After finishing reading “Story” of Robert McKee I think I can give the ultimate tip to everyone who wants to make a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter:
Don’t even think about scriptwriting…before learning the craft!
As obvious as it sounds it seems that this message hasn’t yet reached many people out there.
The newbie’s approach
Many say the fault of their script is the system in Hollywood at work as it is an exclusive club only the invited are allowed to enter. OK, in some sense this is true, but the main reason that so many aspiring screenwriters fail is their approach to the craft.
It is not that they try to write something great. It is because most “writers” say or think the following lines before starting a script project:
- Hey, I have seen so much movies I am quite sure I can write one myself
- Whoa, that movie was so bad. I can write something better
The first point is the prime example of why most of us fail – wrong logic at work: watching a movie is not writing a movie.
Seeing is not knowing
I have seen thousands of movies and episodes in my life. And until some days ago I would have agreed with anyone who would have told me that I could write a movie. So I bought the book “Story” with a know-it-all approach…and saw my ego being shuttered by it.
My ego was destroyed because despite the fact that I had seen so many movies I never got one or even two principles McKee is writing about. I never thought of beats, I never had the idea of values at stake, turning points or gaps. Can you believe how eye opening this read was? It was amazing. Nevertheless I also was amazed about myself how I could believe I might be a good writer.
You know, in the area of computers it is quite easy: because one can use a PC doesn’t mean one can write a program in Java, C# or anything else. If you want to be a programmer you have to learn a lot. You cannot start writing an application because of simply using Windows or Office. Or better: of watching at Windows.
On the other hand in screenwriting this is not that obvious because there is no “other” technical language at work here. A screenwriter works in English, German or any other language he perfectly knows.
The core of the problem
While this thinking might be true on the surface it is wrong on everything else. Just because you can talk and write in English doesn’t mean you can write a movie script. A script might use a language to tell a story, but you have to know the structures and principles underlying to tell a good story great. Or tell a great story at all.
This means, that to start mastering the craft of screenwriting you have to invest some first time and learn.
In fact, we all did the same with the language. We didn’t know how to speak or even write when we grew up. We had to learn the language. Its words, its principles and its structures.
In screenwriting one therefore can say you already learned the first part, the language. Now you have to learn the rest. How does a good story work? What principles are at work? How do you structure a good story? You might want to start with Aristotle or Syd Field or Robert McKee or anyone else who knows what he or she is talking about. The most important part is that you start to learn.
Look at me as a great example. In review I had no clue about anything regarding screenwriting or movies until I started to read that book from Robert McKee. Now my head is exploding and I constantly think about how I can improve my good short movie to hopefully something great.
I have gained an insight into movies and their scripts I never had before.
To think I once believed I could write movies simply because I watched them…