Saturday, April 7, 2012

What would be enough?

My first shot at script writing. 1st semester of Senior Year and we
fashioned a makeshift newsroom and my laptop served as
the email basket, writing dock and editing bay.

As part of ABS-CBN's Holy Week evening block, its News and Current Affairs show "Krusada" ran a replay of Abner Mercado's story about elder women inside prison and whether President Noynoy Aquino will give them executive clemency. The episode was called "Laya" and it was trying to ask a very simple question: Will we let these women die alone behind bars?

The story got to the producer in me first. It had a very haunting opening and very arresting visuals. At one point, they got a silhouette of a woman limping across the corridor with the bars as its foreground. I thought it said everything it should in that one shot.

Abner Mercado had done a similar story for The Correspondents a few years back, he had worked hand in hand with NGOs and he had used his journalistic vehicles to peddle the plea to the Palace. What they wanted was simple: Set the old women free. In the episode, we were told the stories of a woman who was jailed for possession of a P10 worth marijuana, a middle-aged woman just diagnosed of cancer and a mother paralyzed from Parkinson's disease. Mr. Mercado could not even get a lucid response from her.

At the last part, Mr. Mercado visited the President's older sister Ballsy, and gave her the handwritten letter of an inmate with a simple message: I've paid my time, now give me my life back.

It was sensational story-telling. It was good television, but it had heart. I could see it, I could feel it. So much so that it has led me to this blog right now.

I've wanted to be in the business of Journalism for as long as I can remember. I've wanted it before I even knew what it meant; stuck with it after learning of the struggles and the dirty tricks. I have been employed in the journalism line for almost two years now, but everyday I find myself asking the same question: Do I want to tell a story? Or do I just want to sell air time?

As an intern for Manila Standard Today;
the daily that gave me my first every byline.

When I started, I was so excited, I was eager to learn, I was young and news was evolving, and commerce was beginning to hold a heavier weight. And for a long time, I did that. I was in the business of selling news and during that period, I'd forgotten to ask myself that question.

And I think that's what killed me a little. To not be able to ask the question because I was not in the place to answer. My memory is quite sharp and I'm always remembering things people tell me at random - most of them don't even remember talking to me about the topic. But anyway, I remember eating with a friend from GMA, and her telling me that they tell the stories they do in the hope to affect one person's life the very least. That if she tells the story of seminarians in rural areas who are not given ample allowance, someone might listen, and maybe as a result, a brother is given a decent soutane to wear and a good copy of the Bible to carry and teach the words of God with. And that would be enough. And I sat there, envying her for having that purpose. For having the answer to my question.

Covering the Manila area during Ondoy for a College project,
and getting to tape a standupper with a GMA reporter who,
after he was done, was nice enough to lend me his mic
for a photo opportunity.

So tonight I'll answer my own question. Do I wanna tell a story? Or do I just want to sell air time? I want to do both. I want to be able to tell a story and then sell that story so someone could listen. To get it out there, to do my part, and to do a difference in at least one person's life. And that would be more than enough.

It boils down to this simple line: To express, not to impress.

I'm in the business of making good Television. In the business of ratings, of advertising, of profit. In an industry where the story of killing sharks is mercilessly toppled in ratings by the story of two neighbors fighting over a lover. And I've accepted that. That we invest emotional and mental energy into telling the story of cutting trees and fight for air time, when paparazzi shots of korean bands just swiftly land on the fist gap.

But it's not the fault of the story tellers. After all, we're just messengers. And there is demand for certain kinds of content. But I still believe that Journalism is not just telling people what they want to know; it's telling people what they need and should know. And we carry that responsibility to be in their face and say "Hey, I know you would rather be getting entertained with dancing koala bears, but this matters and so you should listen."

It could make for good television, it could be oozing with ratings potential, it could be controversial, it could be loud. But it could also be quiet, underrated - it could be boring, it could be dull. It just needs to be a story that has to be told. And when we do tell it, then we've done our part and it would be enough.

On the field for only my 6th story as a producer.
It wasn't particularly my favorite but hopefully a training ground for
future stories that would mean more.

When I was in High School, I took Journalism as my extra subject. At the onset of the class, my teacher enumerated the reasons why people want to be a Journalist. I remember 1.) To be in the forefront of History 2.) The privilege of being the first to know 3.) The glory of the byline and some more about how covering the news is thrilling.

She forgot one thing and the most important: They just want to tell stories.

And that's what I want to do. I want to tell stories, but that still wouldn't be enough. I want to tell stories but more crucial than that, I want to tell them right. And I'm trying to learn just how to do that so one day I could tell myself I've done my part.

And that would be enough.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good night, One Tree Hill

So One Tree Hill ended tonight. After 187 episodes, running a little over 9 years, the curtain had to come down, and quite literally, played the ending music.

And I was so affected that I tweeted some of the best lines from the show including Peyton's "First of all you don't know me, second of all, you don't know me" from the first episodes of Season 1. One Tree Hill ended and so did a fragment of my life, and I'm not kidding. Have you ever been attached to any work of art so much that it's just really too hard to let go when it's all over?

I started watching the series when it started airing. I was in High School, a sophomore, in a new school and finding it too difficult to fit in. And all that could make me get out of bed every morning was the thought of Tuesday night on ETC at 8pm when a brand new episode airs. And that was my life. And they became my best friends.

Lucas, my dear Lucas, who kept spitting out all these great lines from all these great books I didn't even know about. And I was learning things about Oscar Wilde and Albert Camus and before you know it, I was writing...stuff, on a notebook, on a diary, on my phone, on anything, about anything. I told myself, if I could just write my thoughts down the way Lucas expresses his on those epic parting voiceovers, then maybe that was enough.

And Peyton. I bought my very first pair of Chuck Taylors because I wanted to look like her. I wanted to be the kind of person that didn't care so much about what people think about you in High School. There was one thing she said in the first season that stuck to me like glue. Lucas stole her art works and passed it on to the local paper to have it published. Peyton wasn't thrilled.

"I want to draw something that means something to someone. You know, I want to draw blind, faith or a fading summer of just a moment of clarity. It's like when you go and see a really great band live for the first time and nobody is saying it but everybody is thinking it. We have something to believe in again. I want to draw that feeling but I can't and if i can't be great at it, then i don't want to ruin it, it's too important for me."
That's exactly what I felt about writing that time. I was 15, in High School, thought I was in love with a boy, but felt so much stronger about keeping my writing faithful, wanting to be great at it more than I ever wanted anything else in my life. It was a moment of clarity that at the time I could not write, and did not attempt to. I was just glad that among all the other kids who couldn't make up their minds what they wanted to do after High School and was lingering, I knew what I wanted to do, and I was excited to do it.

Mark Schwann (show creator and writer) got me hooked on the very first season. The show flailed a couple of times after. Season 2 went by like a blur and after season 6, it felt like it was ready to end, but continued to air for 3 more. And I tell this to everybody, but I just couldn't stop watching because they were family, and you don't quit on family.

Mark always said the show was nothing without its music, and rightly so. And that's a big part I will miss about One Tree Hill, its choice of music was impeccable. Every episode has its drama but when you hear that surreal, quiet sound with words like those of "For Blue Skies" (Strays don't Sleep), "Lie in the Sound" (Trespassers William), "Re-Offender" (Travis) "Always Love" (Nada Surf) and Gavin Degraw's whole catalog - you just transcend out of their story and into yours. And for a few minutes, there's comfort.

I remember my world stopping still when Grubbs (Wakey! Wakey!) sang "Dance So Good" inside the booth of Red Bedroom Records and thinking of how far the show has come in terms of depth. And me getting it, getting the lyrics, must mean I've come far too in terms of depth. I've grown just as much as they did, and I'd like to say they kept me in track while doing it.

It was fun growing up with them, so much so that I had difficulty watching the series finale. It just transports you back to where they were, but more importantly, where I was that time too. And how far I've come since being 15 and picturing Nathan as my husband to this, 21, and thanking all of them that for the last time, they said just the right words: "What you do matters."

I guess it was also the attachment to fictional best friends. I saw Haley fight for music, for Nathan; I saw her on the very first time she performed in front of a crowd, and the night she told Nathan, "the celebrity and the applause mean nothing if I'm not without you. So yeah, you're right, this is not the life I could have had because ever since I met you it has been so much more."

I remember Lucas telling Peyton, "it's you. when all my dreams come true, the person i want standing next to me, it's you" and her telling him on their wedding day, "Despite how confused I've been or lost I might've gotten, there is always you, finding me and saving me." And I remember Nathan falling on the hard cold floor of the High School basketball court after overdosing on steroids to the day he told Haley he was finally going to play in the NBA.

I remember Keith saying "And the people you love just forgot to love you back" and for the first time, understanding what it meant. Peyton's podcasts, which I had repeatedly gone back to for advice. "Find your battle, and fight like hell until your battle is won," she said. And it was a pretty damn good advice.

And the Tree Hill High corridors when they graduated, with Paolo Nutini's "Rewind" playing, and me thinking at the time, if I will also ever get to see my dreams come true. Just like they did. And then one night, in my old room, when I was second guessing myself, I made the decision to watch a few episodes back, they told me this: If you believe that your wish is right around the corner. And if you open your heart and mind to the possibility of it. To the certainty of it. You just might get the thing you're wishing for."

In season 5, Peyton asked Mia, the artist she just signed on to her label, "what would be enough?" Mia (Kate Voegele in real life) said:

Maybe, it's like I don't need to be famous and I don't need all of the money in the world, it's not about that. It's about that girl who is having a horrible day and she hears your song and for five minutes there's hope. You know? It's like for five minutes the world's not such a scary place for her anymore. You asked what's gonna be enough, that will be enough, that will be more than enough.
And if that was the show's intention too, then it had been more than just enough. For 9 years, there was a girl with a thousand horrible days and she listened to the music, and she watched the show, and back, and back agin, and for more than a few thousand minutes, there was hope.

Goodbye One Tree Hill, your art mattered, it's what gotten me here.