Mark Ravenhill writes in yesterday’s Media Guardian of his distaste for a world of script editing dominated by Robert McKee’s Story. I completely agree, though I fear he’s rather late jumping on the McKee-skeptic bandwagon.
Not that Story is a bad book – it’s not. It’s more that people who’ve been on McKee’s course have an annoying habit of ending up as disciples, evangelising The One True Way of Writing Screenplays. They apply this to everything, from blockbuster films to hour-long documentaries to make&do magazine shows for children. And yes, I have had a discussion with a (very) senior children’s TV figure, in which he invited me to learn lessons from McKee for a 2-minute item that involved yoghurt pots and string.
There are lessons to learn. But slavishly sticking to McKee’s structure is at best a creative straight-jacket, and at worse a crutch for the lazy and talentless.
(if any journos are reading: there’s your pull-quote. Heh)
A few years ago I attended a conference session about McKee’s Story, in a meeting of science documentary makers. The panel unanimously extolled the virtues of the approach and derided anyone who queried their methods. Those of us at the back shuffled uncomfortably – finally, I understood why I hadn’t been able to watch Horizon for years; the editors gently enforced a Story-esque conflict/antagonist/turning-point/three-act structure. Whether it suited the narrative or not.
Eventually I could bear it no longer. I stood and said – almost certainly less-elegantly than I recall, sadly – “This session has had an excellent set-up and a modicum of conflict. However, it’s sadly lacking in turning-point or hope of resolution. I propose a solution: I’m off to the bar.”
A surprising number of people walked out with me.
 – Come to think of it, I’ve not read it. I’ve read someone’s session notes from the 1-day workshop, but not the book. From some accounts (see the Amazon reviews) this is the best way to find out what McKee’s banging on about.