It takes (more than) five

Fifteen minutes after our supposed end time - and after a synthetic war on the headphones - the ATakes5 production team finally finishes the task, and a group picture is in order. Marielle happily snaps the photo in this case. Clockwise from left: me (producer and floor director), Adrian (all-around technical guy), Sars (cameras and all-important connection to the guest), Kuya Icky (the guest himself), Mae (graphics and one-time production assistant), Arlene (presenter), Lau (cameras), Kimmy (technical director and production designer), and Fran (director and writer).

Finally. After two weeks or so, we finished doing our first major television production: a talk show.

And, for some reason, we all decided to recruit somebody from outside. All groupd actually did - Ariane's group decided to guest Pocholo Gonzales, described as "the voice master himself", in her backstage-inspired production. Misha's group guested Hazel Go, a freelance make-up artist who's slowly making waves in the industry. And us? On that meeting two Wednesdays ago, we decided to talk to a clown.

The moment Sir Doy announced the groupings for the talk show project, Mae and I went home together and half-brainstormed about what to do. We were only a five-minute talk show then, with me assigned as producer and Fran assigned as director. The first thing Mae suggested was a host: Arlene. I actually liked the idea, but I had a different priority: the guest.

It took so long for something to actually take place. I think it's just us being busy, or being too free, but nevertheless I almost didn't make it to the meeting. Everyone from LC18 were there, and somehow I was being trumped; Lau was in class while Sars didn't have any for the day. My first email to the group was actually sucky, to some extent.

The talk show is named ATakes5 and will (most definitely) be hosted by Arlene. Ang topic na naisip nila is clowns, since, according to Fran, there's this curiosity about whether they are really, as some say, the loneliest people in the world.

ATakes5 became the name for no particular reason. When we presented that name to Sir Doy last Friday, he was trying to somehow figure out what it all means. Fran came up with the idea of using a single letter as the program name (which is better than my first flimsy name, Arlene, partly inspired by Oprah) but eventually my name stuck - it just occurred after the meeting, while I was waiting for my only class to begin. I told Fran about it as they walked down to lunch, and then I got a text message half an hour later.

"Hey," she said. "The title of our talk show is ATakes5. We liked it."

I may be the producer, but I still think this is my only big contribution to the production. I came to the meeting and they were already talking about the clown, and the set (initially planned as two bean bags and balloons, among others). But I think I compensated on all the sweat I let out within the next week after we drafted the camera positions, set the deadlines and threw ideas at each other. But really, I crammed the initial script and just said yes to everything else, except for the idea of using audience clips in the middle of the already-too-short five minutes we were alloted. At this point, one bean bag became Kimmy's floor sofa, a platform was added, and after one day of phone-bashing every possible contact we had - we were throwing prices and figures - we had a guest.

I think we were partly lucky on this one. Sars' older brother once part-timed as a clown with his friends, who happen to be a family of clowns. As such, Sars also knows Pikoy, and when we confirmed that he's coming to the program, she told me a lot of things - about his being stocky and all - and probably everything else about the business: about who does what, and what happens when. I actually forgot to reserve a slot, and Misha got ahead of me. The next meeting was Wednesday at 11.00 - and I only had thirty minutes to work with.

My email that following Saturday just repeated everything that's been said, and a few more. I was tired by then, honestly - with the screenplay, the storyboard, and the concept, all I wanted to do was sleep. (In fact, the day of the meeting, I was somewhat sick.) And everybody else had their own stuff to worry about - I was texting Fran in the middle of her video shoot at Misha's. And all the LC18 people were worrying about their accounting midterms - some of which are taking it the night after the shoot!

The stressful stuff happened on Wednesday. That entire week, actually. Maybe you could also throw in my chase video exercise, but this was also the day when I took out a visitor's pass, and eventually, the letter that I had Kimmy write to get the sofa and bean bag in. (And the people at the Physical Facilities Office were wondering sick about what we would be doing with a sofa inside the campus.) I skipped half of the pep rally for that, actually, but nevertheless I was feeling hot, because on that day, the sun decide to shine terribly. Arlene polished the flimsy script I sent in, because she had to throw the guide questions in. Fran also polished what Arlene already had, after thinking up of camera angles and technical whatnot. The opening billboard - we were supposedly the first but shoot sequences meant Ariane was - was already done, but I can't seem to view it anywhere. (Arlene apparently shot it alone, because she never got to meet Mae.) But my email was still as positive as ever.

Guys, we can do this. It's already looking good from here!

Well, I had to keep positive. That suddenly was my role - eternal email sender, part cheerleader, part actual production head. Arlene was also sharing in the positivity.

"Tell me you're excited!" she exclaimed while I was in the jeepney home. I simply said that I was.

"Grreaat!" she answered. "Coz I am! Kahit accounting midterms namin after. Graphics, audio, cameras, TD, director... everyone will be great! Sobrang galing na nila nung practice pa lang."

And suddenly I felt a bit shamed, because when all that was happening, I was studying about the existence of God.

A night before the shoot, though, Murphy's Law was swinging. I was texting Sars about Pikoy when I got the worst reply I could possibly expect.

"Nagpalit ng clown! RJ Jimenez at your service!"

Well, it wasn't that bad. At least we had a replacement, also from the same stable of clowns as Pikoy - and, according to her stories before, he's the guy who does the acrobatics. I was happy to hear that, but a bit nervous about how we would fit the tactics in five minutes. Arlene was a bit surprised, but was relieved to hear that RJ is also a clown. Fran wasn't that enthusiastic, though, because of the possibility that the new guest himself might not show up. After a million confirmations, I was relieved - I only had to alert Mae for the graphics and Fran for the script. And Arlene and I were talking about make-up, and she was joking about having Hazel Go, Misha's guest, do hers.

But Fran's speculation did come true. The morning after, Sars had more news.

"Sorry, Niko, si Ricky Boy Jimenez pala. Papatayin na ako ni Mae."

In other words, we changed guests twice within the span of fourteen hours! Arlene was suddenly content with simply having a clown as a guest, but was feeling a bit down about losing the chance to meet an acrobat. Fran was in accounting mode, and we were shuttling between the television studio (where no practice commenced, for some reason) and Gypsies for the study group - oh, and she was getting as worried as I am. "How's the clown?" she was asking, while I was shooting a part of my chase video with Charmaine, and thinking of the script at the same time. Eventually, she was worried enough to text me this.

"Niko, can you call me up?"

And then, again.

"Niko, can you call me up?"

You can also imagine my worry. We might not have a guest, and thus, no talk show. (Funnily this was the first thing I worried about.) I just took the visitor's pass and the approved furniture entry request after office hours the night before, and I actually had to change the name written there. I called Fran up, then Sars about the balloons - we settled for those long ones we can turn into animal figures - and eventually I did pass by Gypsies (I was already called "hun" in her text messages for some reason) for a meeting that was surprisingly short. And then I went to class. And then I had lunch. And then I shot the last of my chase with John, with an actual 13.45 deadline so that we could work on our respective productions.

The next two hours was the epitome of all that I worried about. In between filling balloons, updating gate passes and confirming everything, there was the issue about the couch - it was ditched at the very last minute - and there was Sars' last revelation: she still didn't know who was being sent to DLSU. (Last-minute shows meant nobody among the clowns also knew who was going where.) And then, there was the bean bag itself, which apparently didn't need a gate pass. Kimmy was probably itching to get in the campus as well.

"Niko! Fast! The car can't stay here."

Thank miscommunication for that. My phone wasn't vibrating very well, and when she sent that Adrian and I were on our way to South Gate, expecting to bring a sofa in.

Here's the shoot from the floor. That's me, perched on the ditched tables, tattered scripts laid out page by page, confirming Fran about the magic tricks. Imagine me after running around for clowns, photos, videos, and sofas. I could just faint by then, because the lights were hotter than usual!

Stress reached its peak, though, during the rehearsals. The set took a short time to set up - the balloons were ready, the curtains were there, and Mae's raid to Toy Kingdom got her a mask, stuffed toys, and those rubber mats you usually see in day care centers. But we took a long time rehearsing, and reblocking, squeezing in a card trick, and ditching the volunteers I called out. (Marielle and John were willing, but eventually an even-more-stressed Fran had us remove the volunteers and the table I was to put in.)

At this point, there was a war of sorts going on in the control room, and in our headsets. Nope, nobody was fighting anybody - it's just that the suggestions Sir Doy was throwing in was already freaking Fran out. At one point, Sars (who did one camera) and I (who was handling the stage) reacted to Fran's voice, ever-so-increasing in volume, because everything seemed to go wrong. She then asked if she could stand up throughout the entire thing, and was allowed. (Why shouldn't she?) Kimmy, apparently, was slightly fumbling with the video switcher, and the camera angles on the floor was getting a bit weird. And Misha - who surprisingly sported her hair untied - was telling me to speak softer because my voice was being recorded, for some reason, by the microphones installed on Lau's camera!

We actually went overtime, but once Celine, who volunteered to tape the show for us, mentioned the best news of the afternoon - that we were under five minutes - we rolled the tape. Nothing should go wrong by then: Arlene had memorized the script, somehow, so there was no need to use the teleprompter; the cameras were working smoothly; I was easing into the position I took; and Fran was, well, doing better.

Fran finally asked the very question we wanted to hear. "Are we ready to tape?"

Arlene participates in the card trick with Kuya Icky. Apparently clown aren't really the saddest people in the world - they make others happy, and they become happy themselves.

And so we rolled. Arlene fumbled a bit, still, referring to Kuya Icky as Kuya Pikoy, as the script initially said. (I was, like, "Kuya Ickyyy, Arlene, Kuya Ickyyy!" in the softest whisper possible.) Her adlib was funny, and the rest of those at the studio floor were impressed. Everything else was actually adlibbed, but it didn't seem so because the six rehearsals meant she was remembering everything she said - well, except for Kuya Icky's name. Five minutes later, we knew that clowns are happy when they make others happy, red balls and cards were scattered on the floor, both on-screen people were performing the ATakes5 action, and the closing billboard was rolling.

And that was it.

Eventually the aircon units fought the studio lights and it was getting more comfortable. Inside the control room, well, I don't know - everybody was in, well, control room mode! And I don't know why, but I was just so happy to see the entire thing produced. Finally, a show with a name I thought of got out pretty well. And, somehow, I decided to hug Fran after the entire thing - you could just imagine what we were hearing in our headsets - and, suffice it to say, she gave it back.

The ending was, well, surprisingly uneventful. We didn't watch our show yet for most left to study for their accounting midterms. I resorted to taking photos on my mobile, and the last group finally lifted their yellow couches in, and took longer to rehearse. There was that photo at the very start of this achingly long entry, and then there was the talent fee we had to pay (we had to), and then, as Sars said, there was this awkward moment when Sars got her part of the payment from Kuya Icky, apparently for her brother who actually gets part of it as part of the referral. Weirdly, Sir Doy saw the entire thing.

And then, I sent everybody a text message, giving ourselves a much-needed virtual pat in the back. Arlene just got so tired, she apparently guessed some answers on her accounting midterms. And Adrian thinks we need to celebrate within the next week. The next thing we know, we're doing a newscast, and all the groups will be different. I'll only look at the photos of that day, from Marielle and Adrian as of this moment, probably, and I'll never be sure if I'd ever be ready for ten minutes of hard news.

But finishing that thing is priceless.

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