The McKee-Fields Sessions Part 1: Story Takes Flight

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Storytelling has become all the rage…

And, why not? It’s the single most-powerful medium for communication, persuasion and transformation in human history.

I’ve been obsessed with the blend of science, structure and art that crafts the perfect story for a long time. So, when I got the chance to spend 90-minutes talking story with Robert McKee, the world’s foremost authority on the structure of story, I jumped.

Before we get to the first of 6 videos that comprise this series, though, I’ve got to share a story about the moment McKee and I met…

The interview took place in a private apartment in Manhattan. I was interviewing him for a series on storytelling to appear on my blog and elsewhere and he was interviewing me about storytelling in the digital world for his online venture Storylogue.

Preparing for the day, I threw my two Flip HD video cameras, my Olympus LS-10 voice recorder, a mini-tripod and a fill-sized tripod into my bag.

For a blogger, that’s a pretty high-level production set-up. I was feeling pretty confident.

Two hours later, I knock on the apartment door and stride in. McKee and his team greet me warmly, then walk me into a living room that’s been transformed into a TV studio.

Wires running everywhere, three big, broadcast-quality cameras positioned strategically around the room for a 3-shot edit, a teleprompter, lights, sound board, mics and furniture arranged like a TV interview set.

First reaction, wow, this is insane. How cool.

Second reaction, I’ve got a $149 Flip video camera in my backpack. Feelings of meekness ensue. Sweat begins to bead.

Still, I need my recording. So, I begin to set up my tripod, whip out my Flip and screw it on top. I swear I could literally see it cowering before the broadcast camera and teleprompter to it’s side.

And, I’m not sure how to say this any other way, but I felt like the guy with the smallest cojones in the room.

I turned to their cinematographer and media guy, waited a beat and was saved when he offered, “hey, why don’t you just let us shoot this and we’ll send you a copy of the final interview.”

Nods were passed, smiles were flashed and, with that, I took my seat and this series took flight.

This series is a wide-ranging, long interview (that’s why it’s split into 6 parts) that covers everything from McKee’s career in theater, film and his ascendance as the world’s storytelling-master to the use of story in books, film, TV, blogging, business, marketing and selling.

McKee is frank, not all that concerned about being PC, immensely generous with his knowledge and insights and tells some incredible stories. Be sure to tune in to the future session where he tells how he met Kirk Douglas. And, he even puts me on the spot to improv a provocative headline and gets me to talk about why I rarely publicly share my dark-side in my writing. Enjoy…

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49 responses

49 responses to “The McKee-Fields Sessions Part 1: Story Takes Flight”

  1. Mark Silver says:

    One of my favorite insights that Robert McKee has, that I also read in his Story book is this concept that you have to have ten or twenty years of living under your belt as an adult, you have to be in your forties, to have something worth saying. Of course, being in my forties myself I may be partial to that.

    But it strikes me as true. Not that younger people don’t have things that are worthwhile, but there is a seasoning in the being that gives writing a depth, and allows for more complex linkages of ideas – really insightful.

    I also really enjoyed the production value. It’s a great thing to have a flip and a mic to get going in video- and there is a real value to the professional artistry that has been developed over the decades in film. A great lesson for me.

    Anyway- thanks for making me jealous- I loved watching the two of you- and look forward to the others.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, it’s a really interesting line of conversation and we circle back to it in different ways in later sessions. I liked that he was quick to point out, too, that he’s NOT saying you should use a lack of life experience to NOT write, but rather that seasoning gives you more to draw from, at least when it comes to more experiential storytelling.

  2. Jen says:

    Hi! I can’t watch this at work, but I just wanted to say I’m super-excited about this series. I loved Robert McKee’s book Story. So, thanks Jonathan! Looking forward to watching this later and the subsequent videos.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      What, your work won’t let you just kick back and watch a video on their dime? 😉

      • Jen says:

        I know. I was surprised, too that my boss expects me work rather than watch videos. 🙂

        I think his comments about comedy writing are really interesting.

        Not to detract from the video content (because it’s great), but was that teacup disproportionately large?

  3. Lavonne says:

    Nice cliff-hanger ending 😉

    I’m looking forward to the next video in the series!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, you liked that cliffhanger, huh? Figured I was learning from the master, might as well bring in some big-screen teaser technique, lol

  4. Hi Jonathan,

    It’s interesting how certain situations bring up particular blockages/issues which haven’t been resolved. Kudos to you for going forward with a kick-ass interview. Robert’s a legend, I look forward to the series.

    Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful day.

    Ryan

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Glad you enjoyed, Ryan. Yes, it was a tremendously valuable session for me, so glad to be able to share it with you all. : )

  5. Jeanne says:

    Thanks Jonathan, I’m really excited about this series. I’ve read the heck out of ‘Story’. Robert’s got great things to say, is very clear, and your interviewing of him along with the things you have to say makes it go very quickly. More, more!

    🙂
    Jeanne

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, looooots more coming and it just gets better and better the deeper we go!

  6. Christy says:

    Thank you for sharing this video interview with Robert McKee, Jonathan. I’ve been watching your blog for a few weeks now and to receive this in my morning email is like manna from heaven. I love McKee and was blessed to participate in his STORY workshop seven years ago. The three days were intense and packed with rich information, just like his book.

    I can’t wait to see the next part of the series — congratulations on your interview with him! That is awesome and I love the questions you asked.

    Kind regards,

    Christy

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It IS an intense experience, and it’s now 4 days, lol. Plus, he’s got additional genre programs and more

  7. Absolutely phenomenal interview! There’s so much to learn and you’ve found a way to present something that can be quite complicated in a beautifully simple and fascinating interview! Thank you!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Much as I’d love to take credit, McKee makes it easy. He’s truly a master at conveying information in a rich, engaging way

  8. Geanine says:

    Love this! I’ve taken McKee’s class several times and attended his genre workshops, too.

    I’m an MBA admissions consultant who works with women and creatives to help them uncover and tell their stories via the admissions process.

    Story is my life. I can’t wait to hear more!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, we did this interview shortly after I attended his last seminar in NYC, amazing his depth of knowledge

  9. Irene says:

    Thank you so much for this work that you are doing.

    I am a visual artist painting in acrylics. I decided what I want to be when I grow up in my fifties and have been pursuing my passion ever since.

    The conflict between having work for survival, and chucking it all to follow your heart is a very real one for people in the creative arenas, so it was very comforting for me to see this brought out into the open. It is an issue that many don’t discuss, especially if they are surrounded by people who don’t understand the creative drive.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series
    Fabulous work!

    Irene

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Irene, that is definitely one of the great challenges, balancing great work with the need to live well in the world

  10. Dude, well done on this high-profile gig! I’ll expect to see your interview with Obama or Oprah next.

  11. Phil Miller says:

    I wasn’t that familiar with Robert’s work. My wife writes and I think she has mentioned him, but that’s about it. Thanks for the insight and content.

    As a business professor, my students are often surprised at the extent to whick I make them touch on storytelling. You can’t get anything done if you can’t sell ideas – data is great, but what’s the idea and why should I care? I’ve read the Heath brothers and others on the topic, but appreciate the new avenue to explore hear.

    Thanks. Looking forward to the next installment.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Phil,

      You’re going to really love some of the middle sessions, we get into how to use story in the context of business and some very specific reasons it outperforms traditions presentations and marketing.

  12. You do a fabulous job in this interview!

    I’ve done Mr McKee’s workshop in LA and he is a pretty intimidating dude, you drew out a softer, kinder McKee than we see on stage. I also loved the way the interview wasn’t an interrogation but a discussion, which was completely involving (esp. given I watched it at 5.30am in Sydney!)

    I agree with the time it takes to mature as a person in order to have something to write. In my 20’s I struggled to write a novel and felt that frustration of lack of life experience, so – like McKee – I put that aside and wrote other things for 20 years. I had my first novel published at 50, it was easy to get published, sold well and was optioned for a movie and I’ve since written the adaptation (which is why I went to LA to get McKeed)and a further screenplay.

    McKee’s course was the best writing education I’ve had bar none. I took 45 pages of notes and still refer to them when I’m low on juice. A must have for every writer.

    Thank you – looking forward to Part II

  13. […] The McKee-Fields Sessions Part 1: Story Takes Flight. […]

  14. […] The McKee-Fields Sessions Part 1: Story Takes Flight. […]

  15. Hey Jonathan,
    Great post. I took McKee’s 2 day Story Seminar in either 1999, or 2000 @ FIT. It was awesome and he was awesome. He really took command of that room.

  16. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger and Grant Griffiths, TwittyBean. TwittyBean said: The McKee-Fields Sessions Part 1: Story Takes Flight http://bit.ly/bUCAYQ […]

  17. I, too, took McKee’s seminar at FIT, 2002 or 2003, I think. I somehow finagled a 50% discount by helping with registration and moving chairs around and the like.

    The thing I remember most is Robert coming out of the building during the breaks, cigarette hanging from his lips, trench coat tails flying behind him, a black hat pulled over his eyes, and 12 or 15 wide-eyed acolytes following him like little mice after a bite of cheese.

    I loved the whole experience, but I haven’t looked at my notes in years. You’ve inspired me to go back and see what wisdom might be waiting to revisit me.

    Look forward to the rest of the videos!

  18. Steven H says:

    Lots of good writing wisdom for us younger writers and bloggers! I never thought about how the longer (more “idea connecting”) posts tends to be stickier because they captivate the reader in a particular narrative or story, but it makes a lot of sense.

    Looking forward to seeing the rest of it!

  19. martha helena says:

    very useful and interesting, I look forward to see the part 2, I work in the video making world and listening about creative processes is really helpful

  20. Sali says:

    really looking forward to part 2.
    I’m toying with the idea of a fiction blog – the possibilities are endless.

  21. Sali says:

    looking forward to part 2… Toying with the idea of a fictional blog… the possibilities are endless

  22. I highly enjoy anything Robert McKee is involved in! I assume you saw his cameo in “Adaptation” where he talks to Nicolas Cage in a bar about screenplay writing. I look forward to seeing how this series unfolds. Exciting! Thanks, Jonathan.

  23. Steven H says:

    *waiting patiently for Part 2*

  24. Wendy Thomas says:

    I love that McKee recognized he had to feed his family and that need/desire/love for his own is what helped him decide his path and take action toward it. It takes a mature being to understand that it is not just about him.

    I was listening to a sermon this Sunday where the message was “It is not the night that kills but the frost” – it is not the fear of the unknown but the lack of warmth and compassion toward others that will slowly kill off your soul/humanness.

    How profound that in being compassionate and recognizing the needs of others first that McKee was led to his ultimate and correct path.

  25. This interview was highly enjoyable to watch, more like a conversation really. Down to earth, real. Great sense of open dialogue here. McKee is fun, as always. I assume you saw him in that cameo in “Adaptation”? Kudos!

  26. […] the seminars, the book and now the online venture.If you’ve missed it, be sure to check out The McKee-Fields Story Sessions: Part 1 Stay tuned for Parts 3 to 6 and be sure to subscribe to the blog below so you don’t miss an […]

  27. […] talent is really definedAnd, much more… If you missed the first two parts, go watch them here:The McKee-Fields Story Sessions: Part 1 The McKee-Fields Story Sessions: Part 2 You'll love my newsletter. Get blog updates, plus:A chance […]

  28. Paul Wolfe says:

    Hey Jonathan

    Just found these – very interesting. Watched Part 1 – it’s late in the UK, have to hit the hay, be watching the other Parts that are available tomorrow.

    Have you come across the other guy in the ‘field’ who can talk about this, a guy by the name of Chris Vogler. If not, I think you’ll find his writing interesting too. I just found out that I missed his two day seminar about three weeks ago here in London whilst I was on holiday. Bummer out about that.

    Vogler’s approach is from the Hero’s Journey/Mythological angle – but it’s also interesting and compelling.

    Great posts. Be watching all of them.

    Thank you.

  29. Larry Clark says:

    Jonathon, I was wondering if you had an audio only version of this? for my ipod mini?
    Thanks,
    Larry

  30. Dan Portnoy says:

    I’m taking the Story class right now and my brain is melting from his knowledge.

  31. […] to them below the video: Here are the first four storytelling sessions, in case you missed them:McKee-Fields Storytelling Sessions – Part 1 – Story Takes FlightMcKee-Fields Storytelling Sessions – Part 2 – Building an EmpireMcKee-Fields […]

  32. I happened upon the site because I was searching for articles about The Flip video camera… That’s quite a story about their tv studio and your poor flip not measuring up, so to speak. 😀
    Anyway, I never heard of Robert McKee until I checked out this article because I’m not a writer, but I really liked hearing him talk about the path his life took that led him to find the success he achieved. No one really wants to have to make compromises, in the meantime, on their way towards their ultimate goal but he has a pretty sober view of the process.
    Great article and video!

  33. […] McKee-Fields Storytelling Sessions – Part 1 – Story Takes Flight […]

  34. […] McKee-Fields Story Sessons: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. […]

  35. […] Jonathan Fields interviews Story author Robert McKee in five parts on video. Part 1: Story Takes Flight […]

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