R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Date posted on May 25, 2012

Working in film and television here in the Philippines, or perhaps in the particular network and film company I belong to, it is not uncommon to hear about people talk about the most important thing one needs to get by. Some would say it’s hard work. I’ve heard others say it’s pakisama (good personal relations). Some even say it’s all ‘chika‘ (the appearance of good personal relations). I’ve come to realize that for me, that thing is respect.

I take it further to conclude that it is ‘respect’ you need as currency to succeed and survive with your wits about you. The best way for you to secure the space and opportunity to express your creativity is to be respectful every time, and in every way. Respect is where all all virtues spring, in my mind.

If you respect your own artistry, you strive for excellence, to be the best in the role you play. You are critical not only of your colleagues but most importantly, of yourself. You improve, you innovate.

If you respect the craft, you are diligent and prepared. You look back at the history of this industry, learn from it, and seek to elevate its standards.

If you respect your co-workers, you are efficient, punctual and professional. You collaborate with your colleagues. You show humility when they know better, embrace their criticisms, and take their suggestions even at the expense of your ego. You acknowledge their earnestness and good work.

If you respect your employers, you are generous and accommodating of their insights. You make productive use of your time at work and align your creativity with their vision. You embrace their criticisms and dig through it so it helps you and your work get better.

And if after you are given all possible excuses to dispense with it you still manage to hang on to that respect, then that’s when you earn integrity.

It was only very recently that I came to fully realize how paramount this virtue is for me.

Last Sunday, after a very long day in production that started with a pull out at 3AM the day before, we were down to our last sequence for the day. The sun had begun cresting. The lighting and art department had started setting up the next location. My AD and I were already blocking the scene. One of the actors was already on stand by, ridding himself of sleep since his last sequence was taken at 3PM the day before.

Then, my executive producer and our associate producer came to me saying that one of our lead actors was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t picking up his phone either. After various attempts, which included our AP making calls to both the actor’s manager and father (!), they finally got in touch with him and found out that he was already halfway back to Manila. We were on location in a province.

To be honest, I was sort of relieved that we got to pack up a bit earlier. I was bummed that we were going to drop one sequence (I hate it when we don’t get all the work done), but I was exhausted, and an early reprieve was certainly welcome.

What I really felt bad about at the time was making the other actor wait 15 hours for nothing. Because I was afraid he would feel like we didn’t respect him enough simply because he wasn’t as big an actor as the other one – he who had gone missing. The actor knew it wasn’t the production’s fault, but I took responsibility for that. Worse, I found out that this other actor (the one who waited) had a flight to Cebu that he had to cancel because we had scheduled his remaining sequence last. There was nothing else left to do but apologize for the inconvenience and promise that we’ll make it up by trying our best to finish early the next shooting day.

It was only in hindsight that I felt the full impact of that situation. I’m proud to say I always roll with the punches and manage quite well under the worst circumstances. I realized how disrespectful it was to the entire team – the actors, staff and crew. And it was then that I felt really offended.

The second shooting day came. The producers talked to AWOL actor and he went out of his way to speak to me. He apologized and said that he knew it was completely inexcusable and that it was totally wrong of him to have gone without anybody’s leave. I really wasn’t bothered much by it anymore cause there was just so much work to be done and it was simply my nature to focus on the job at hand.

Furthermore, I never really liked creating or nurturing tension on the set. If I allowed myself to wallow in the disappointment and elected to act aloof and distant from my actor, it would’ve only gotten in the way of our communication, consequently affecting both our work. How was I to effectively relay to him my vision and elicit the perfomance I wanted if I was more preoccupied with making him feel guilty or remorseful for what he had done? Not that he didn’t deserve it. In fact, he needed to know and feel how offended I was. But in a film set, it is imperative that you work as a team, be united in vision. Otherwise, the entire process breaks down and you end up producing a material with confused core.

When asked for the reason why he did what he did, AWOL actor told the other staff that it was because he felt sick and couldn’t carry on any further. I was told he did express that to them during production. He even asked his driver to inquire how many sequences were left before that last sequence for the day that included him (we were down to our last three). Then he apparently left to get some breakfast. He told told some other drivers, I think, but fell short of actually telling any one of the staff that he was leaving for good.

That second day went by smoothly and with very few hiccups to speak of. The atmosphere was fun despite being a very emotional episode. I was very happy with all of my actors’ performances, most especially AWOL actors’. We even managed to wrap by 5.40AM when we had aimed for 6AM, and with a lengthy rain delay at that.

Yesterday, a day after wrapping production, I called the actor’s manager to express my disappointment. For the record, that actor did apologize to me, and I have forgiven him. I actually enjoyed working with him and was impressed by his talent and over-all attitude while on the set. He’s a very jolly and amiable person and I really wouldn’t mind working with him again. Whether it was him making up for his transgression, I never knew for sure, but the producers attest to his talent, good reputation, and work ethic – at least prior to that turn of events during the first day.

But I still had to express how deeply offended I was because of what he did. Precisely because this actor wasn’t known to be anything like that. In fact, he was liked by the people in the show. That only lead me to conjure all sorts of reasons why he’d do that in my set. I took it personally. I told the manager, I don’t know if it was because he didn’t know me, or because I was younger than his previous directors that he thought he could get away with it with me.

Whatever it was, I just hope he realizes the consequence of those actions. Not so much for what I thought – I can get over that and I’d like to think that I’m professional enough to work with him again if I had to, without using this as reason for making things difficult for him the next time. I think I’ve proven that during the second day.

Even more important, I hope he realizes the impression he creates on other people. All it takes is one simple, seemingly negligible act of disrespect like this to unravel all those years of hard work and good reputation. I was telling the manager about how even the much senior actors who had been released and was making their way home already that day heard about what happened. Even they were asking the staff if they managed to get hold of AWOL actor. I’ve never been treated that way by any of my actors, and I’ve worked with veteran senior actors as well as younger superstars. None of them ever used my youth as excuse to undermine my authority.

Honestly, it’s not easy to show respect in a stressful and hectic job like ours. That’s why I made an effort to relay all this. Because it hit me that it’s most painful when after all that you do to try and be respectful of others, you still end up getting disrespected like that. There are a million personal stories I can recount about disrespect in our line of work, which is why I feel I have to be most conscious about my own conduct. I must never let the mien of my co-workers and the state of affairs in this industry be an excuse. That’s why like I said, I’ve chosen to move past that and forgive that actor. I chose to not allow this one instance to define his character.

That’s how I’ve come to realize that aside from respect, I must strive for compassion – which is surely much harder to exercise than the former. I am sure time will inevitably come when I will lose control and offend someone in this industry, as this actor had done to me. When that happens, I can only hope that my colleagues will choose to look back and have faith on all my good days when I treated them with the kind of respect we all deserve.