Miss Universe Philippines Ring Light series reveals backstage stories

I was commissioned to write the scripts of the 5-episode documentary primer for the Miss Universe Philippines in December 2019. As early as that – a month before the first COVID case in the Philippines was tested positive, I had already started writing preliminaries and outlines for what would become the Ring Light Series, which officially premieres tonight at 8pm-ish on www.empire.ph .

By January, I have finished writing spiels for what supposed to have been the first episode, the runway challenge, which would culminate on February 2020 by the sidewalks of Uptown Mall in BGC, Taguig City.  The coronation night was originally intended to be held in May.  It was also my last time before the lockdown to socialize in Manila, or anywhere. Two weeks later, one of the strictest pandemic lockdowns in the world happened in our midst for at least 3 months, and now six months later – we are on the verge of reopening the business centers to the new normal.

Technically, as I share this, I am still supplying some cells on the script of the last episode, which would all have been uploaded and streamed by October 11 and the weeks after that. If writing and story producing for the Ring Light seemed a tough endeavor to accomplish during the pandemic – given how scarce and limited the exchange of contents there have been – filming the actual clips for the episodes have been extra-challenging for the contestants and the filmmakers themselves.  At least a few runs before the lockdown, the contestants have already retreated to their provincial bases. Only about two dozen are based in the NCR – and they could only be scheduled a few times, with all health safety protocols strictly monitored, on the Empire BGC headquarters of the Miss Universe Philippines.  The girls who are in the provinces as far as Zamboanga and Batanes have been teamed up with their local videographers to finish their submissions.

The contestants will be featured proportionately in at least 3 episodes, the remaining two will also be participated in without as much sound-bytes compared to those who are assigned for their special episodes.  One episode is devoted for each girl for their on-camera spiels, 2 questions each for the sit-down interviews, and a substantial amount of camera sessions that would feature them beyond the usual pageant core drills. Indeed, the Ring Light series is about their combined personal and MUP journeys. We can see them in their earlier pageant training, at home doing other activities, aside from doing workouts and participating in online training sessions and workshops.

The highlight of the entire series is the advocacy portion –dubbed as the Learning Journey Program – which has become more challenging and eye-opening in the backdrop of the pandemic. Each candidate has their own beneficiaries. The subscription fees accumulated from the streaming revenues of the series will be shared by four NGOs (World Wild Fund, Fashion Coalition of the Philippines, AHA Learning community centers, and the United Filipino Global, and personal recipients.  Most girls leaned towards helping out education drives and extending local pandemic funds.

Going back to the actual production of the MUP Ring Light Series, as any film creations, there have been setbacks that are most particularly highlighted and struggled with during this global health crisis. Transporting submissions whether digitally or via physical shipping have tested our patience and efforts while beating deadlines after deadlines and after much understandable delays.  One must understand that producing individual videos also require financial availability, and most importantly, and not to be missed out are the safety protocols implemented during the pandemic support drives, and the photo/video shoots done on any body of water available on their locations.

Before one reacts on the financial highlights of joining beauty pageants, not just on the MUP brand, in the Philippines – they have to understand the fact that becoming a beauty titlist is one of the toughest and longest job applications in the world. Beyond the title, it’s a job position that entails responsibilities mostly on the advocacies and charities inclined to the organization. And in as much as we can account, the MUP candidates have been attached to this application for over 8 months. Some girls have already decided to discontinue given each personal reason. One of them, understandably, is financial in nature. This has also been the longest project I have been involved with in two decades of my professional writing career.

For Miss Pasay, Zandra Sta Maria, having been underemployed for a long time with her decision to continue with her candidacy, entails a courageous choice to emerge from the setbacks and to expect the best that she is fervently hoping will come. Sta Maria is a flight attendant and model. She only flies very sporadically, and to augment her income – she works part-time as an online tutor.

Compared to other international pageants, locally a contestant receives substantial assistance from designers, photographers, sponsors, and pageant camps – given how supportive we inherently are as Filipinos, not to mention how adoring fans we all have been in the last decade. And of course, the MUP organizations, together with their sponsors have extended their long arm of support.

Sadly, as of last night, one of the contestants broke the news on her social media account that she has recently tested positive for Covid-19. She will be locally quarantined and treated for 14 days and will be tested at least three times before, during, and after the pageant night.  MUP Creative Director Jonas Gaffud assured the public that she could still participate and that the strictest and most topnotch health safety protocols will be implemented as soon as the contestants come arriving by October 8.  

Apparently, the contestants will undergo the complete quarantine procedural before boarding for the pageant venue in time for the preliminaries, and they will again be tested and isolated upon arrival and after the completion of the activities before and after the finals.

The grand coronation night will be presented on free-TV via GMA 7 on October 25.

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