Exclusive interview with Robert McKee about story telling, directing and the inside tips you need to know
Latam Film announces that this upcoming March in Bogota, Colombia (from the 8th until the 11th), Robert McKee will give a four day intense seminar about the structures and principles of narrative applied to comedy, romance, suspense and terror. Mr McKee will also attend the 52nd Cartagena Film Festival, in which a Master Class open to the public will take place as part of the programming.
Robert McKee has recently been talking to Germán Posada about his work and here is the exclusive interview that Latam Film has gather for you:
G.P.:How does it feel to be considered the best story teacher of the world?
R.M.:I don’t think anybody thinks of me as the best story teller in the world, but many think of me as the best lecturer about storytelling and writer about storytelling and so I don’t tell stories for a living, I teach about storytelling.
G.P.:Why did you dedicate yourself to lecturing?
R.M.:Well for one reason, it gives me enormous pleasure. I have more fun delivering these lectures than anything else I can imagine doing. The great pleasure is watching my student writers succeed. They have won countless awards not only for screen and television, but for the theatre, forplaywriting,for novel writing and non-fiction writing, and the Pulitzer prize. I take great satisfaction in watching them take these ideas and meld them with their fine talent and intelligence and produce works of real quality.
G.P.:Would you be interested in directing a movie again?
R.M.:No,not at this point in my life. Directing a movie, is one of the most arduous exercise a human being can take on, and lecturing from 9:00 in the morning until 7 at night, 4 days in a row, is hard enough. If you add a few hours to that, and spread it out over months and years, then that’s directing.
G.P.:Why is your book “Story” so important?
R.M.:I think because I take very seriously and go into great depth about what other people think is a sort of mechanical and shallow exercise in writing for the screen, forfilm and television. There is a smug attitude toward screen writing and television writing.
There is a literary prejudice in which people think that real writing is putting words permanently on the page, to either be performed in the theatre or read in private. And screenwriting and televisionwriting are not serious forms, but of course they are. They are art forms as indeed any wonderful story telling medium is founded in a great piece of art, called a story.
I take it seriously and other people write a brief 200 page paperbacks, but I take this into depth that others don’t.
G.P.:Your students have received hundreds of awards, do you feel those as yours as well?
R.M.:No of course not. These are very intelligent, very talented, very hard working people,who have suffered at the keyboard and in their professions to achieve what they have achieved. If I can help them make that process a little faster, give them some tools and techniques that they need to get their fine creativity to the world at an earlier point in their career, I have succeeded.It is important that a writer finds their “voice” very early in his career and I try to help in that way.
G.P.:Could you mention some script writers that deserve your admiration?
R.M.:Well the ones I talk about primarily are Paul Haggis comes first to mind. He has been so wonderfully successful, he has had 3 Oscar nominations, he has won the Oscar twice.
AkivaGoldsman is another wonderful writer, fine films likeA BEAUTIFUL MIND, THE CLIENT, CINDERELLA MAN.
Andrew Stanton and John Lassaterand the great talents at Pixar who played UP AND WALLY, FINDING NEMO, MONSTER’S INK and TOY STORYmovies.
Christopher Wilkinson wrote a superb biopic of Nixon, called NIXON, directed by Oliver Stone.He also made the film about Muhammad Ali, called ALI.
Peter Jackson and his great works like LORD OF THE RINGS.
Jane Campion, THE PIANO.
Zac Penn, who is a great action writer, LAST ACTION HERO,X-MAN,and THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
So I have had the great pleasure of working with some wonderful talents.
G.P.:Why is it so important to you “The Chaos” as a main element on the elaboration of a good script?
R.M.:There is lots of ways to interpret the word “chaos”. If that means letting your imagination go wild, that kind of chaos is essential to any fine writing. It is important to not get too rigid too soon, and put yourself in a straight jacket. If you let your imagination experience some chaos, some marvelous ideas might come into your mind.
There is a certain randomness in life, and a certain amount of coincidence that when used well, can be very effective in story.
G.P.:Which are the dialogues that a good writer has to take into account to write a play?
R.M.:I have given many lectures on my website,“storylogue.com” about dialogues. The first step to writing excellent dialogue is to always remember that the dialogue is action. When people speak, they are doing something. When you understand what they are actually doing, underneath the words that they use to do it, then their ability to write dialogue is much enhanced.
G.P.: For you, who are the bad writers?
R.M.:That’s a question I would not answer. I don’t see why I should hurt anybody’s feelings unnecessarily by putting names to that question. Besides, a lot of what I consider poor writing in some films, other people think its terrific writing.
G.P.:Which are the qualities that an amateur writer has to have?
R.M.:The major fault of an amateur writer is that they fall in love with everything they write, they do not have high standards, they do not have rigorous taste to measure what they are doing, they don’t demand really superior work from themselves and theysimply pour out whatever passes through their head and read it and think it’s wonderful just because it came out of their head.
Professional writers on the other hand, hate everything they write, they destroy other mediocrity and they keep very, very precious little.
G.P.:Which differences are there between a scenario for television and one for the big screen?
R.M.:There are lots of answers to that.One is very general: Films tend to be outdoor stories and television tends to be indoor stories.Film puts a greater emphasis on image,television puts a greater emphasis on dialogue.
But the primary difference is the degree of character complexity, because television series go on and on, often for years and years, the complexity, the dimensionality of the characters has to be much, much greater than for a 2 hour feature film. In 2 hours there is not much time, but you can present fascinating characters in that 2 hours and be wonderful.
A television series has to be revealing insights and qualitiesof charactersof 50-100 hundred hours of dramatization, and so that requires characters that are so rich and complex that they can still be surprising after all those hours.For example,MAD MAN, THE SOPRANOS, THE WIRE, DAMAGES, these great television series have very complex characters.
G.P.:Some blockbuster movies do not necessarily have good scripts, so in that order, are they bad movies?
R.M.:It’s difficult to imagine that a blockbuster, a film that has been really successful to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, has a bad script. It may have a very mediocre,a very clichéd script. But generally speaking, it isgoing to have some kind of story that hangs together. But not always, they are often surprising for the spectacle. Ever since Aristotle wrote THE POETICS, Aristotle included spectacle as one of the five components of any story or play. The story,the characters, the ideas, the dialogue, the music and the spectacle. He said spectacle was the least important, the least creative. But it is an element, and people go to see spectacle as they have since the Romans fed the Christians to lions, so people love big action, beautiful photography and beautiful music scoring it and so that the audio visual pleasure is a pleasure and people enjoy that.
G.P.:Some outstanding movies with really good scripts are not blockbusters, so are they good movies?
R.M.:The question of good or bad is a question of taste. Blockbuster is not standard of anything. What is standard is if the movie finds an audience large enough, to repay the cost of the film with a little bit of profit. There are many audiences, there are young audiences, older audiences, there are sophisticatedaudiences, there are mass audiences and there are audiences from culture to culture, from the Latin American world tothe Chinese world, the African world. And so what a filmmaker or any storyteller must do, is to have a sense of who their audience is, their reader or theatre audience or the film or television audience, its size and its interest, and to write accordingly for that audience on a budget that allows the film to be at least a little profitable. If a beautifully told story has a small adult audience and it sells enough tickets to pay for itself, then that is a success.
G.P.:Could you mention someone in Colombia that you know his/her work as a script writer?
R.M.:Fernando Gaitán who created the television series UGLY BETTYis the original writer/producer.
G.P.:Why do people who want to learn and improve their writing skills for movie scripts and plays, have to attend your seminars?
R.M.:They do not have to attend my seminars, they could read my book or do both, or do what I did. What writers have been doing for hundreds of years, is to read other good writers, not just for pleasure, to read it once for pleasure, but to take notes, reading over and over to try to understand how fine writing works. By studying other people’s work, also the bad ones,they can understand why it doesn’t work and in your imagination, try to fix it, willcertainly help you to fix your own writing when the time comes. So you don’t have to take my lecture or read my book, if you are a serious writer, and study writing, but so few do.
For more info about the seminar please follow this link.
Source: LatAm Film