Guru of cin­e­matic writ­ing Robert McKee says try­ing to be pop­u­lar leads to bad work,

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

pop­u­lar and … cre­ate worst writ­ing,” he adds.

Although China has be­come the world’s sec­ond-largest film mar­ket with more than 44 bil­lion yuan in to­tal cinema ticket sales in 2015, McKee points out a prob­lem in today’s Chi­nese cinema in a straight­for­ward way: Chi­nese films are ob­sessed with pop­u­lar­ity and money.

“Un­for­tu­nately, China is be­com­ing the ‘Hol­ly­wood-est’,” he says. “There is an ar­gu­ment that ‘ we just give peo­ple what they want’.”

Cit­ing ex­am­ples, he picks sev­eral top-gross­ing Chi­nese films of re­cent times, in­clud­ing Lost in Thai­land (2012), Mon­sterHunt (2015) andMer­maid (2016), as in­stances of the

My teach­ing is only decades old, but what I’m teach­ing is thou­sands of years old. A story is what it is. It’s never go­ing to change.”

how projects have adapted to mar­ket cri­te­ria but not in terms of artis­tic ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“It’s fine. It’s de­light­ful and en­ter­tain­ing, but it’s easy,” he says. “In my aes­thet­ics, the more dif­fi­cult the artists make it for them­selves, the more bril­liance they will cre­ate.”

McKee says it is sad that when the rest of the world talks about Chi­nese films these days, re­spected pro­duc­tions like Red Sorghum (1987), FarewellMy Con­cu­bine (1993) and To Live (1994) are re­mem­bered more than the rel­a­tively newer re­leases.

In the face of the need to en­ter­tain in the film in­dus­try, McKee em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of be­ing able to stick to the “bit­ter truth”.

Con­se­quently, the ap­pear­ance of TV se­ries Break­ing Bad (2008-13), which fo­cuses on the screen­writ­ers’ ca­pac­ity to tell the bit­ter truth and present com­plex­i­ties of the hu­man race, has started “a new world” in his point of view.

In­the past 15 to 20 years, the US has gen­er­ated many such se­ries run­ning for 50 to 100 hours, he says, cit­ing Break­ing Bad that has 26 sto­ry­lines wo­ven to­gether.

“The two-hour fea­ture film is a very lim­ited form, and the dom­i­nant art form will be long-form tele­vi­sion,” he says.

“Their char­ac­ters will be in­cred­i­bly com­plex … good and evil. As a re­sult, when you watch these se­ries, you will be aware how com­plex you are. There is a lit­tle Wal­ter White (the lead role in Break­ing Bad) in ev­ery­body.”

McKee says that such ef­forts will re­quire bril­liant sto­ry­telling, more than what the world has seen. But he did not write about such trends in the book Story, and thus plans to write an up­graded ver­sion in the near fu­ture to elab­o­rate more on long-form tele­vi­sion.

With the devel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy, peo­ple will use new meth­ods like eye-catch­ing vis­ual ef­fects, but he is against over­do­ing it in films and TV se­ries.

“It’s a ques­tion of form and con­tent, but the two should be in har­mony,” he says. “Spe­cial ef­fects have to be ex­pres­sive, but they are not ex­cuses for bad writ­ing.

“Hu­man na­ture, life and talk have not changed. My teach­ing is only decades old, but what I’mteach­ing is thou­sands of years old. A story is what it is. It’s never go­ing to change.”

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@ chi­


Robert Mckee, pro­fes­sor

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