norm and minimum baseline to be followed because film workers are the backbone of the film industry, and they deserve nothing less.