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On Production, Communications and Media with Maria Madonna Gomez Tarrayo (GS ’80, HS ’84)

Production, Communications, Media – these are the worlds that MC alumna Madonna Tarrayo thrives in. Read on as Madonna gives us an in-depth look at how they have evolved in today’s digital landscape, the importance of balancing creativity with business, and what it takes to make it in these highly competitive industries.

Did you always want to be in production? What inspired you to pursue this career?

More than production, I’ve always wanted to work in a place where I can be with people.  I think that’s one powerful way of changing lives of others and at the same time, enriching your own.  So it had been a toss-up between Psychology and Communication Arts.  But since it just so happens that I found that in the world of communications and media.  In school, I’ve always been the run-to leader for organizing the class performances as a front liner or as a behind-the-scene person.  I’ve been in declamation contests, monologues and other acting performances from grade school to high school.  I had been very active in my clubs such as glee club and Maryknoll dance troupe.  Outside of school activities, people come to me for advice, for anything.  I also didn’t have a hard time adjusting to different kinds of personalities and this is why I had a main “barkada” but also had pocket “barkadas” from different sections. In essence, I had always been people-oriented.

How do you balance the creative and the business side of your profession? How much off your time is devoted to each?

Today, a production company’s currency is content and you can never achieve that without creativity and business.  The best balance between the two is acknowledging that one cannot live with the other, in as far as our industry is concerned.  We breathe creativity in order to live.  I’ve always believed that creativity and business must co-exist and must be complementary.  That’s what our business is all about.  So as head of the company, I make sure that all our output is well-crafted content that serve a purpose or objective so that our business becomes viable and the company stronger. I’d say 50/50 in terms of allotting time to business and creativity.

How has the field changed over time? What do you think of these changes?

It is now common knowledge that across all industries, digital is the greatest disruptor.  And with digital comes all the screens and streams where you can watch content.  Social media, You Tube, vods etc.  All the more for our industry.  Nowadays, everybody can be a filmmaker, hence, the idea of the “influencer” and the “virality” of a material that you put out there.

Our company produces for advertising and entertainment.  I would say that the biggest change there is would be use of platform.  So many channels in different screens are available for everyone, therefore the demand for content has increased through the years.  But since this is true, the budgets for mainstream advertising has now plateaued as more and more players have come to play.  Everyone wants to be in the content game, from an individual to a huge company.  Competition is tough and cut-throat. 

In broadcast, we all know that due to digital and the many things available to each consumer, there are less and less people who watch TV.  The Philippines is still lucky that TV is still present in the lives of Filipinos, especially those who do not have much access to data and strong Wi-Fi.  But globally, more and more people want to watch wherever they are, and whatever time they want. So video on demand and streaming channels are now very present in our lives.

As for the film industry, there is a lot of films that are being produced now.  But the big studio model, has also been broken.  There are other ways of distribution.  Other ways to recoup your ROI.  It’s not anymore just about the theatrical because cinema viewership has also been suffering due to many factors.  For people to watch a film, it has to be an event in itself.  And of course, it doesn’t help that for an average Filipino, a ticket to the cinema is expensive because you need to throw in transport and food into the list of expense.

Digital has a major role in transforming both advertising and entertainment industries.

What are the essential skills and attitudes that students aspiring to be in the field of production and media should have?

It shall always be a balance of EQ and IQ.  It’s not enough that you graduate from a good school.  It’s not enough that you have high grades or graduate with honors.  You must have a killer EQ or attitude to make it.

The very 1st thing I look at in an aspirant (let’s call them that), is attitude or EQ.  Attitude is going to dictate how hardworking and driven you will be to achieve your goal.  Attitude is going to tell me, are you are going to last in this business? Do you crack easily under pressure?  Are you going to be a team player? Being a team player is a major requirement.  Attitude is going to tell me exactly how you are built and if you are resilient enough for this industry.

Then of course you need to have good communication skills.  I don’t know how one can survive this industry without learning how to express one’s self well.  In whatever way you want to communicate, you need to find creative ways to do so.

You need to possess a lot of common sense and good judgment.  Production asks you to solve a lot of problems and at times, common sense is what gives you those solutions.

But definitely, if you are a slacker and you don’t like working with people, I don’t think you are going to last very long in this business.

We live in a world where we get a lot of challenges and pressures, not only from people but from technology that is available to us.  The difference between our world pre-digital, is we invest more in the “human touch”.  Nowadays, some of the kids invest in technology which is not necessarily a bad thing. You just really need to know how to balance things out.  The world is tough so you need to learn the art of discernment.  Knowledge in, garbage out.

As an industry expert, what advice can you give Miriam College to make its communication program even more relevant?

I think Miriam should invest more on teachers who are practicioners as well.  You see, communications is both theory and practice.  It is only when you have real life experiences that you truly learn what the industry is all about and how it has changed all these years.  It also allows the students to know what careers are out there for them, based on their exposure to practicals. 

Then hold workshops for students who may want to specialize in areas like directing, writing, cinematography, production design, production management etc (if these are not yet part of the school’s curriculum).  You can also invest in sending students to forum or talks that specifically talk about the advertising and entertainment industries. Our industries are very active in sharing our knowledge with students.

What about your Miriam High School experience stands out? What learnings have you carried forward to your personal or professional life?

My Maryknoll education has taught me what it means to be a part of a community of leaders.  It has taught me to be holistic – having a sense of balance between academics and extra-curricular activities; resilient and a positive attitude towards life in general.  In the midst of all these, I have been able to keep my killer sense of humor.  After all, my HS partner and I won the best in comedy duo in the interforensic meet in 4th year, besting 12 other high schools.  Haha. So, this kind of humor which my Maryknoll educated gifted me with, is what has carried me through this rollercoaster ride called life.