Thank You, Robert McKee

When I first got my assignment I panicked, not seeing a way forward. But, that’s when Paula came to my rescue once again. She reminded me of Robert McKee, whose Story Seminar we had the privilege of attending in Beijing in 2012 as part of our training as Intelligence Agents. We had continued to study McKee during our time in Hollywood, and now, she was convinced that Robert McKee could help us see the way forward.

Robert McKee is an amazing person and for those who don’t know him already, I’d like to introduce him to you.

Robert McKee has carved out for himself a remarkable spot in all of history.

He is the modern Aristotle of story:


The closest we have in the contemporary world to Poetics may be the classic text Story by Robert McKeeThe so-called “God of Story” (as Vice magazine dubbed him) has been explaining his theory of how and why dramatic narratives emerge for 35 years, to the fascination of playwrights and screenwriters – his alumni have so far mustered 60 Oscar wins, including, among many others, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidPaul HaggisPeter JacksonJohn Cleese (who has attended the story seminar three times) and the entire writing staff of Pixar.

A creative writing lesson from the ‘God of Story’, By Tim Lott, Guardian, September 10, 2016

The Guardian has called Robert McKee the “most influential storytelling theorist since Aristotle.” As a screenwriting instructor, he has taught students as illustrious as John Lasseter of Pixar and Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “A Beautiful Mind”, “The Da Vinci Code” and other films. For over 15 years, his Story Seminar has been the ultimate writing class for over 50,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors, and playwrights.

Hollywood’s Content Crisis: Robert McKee (Part 1), By Sramrana Mitra, One Million by One Million Blog, September 30th 2009

He is venerated the world over. And you can see why…


Robert McKee, A Fulbright Scholar, is the most sought after screenwriting lecturer around the globe. He has dedicated the last 30 years to educating and mentoring screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, poets, documentary makers, producers, and directors internationally. Those who have learned from McKee have called him “the Aristotle of our time” because of his insight into the substance, structure, style, and principles of the grand art of story.

Peter Jackson (writer/director THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, THE HOBBIT) has lauded him as “The Guru of Gurus.” For the writers of Pixar (creators of TOY STORY 1, 2, & 3, FINDING NEMO), McKee’s STORY Seminar is a rite of passage.

THE ARISTOTLE OF OUR TIME, McKee Story

And look how McKee influenced the Pixar people…


“Seeking insight, Lasseter and Docter attended a three-day seminar in Los Angeles given by screenwriting guru Robert McKee. They came back to Point Richmond as true believers in McKee’s principles, grounded in Aristotle’s Poetics. High among these was McKee’s doctrine that a protagonist and his story become interesting only as much as the forces arrayed against him make him interesting; character emerges most realistically and compellingly from the choices that the protagonist makes in reaction to his problems. A McKee seminar resounded with the master’s observations about story structure and how it related to the progression of the hero’s problems and his responses to those problems. McKee’s teachings became the law of the land at Pixar.

 

David A. Price, The Pixar Touch

And you love those Pixar movies, right?…


In today’s world, I’m a huge fan of the Pixar guys. They’re some of the best storytellers out there. Take for example the movie Up. I’ve never been so touched. In the first 10 to 15 minutes, it captures the love between a husband and wife, and it made me yearn to have that type of commitment and relationship with my wife, Sharee.

The Battle for Hearts and Minds, A Conversation with Michael Landon, Jr., Decision Magazine, April 2, 2014

And look what one of your famous Christian novelists said about McKee over a decade ago…


WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?

Frank Peretti: ….One book that instantly comes to mind is Robert McKee’s Story. It’s about screenwriting, but I think the teaching applies just as well to the construction of a good novel. By way of disclaimer, Robert McKee is not sympathetic to the Christian message, but this book is still excellent.

Frank Peretti Interview, Where the Map Ends, September 2006

And you should know that McKee is a broad-minded thinker, like my Uncle…


The correlating mind takes two things it already knows, and then seeks a hidden connection, a third thing that joins the two in a way no one else has ever seen before. This analogical logic is the essence of creativity. The discovery of the third thing fuses two known things into something utterly new – not just an innovation or refinement, but something unexpected and unprecedented. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Studying McKee wasn’t just wonderful for our studies. It has been wonderful for Paula and me personally, too. He helped us think broadly about story, pointing out that we humans are hardwired in our brains for story. Everyone sees their life as a story, trying to make sense of the chaos of reality. This includes Paula and me. And, the more we studied McKee, the more we came to see our own lives as a story. Talk about a transformative experience. Thank you, Robert McKee.

But, bringing McKee into the picture brought struggle too. He opened our eyes to the power of the Major Dramatic Question:


How will all this turn out?


You see, even though our assignment is focused on that question in relation to your unfolding drama in America, that Major Dramatic Question is disturbing for us in a very personal way, because the train of death is barreling down the tracks…


If the depth and breadth of conflict in the inner life and the greater world do not move you, let this: deathDeath is like the freight train in the future, heading towards us, closing the hours, second by second, between now and then. If we’re to live with any sense of satisfaction, we must engage life’s forces of antagonism before the train arrives.

Robert McKee, Story

So, someday it will arrive at my station. And then what? What becomes of me? How will it all turn out?

I don’t want to linger on my internal struggles here, for there’s much more to tell you in this strange story.

But here I tell you we are grateful — Robert McKee’s work has rescued our team. He has opened our eyes to the power of story, given us a “transformative experience”, and enabled us to pursue our assignment.

And I know this will sound crazy, but — if Christianity is the story we are in — it looks like God the Great Storyteller may have chosen Robert McKee to do just what is needed at this time in the unfolding drama of the story we are in.