Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“Give Me One Redeeming Moment”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 26, 2014

Did you ever see the movie Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze, and starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper? If there has ever been a truer or more devastating depiction of the writer’s self-induced hell (including those by Proust or Stephen King), I haven’t seen it.

The real Robert McKee

In the film there is a fourth vivid character, that of “Robert McKee,” the screenwriting guru, played with scenery-chewing gusto by the brilliant Brian Cox. Of course there really is a Robert McKee (full disclosure: he’s a dear friend) and he really is the teacher-of-writing-and-story par excellence.

Consider this post as a shameless plug for Mr. McKee and his four-day intensive seminars. If you haven’t taken one already, I’m going to try to sell you on doing so—and if you’ve attended before, to consider doing it again.

I’ve taken Bob’s course three times—once in the 80s when I first arrived in Tinseltown, once in the early 2000s when I was losing my way a little in the fiction biz, and again two years ago just for the fun of it. Here’s a look at what the seminar feels like. I say of McKee that he is not just the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything.

If you are serious about pursuing a career in any kind of storytelling, you MUST expose yourself to this experience.

When people write to me with story problems or “Where Do I Start” problems or just “Writer Stuck In Purgatory” problems, I say the same thing: “Take McKee’s course.”

Story is an indispensable resource for any artist. It’s a Ph.D. in four days.

Bob’s four-day intensive seminars, Story and Genre, come to New York and Los Angeles in the next few weeks. The L.A. Story class is March 6-9. Details for both here. In recent years McKee has been taking his workshops more and more overseas, to Beijing and Rio and all kinds of far-flung places. So when he does touch down in the States you gotta be alert and jump on the opportunity to see him.

Also if you sign up using WarOfArt (typed just like that, in the box on the registration page that asks if you have a discount code), you’ll get at the seminar a free signed and numbered special edition hardback of The War of Art. Not the paperback but the silver-cover hardback. You can sell it on eBay and defray part of the tuition.

Now, here’s the true gen on McKee’s seminar:

1. It’s great.

Without a doubt McKee’s story class is the best in the world, and McKee is the best in the world. He has created a place at the top of the mountain and there’s nobody up there but him.

2. It’s expensive.

Your bank account will definitely take a hit. But this is your art, your career, your life.

3. It’s intensive.

Navy SEALs have wept at the end of a four-day McKee Intensive. They have begged to go back to Hell Week. (I’m exaggerating slightly). McKee socks it to you all day for four days in a row. Have somebody standing by to drive you home at the end. You’ll be exhausted.

Nicolas Cage and Brian Cox in "Adaptation"

4. It’s fascinating.

I have sent friends to McKee seminars, even though they had no intention of writing anything—just for the experience. Trust me, you will never read a book or watch a movie in the same way after you’ve taken McKee’s course.

5. It’s profane.

McKee is an Irishman, a black Irishman. Be warned.

6. It’s passionate.

Great as the insights and wisdom are in McKee’s Story seminar, the best part of all is his passion. McKee does not teach writing so that you can make more money (though you probably will) or so you can “achieve success” or buy a bigger house or a fancier car.

He teaches it because he believes that great writing makes a difference. The first time I took his class, I was half in tears when he broke into an impassioned plea to us neophyte scripters to remember that we weren’t just pitching cop movies or trying to pen the next action/weeper/slasher epic. Writing counts. What we do matters. Our aspirations for ourselves and our craft should be as high as Turgenev’s or Flaubert’s or William Shakespeare’s. We’re committed. This is for real.

But back to Adaptation, the movie. McKee was telling me what happened when Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze first approached him and asked his permission to base a character on him.

Adaptation

Nicolas Cage eyes Meryl Streep in Charlie Kaufman's "Adaptation"

“I knew they were gonna do a job on me. How could they not? I’m nothing if not lampoonable. Brian Cox? I knew he would study my mannerisms and show no mercy. And I knew that I couldn’t make them promise to go easy. But I also knew that I had to say yes. How can you turn down Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze?

“So I said, ‘Okay, you can use me in the movie. But just promise me one thing. Promise me that you’ll give me one redeeming moment. Just one.'”

And they did.

(I won’t tell you what it is. You have to watch the movie.)

So please, friends, if you’re in L.A. or N.Y. think about taking McKee’s Story seminars coming up soon. But even if you can’t right now, tattoo it in your brain that someday, in some city, you will put your butt in one of those seats.

Who knows? You might see me there. I’m overdue for a fourth trip.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

25 Responses to ““Give Me One Redeeming Moment””

  1. February 26, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Love the way you write and how you described the McKee experience, the writer in me cannot help but want to partake on this experience. I have tattooed in my brain…. to take one of those seats. Brilliant.
    Cant wait to watch adaption…Again.

  2. February 26, 2014 at 7:49 am

    I can’t make this one, but I will put it on the to-do list. And in the meantime, get whatever I can that McKee’s written. Thanks!

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I’m sure we could all use “one redeeming moment,” and if Robert McKee can help get me there then I’m all for it. Thanks for this post. It’s great confirmation because I have heard so many great things about Mr. McKee.

  3. Basilis
    February 26, 2014 at 7:57 am

    (Black)Irish-man McKee? We start talking about a full dream-team here…

  4. Mary Doyle
    February 26, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Sounds like a great experience. It’s beyond my reach at the moment but is something to aspire to.

  5. February 26, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I tip my hat to any person who will plug a friend to that degree!

  6. February 26, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I would love to be in a position to go. I’d definitely be there. I have, however, read his book called, Story. I remember loving it, but it was a long time ago. I may have to check it out again.

  7. Jenaveve
    February 26, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Mr. Pressfield! I wish I knew about this a few months in advance. Reading this blog made my mouth water for the experience. I’ll just have to save up and get in there next time. (By the way, I love your idea about selling the silver-cover hardback–so kind of you to give us that tip–but I wouldn’t be able to part with it!)

  8. Mary Doyle
    February 26, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Feeling bummed I can’t take advantage of this seminar right now. For those of you in the same boat, McKee’s book “Story” is available on Amazon…will need to content myself with that for now.

  9. February 26, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I’ve been lucky enough to take two of McKee’s seminars. They are all that Steven says they are. And, Steven, I didn’t realize that the silver hard cover edition of “War of Art” was so rare! I snapped one up when it came out. Now I treasure it as much for the contents as for the physical artifact!

    Thank you for your generous spirit. You are truly an inspiration.

  10. Fernando Verano
    February 26, 2014 at 10:34 am

    It’s great! Really life changing. I remember that at the beginning of the seminar McKee asked “how many people came before?” At least 20 raised their hands. Then he said “again? still don’t get it?”

  11. Donn McAfee
    February 26, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I need to go again. Nice to see there’s a discount for those of us who “still don’t get it!” I knew there must be some connection when I met him. I was always told I was Black Irish but had never met any others. Reading Story from cover to cover was a prerequisite prior to the class and McKee was adamant about it. And it really helped. I’m going to see if I can break free from my writing. I don’t believe it’s classified as resistance.

    Thanks for the heads up, Steven.

    • February 26, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Donn, re your thought, “Is leaving your writing to take McKee’s class a form of Resistance?,” here’s a story I heard in Israel.

      A friend was studying at a famous yeshiva in Jerusalem. The point of going to yeshiva is to do nothing but study Torah. My friend happened to know the city of Jerusalem well and in the evenings he used to lead some of the other students around on informal tours. He got in trouble for this and had to go before the head rabbi. The rabbi not only did not discipline my friend, but he praised him. “To walk in Jerusalem,” he said, “is to study Torah.”

      So go take McKee’s class again!

      • Donn McAfee
        March 2, 2014 at 6:12 am

        All booked. Thanks for the push. Will also serve as a nice reprieve from a snowy Montana winter. Hope to see you there.

  12. February 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I have watched that movie so many times – it is such a compelling film. I love knowing that Robert McKee is real and while I can’t get to LA in time I can and will go buy his book Story. Thank you!

  13. Peter Socrates
    February 26, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    [I may have messed up block quotes!]

    If Mr. McKee inspired you to write those words, Mr. Pressfield, surely his class is worth visiting and revisiting again and again! Thanks.

    • Peter Socrates
      February 26, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      I did mess up!

      Begin quotation:

      “Writing counts. What we do matters. Our aspirations for ourselves and our craft should be as high as Turgenev’s or Flaubert’s or William Shakespeare’s. We’re committed. This is for real.”

      End quotation!

  14. Vanessa Lucio
    February 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    i loved the movie “adaptation,” and my favorite part of the movie was when cage’s character goes to that writing class looking for a way out of his rut and instead finds more angst. thank you for putting this out there…we have all struggled with doubts about our ideas and/or legitimacy

  15. February 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

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  16. March 1, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Well, I missed the film Adaptation when it came out – and, in fact, had never heard of it. But I watched it yesterday, and then listened to an interview with Robert McKee in which he talks about it. It’s his “Big Think” interview (excellent all by itself) – findable on YouTube.
    I enjoyed the film very much – and McKee’s comments about it helped me enjoy, and understand it even more. And the film’s “non-redeeming” scene in which Nicolas Cage asks a question during a Story seminar is roll on the floor funny.
    I highly recommend both the film, and the interview.

  17. cindy
    March 3, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I’ve attended McKee’s workshop. It is everything Steve says and more. But it’s not for sissies. A few people walked out and never came back. McKee, like many Irish, can be quite blunt. Luckily I’m Irish so I just felt like I was home at the dinner table!

    It really is a must. If you haven’t been, go!

  18. March 3, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve had my eye on this for a while, and am taking the plunge for the NYC one. Quick question – I did put WarOfArt in the discount code box, and got a message that it’s the wrong code (i.e., not eligible for a discount, which I understand). There was no indication that it went through. What’s the best way to verify that? Thanks!

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