The first draft: Overcoming fears, learning to be vulnerable
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most influential film directors and screenwriters in history, once said, “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”
Before that, however, you need "the draft, the draft, the draft."
Producing the first draft is the most excruciating part of writing as you are creating something out of nothing.
Dr. Ricky Lee, the most awarded screenwriter in the Philippines, likens screenwriting to giving birth. In his book "Trip to Quiapo: Scriptwriting Manual," he compared the pre-writing stage to pregnancy.
"Binubuntis mo ang story concept sa ulo mo hanggang sa handa na siyang ipanganak," he wrote (page 42).
After the "pregnancy period" comes the writing part. "Matapos ang panahon ng pagbubuntis, handa ka nang ipanganak ang istorya," sir Ricky wrote (page 53).
He said the scariest thing about writing is facing a blank page, which he calls "the fear of page one."
He admitted that even an accomplished screenwriter like himself would sometimes try to escape from the task of writing. He would fix the books in his library or go out with friends, saying "kinukumbinse ko ang sarili ko na hindi pa ako handa. Hindi pa buo ang istorya."
When this happens, sir Ricky said we are letting our critical selves get the better of our creative selves.
Once we have overcome this hurdle, a profound sense of accomplishment follows. "Masarap maging writer pero mas masarap ang nakapagsulat na. Hindi ang magsusulat pa lang," sir Ricky wrote (page 53).
In his book "Trip to Quiapo," sir Ricky cites quotes from movie industry players:
"There is no perfect script and a script gets better as you revise it." -- Lino Brocka, director (page 9)
"Writing is 50% talent, 40% passion, and 10% paranoia." -- Gina Marissa Tagasa, writer and director (page 13)
"I don't like stubborn writers, writers who refuse to revise, who are slow in accepting new ideas, especially if they come from other people." -- Mel Chionglo, director (page 35)
"I spend a lot of time trying to make things simple. Let the story be simple and let the characters be complicated." -- Peter Duncan, scriptwriter (page 43)
Sir Ricky also emphasized the importance of rewriting, saying "Ang materyal gaano man kaganda ay dapat tinatrabaho. Ini-imagine at isinusulat nang paulit-ulit para mabawasan ang mga taba at mapatatag ang mga buto. Writing is rewriting, sabi nga." (page 63)
Dr. Ricky's Lee's workshop, masterclasses
Last year, I was fortunate to have attended the three screenwriting masterclasses of sir Ricky at the University of the Philippines Film Institute in UP Diliman, Quezon City.
I picked up many interesting pieces of advice from sir Ricky. My handwritten notes contain valuable lessons from sir Ricky:
(1) Maging mabuting tao. You cannot be a good writer if you do not have a big heart.
(2) Look at the world with awe and compassion, not judgment.
(3) Everyone has a past, everyone has unrealized dreams or goals. Mga taong hindi buo.
(4) All stories are journeys to "pagkabuo."
(5) We tell stories to remove people's blindness.
(6) Journey with your character.
(7) Write about what you "emotionally know."
Write also about "what you know" about "what you don't know."
(8) No single template applies to all stories.
(9) The best way to learn rules is to break them.
(10) Write everyday. Report for work everyday.
During the masterclasses, sir Ricky encouraged people to apply for his screenwriting workshops that he has been holding for almost 40 years. Many well-known directors, scriptwriters, as well as actors and actresses have participated in his workshops.
Thankfully, I was selected for Batch 25 this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sir Ricky is conducting the workshop online via Zoom for the first time ever in four decades.
My personal journey
I have been a writer and editor for almost 30 years but have not yet written a screenplay. A journalism graduate of UP Diliman, I have been a travel and lifestyle magazine writer as well as editor for an international news agency and various publications and news sites, including GMA News Online and Inquirer.net.
The thought of writing a screenplay for the first time excited and terrified me. Although I am always eager to learn new skills and do things I have never done before, screenwriting seemed almost completely different from journalism.
Journalism is capturing the essence of what happened and telling the story as accurately as possible. Screenwriting is inventing events that can happen in a TV drama or movie and telling it as creatively and colorfully as you can.
However, I realized that journalism and screenwriting are not entirely dissimilar. In both journalism and screenwriting, the writer must capture the people's attention and convey a distinct message.
It was a blessing to see the Facebook post about sir Ricky's screenwriting masterclasses in UP last year. Initially, I was hesitant to attend the masterclasses in UP because of the trouble of going there in a wheelchair. I was recovering at that time from a health situation: severe anemia (I underwent blood transfusion) due to excessive bleeding caused by endometriosis.
I am a Person With Disability but I usually manage without a cane or wheelchair at home despite having slipped disc and spinal tumor (at age two, I fell straight from the second floor of our house down to the first due to my yaya's fault).
Years of being in pain have taught me to be patient and patience is a virtue that writers truly need. “Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.” —Jim Tully, American writer
My hope is that someday I could somehow pay back sir Ricky for his kindness and generosity in sharing his knowledge. May I also be able to #TeachItForward by sharing the lessons he has taught us.