GMA-7's Descendants of the Sun, an adaptation of the Korean drama series, is the first Kapuso teleserye to return to production after six months.
In March 2020, the Kapuso network halted production of its entertainment programs following quarantine protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Descendants of the Sun started its run on February 10, 2020, but had to stop airing on its 28th episode, when all of Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine.
Television tapings and movie making resumed in June 2020 when Metro Manila shifted to general community quarantine.
However, production had to follow the safety guidelines, which included lock-in taping or shooting from three weeks to two months, and limiting the number of cast and crew.
While some networks and production outfits started rolling their cameras, GMA-7 held back, except for a few fresh episodes of its weekly shows.
Eventually, GMA-7 resumed production of its anthologies, entertainment programs and, lastly, its teleseryes.
At press time, the cast of Descendants of the Sun led by Dingdong Dantes and Jennylyn Mercado have started its lock-in taping.
The series is an adaptation of the 2016 K-Drama series starring Song Hye Kyo and Song Joong Ki.
The Philippine adaptation is directed by Dominic Zapata.
Earlier today, September 7, Rocco posted a photo of Descendants of the Sun's Alpha Team with Dingdong, Paul Salas, Lucho Ayala, Jon Lucas, and Prince Clemente.
A netizen also posted a photo of Jennylyn and Dingdong on the set.
As working conditions remain far from normal, adjustments have had to be made for the safety of everyone.
The creators of this adaptation of Descendants of the Sun narrated to PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) the changes they've made on the show with the spectre of the pandemic surrounding them.
Interviewed by PEP.ph via Zoom last Saturday, September 5, were Aloy Adlawan, GMA-7 creative director for drama programs, and Kit Villanueva, drama consultant.
They enumerated the changes they've made, starting with the series' script.
Apart from Descendants of the Sun, Kit also handles the shows Prima Donnas and Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit as creative consultant.
TAPING OF DESCENDANTS OF THE SUN ADAPTS TO NEW NORMAL
Aloy explains why Descendants of the Sun was the first to be given the go signal to resume taping.
“I think matter of circumstances lang iyong nag-dictate kung sino maunang mag-resume," Aloy says.
“Iyong Descendants kasi, seven days na lang iyong remaining taping. Iyong remaining taping days nila, seven days.
“So, medyo madali, all we needed was to finish all the scripts.
"Sila Kit ang trumabaho sa mga scripts. Actually, meron na nga yun, di ba?”
This means that once Descendants of the Sun returns on air, episodes canned before the pandemic will be aired before the episodes currently being taped.
Kit elaborates, “I think we’re halfway na rin kasi nag-e-air na rin kami noon.
"Actually, kung saan naputol, parang midway na talaga ng season na iyon."
With the remaining scripts to be taped, Kit says they had to revise according to guidelines proscribing certain moves for productions.
Kit says, “Actually, parang kaunti na lang dapat talaga iyong gagawin na scripts pero nga dahil sa lockdown and all the ano, we kept revising and adjusting, ganun.”
Aloy adds, “Adjusting... kumbaga, iyong number of sequences doon sa remaining seven days, hindi na pupuwede sa bagong protocol.
“Number of hours, number one. Number two, iyong number of crew na nandoon sa [location], iyong number of talents, yes.
“Nakapag-advance na sila ng mga scripts, but they needed to go back to all the advanced scripts na hindi pa nakunan para mai-adapt doon sa new normal noong taping.”
no more CHILD ACTORS, NO MORE crowd scenes
As Kit tells it, guidelines were given to them beforehand so that they could rework the scenes that were feasible only without the new safety guidelines.
She says, “Iyong mga sinabi ni Aloy, limited na iyong cast, like sa Descendants of the Sun. Specifically, no minors.
"So, wala na kaming bata na puwede kasi nga hindi na sila puwedeng lumabas ng bahay.”
Descendants of the Sun is about the love stories of two couples: Maxine (Jennylyn) and Lucas (Dingdong); and Moira (Jasmine Curtis Smith) and Diego (Rocco Nacino).
Kit and her team also had to review the scenes where touching may be expected.
She explains, “We had to rethink some of the more intimate scenes. I’m not talking about bed scenes pero, siyempre, kasi love story ito.
“We had to rethink, ‘tapos social distancing rin sa mga eksena.
“Iyon iyong mga guidelines na that was really described to us in detail para alam na namin kung paano isusulat.”
On top of making sure social distancing is followed in the scenes, Kit says the locations were considered as well.
“Iyong mga palengke scenes, iyong mga mall scenes, mga enclosed spaces like cinemas, sarado naman iyong iba doon," Kit says.
"Hindi naman kami talaga puwede nang mag-taping kung saan namin gusto.
“A lot of people really met, and really thought of how to make it safest talaga for production and for all the actors.
“Naisip na lang nila to put them in a bubble, in a way na nakahiwalay, so kaya iyong public places, we really avoided that na.
“Kung meron man, iyong mama-mount, or iyong it’s in a compound or in a community that we can close off from other people, na nobody can go in.
"Then we can use that to dress it up and then make it seem like a store, or a hospital room, or depende sa hinihingi.”
Another factor affecting the storytelling of Descendants of the Sun is the use of special effects.
Set in a war milieu, Descendants of the Sun requires blasting and bombing scenes.
In a normal production, another team handles these special effects.
Kit continues, “So, iyong mga blasting, naku, huwag na muna kasi magpapasok ka ng ibang team to do it.
“Hindi naman puwede yung mga crew namin. You have to have training.
“Iyong mga iyon, we had to do away with that. So, we had to go over the existing scripts and revise.”
Aloy acknowledges that doing Descendants of the Sun at this time has presented an “extra level of challenge.”
Compared, say, to other programs, such as the upcoming show I Can See You, which has a very limited cast.
I Can See You is a prime-time drama anthology that will feature different stories every week.
“Iba siya, kailangan namin maprotektahan iyong franchise, e," Aloy explains. "And we’re after finishing with still a big bang.
“We still want to finish the show beautifully, and kasi gusto namin siyang magkaroon ng buhay after.
“May mga negotiations ongoing, which I cannot tell you kung ano yung mga ’yon.
“Mga negotiations na puwede siya mapunta sa ibang platforms and all. So, we need to protect that also.”
When making changes, the creative team has to consider that Descendants of the Sun is an adaptation and that much of its original material has to be preserved.
Did GMA-7 have to ask permission for the changes they needed to make in view of safety protocols?
Aloy answers that, even from the start, the show's Korean producers allowed Pinoy creators to do minimal changes.
They also took into account the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing safety protocols.
The GMA-7 creative director says, “Hindi siya tulad ng My Love From the Star. Kasi, sa My Love From the Star, ayaw talaga nila baguhin, ayaw talaga ng writer baguhin iyong kuwento, not a bit.
“Pero dito sa Descendants, fortunately, nabigyan kami ng permission to put local story elements to adapt it to our culture din.
“Kasi doon sa Korean Descendants of the Sun, parang first-world country siya. Dito third world tayo. So, we needed to adapt it to our local situation.
“Ngayon na with COVID circumstances, we were given a blanket permission to adapt to our situation and, of course, the landscape of television here.
“They know naman siguro na we have to adjust and we were given naman permission to do so.”
WHAT VIEWERS CAN EXPECT from DESCENDANTS' COMEBACK
Kit and her team have made sure that despite the revisions and production limitations, they will still be able to capture the core of Descendants of the Sun’s story, which is about love.
The writer says, “I think, kuwento pa rin naman ito, na parang gusto naming makaka-relate pa rin iyong tao.
“Siyempre, at its core, what is Descendants of the Sun? It’s about two people na in love, attracted to each other.
"How they will be able to get over these obstacles sa kanila and fall in love? Iyon naman, universal iyon.
“Actually, puwede nga natin gamitin itong nangyayari sa atin ngayon as catharsis.
"That’s what we tell our writers, let this be an inspiration and a challenge to us.
“Dapat pa rin—it’s something pa rin that your audience can still relate to at mami-mirror iyong pinagdadaanan nila ngayon.
“Not naman in setting ng kunyari nga, terrorism or in war, pero sila rin ngayon, may pinagdadaanan rin, di ba?
"I’m sure marami diyan na long distance, kasi hindi naman pwedeng magkasama, di ba?”
Kit believes that the minimal changes in the story will still be “relatable and compelling” to their audience.
She reasons, “Kasi iyong feelings at saka challenges na pagdadaanan natin, parang totoong-totoo, di ba?
“Kapag napanood mo yung Descendants of the Sun, parang may pinagdadaanan rin si Lucas at tsaka si Maxine na ganon rin, na sakay ka pa rin. It’s a challenge naman.”
Currently, Descendants of the Sun will stick to its planned airing period of 12 to 16 weeks.
Although mounting the scenes in the war milieu is proving to be a challenge, with the series creators battling the pandemic like everyone else.
In the next part of this exclusive interview, Aloy and Kit discuss the scriptwriting process for GMA-7 programs while working around the safety guidelines and restrictions during the pandemic.