‘Live hard. Live Poor’: Screenwriting advice from Robert McKee

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The legendary screenwriting guru, Robert McKee is coming to Los Angeles this week to conduct one of his famed “Story” seminars. It’s an intense four day endeavor that is reportedly “equivalent to 4 years of college.” It will run from 9am-7pm, Thursday March 6th-Sunday March 9th.

KCRW called McKee at his Connecticut home the other day to talk about his seminars, his depiction in the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman movie Adaptation, and what sort of advice he has for screenwriters who long for a career in the business. Here are some pointers:

 “I tell them that they’re in over their heads and they’re probably going to fail.” Robert McKee

1. “Give it 10 years of failure.”

McKee says to write at least one screenplay or TV pilot a year for 10 years. He believes that it will take you 10 screenplays or 10 TV pilots to “master your craft” but you need to realize that none of them will get made. “If you don’t have the desire to fail 10 times over, and devote a decade to it, you’ll never make it.”

2. “Live hard. Live Poor.”

McKee realizes you need to eat but he says, “support yourself driving a taxi or clerking in a hotel.” That is, “feed yourself off of some job that doesn’t take any creativity.”

3. “Don’t get married. Don’t have children.”

McKee says simply, “That baby carriage in the hall will kill your career.”

4. “You’re not going anywhere without an agent.”

McKee says that you need to ask yourself, what genre do I write in? Then, identify the successful screenwriters who write like you. Find out who represents them (by calling the Writers Guild). Then focus on submitting your work to those agents. He emphasizes, “Don’t put your first screenplay in front of them. You better put your 5th screenplay because you better hand them something that’s really good or you’ll never talk to them again.”

5. “Put your creativity into writing something of surpassing quality.”

McKee is devoted to the craft of writing and he wants you to be too. He says, “There is no game to play. There is no trick. All that matters is quality. The rest is common sense and perseverance.”

To learn more about McKee’s L.A. seminar this week go here.

Darby Maloney producesKCRW’s The Business, follow her @DarbyKCRW