“Reg, are you free on Monday?” my Italian friend asks me on Messenger. “Yes, I am, bella. Why?” I reply. “I am trying to help my friend find foreign-looking people to be extras in a teleserye.”
She tells me the talent fee I’ll receive for being in the background for a day (the fee for afams is reportedly P1,000 more than locals get, and because I’m not with an agency, no one gets a cut), and I figure to myself that it isn’t as though I’ll be doing anything anyway, so I may as well make a little pocket money by doing nothing somewhere that isn’t my bedroom. It’s more than I’d make writing a feature for a magazine, and the money is handed over in cold, hard cash immediately after the shoot.
That, and like many others I know, I’ve always had a not-so-secret fantasy about being an artista. (I used to seriously want to audition for Big Brother to see what would happen. “Don’t,” was the advice I received from a friend who was actually a Housemate in one of the Celebrity Editions. “As in, do not. It’s terrible.”) This would be my opportunity to see what that world is really like. For that alone, I just have to say yes.
Our call time is nine in the morning, and upon waking at exactly nine in the morning, I try to back out. “Don’t worry,” I’m told, “these things never start on time; you can still make it.” I arrive at the location — an events venue in Quezon City — at half past 10 and recognize some legitimately foreign friends lounging outside the Sbarro next door. “What’s happening?” I ask. “Nothing yet,” they say, although we have all already made ourselves up and dressed in black. The scene we’re shooting today is a formal-ish function, and we were instructed to dress for a black and white party. The small but air-conditioned changing room — like a glorified Portalet — is set up on the sidewalk by the road, next to the show’s catering service, housed under a rental canopy, and a tent that serves as a holding area for other extras’ things, but not the extras themselves.
At 11:30, we are all antsy. It’s an incredibly hot summer day, and we retreat into Sbarro to enjoy their air-conditioning under the guise of buying drinks. Some of us leave to grab a bite to eat. (They ultimately do not return.)
At 1:30, we find out that taping starts in half an hour, and that we will be expected to remain on set until taping for the day ends. “Sometimes it is just a few hours,” my friend tells me. “Sometimes, it is until early morning.” But one of the main actresses for this particular show has a clause in her contract stating that she will not tape past two in the morning, so at the very least, we know the worst case scenario. This is the point of no return — do I commit the next 12 hours to this endeavor, just to sate my curiosity about what life in showbiz is actually like?