Screenwriting guru Robert McKee rarely gives anything for free, so we should be grateful for this recent — and typically spiky — interview with Salon. Here are five highlights:
1. The biggest mistake [for new writers] is that they will try to adapt to whatever is trendy. And so they’ll look at the hits, they’ll look at last summer’s successes … and so they will be more concerned about selling than they will about creating, and the attitude often of young writers, or wannabe writers for the screen, is that there is so much shit on the screen, surely my shit is better than their shit.
2. You must not mistake words for writing. What you write in terms of characters, in terms of story, in terms of the events in their lives, in terms of the meaning of everything, and the emotional impact of the storytelling, that is 80 percent of writing. Dialogue and description is a relatively minor part of the creative process in the performance arts of television and film … if somebody writing for the screen actually thinks that their greatest creative efforts is in dialogue, then they should be writing for the stage.
3. People desperately need stories to help them make sense out of life because what we are used to agree upon nobody agrees on anymore. I mean, there’s a spectrum that runs from “I am my brother’s keeper” to “Every man for himself” and we call the left liberals, and the right conservatives. And this argument over are we our brother’s keeper, or is it every man for himself, has never been more ugly … The problem for people today is confusion: [we live in] a world in which you have more communication than ever [but which] makes less and less sense than ever. And so you need storytellers to make sense out of that chaos.
4. I never lose faith in story. Film may come and go as an art form, and art forms have come and gone. Opera, more and less, came and went and then just gets revived endlessly. There’s very little cutting-edge opera today. There are art forms that rise up and dominate a period of time in human history and then recede. And so film goes through that and recedes. So what? Because there will always be story. And the medium of the future, I think, is television.
5. We’ve learned to be more clever, more experimental, and more skilled, often, in the telling of stories today, but I can’t say that the content is what it used to be.