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Friday, August 15, 2008

It was bound to happen eventually...

In my wonderful search to learn structure I've been scouring high and low for information.

Some of that information has come in the form of people pointing me to websites or audio books (really?) or essays. But a good chunk of it has come from being pointed to certain books that I absolutely 'must' read.

And so I went out yesterday onto the inter-tubes, did a bunch of research and made a few purchases for my ever-growing library. I liked what I saw for the most part and ordered a few choice books, namely: "Making a Good Script Great", "Save the Cat" and "Developing Story Ideas".

It was when I was looking into some other books that I stumbled across another one in the "You might also like this" category. The author sounded somewhat familiar and so I clicked the link and jumped to this praise-filled page. Wow, it seemed to have been pretty well-received and I have to say that I was initially quite impressed by how much love this book seemed to be getting (86 5-Star reviews!).

Except for a few dissenters.

And they were the ones I read first.

See, when I shop for something, I usually read the 1 and 2-star ratings first. Why? Because, well, it's always the people that 'love' something that take the time to kiss it all over. The people that hate it, well, okay they can be just as vocal... but sometimes - just sometimes - they actually have incredibly valid reasons for their disdain. They haven't been enough for me to avoid a purchase, but some have enlightened me to things like 'crappy battery life' and 'poorly constructed at best'.

All-in-all, I like to consider it reconnaissance in my quest to becoming an 'informed' buyer; learning what I'm getting myself into before spending my hard-earned cash.

Now, I've read some interesting reviews of things online but I don't think I've ever read a review that actually stopped me from purchasing something that I had intended to.

Until now.

Anyways, I'm posting the review here and we'll go from there:

By C. Hunter Coates "Book Addict" (Los Angeles)

"I attended Roberth Mckee's the I've-Never-Written-A-Screenplay-In-My-Life-But-Here's-How-In-Three-Hours "workshop". We all sat back and watched the glory and splendor of a few well-lit scenes from Casblanca as McHack droned on and on about their cinematic significance. I found myself occassionally embarrassed at having to wipe the sleep drool from my face. (Luckily I was smart enough to sneak in and not pay $450 for it). The book was worse. The class reminded me more of a cinematography class back at ole USC film school than ANYTHING related to literary theory. I have had one screenplay optioned and directed a short which was at Sundance and gone through developement hell and worked with a good script consultant (Ann Zald - Schindler's List) on my recent script, etc., etc. I'm no Larry Gelbart, but I've been a working, represented writer in this town. McKee's text is more of a rambling, seething mass of amateur exploration than anything resembling the intricacies and time tested princibles of narrative theory and execution. You'll be more confused and stupid reading this text than any other from my estimation. He's a hack. Actually he's not up to the title of hack because he hasn't written anything. Therefore he's a charlatan. For more correct information in my humble opinion and experience, get your feet wet with: Seger's How To Make A Good Script Great, Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing; Howard and Mabley's The Tools Of Screeenwriting, Iglesias' 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters; THEN get more serious with Michael Rabiger's Developing Story Ideas and Gerard Genette's Narrative Discourse Revisited. Of course even better than all that, read the few greats of all time (w/o Cliff Notes, or anybody else's interpratations/footnotes/opinions, etc.): ALL the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, ALL the plays of Shakespeare, ALL of Moliere's comedies, ALL of Tolstoy, Shaw, Twain, Ibsen, Dickens, Austen, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. I also found How To Read A Book by Mortimer Adler/ Charles Van Doren useful- originally published in 1940 (get the revised and updated edition). Great Writers are Great Readers- Great Comprehenders. I have a lot to learn and read from many geniuses. McKee is not one of them. "There's a sucker born every minute and some people love to be snookered." - PT Barnum"

Now, being a newbie, I don't really have much of an idea of 'who' Mr. McKee is, I do get the feeling that he's a kind of a Big Deal (more than a few people I've met are big fans, and, frankly, some of the 5-star reviews border on fellatio...) but I don't know one way or the other. I have yet to really form an opinion either way. Certainly, more than a few people recommended that I pick up 'Story' and even the few that I've talked to since have been saying 'it's still worth a peek'.

But something about what this guy wrote, bilious and grammatically incorrect and horribly misspelled as it was, stuck with me in that moment and made me say "Hrmmm... maybe I'll see if I can pick it up at the library".

Huh. Guess there's a first time for everything.



Crystal said...

Good on you if you can even FINISH "Story"... I've tried three times, it's really dry and really dense.

I think like any book on screenwriting (or any book on anything) you're going to find nuggets that help you and nuggets that don't. A lot of people swear by McKee, and that's great for them. Myself... I can't get past chapter three.

Marilyn C said...

I honestly can't remember how useful I found it, but if you do decide to give it a try you're welcome to borrow my copy.

Elize said...

McKee's site is here: http://www.mckeestory.com/

It's a well-reputed seminar structure. It's gotten a lot of fame, and "Adaptation" made good use of making the McKee-figure popularized more so in narrative. Watch 'Adaptation' if you want some of those 'nuggets'.

The big thing, though, about McKee's book is that it's available at pretty much every library that's worth anything. Just borrow it and see what you feel on it from there. (It's also a TOME. It's gigantic).

For some of the basics that I found helpful -- Alex Epstein's TV book is a great thing to look through.

Peter said...

McKee is like any other screenwriting guru, some of his stuff is good, some not so much. The problem with any of these gurus is when screenwriters become slaves to the so called "rules."

McKee is the gold standard of the gurus, and if for no other reason than that it's worth your being familiar with him. This is especially true if you're planning on heading to the States, cause most development types speak McKee.

If you can ever finangle your way into his seminar I'd say it's worth it. He's actually a pretty entertaining speaker (very curmudgeonly, loves to make fun of any and all stupidity). I managed to convince my work to pay for me to go to the intensive weekend seminar. Learned a lot, had a good time.

Just don't become a slave to the rules and you'll be fine...

Max Weismann said...

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When we discovered them and how intrinsically edifying they are, we negotiated an agreement with Encyclopaedia Britannica to be the exclusive worldwide agent to make them available.

For those of you who teach, this is great for the classroom.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more: