Ricky Lee has managed to shift from one artistic genre to another over his 40-year career as a writer: journalism, short fiction, playwriting, and writing for film and television.
Indeed, this son of Daet, Camarines Norte has covered these fields so successfully, particularly screenwriting for movies and TV, that his memorable lines have become part of popular culture.
In 2008, Ricky introduced himself as a novelist when he launched Para Kay B (o kung paano dinevastate ng pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa atin), which turned out to be a best-seller.
Ricky's previously published books—Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon (anthology of his early short stories and reportage, which includes the script of Himala) and Trip to Quiapo (scriptwriting manual)—were reintroduced to the buying public after the success of his first novel.
THE WRITER'S DISCIPLINE. Behind all the accolades he earned over the years are habits grounded in perseverance, boundless imagination, and sheer enjoyment of his craft.
He still wakes up early each morning to write: "Kung wala akong deadline or wala akong masulat or wala ako sa mood magsulat, I write notes or ideas. Pero lagi akong nasa tapat ng computer pag gising ko... Diretso ako sa computer to write, write, etcetera, mga three hours 'yon araw araw."
While some writers prefer to work in complete silence, Ricky is the exact opposite. He surrounds himself with music.
"Malakas ako magpatugtog," he beamed during a recent conversation with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) at the Imperial Palace Suites in Quezon City.
What could be louder than rock music in full blast? That's just what he likes as he hammers or weaves words and images on his laptop. He cited the American band Kings of Leon as his current favorite, although he easily meanders from mainstream to underground acts or to singers past and current.
Ricky says that the music or "noise" coming from the speakers fuels his creativity.
He explained, "Madalas isang CD lang ang nakasalang habang nagsusulat ako, paulit-ulit 'yon. I listen to music, so parang rhythm ko 'yon habang nagtatrabaho. Madalas naman ang nangyayari, hindi ko na rin naririnig 'yong music dahil 'yong buong attention ko nandun sa sinusulat ko."
Out-of-town trips have become rare for Ricky, citing age and increasing workload behind his lack of time to go on a vacation.
"Walang time o di kaya walang mayaya. Karamihan ng writing ko sa bahay o kaya sa sasakyan," smiled Ricky, who wrote the script of the 1982 critically acclaimed film Himala while in the sleepy province of Batangas.
COMPLEX NOVEL. Ricky slowed down in screenwriting since 2007 to channel most of his energy into writing books.
"Ang puso ko nasa libro ngayon," he reveals. "Darating ang panahon babalik siguro ang puso ko sa pelikula. Pero sa tagal ng pagpepelikula ko, although excited ako na magpelikula ulit and marami akong gustong material sa pelikula ulit both mainstream and non-mainstream, pero hindi siya papantay sa excitement ko ngayon sa paggawa ng nobela."
Novel number two is currently in the works, although the process this time turns out to be more taxing and demanding compared to the first one.
Ricky attributes the long delay to the necessary legwork, since the novel encompasses different historical periods. If Para Kay B revolves around love and its complexities, Aswang is both fiction and reality, spiced with socio-political references.
"Ang hirap pala niyang sulatin," Ricky explains. "Hindi siya kasing dali ng Para Kay B, kasi may historical portion siya. May Bonifacio character siya and may Spanish period siya and may fantasy siya. So, ang daming research, medical research, and historical research. May pagka-complex and sini-simplify ko ngayon... Ang hirap mag-simplify ng complexity niya."
"MARAMI PANG PUWEDENG SULATIN." Have years and years of doing screenplays left no more challenge for Ricky Lee?
His response is a far cry from any notion of boredom: "Ang feeling ko kasi, sa akin bilang writer, never naman akong magsasawa kasi ang dami-daming masusulat, e. Isang cabinet ko punong-puno, karamihan dun hindi pa napu-produce.
"Ang mas mangyayari kumbaga pag matagal mong ginawa ang isang bagay gusto mo munang lumayo dun. E, ako pa naman mainipin, gusto ko mag-journalism, gusto kong mag-theater. Gusto kong gumagala, so sa paggagala kong 'yon nasa nobela ako. Pero babalikan at babalikan ko 'yon kasi marami pang puwedeng gawin sa pelikula... Marami pang puwedeng sulatin."
One of Ricky's aspirations is to write a rock musical set to theater. Writing an "interactive" graphic novel in the future is also a dream he would like to pursue.
"Hindi ako nakakahon, kumbaga sa music eclectic ako—from rock, jazz to Broadway to standards. Sa pelikula eclectic ako, maski na anong klase. So dahil sa bukas ako na tao maski na matagal akong magsulat mas marami ring pumapasok dahil marami akong nakikita. I think that's one reason, kung nakabukas ka hindi ka mauubusan."
ADVOCACY IN ACTION. Safeguarding the rights and welfare of local scriptwriters remains on top of Ricky's priorities, even as he pursues his own writing projects.
As the number of local movies continues to dwindle each year, so is the image and influence of scriptwriters, observes Ricky.
"Dumating ang mga digital films and kaya na ng kahit sino kumuha ng camera at siya ang magsulat at magdirek. Ang paraan lang ng mga writers ay sa TV. Pero sa TV collaborative na ang writing, sa mga soaps walang single author. Nawala na 'yong identity ng scriptwriter, unlike nung panahon namin na distinct na distinct, ako, si Pete Lacaba. Ngayon wala na, na-diminish na 'yong image niya," he laments.
In spite of such conditions, Ricky's yearly endeavor of giving workshops to young aspiring scriptwriters never wanes.
The satisfaction derived from imparting knowledge to upstarts is indescribable, says Ricky. But it also helps the mentor learn and keep up with fresh ideas straight from the perspective of his students.
"Imagine if I have twenty students, twenty minds and ideas 'yon na humihila sa akin sa iba't ibang direksyon. So, pati ako natututo and nai-inspire sa mga naririnig and nakikita ko sa kanila."