Culture, Film, TV

Bleak Outlook for Screenwriting – Robert McKee on World Update

Robert McKee, author of 'Story'BBC World Service – World Update, 02/01/2012

Robert McKee is the author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. McKee has in his list of students 35 Oscar winners, acknowledgements from other screen-writing greats such as Goldman and Goldsmith. Engaged for lectures by bodies such as the New Zealand film Council where attendees included Peter Jackson and Jane Campion, McKee is regarded as an authority on screenwriting.

Appearing on the BBC World Service programme World Update (Jan 2, 2012), McKee presented a bleak outlook for film-making in 2012. Citing the expense of making a major Hollywood picture and the risk-averse character of the ‘expert’ executives in charge, we can expect more blockbusters in the mould of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, which McKee cited with undisguised contempt.

Instead, McKee sees the only light coming from TV, to which the best writers have migrated. McKee lauded Alan Ball (Oscar winning writer of American Beauty) for his work with HBO on “the single greatest TV show ever,” Six Feet Under.

Catching up with McKee after one of his famous screenwriting seminars, World Update diverted for a moment to include a talking head by attendee Russell Brand, who characteristically dissected the elements of the interview using McKee’s oft-derided formula for the screen-play. McKee’s ‘rules’ for movie-making are blamed for the formulaic nature of Hollywood screenplays, a charge he vehemently denies.

McKee himself identifies the tension between the creatives and the executives who describe everything in terms of product. Rather, McKee regards himself as a teacher of the basic chemistry of writing, but blames writers and executives for what they do with it – producing either the cure for cancer or DDT.

McKee is also critical of many screenwriters themselves. Why do they go to Hollywood except in the hope of picking up a $2-3m writing fee? “Greedy bastards,” is his uncompromising judgement of them, concluding they have no rights of complaint if they are prepared “to prostitute themselves” to Hollywood.

This was another enlightening, if lucky, find in the random mix of BBC World Service broadcasts. RC

The Robert McKee segment is included in the 02/01/2011 edition of the show on BBC iPlayer or the BBC World Update: Daily Commute podcast.

World Update: Every morning, from Monday to Friday, World Update provides a comprehensive briefing on the stories that are making the news. Presented by Dan Damon, the programme speaks to the people at the centre of events to hear first hand accounts, gets detailed analysis from experts and showcases the extensive network of BBC correspondents around the world.

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


3 thoughts on “Bleak Outlook for Screenwriting – Robert McKee on World Update

  1. I just thought I would leave a comment to let you how much of a nice read this actually was.

    Posted by wowgolddyf | Jan 18, 2012, 7:56 pm
  2. Keep working, terrific job!

    Posted by Refsal | Apr 5, 2012, 11:42 pm
  3. McKee’s wretched book can take the blame for most of the rubbish that comes out of Hollywood. If you want decent stories go to Europe, Asia, anywhere.

    Posted by Feyh | Jun 4, 2012, 8:29 am

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