Robert McKee is the most successful screenwriting lecturer and story consultant working today. He first offered his incredibly popular “Story Seminar” in 1983, and has been giving the three-day class to doting audiences across the entire world. McKee’s approach de-emphasizes formula and focuses heavily on functional story principles, specifically why aspects of a story work, or flop. He has written several novels on storytelling (required reading at multiple prominent film schools), and is so well respected for his understanding of the capabilities of narrative that various multi-national corporations have sought his advice on storytelling in business.
He’s also widely recognised by members of the industry. Most just admire his dedication and understanding of the craft, but some, like John Cleese, have paid to see his lectures (three times in Cleese’s case). He even features as a character in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, where his rants and advice inspire Kaufman’s self-insert to finally make progress on his overdue screenplay. Kaufman hates both authority and conventional wisdom, so the role is parody, but to be criticised by Kaufman, you’ve got to be doing something right.
McKee’s alumni have raked in some 60 Oscars, 200 Emmys, 50 Director’s Guild Association wins and 100 Writer’s Guild Association wins. He has optioned several of screenplays of his own. He knows what he’s doing. If you’ve got the money, he ought to be a staple of your screenwriting
education. His 2021 Spring Webinar program on character design has already begun. Story Drives starts in April. If you don’t have webinar money just yet, there’s still a way for you to get some quick- fire advice from McKee. He has a pretty active YouTube channel.
The most fruitful series of videos he continues to add to today are the Question and Answer series. These are of particular interest because they involve real screenwriters, in the process of learning, asking the sorts of questions you may ask. Practical and particular queries, which McKee efficiently and insightfully addresses in videos hardly ever over five minutes in length.
In this video, McKee explains the use of contradictions to create dimensionality in a character, so as to develop them.
Here McKee helps out a writer who isn’t sure where to start. He’d like to write, but should he start with research? Developing a protagonist? Or figuring out which genre he enjoys?
In this video, McKee goes a little more in depth with the idea of choosing genre. A student isn’t sure what the best genre is to write in to get used to story conventions as a beginner writer. McKee insists its whatever genre most interests you, when you read or watch stories. You’ve got to have a passion for it, or else you will struggle through the process.
Some of this backlog of straightforward explanations stretches to 2010. It’s a shame that so much insight into storytelling is hoarded by institutions behind tuition fees. Sop up as much free McKee advice as you possibly can!