Robert McKee on the Design of a Character Universe


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In this episode of "Keen On", Andrew is joined by Robert McKee, the author of "Character: The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage, and Screen", to discuss the creation of compelling characters and the design of their casts.

Robert McKee began his show business career at age nine playing the title role in a community theatre production of MARTIN THE SHOEMAKER. He continued acting as a teenager in theatre productions in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Upon receiving the Evans Scholarship, he attended the University of Michigan and earned a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature. While an undergraduate, he acted in and directed over thirty productions. McKee's creative writing professor was the noted Kenneth Rowe whose former students include Arthur Miller and Lawrence Kasdan.

After completing his B.A., McKee toured with the APA (Association of Producing Artists) Repertory Company, appearing on Broadway with such luminaries as Helen Hayes, Rosemary Harris and Will Geer. He then received the Professional Theatre Fellowship and returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan to earn his Master's Degree in Theatre Arts.

Upon graduating, McKee directed the Toledo Repertory Company, acted with the American Drama Festival, and became Artistic Director of the Aaron Deroy Theatre. From there he traveled to London to accept the position of Artist-In-Residence at the National Theatre where he studied Shakespearean production at the Old Vic. He then returned to New York and spent the next seven years as an actor/director in various Off-Broadway, repertory and stock companies.

After deciding to move his career to film, McKee attended Cinema School at the University of Michigan. While there, he directed two short films - A DAY OFF, which he also wrote, and TALK TO ME LIKE THE RAIN, adapted from a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. These two films won the Cine Eagle Award, awards at the Brussels and Grenoble Film Festivals, and various prizes at the Delta, Rochester, Chicago and Baltimore Film Festivals.

In 1979, McKee moved to Los Angeles, California where he began to write screenplays and work as a story analyst for United Artists and NBC. He sold his first screenplay, DEAD FILES, to AVCO/Embassy Films, after which he joined the WGA (Writers Guild of America). His next screenplay, HARD KNOCKS, won the National Screenwriting Contest, and since then McKee has had over eight feature film screenplays purchased or optioned, including the feature film script TROPHY for Warner Bros. In addition to his screenplays, McKee has had a number of scripts produced for such critically acclaimed dramatic television series as QUINCY, M.D. (starring Jack Klugman), COLUMBO (starring Peter Falk), SPENSER: FOR HIRE and KOJAK (starring Telly Savalas).

In 1983, McKee, a Fulbright Scholar, joined the faculty of the School of Cinema and Television at the University of Southern California (USC), where he began offering his now famous STORY SEMINAR class. A year later, McKee opened the course to the public and he now teaches the 3-day, 30-hour STORY SEMINAR to sold-out audiences around the world. From Los Angeles (where his course is only taught two times a year) to New York (two times a year) to Paris, Sydney, Toronto, Boston, San Francisco, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Singapore, Barcelona and 12 other film capitals around the world, more than 50,000 students have taken the course over the last 15+ years.

In 2000, McKee won the prestigious 1999 International Moving Image Book Award for his best-selling book STORY (Regan Books/HarperCollins). The book, currently in its 32nd printing in the U.S. and its 19th printing in the U.K., has become required reading for film and cinema schools at such top Universities as Harvard, Yale, UCLA, and USC, and was on the LOS ANGELES TIMES best-seller list for 20 weeks.

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