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in Filmmaking
on Aug 19, 2009

When I used to be script reader for one of the mini-majors, I remember all of the executives taking Robert McKee’s Story seminars. Invariably they all came back extolling its praises, even the ones who kind of dismissed it going in. When he issued his seminar in book form, Story, I got around to reading it, and, like everything, there’s plenty to take away from it even if you choose not to focus on some of his broader dictums. (I especially like McKee for his discussion of the expectations of genre.) Anyway, so too his interviews. There’s a lot of “inciting incident” and “Object of Desire” mumbo jumbo in this interview, and I think his take on new media is so vague as to miss the point, but there are some worthwhile sections, including this brutal honest regarding rewriting. (I definitely subscribe to the notion that good writing is all about rewriting.)

From the interview in Story Link:

Q: How important is the process of rewriting?

Robert McKee: It’s absolutely critical. I quote Hemingway in my book who said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” What’s difficult for writers to come to terms with is to recognize that 90% of what we all do, no matter our talent, is not our best work. We are only capable of excellence maybe 10% of the time. So, how are you going to fill a screenplay with 100% of excellence? Everything has to have been experimented with, improvised, played with, ten times over. Ninety percent of our work must be thrown away in order to ultimately end up with the precious 10% of excellence. If, for example, you write a 120-page screenplay with 40 to 60 scenes, if you keep every single scene you write, and your so-called rewriting is just paraphrasing and re-paraphrasing dialogue, that’s not rewriting, that’s just polishing. Rewriting means deep structural change in character and story. THAT’S rewriting. If you keep the first draft of your 40 to 60 scenes, you can be sure that, at best, four to six of those scenes are of real quality. The rest is crap. Rewriting doesn’t mean drudgery. Rewriting means re-imagining, recreating, improvising and trying all kinds of crazy ideas. That’s rewriting.

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