MANILA -- Veteran screenwriter Ricky Lee is happily adjusting to the title recently conferred to him, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts, as he attends the on-site screenings at the ongoing Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
“Hindi ako sanay, hindi ako kumportable. Suddenly naging title ka, naging position ka, in the sense na maraming attention naka-focus ka. Lalo na kung government public gatherings, naka-ka conscious. Like dito sa mga palabas sa Cinemalaya, tutukan ka ng ilaw before the screenings. Hindi ako sanay na naka-focus sa akin ang attention, nako-conscious ako,” Lee told ABS-CBN News in a recent online interview.
It's customary at the CCP to honor the presence of a National Artist before the start of any film showings or live performances like ballet, stage plays and concerts.
“But I keep in mind ‘yung sinabi sa akin ni (director) Mac (Alejandre). Maski hindi ako comfortable, ‘yung meaning is attention sa writers. The message is, filmmaker rin ang writer, importante rin ang writer, hindi sya invisible. So, I tried to be happy about it,” he added.
Lee is not new to Cinemalaya because he’s been a regular patron from the start. In the past 18 years, there have been many instances wherein he has served as jury member.
He simply loved the Cinemalaya crowd and the atmosphere of being around film lovers.
“Dati naman may nagpapa-picture, dahil film crowd, pero ngayon na-doble after the National Artist award. Kahit gaano katagal ako tumayo, lapitan (ang mga nagpapa-selfie and autograph seekers). Sinasanay ko ang sarili ko na matuwa doon, dahil masaya naman talaga na na-appreciate nila ang writer. Na-appreciate ako. Masaya ang entire atmosphere. Nagpapa picture sila sa akin. Kung ano man ang meaning ko sa kanila. 'Di bale na 'yung discomfort,” he said.
The return of on-site screenings of films in competition, both feature-length and the shorts, at the CCP building also made him thankful for experiencing again what it’s like to watch movies inside the theaters. Unlike during the series of lockdowns since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, like everybody else, movie-watching for him has been limited at home.
“Na-miss ko ‘yung feeling nanonood ako sa loob ng sinehan. Wala akong control sa pinapanood ko sa big screen. Unlike sa bahay, napo-pause ko siya. Tigil ko muna, iihi muna ako, mamaya na lang. Or minsan till the next day. Hindi ako masyadong enjoy kung napo-pause ko siya, nako-control ko. Kulang na lang in-edit ko (mga scenes),” Lee said, giggling at the thought of it.
“Pero 'yung nasa loob ako ng sinehan sa Cinemalaya, sa dilim ng movie house and I’m totally powerless sa harap ng screen, hahayaan mong higupin sa kwento nya (film). Siya ang may complete power, absolute control over me. I love that feeling, kunin mo (film) na ako totally,” he added, smiling.
Despite the traffic and floods caused by torrential rains, Lee attended the opening film in this year’s Cinemalaya last August 5, and has been at the CCP everyday to catch the gala screenings, talk backs and book launchings.
On Tuesday, Lee launched his two volumes of his best screenplays, published by the UST Press.
Titled “Mga Screenplay ni Ricky Lee Volume 1: Brutal, Moral, Karnal” and “Mga Screenplay ni Ricky Lee Volume 2: Himala, Cain at Abel, Salome,” the launch was held at the third floor CCP Hallway.
The first volume has his three screenplays directed by fellow National Artist for Film and his good friend, the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya.
The second volume has the iconic “Himala,” which was directed by the late National Artist Ishmael Bernal, “Cain at Abel” which was directed by National Artist Lino Brocka, and “Salome,” a Laurice Guillen masterpiece.
Now the good news is that Lee is already thinking of a third and fourth volumes. We asked him how the grouping of the texts was done.
“Mahirap actually, ilang shuffling 'yun. Meron akong shortlist kasi nasa 200-plus ang produced scripts ko. May kulang-kulang na 100 scripts ang gusto ko lumabas,” Lee told ABS-CBN News.
He asked the help of his friends in the grouping and shuffling to trim the choices.
“Kay Marilou (Diaz Abaya), madali ang theme, definite agad, dahil tungkol sa kababaihan, then noong natapos na, naisip ko, dapat may Lino (Brocka), then dapat 'yung ‘Himala,’ kaya na-decide (to publish) ‘yung second volume. Pero ang hirap, magulo ako. As I said I go all over the place, ang pelikula ko paiba-iba, mahirap ang grouping,” he said.
He added if Volume Three will push through, they would be those directed by the late Mel Chionglo, the trilogy “Sibak: Midnight Dancers,” “Burlesk King,” and “Twilight Dancers.”
“Another volume would have my collaborations with other writers like ‘Anak’ with Moira Lee and those with Jun Lana. Ang dami, then if there’s a fifth volume, they could be the OFW stories like ‘Flor Contemplacion, ‘Bukas May Pangarap.”
He said for some texts, the difficulty was finding copies because most shooting scripts were lost. And if there are some he can find, they are not the actual scripts used in the movies.
“Nag-re-revise ako habang nag-shoo-shooting and floppy disk pa noon, wala akong copy na malinis. So nire-reconstruct namin 'yung script. Like 'yung first script ng ‘Jaguar’ walang copy si Pete Lacaba.
“Madugo itong ‘Jaguar’. Kailangan papanoorin uli, ire-retype, then I decide pa kung itong scene na hindi nagamit sa pelikula pero gusto ko i-retain. Eto isusunod ko. Nagiging ganun 'yung proseso. Kasi walang malinis na kopya. Halos lahat wala,” he said.
For the meantime, there’s Volumes 1 and 2 for Lee’s fans and film students to enjoy.