Five years ago I thought the non-narrative AAA (And, And, And) structure was bad. I’ve slowly come to realize it’s not intrinsically bad, it’s just different. Also, it’s a central part of art. In this great clip from the 2002 movie “Adaptation,” Nicholas Cage plays a student who innocently asks screenwriting guru Robert McKee (played by an actor) about the basic non-narrative “slice of life” type of movie where “nothing happens,” which is what AAA structure is. McKee unloads on him with an ABT rant.
SO HOW DOES HE REALLY FEEL ABOUT AAA STRUCTURE?
CONFLICT ISN’T ESSENTIAL TO REACH THE MASSES, BUT CONTRADICTION IS
This is a great clip from the 2002 movie, “Adaptation,” (a movie that I originally I found boring and need to re-watch). The scene is a bullseye in capturing the simple divide between non-narrative approaches to material (AAA) and standard strongly narrative structure (ABT) found in popular mass media.
It’s the same basic divide I presented in my 2013 TEDMED Talk. It’s the simple divide that everyone needs to know these days. It was at the core of my examination of the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. One candidate spoke with honesty about the real world, ending up with a largely boring AAA campaign that Robert McKee must have despised. The other was a relentless liar, endlessly distorting the real world to suit his campaign rhetoric. I was able to show quantitatively with the Narrative Index (But/And ratio) this difference, and even tried to convey it to the Clinton campaign with the help of Democratic strategist James Carville, but they were running too fast to listen.
One note from the scene — you often hear people bemoaning the fact that the media is “conflict-driven.” Which is true. But mass entertainment isn’t. It is “contradiction-driven.” Conflict is just one of many forms of contradiction. Others include mystery, suspense, intrigue — basically everything that makes you sit up and take interest. That’s how narrative works — three forces — agreement, contradiction, consequence.
It’s a great clip. And yes, the structure of most real world mass communication is indeed this simple (sorry journalists). Hollywood figured it out decades ago. It’s why their knowledge is so essential for dealing with the Information Society of today, as politicians will some day grasp.
PS – Thanks to former Nat Geo writer Alan Mairson for posting the “Adaptation” clip in a Twitter discussion we were having about narrative structure.