|Suzette Doctolero (right) with writers Annette Abrogar and RJ Nuevas|
Suzette Doctolero’s high school education at the Jose Rizal University prepared her. Her teacher in English, with a showbiz name – Fortich – subconsconsciously trained her by asking her to write essays. Two of her works, to her surprise, eventually, all of a sudden, saw print in the campus organ. That was the time she felt the proverbial natural high in writing. It motivated her to write more. But courses like Creative Writing was not yet offered in college then. So she studied at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines -- taking up Accounting as a freshie, Clinical Psychology as a sophomore, and AB Filipino on her junior and senior years.
Still and all, she ended up as a writer.
Looking back, she could trace such accident from her artistic DNA. Her grandmother, Buenviges Narvadez, was a komedya actress in the 30s in Calabangga, Camarines Sur where she grew up. Her lola used to tell her bedtime stories every night. Her lolo would take her twice a week to James Theater, a moviehouse stone’s throw away from their ancestral house in Bicol. By day, she would be exposed to Bruce Lee and Jacky Chan films while, by night, she would find herself lost in her REM state, through some sort of a magical mystery tour, to wonderland!
In 1988, her Fairy Godmother would become Angie Ferro, who gave her, at 19, a job as a production assistant for Balintataw TV produced by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez. As a working student, she would get the chance to read all kinds of script but it was the one written by influential fictionist, Fanny Garcia, that urged her to write her own. Siegfred Sepulveda came by and he read her script. He liked it and asked who the author was. She was there so she raised her hand. Everybody, including such directors as Maryo J. Delos Reyes, Jose Gruta, Lupita Kashiwahara, Nick Lizaso, and Orlando Nadres would come to their office twice a week, were all stunned. It was the start, so the Steve Allen show and song go, of something big.
To this day, she would still acknowledge Ms. Ferro her mentor even during her stint with the Dulaang Kalayaan, one of PUP’s school-based theatre groups then. She also became a member of Dulaang Bonifacio which Ms. Ferro founded. From the same actress, she was introduced to the plays of Filipinos like Adrian Cristobal or Amado V. Hernandez and European like Anton Chekhov or Maxim Gorky. And she, too, learned a lot the love for writing and for the theatre and its audience by performing during rallies
-- with peasant groups, student activists, and budding actors like Gardo Versoza.
She looked up to Lualhati Bautista, who was her liberating editor at the Rosas Series, the romance novel line of Anvil Publications; Bibeth Orteza, the punctuation-conscious headwriter of the soap operas she wrote for TelevisionAnd Production Exponents, the producer of Eat Bulaga; and Chito Rono, the creative consultant of TAPE shows then who was notorious for throwing bad scripts on writers’ faces.
Becoming a scriptwriter was not that hard for her since she actually started as an actress. She used play Gregoria De Jesus for Dulaang Bonifacio. All the more she would be honed to emphatize with her characters, for instance, when she did a secretarial work for a young foreign journalist who used to share his experiences in covering the war in Cambodia and Vietnam. Before she could die of boredom, it was Nanette Matilac-Lacaba, who saved her by inviting her to join one of Viva Television’s story-pitching. And the rest was her story.
Since then she never stopped writing. Luckily for her, it was in 1996, when the so-called old guards of scriptwriting, who used to be active in 70s and 80s retired except for Gina Marissa Tagasa. That opportunity gave her the way to try drama anthologies. Aside from Orteza, or Manny Castaneda and RJ Nueras, there were no new names then in their field. It was a good break for her and her contemporaries in Galo Ador Jr., Dode Cruz, Lav Diaz, Kit Villanueva-Langit, and Jun Robles Lana.
Comparatively, becoming like them would be easier these days. Now there are workshops, usually free. Generous talents like Armando “Bing” Lao has his own workshop, almost patterned after his own mentor, Ricky Lee’s. In addition, ABS CBN, for example, has a television writing institute with no less than Lee as its facilitator while GMA-7 has its own. In the internet, you can find reading materials about scriptwriting which are all downloadable. Then, there are contests. Yes, left and right, the environment is encouraging for scriptwriters. However, the problem is the same. For her, it is the actual writing. Applicants would reveal to her their dreams but when she would ask for outputs, they could not produce one.
In the 90s, when Suzette was just a wannabe, she would just write and write. Bravely, she would sell her works to headwriters, editors, publishers, even producers. Her philososophy is practical: who will believe that she is a writer if she has no poem, story, essay, play, or script at all.
As a writer, she dreams with drive.
And with here feet on the ground, she keeps on reaching for the stars.
SD: Yes pero covered na ang research ko nito during the time I did my research on Amaya. Ang inaral ko for Indio ay ang mga Filipino epics natin. Gusto kong i-translate iyon sa soap. Pero hindi naman kasi ma-drama ang buhay nina Lam-ang o ni Labaw Donggon at iba pa. Puro adventures. Kung action lang, mito, o fantasy ang hanap -- tiyak na panonoorin iyan ng mga lalaki. Pero paano ang mga misis? O mga babaeng 40 yrs old and up na prime audience ng soaps? Importante sa soap na ma-capture ng isang k’wento ang interest ng buong demographics ng audience: lalaki, babae, bata. Ayaw ko namang gawin ang mga Pinoy epics natin tapos sasaksakan ko ng drama at baka multuhin ako ng mga ninuno natin. Gusto kong gumawa ng bago pero ang pundasyon, ang tema, ang mito, ang kultura at paniniwala ay halaw sa mga Filipino epics.