National Artist Ricky Lee Shares 5 Secrets to Good Storytelling

Ricky Lee Rebelde 3

Photo / Rebelde

It’s no secret that Ricky Lee is one of the Philippines’ best storytellers. After all, he wrote the scripts for some of the country’s most famous films, including Himala, Anak, Manila by Night, Brutal, Moral, and more. Just this year, Lee was given the title of National Artist For Film and Broadcast Arts.

So if you want some tips for good storytelling, whether it’s as a writer or filmmaker, Lee is the guy to go to.

Lee was one of the two mentors for this year’s Rebelde Class, a series of accessible film workshops hosted by Rebelde. The National Artist was the mentor for the Masterclass in Storytelling.

Here’s what he shared during the masterclass:

1. Think of the person inside you

Lahat ng tao, merong ‘tao sa loob,'” Lee says.

This is different from the person that the outside world sees. Beyond what the outside world sees, the person inside is thinking of something else, like how to pay the bills, how to deal with a recent breakup, or instances in their past that continue to hurt them. According to Lee, the person inside is just as valuable, or even more, as the person outside because that is the “real you.” Lee says that the best way of writing is to write about the “tao sa loob” of the characters. Dig deep and ask why they do the things they do. The audience will connect to that because they have their own past, pain, and heartbreak. In the end, the goal of the story is for the “tao sa loob” to be complete or fulfilled. Or not.

2. Be in touch with the “tao sa loob

Every now and then, people should look into their “tao sa loob.” When we are in touch with our inner selves, we are in tune with our own experiences and wounds that can be turned into stories. A unique voice means unique stories.

Ricky Lee Rebelde 2

Photo / Rebelde

3. Stories are about something more

“Every story is a metaphor. It’s not really about itself. There’s always something else. It stands for something more,” said Lee. He cites as an example Mcdonald’s “Karen Po” commercial. Karen and her grandfather are having a meal in McDonald’s and he keeps calling her Gina. Karen, getting exasperated, watches as her grandfather slices a burger and keeps one half. The commercial ends with the grandfather saying, “for my favorite granddaughter, Karen.” On the surface, the ad is about a burger but it’s really about the enduring love of family.

4. Write first then revise

According to Lee, a reflex idea is an initial reaction to something. For example, when we think of a sex worker, we think of a “heart of gold.” We think of “homewrecker” when we hear the word third party. Get rid of reflex ideas and let the “inside person” write. Don’t think about whether it’s right or wrong, or good or bad. Just let it all out. According to Lee, the first draft is usually bad. After writing, you can go back and look at it with a critical eye and edit. Lee says not to mix these two up. The last step is to integrate the writing and editing.

He compares the writing process to giving birth. Lee said, “ilabas mo muna yung baby. Let the baby come out in all its dumi, dugo, and everything. Tsaka na linisin.”

5. It’s more important to be a good person than to be a good writer

Being a good writer is great but it’s more important to be a good person. Lee says, “if you are a good person, you can write about anything.” A big heart means you can embrace every character, from the best ones to the worst. This is especially true for the villains because no one believes that they’re the kontrabida. You have to embrace everyone because you’ll have to write about them.


Lee was joined by J.A. Tadena, an award-winning cinematographer known for his films Mano Po 2, Smaller and Smaller Circles, Keka, Gagamboy, Shake, Rattle and Roll 8, and other blockbusters. Tadena mentored the students in the Script-to-Screen Cinematography Masterclass.

Rebelde, founded by filmmaker J.E. Tiglao, is a collective of movers from the Philippines who make films and film-related events. It is also a community united by its love for cinema, and for the past nine years, they have been conducting film classes and workshops to make film education accessible for everyone. In the past, they had big-gun mentors such as Pixar director Ronnie Del Carmen, the late Ms. Cherie Gil, Erik Matti, and more.

Be a part of the Rebelde community by joining these exclusive workshops and get a chance to meet established filmmakers as your mentors. For inquiries, you may reach them at or visit their Facebook page @rebeldeph.

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