SM: I read your book before taking your story seminar, but when I did take the seminar what I found impressive was the level of clarity of the framework of storytelling that you present. The way you have approached the framework of storytelling is unique. I don’t know many people who have been able to get to the essence of a framework. I have worked with a lot of frameworks that help build businesses and bring products to market. I am a big admirer of good frameworks, and I have the training to recognize one when I see one.
RM: That is very kind of you. A framework of story, as I try to make it clear, is in a way like the last to a shoe. From that last you could make a pump, running shoe or a wing tip. It is a last. Storytelling is a form. It is not like a last in that you can take a last to China, set up a factory, and make shoes. It is a structure and is something I understand. I also understand that it is a form of a work of art. There are two kinds of that form, the honest ones and the dishonest ones. The honest ones are extremely hard to write; the dishonest ones are a piece of cake.
SM: If you couple talent with an honest artist and get them a framework, you could get powerful pieces of work.
RM: Yes, but what you are talking about is at the level of business. You are an entrepreneur and you are talking about a story as a product of a framework which can be replicated in a business setting.
SM: At some level Merchant Ivory got a framework together of working within their genre with a solid way of storytelling, a certain quality of art direction.
RM: Merchant Ivory cannibalized novels. They were not original storytellers. They cannibalized other people’s original vision. They never made a movie based on one of Ruth’s novels. She is a wonderful novelist and won the Booker Prize. Why didn’t her novel get to the screen? Her answer is that her novels are dark. They are very dark. Very few people would go to a movie based on one of them because there is no hope.
They went to other people’s creativity and told stories in which there is always a ray of hope. It is not that they are false, and to be fair films such as “The Remains of the Day” are very bleak. I would suggest this: If they had not already had success with Henry James and E. M. Forster when they went to make “The Remains of the Day”, they may not have had an audience for it. They had already built their reputation to the point that it could sustain that movie.
Merchant Ivory is not a portable model because the particular talents involved are very hard to find in the world. Their model was based upon cannibalizing other people’s creativity. For the most part their novels are from 100 years ago. If you try to base a model on adapting degenerate novels of the past fifty years they would just be too dark. Merchant Ivory films are always about social relationships; lovers, family, and whatnot. The modern novel is based on the conflicts within a human being, which you just don’t photograph.