Excerpt from an interview originally published by Final Draft on September 25th, 2017
The venerable screenwriting instructor Robert McKee is not only a knowledgeable craftsman, but also a fan of well-spun tales, whether on stage, in books, or on screen. Creator of the three-day STORY seminar—and a celebrity among academics, thanks to Brian Cox’s portrayal in 2002’s Adaptation—McKee is blunt yet eloquent as he glides from films he adores and despises. He mentions loving 2016’s Lady Macbeth, director William Oldroyd’s 19th-century romantic thriller, in the same breath as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie. But this summer’s Atomic Blonde? Not so much.
“It’s repetitious. It’s a female Jackie Chan without the humor,” he said in a recent phone interview, adding, “I never believed that people simply go to stories to escape. I think they go to a story to explore a world that they didn’t know. That’s why, when you see something that’s a catalogue of clichés, you don’t escape. You get pissed off.”
Robert McKee discusses the dreaded phenomenon of writer’s block and suggests some strategies for overcoming it.
Steve Pressfield’s The War or Art is a necessary ally for anyone who has ever faced writer’s block. Robert McKee wrote the foreword for the book and is a long-time fan and friend of Pressfield. For members, Pressfield is featured in a lengthy Storylogue interview.
Quotes of the Week:
“To find the truth, make your own heart pound when you write.”
- Robert McKee
“Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it’s the key to victory over fear and it’s cousin, depression.”
Robert McKee recounts the true story of when he visited Paddy Chayefsky’s writing room: “That is a Writer… somebody with high standards, who rewrites and rewrites and rewrites in pursuit of perfection and will not settle for less than the best.”
Maya Deren, the mother of the avant-garde cinema and its movement, greatly influenced some of the most respected filmmakers of our time; from Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch.
Her 1941 groundbreaking film MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON demonstrates a tour de force filmmaking artistry, using no decorative photography, no spoken words, and only single drum beats. To this day it stands as the beacon of avant-garde cinema.
May 28th, Robert McKee will end the Beijing GENRE Festival (May 25 - 28) with THE MASTERPIECE Day. He will analyze Maya Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON, and Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film CHINATOWN. Robert will also address the state of current Chinese films.
A Brief Bio of Maya Deren
Maya Deren came to America in 1922 as Eleanora Derenkowsky. Together with her father, a psychiatrist and her mother, an artist, she fled the pogroms against Russian Jews in Kiev. She studied journalism and political science in at Syracuse University in New York, finishing her B.A up at NYU in June 1936, and afterwards received her Master’s degree in English literature from Smith in 1939.
In 1943 she made her first film with Alexander Hammid called MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943). Through this association she changed her name to “Maya”, a Buddhist term meaning ‘illusion’. She made six short films: MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943), AT LAND (1944), A STUDY FOR CHOREOGRAPHY FOR CAMERA (1945), RITUAL IN TRANSFIGURED TIME (1945-1946), MEDITATION ON VIOLENCE (1947), THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT (1959). She also made several incomplete films, including THE WITCHES CRADLE (1944), with Marcel Duchamp.
Maya Deren was the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim for creative work in motion pictures (1947). She wrote film theory, distributed her own films, traveled across the USA, Cuba and Canada to promote her films using the “lecture-demonstration format” to inform on film theory. Deren established the Creative Film Foundation in the late 1950’s to reward the achievements of independent filmmakers. [READ FULL BIO]
The Principle of Infinite Pains: Legendary Filmmaker Maya Deren on Cinema, Life, and Her Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers.
“There is no Avant-Garde any more. There is only Retro Garde. Filmmakers are imitating the auteurs of the past and recycling tired works of the past. I am tired of movies about movies. What we want to see is movies about life…about characters that express the nuances of life.” -ROBERT MCKEE
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