Why the world needs good storytellers. Now.
Robert McKee’s Speech at the Final Draft Hall of Fame Award
“It seems to me that when things get worse the writing gets better. In this world we live in now, this is the pay off to over 20 years of setups… 20 years of things getting worse and worse, but the writing has gotten better and better. There’s got to be a relationship between these two things. BREAKING BAD was born in the year 2008, the same year of the recession, and it’s about a criminal entrepreneur…
Every story expresses and bears a meaning. And that meaning is either adding to the quality of civilisation or subtracting from it. Nothing is neutral. No story is innocent. Every story has an impact somewhere in the world on someone’s life, and it’s either a positive or a negative impact. Who today is reading Kant or Spinoza if they don’t have an exam to pass? Religion, for many of us, has become an evangelical joke. Science, with every new gizmo it creates, layers the world with yet another layer of toxicity.
So, if science doesn’t give us meaning, if religion and philosophy don’t—where do people go to get an answer to Aristotle’s great question of “how should a human being lead their life?” Where do they go? They go to the movies. God help them (laughter). They go to the movies trying to find sense, trying to understand in a comic way or a tragic way, what it is to be a human being, to give themselves some guidance in this world and story is the most powerful form of expressing meaning. It always has been since we sat around the fire in caves.
This is why when the dictators get power, the first people they put in front of the firing squad, are the writers. Why the writers? It’s not because they are afraid of the writers’ ideas. Ideas do not threaten power, what they are afraid of is emotion. That is what intimidates dictators because when people get upset, because when people take it to the streets, things change. Story is a meaningful emotional experience, it isn’t an essay, it’s the merging of meaning and emotion into a simultaneity that moves people to their heart and soul when it’s beautiful, when it’s great and it gets people up on their feet thinking “I’ve got to do something with my life.”
And so all I can ask you is this, when you wonderful writers are done with your piece, and writing “The End, fade out.” And you look at what you’ve written and you ask yourself “What does it mean? What does this story mean?” and you pull that meaning out and you come to understand the meaning of what you’ve written—let me then pray that you will then ask a second question—not just what does my story mean—but “Do I believe it? Is this an honest statement of what I believe it is to be a human being?” If the answer is yes, and you believe deeply in what you’ve written, then do everything humanly possible to get that out to the world. But if you don’t believe the truth of what you’ve written—this is why God gave us the delete key! Just highlight that whole damn thing and hit that button. When it says “Do you really want to?” You say “F*** yes!”
In a world of lies and liars we do not need writers adding to the slop.
I’ll just pass along to you the same thing I say when anyone wants me to sign their copies of my book—I always write a little phrase above my signature: Write the Truth. And that is what I pray for all of you, please, please, write the truth.”