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Hollywood’s Content Crisis: Robert McKee (Part 5)

Posted on Sunday, Oct 4th 2009

SM: “The Reader” was a commercially successful art movie.

RM: Yes. Also a British film. I think it was commercially successful and it was a beautiful film. I thought that “Julie & Julia” was a wonderful light comedy with a great deal of sophistication. There are always exceptions. The reasons that “The Reader: gets made is because Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes said “I’ll do it”. If they don’t say yes, then it does not happen. The kinds of films that are commercial art movies happen because stars back them.

Mass commercial film is based on a lie and does not need story. It needs money and special effects. The quality films that you and I would love only get made because stars want them as vehicles for their own work. If I could take the inept films of Singapore and work with the writer to get quality storytelling, I don’t think the film could be an international success without a star.

The only other kind of star that can lift a film up from another culture is a director. There are directors here and there in Europe and Mexico who the art crowd will follow. They will go to those movies even if there are no stars. That is a phenomenon as well, but we are talking about art movies.

SM: Can you synthesize your philosophy of storytelling in brief for the reader?

RM: I will do my best. I get asked that question all the time. Reducing story down to its simplest underlying element, it is the underlying form of all stories everywhere. A story begins when an event, which is caused either by human decision or random coincidence, radically upsets the balance of forces in a character’s life. This event causes the character to need to restore the balance of life, and to do that the protagonist character will conceive the object of desire.

An object of desire can be anything imaginable. It is what the protagonist feels they need to put life back into balance. It can be something physical. In a crime story it might be a dead villain. It could be something like a happy marriage. It could be something metaphysical like the meaning for life. The protagonist then goes off into their world into their own heart and soul as human beings and into the various dimensions of their existence seeking their object of desire, trying to restore the equilibrium of life.

As they do this, they will struggle against forces of antagonism that will arise from their own inner natures, from their personal relationships with other human beings or from the physical environment. Forces of antagonism will rise up and try to block them from achieving their object of desire. They will struggle towards that and may or may not achieve it. The story may or may not end up with a satisfying balance of life for the protagonist.

To go even further, we could reduce it down to five fundamental elements of any event. The protagonists desire to restore life’s equilibrium, the object of desire the protagonist either consciously or subconsciously believes is the key to life’s balance, the protagonist’s constant struggle to achieve that object of desire, and the forces of antagonism from all of their aspects of life to prevent them from doing that. It is really very simple universal form.

I have been called on occasion from people all over the world who have asked me that exact question. I get professors and teachers of philosophy asking that question after reading my book because they think that there is some profound philosophy. I am always touched when people think that there are profound implications of life.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Hollywood's Content Crisis: Robert McKee
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