The sun may be setting on Hollywood movies – and on his own storied career there – but scriptwriting guru Robert McKee is unfazed and even upbeat about the rise of alternative small-screen entertainment for television or smartphone.
While film producers fret about box-office takes and parents about their kids’ ability to focus beyond TikTok clips, McKee, 81, insists that dynamics of plot and character remain the same, at heart – and that the new formats may in fact enrich the form.
“I see the future as rather brilliant, but it’s not in the cinema,” McKee told Reuters during a visit to Israel, the final leg for the farewell tour of his lecture series.
“The future is long-form streaming. To me, it’s breathtaking. These works will be the cathedrals of the 21st century. These will be the masterworks of art.”
He cited the complex construction of multi-season series like “Breaking Bad” or “Ozark”, which amount to scores of hours of air-time – compared to the 90- to 120-minute lengths of traditional feature films.
Binge-watching, he argued, is a testament to concentration.
“For the human attention span to actually shorten would require change at a genetic level. This is nonsense,” he said.
“What has changed is interest span. Young people are not polite. They aren’t going to sit for 60 seconds and watch anything they don’t enjoy. If you engage the interest of people today, they will give you days out of their lives.”
“And great television does exactly that,” added McKee, the author of five books who has, for decades, delivered what the New York Times dubbed “the most popular screenwriting seminar in the country” to tens of thousands of students.
Cinema, dominant through much of the 20th century, has seen attendance sag as audiences opted for the privacy and convenience of home-viewing – a flight enforced by COVID-19 shutdowns. Video piracy has also sapped film studios’ profits.
“I don’t care,” about the changing economics, said McKee, who plans to develop a new seminar which he will deliver online.
“There are people out there with talent. If anything – at least in quantity if not quality – they are more well-educated. But they are under-educated in terms of the art-form,” he said.
“My quest is: How can I make these irreducible components of story clearer so that people will get it faster and better?”