For the first time in Philippine television history, a primetime show snagged an audience share of a whopping 47.1 per cent overnight, according to a survey of AGB and Nielsen Media Research.

Mars Ravelo’s all-time hit Darna has finally landed on television, after almost 50 years of existence in print and films. But network giant GMA-7, would not have been able to achieve this feat without four Thomasians who work behind the camera, the scenes, and the fantasy that makes Darna the Filipino superheroine of all time.

The writer

For seasoned writer Richard ‘Dode’ Cruz, writing scripts and storylines for major TV networks has always been demanding. An alumnus of the UST Pay High school and the Faculty of Pharmacy, Cruz seems to be an unlikely candidate for the position of head writer for the Darna series.

“I’ve always wanted to write but my parents wanted me to take Medical Technology,” Cruz said. “Right after college, I pursued a career in writing and took the summer scriptwriting lessons from Ricky Lee.”

The ball must have rolled his way from then on as he was offered a position in ABS-CBN for Cristy per Minute in 1996 with the help of Thomasian Jun Lana, then head writer for the network. After writing for talk shows for two years, Cruz was given the chance to prove his creative writing prowess when he was commissioned to write for the TV soap opera Marinella. In 2000, GMA-7 offered Cruz a position as head writer for the network’s first-ever produced soap opera, Ikaw lang ang Mamahalin. His work also found its way to other shows: Umulan Man o Umaraw, Munting Anghel, Narito ang Puso ko, Starstruck Playhouse, Larawan and many more.

A non-believer in self-editing, he says one should just pour his concepts out on paper. Nonetheless, being a head writer for a major television network is no piece of cake.

“I have to consolidate all the ideas kung saan papunta ‘yung show, but it’s a team effort. Kapag merong problema ‘yung production, sa head writer tumatawag,” he said.

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The final apparition

Despite Cruz’s experience as a writer, the Darna series proves to be the most ambitious and challenging work he had ever done.

“Ito na siguro ‘yung pinakamadugong ginawa ko out of all the projects that have been given to me,” he admits. “We hope to give the best to the audience, and this will continue until the show is done.”

The organizer

Another person you would not expect to be behind the Darna is Edlyn Abuel-Talada. A soft-spoken Medical Technology magna cum laude from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Talada decided to go into media after 10 years of teaching Medical Technology in UST.

“I wanted to do something different,” she said. She was commissioned to supervise Te Amo and Habang Kapiling Ka through the influence of her cousins in the industry.

Although her work as an executive producer in GMA-7 puts her under a lot of stress, she admits that it has been all worth it.

“It’s so fulfilling ‘pag nakikita mo na ‘yung finished product. When I was teaching, I could not exactly see the fruits of my efforts,” she said.

This intelligent woman has certainly deviated from her outlined path. After graduating from college, she landed her first job as an instructor.

Eventually, she availed an early retirement program from UST. While Talada was teaching, she entered medical school.

Nevertheless, she still manages to use her extensive knowledge in the world of science when revising storylines or during staff meetings. “I wanted tell them, ‘this is the right scientific term’,” she quips.

The thinker

She may not have gotten the chance to throw her cap into the air during graduation, but Maria Regina Acuña-Magno certainly has had more experience than her fellow batch mates.

“Hindi ako nakapag-march kasi I was an irregular student. I was already working for GMA-7,” Magno explained.

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Reinventing MMDA road blocks

After that, life became overwhelming. As a graduating irregular student, Magno was forced to take the evening classes.

“I guess all the hard work has paid off. I was doing my OJT at Broadcast City when my director called me up and told me they are in need of a production assistant,” she said.

After being a production assistant for a few years, Channel 9 offered Magno the position of executive producer. Soon after, GMA-7 grabbed her back, offering her the same position for Lovingly Yours.

Eventually, she became production manager when the network decided to invest in “fantaseryes” of truly Filipino origin and creation.

A Communication Arts graduate from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, Magno is behind phenomenal GMA-7 fantaserye Mulawin, Darna, and the latest, Encantadia.

Among her projects, she admits that Mulawin was a bit more challenging because it was an original creation, but Darna also posed a lot of challenges for her and her team.

“We had to make sure that the characters in the series are consistent with the characters from the comics,” she said. “We can’t give Darna any new powers unless they are agreed to by the copyright owners of Darna. “

As production manager, her work is triple that of any member of the team, but she still finds time to joke with her colleagues and reminisce about college days in UST.

“Buhay pa ba ang Almer’s? How about the canteen in the AB building?,” a spirited Magno asked.

Although she can’t really remember the exact year she almost graduated, she still remembers her professors, her favorite class, and her pending fee in her Photography course. “Hanggang ngayon nga, hindi ko pa nakakuha ‘yung diploma ko!” she kidded.

The artist

Costume supervisor and artist Noel Flores is truly an all-around person. An alumnus of the then College of Architecture and Fine Arts, major in Advertising, he now teaches Illustration, Studio, Laboratory and Advertising classes in the College of Fine Arts and Design. An accomplished storyboard and conceptual artist for an ad agency, a costume and special effects designer for Star Cinema and a special effects supervisor for Mulawin and Darna, he also has a black belt in Karate, Arnis, Aikido and Street Fighting. He is a member of the AdFocus (Advertising in Focus), and a Boy Scouts of the Philippines scholar and instructor. Indeed, he lives a very dynamic life.

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Dreaming in neon

“I try not to stick into one thing because I feel life becomes monotonous,” Flores says.

However, his work as a costume supervisor for GMA-7 and his training as an artist became a problem, especially when he was tasked to come up with costume designs and manufacture it for the Darna series within only a month.

“I wanted a fiberglass outfit (very much like the texture of the outside shell of cars) for Angel Locsin so that it would not only look better on-screen, it would last longer too!” he said.

Working on a tight budget and schedule, Flores was also working for Encantadia at that time. “I only got to design and finish Valentina’s (Alessandra de Rossi) and Mambabarang’s (Eddie Garcia) outfits,” he added.

His ‘modernized’ version of Valentina’s costume was a break from the traditional Medusa-like image Filipinos have been used to seeing.

“Medusa is Greek and Valentina is a Mars Ravelo creation. Everything in the comics and the series are Filipino-concocted, so I suggested that Valentina should also be the same,” Flores explains. “The point here is that we should critically think and execute what is justifiable.”

Darna’s soaring success in primetime television owes not only to state-of-the-art special effects or the performance of the main characters, but the triumph and fall of the human spirit that these four Thomasians, along with their staff, has brought to life. Their climb to get where they are now was a difficult one, but they have made it by sheer persistence, perseverance, and skill.

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