Dan Kelley

The Truth about Robert McKee

Some people say that Robert McKee is a failed screenwriter peddling nonsense to naive hopefuls.

I submit that his Story seminar is a masterwork of dramatic storytelling, as he himself defines it, structures it, and acts it out in front of the attendees.

The Story seminar is a screenplay. It is a movie. It is a one man show.

It is a fiction.

The Inciting Incident, the thing that sets it all in motion, comes in the first act. It is the Story Crisis: Story, as an art form, is dying. The princess Story has been taken away by the dragon Mediocrity. What to do?

You must save the princess. You must become the dragon slayer.

Your true character will be revealed by this story, not changed, but revealed.

Are you up for it? It's a daunting task. Luckily for you, you have help, in the form of Robert McKee.

Mckee is a Mr. Miyagi character, a hectoring, bullying, old-fashioned, but ultimately kind-hearted mentor who helps you along your way to becoming the great warrior. He puts stress on you, and stress is critical. The four days of the seminar are stressful. Arduous. Painful. But in the end, you will come through. Like Bruce Wayne from the hole of the prison, you will emerge from this hell equipped to vanquish the forces of mediocrity from Hollywood and to restore the republic, like Gladiator, and a thousand years of great Story will reign because of your actions, because you did the work, you maintained your grace under pressure.

What's more, you will do all this, you will be a fantastic success, without giving up your deepest held beliefs, without selling your soul. Like Rick in Casablanca, you will have BOTH true love and the righteous cause. In your case, your art is what you love, and your cause is to become a successful screenwriter. To do what you love and get paid for it. You will solve the crisis of story just as Frodo solves the crisis of the ring.

You will save the princess.

This is why people love McKee. He provides the same vicarious hero fantasy as a great epic film, and does it the same way a movie does, by flattering you. You are the protagonist. When the chips are down, when the stress is greatest, when the forces of antagonism are at their absolute peak, when they've got you pinned down like Austin Powers in a tank full of sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads, you will prevail. You will use all your skill, all your nerve, all your knowledge (provided by McKee) and you will win.

Why else would so many return to the seminar over and over again? They are not learning anything new. Everything in the seminar is in McKee's book. They are not there to learn. They are there for the same reason I watch Raiders of the Lost Ark over and over again, or Gladiator, or The Verdict, or Chinatown.

Each of us wants to believe that his character is good, and that one day he will be tested. On that day, the world will know his goodness. And his greatness.

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