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Robert McKee is a creative writing teacher known particularly for his "Story Seminar," a multi-day screenwriting lecture that he has given at venues all over the world. He is the[…]

Dialogue and description are relatively minor parts of the creative process in television and film.

Question: Does a screenwriter lack creative control?
Robertrn McKee: The words that you wrote to put into the character’s mouth, rnthe dialogue, that may or may not get to the screen the way you wrote itrn because actors often cut, editors cut, there will be improvisations andrn whatnot.  So, you must not mistake words for writing.
What yourn write in terms of characters, in terms of story, in terms of the eventsrn in their lives, in terms of the meaning of everything, and the rnemotional impact of the storytelling, that is 80% of writing, dialogue rnand description is a relatively minor part of the creative process in rnthe performance arts of television and film.  And so, it’s overstating rnit and a bit of self-pitying to think that the poor screenwriter, or rntelevision writer doesn’t get what they wrote to the screen because rntheir dialogue gets paraphrased.  I mean if you think that, if somebody rnwriting for the screen actually thinks that their greatest creative rnefforts is in dialogue, then they should be writing for the stage where rnevery single word of your dialogue, by law, has to be spoken by the rnactors.  So, it just overstates it.
And I’ll tell you another rnlittle dirty secret about film and television, if you were to take a rnfinished film, 90% of the time, or a finished TV show, 90% of the time, rnand transcribe a screenplay from it, and then compare that to the rnscreenplay from which they worked, what the writer sold, okay?  You’d rnsee clearly that the screenplay that is finally embedded in the finishedrn work is far better than the one they started from.  And so that, in rnfact, the screenplay gets better and better and better as it goes rnthrough pre-production, production, and post-production.  But when it rndoes, as it does 90% of the time, the writer says nothing and just lets rnthe world assume that that is exactly what they wrote, the way it was rnfinally done.  Okay?  When there are changes that are detrimental, and rnthat happens too, then screenwriters and television writers moan and rngroan that they didn’t shoot it the way I wrote it, but they don’t moan rnand groan when they didn’t shoot it the way I wrote it and it’s better.
So,rn we mustn’t feel sorry for film and television writers.  They understandrn the reality that in fact polish and revision... it’s going to be editedrn finally... that there’s other artists between them and the finished rnproduct.  If they care about that so deeply, then they should be writingrn novels.
Does a script that is never rnmade into a film have inherent value?
Robert McKee: rnThe vast, vast majority of all novels written never get published.  The rnvast, vast majority of all plays written never get performed.  The vast,rn vast majority of paintings painted never get hung on a wall.  The vast,rn vast majority of songs written never get sung in public.  I mean, rnthat’s the nature of things.  Okay?  And so, again, that screenwriting rnis like everything else in the arts is a tautology.  And so, yeah, of rncourse the vast number of every act of creativity in whatever art form rnnever reaches the world because the vast majority of all of it is shit. rnAnd then there’s those poor little gems of things that never—that do getrn buried, unfortunately.  And then a lot of crap does get to the world.  rnAnd so, it’s all unfair.  It’s just all unfair.  Okay? 

But, thern question is, does writing a screenplay that never gets made is it of rnvalue?  Of course, it’s enormously valuable.  Because, to generalize rnagain, most screenwriters, even the most talented of screenwriters, rntheir first 10 screenplays that they write never get  made.  Oliver rnStone, Lawrence Kasdan, Akiva Goldsman, I mean on and on.  I could name rnbrilliant screenwriters who are now very successful who spent the first rn10, even 15, years of their writing lives writing screenplays that rnnobody wanted, and/or novels that probably nobody published and so rnforth.  And so that unproduced screenplay, or unpublished novel is rnenormously beneficial to the writer because you have to fail, you have rnto create at least 10 unproduced—be willing, at least, to produce—10 rnunproduced major works of story art in order to master the art form, in rnorder to grow up.
I mean, if you start writing when you are rnabout 20 – I mean, I used to write when I was in college, grad school.  rnAnd I had a wonderful teacher, Kenneth Rowe.  And I read my plays and I rnlooked at them and I thought, my God, this is the work of a really rnimmature person.  But then I was immature.  There was nothing I could dorn about that.  Okay?  And it took another 15 years of life to, when I rnwent back to writing, to be able to write something of quality.  So rnwhile you’re writing screenplays or novels nobody wants, you’re also rnliving, gathering insight into yourself as a human being and all that rnbecomes material for your future writing.  So, indeed, those unproduced,rn unpublished works are extremely important.  They have to be written in rnorder for the writer to finally achieve their first success.
I rnmean, you read about these things in the paper that a 23-year old writerrn gets first novel published, or memoir published or first screenplay rnproduced. And so these things happen, and they’re just there to annoy rnthe really good writers that are going to take 10 years to make it.  Butrn when they finally do, they’re going to produce works of real quality.  rnSo, sure.  Those unproduced works are very important.