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Chris Vogler: Screenwriting & The Writer’s Journey Blueprint
If you have seen Star Wars then you know Joseph Campbell‘s work. If you ever have seen The Lion King then you have seen one of Campbell’s best students, Chris Vogler, work.
Chris Vogler wrote the game-changing book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I read this book over 20 years ago and it changed the way I look at storytelling. Chris studied the work and principles of the late master Joseph Campbell. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was the bases for Star Wars as well as almost every other Hollywood feature film in the past 60 years.
What Chris Vogler did so well is that he translated Campbell’s work and applied it to movies. The Writer’s Journey explores the powerful relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear, concise style that’s made it required reading for movie executives, screenwriters, playwrights, scholars, and fans of pop culture all over the world. He has influenced the screenplays of movies from THE LION KING to FIGHT CLUB to BLACK SWAN to NOAH.
“I teach sometimes, and always say that Chris Vogler is the first book that everyone’s got to read.” — Darren Aronofsky , Oscar-nominated Screenwriter/Director, Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler
Pretty high praise from one of the best filmmakers working today. In this episode, I ask Chris to break down a bunch of concepts of the Hero’s Journey, why it resonates with people around the world and what makes an amazing hero and villain.
Enjoy my conversation with Chris Vogler.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Chris Vogler – Official Site
- Storytech Literary Consulting
- Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys (#1 Screenwriting Course on Udemy)
- The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
- Myth & the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
- Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: FREE AUDIOBOOK
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Rev.com – Closed Caption Your Indie Film ($10 off Your First Order)
- Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story)
- VideoBlocks (Stock Footage – IFH Discount)
REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
- Filmtrepreneur® Podcast
- Bulletproof Screenwriting® Podcast
- Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
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Welcome to the indie film hustle podcast episode number 61. The road to hell is paved with Works in progress Philip Roth broadcasting from the back alley in Hollywood. It’s the indie film hustle podcast where we show you how to survive and thrive as an indie filmmaker in the jungles of the film business.
And here’s your host Alex Ferrari welcome my indie film Hustlers to another episode of the podcast. I am your humble host Alex Ferrari convert. I used heavily on creating the Cinematic look I got on my film. This is Meg. It helps you give your digital video footage a beautiful cinematic look of film instantly.
Whether you’re shooting on a GoPro a DSLR a red and Alexa a black magic, it doesn’t matter film convert has created specific camera profiles for every almost every camera on the planet. So it can adjust to your footage film convert gives you the power to create amazing looking cinematic images with just a couple clicks and of course because you guys are part of the indie film whole tribe you get 10% off.
Film convert by using the coupon code Hustle, but you can try this software for free guys. Just head over to indie film hustle film convert. That’s indie film film Co n ve and Today’s Show is sponsored by screenwriting and story blueprint the heroes to Journeys. Taught by the legendary Michael Hague and Chris vulgar Our Guest today, which I’ll get to in a minute.
You can head over to indie film hustle story blueprint. That’s any film hustle story blueprint and it is on sale for 19 bucks until April 4th. So hurry. So guys I wanna welcome you to a very special episode special episode to me because today we have on the show Chris vulgar. Uh, Chris is the writer of the writers Journey, uh, an integral an amazing part of um, my development as a Storyteller, uh, this book kind of changed my life.
I read it when I was in college 20-odd years ago, and basically he takes the works of Josephus. The hero’s journey and translates it for um filmmakers and he worked at Disney for about almost 10 years. He was there while he was uh, while they were making Beauty and the Beast and Lion King and all these kind of, you know, the Pinnacle of of Disney’s power and now they’re going through another Renaissance right now, but.
Then uh, he actually kind of changed the game when he wrote this amazing memo telling everybody what every story had the hero’s journey, and if you haven’t heard about the hero’s journey, I’ve not heard that concept before um, definitely sit back and relax and take a listen to what Chris is going to talk about and also, Uh take a look at that course, uh that he and Michael wrote screenwriting and story blueprint the heroes to Journeys.
So without further Ado, I’m not going to Yap anymore. Just let’s get into it with Chris Vogler. So Chris, uh, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate you taking out the time. I’m very glad to be here. So so just so everybody knows in the audience. I read Chris’s book The Writers Journey.
Um, I don’t want to date anybody but over 20 years ago. Uh, it definitely changed the way I look at stories. So for that I thank you very much, sir. Hey, you’re welcome. I was a very young youthful author very useful. You must be what 30 now so you did it when you were 10 fantastic. So, um, how did you start in the film?
Well, I had a path that led me through journalism school first back in Missouri where I’m from and then um, I got into the Air Force and they sent me out to Los Angeles. I was lucky. It was the middle of the Vietnam War and uh instead of going to Vietnam. They sent me to uh, LA and I worked for an outfit that made documentary films about the space program and so forth and after that, I got to uh, go to film school on the GI Bill and uh went to the USC School and and that’s really where things came into Focus for me because I encountered the work of this man Joseph Campbell who wrote the hero thousand faces and was a big influence on uh, uh, George Lucas and many others.
Um, and that kind of, you know focused me. Oh and my quest to find out what stories were all about. So, uh that and also there was a class at school that was important called story analysis for film and TV and that was like a career pathway for me because me that, you know, thinking critically and writing about stories and reacting to things intelligently was, uh, you know, uh a way I could make make a path for myself into the business.
Now what um, what about Joseph Campbell’s work really kind of Jew you drew you in and what was the Revolutionary part of his work that kind of you know, really sparked something in you? Well as as a kid and just a pure consumer of movies and TV from the Midwest, I grew up on a farm. Uh, it was uh, you know, wonderful and mysterious to me how they sort of hypnotize me with these great images and all that.
I I was on a quest I was trying to figure out I was looking for the book. Where’s where’s the the uh, the rules of this where’s the physics of it? Where’s the where’s the color chart of the periodic table? The theory of how they do it and you know, I got to film school and I found out well that really isn’t anything like that.
Uh, and then just sort of by accident. I found the work of Campbell and uh, he wasn’t thinking about movies, but he had fought long and hard about. Mythology and these patterns he kept seeing about heroes and how that related to, you know current findings in Psychology, especially the work of uh, Freud but more Carl Jung, uh school so he was combining.
The patterns of old mythology with modern psychology and kind of handing it back to us and saying okay, here’s here’s what’s hidden inside all these stories advice for how to live and that turned out I thought to be uh, great blueprint for telling stories and communicating with an audience. So that was my breakthrough about it now.
Can you talk a little bit about what the hero’s journey is? Yeah, you know this is uh. A pattern um that Camel found in the ancient myths he kept seeing the same sort of signpost over and over again and uh, he had you know, somewhere between 16 and 20 different, uh events psychological mostly events that would occur in almost every story.
I worked with a little refined it down to 12 things, but the essence of it is, you know, everybody. I’m stage in their life has an ordinary world that they know and then they’re going to go into something new and different and and you know a new relationship new job a war starts or a catastrophe happens or Health crisis, whatever it is.
They’re going to be in a new world and so it’s about exploring that world and how the difficulties of it can almost kill you. That’s sort of the essence of it that this is Dane, you know change in life is dangerous. And it can be threatening but that can also change you and make you stronger and more resilient and uh, you know, more more alive and conscious in humans.
So that’s uh, that’s the basic essence of it people started in an Ordinary World. They go out, uh, you know, either because they’re itchy inside or they are being forced to it by outside circumstances and they explore something new. There’s often a. Tour who helps them. That’s an important part of it the presence or absence of of somebody who can guide you and be a role model kind of um, but uh, you know, that’s that’s the essence of it that you were transformed by an intense experience of going through a change and entering a new stage of life and you’re not the same you come out as a different person.
So that’s kind of the essence of the idea. So would you agree that um for people who are not familiar with the hero’s journey a great movie to illustrate. This would be Star Wars the original one earned the episode for the New Hope. Yeah. Yeah that that was you know, it’s always been the easiest uh way to show where the signpost star because.
George Lucas was very conscious of camels work. He had read about it even before film school. He was aware. He Campbell because he had you know, studied anthropology and various other things and um and and found Campbell that way and had the same I think inside I did that g this would be great for uh, plotting stories and giving them a little bit of this mythological residence in cycle psychological reality.
So, um, yeah, it’s easy to see that. Because he made a big he made all the turning points very clear and obvious, you know, the pattern calls for a call to Adventure and there’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi literal literal call for. Yeah, there’s literally this called Everything is literal like that. Uh, there’s supposed to be the handing off of some kind of relic of the past.
Uh, that that’s going to guide you and help you and so he gets his father’s lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi there supposed to be a mentor. There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and so forth, you know, when they when they come to the um to The Cantina. Uh, that’s a typical situation in these stories that you go to a bar or Saloon or Watering Hole or something.
Uh, you find out what the new world is like and then boom your takeoff and that’s an important part of the pattern to that that sense in the audience that. We know there’s some preparation that needs to be done to meet the Euro and figure out what the problems are. But then we want to destroy to take off and uh that should happen, you know, ideally maybe 20 minutes or so into the film half an hour in maybe but uh when I was going when he jumps on when it comes to Millennium Falcon, basically, yeah when they go off, it’s it’s very very clear.
And you know, there’s other things too that I I think easy to see the yearning of the hero, you know, when he looks out at the twin Suns on the planet, you know, get out there and you know, but he’s stuck. He’s a farm away but then boom this Rush of events takes over and that meets all kind of monsters and you know almost dies a couple of times and that’s uh, that’s par for the course on this.
Uh, this hero’s journey. Now can you break down at least just give a basic understanding for people who don’t understand the basic three act structure and how that might also translate into a Trilogy as well because I know I’m going to use Star Wars again, you know start W whole empire and return all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, you know, uh, there’s a beautiful thing going on with all of this, uh current study that people are doing of story structures and narrative and so on which is um, at first my competitors and I were doing seminars and workshops and writing books. Oh each other and we’re jealous then. You know and and said that other guys system is stupid and mine is the only one that works.
You know, that was right, uh procedure but we got over that and we all mostly realized we’re also talking about the same thing and it’s human and it’s gonna hard wired. So these things beautifully start to overlap and you know sort of parallel to my 12 Stage pattern is something called the three-act structure which was really pioneered by a man named Sid field it was.
Wonderful, of course. Last year or so and uh, uh was a real Pioneer because he laid out this Unwritten rules of Storytelling that he sort of put together as what they called the Paradigm of three act structure and there’s nothing all that earth-shaking knew about it. But just like my idea with the hero’s journey, uh, this can be traced back to easily to at least Aristotle who, you know, you need a beginning a middle and an end.
Uh, the energy I think of this is what’s important to grasp about the three-act structure its to use a metaphor. It’s like, uh drawing a bowl, you know, you’re pulling back in the First Act you’re loading that bow up with energy and then you’re taking aim and the second act and uh dealing with the wind and all the other challenges, uh, and then you fire it and the third act and your intention or the.
Situation of the hero, you know finally goes to some kind of Target and either hits or misses, you know, and if it misses it’s a tragedy and if it’s a hit then you know, you’ve got a comrade happy. So, uh, you know, that’s one way to to look at it and there’s you know, many metaphors that you could you could use on this but uh that but that’s a good one that you’re Gathering energy your building tension.
Then you uh, you know, really zeroing in on critical things and then sort of launching the whole thing in the Final Act and that over know with my pattern. Yeah. So like a movie like Pulp Fiction, which does has a it’s a very unique structure. Can you kind of break that because it’s genius because it follows the hero’s journey and its own structural way and I wrong about or can you break that down a little bit?
No, um, you know, that’s a really interesting and challenging one to analyze because it’s so ambitious. First of all, uh, those guys are the writer’s that were trying to uh, uh, Roger Avery and Tarantino. We’re trying to deconstruct things and tell multiple stories and that’s very challenging and they chose to do them out of sequence and you know, uh play around with our expectations of what.
What will happen in order you know, and and that’s refreshing but you can unconstructed you can reconstruct it and sort of lay it out in a linear way and it’s it’s a very in some ways conventional storytelling that they’re that they’re doing the heroes on all the different threads of the story have an Ordinary World.
They all go through some kind of drastic Challenge and change enter into you know, some new situation. Uh, and. And again, they either hit or they miss I mean, that’s the beautiful thing about especially about the main story with John Travolta and. Jackson Samuel Jackson, uh is is that one of them Tarantino sees this they have this miracle happen where they’re supposed to all be shot to pieces and uh in a in a drug shootout.
And miraculously Sam Jackson says they’re missing he says that’s a clear sign from God. We were spared for a purpose and so my life has changed now and Travolta says that was just a coincidence. It doesn’t change anything and uh, you know the story. Sort of sits in Judgment of those guys and at the end the writers give Samuel Jackson eternal life and say you’re going to go on and be like, uh, uh, the guy in travels around who travels around righting wrongs and doing good in a nice, uh, Zen kind of way doing little harm and little Bloodshed and Travolta’s killed getting off the John, you know, he jumps off the toilet and Bruce Willis shoots him to death so spoiler.
The story the story, uh, the writers, you know God’s chair kind of and and give their their judgments on how do you react to this new thing? Uh, that’s it. You know in the in the second act the challenge and then how does it land and so to speak the third act although it’s all messed up, you know in the editing process you could still make that kind of of clear moral sense out of it.
Now in your opinion what makes a good hero and a good villain. Uh, this is this is great. They’re sort of you know, mirror images of each other, uh, you know, sort of reflections of each other, uh, a good way to look at all the characters is that. In some way everybody else in the movie is like a another possibility of the hero that that the even the love interest male or female is like your opposite side or your opposite possibilities.
The villain is the the dark possibility of you the clowns. Uh and tricksters around you. Those are the funny possible versions of you. So the villain is is so kind of mirror image first. But what makes a good hero is somebody who is complex and they’re broken somehow that seems to be really deeply essential in all the way back to the mythology is that the hero will be strong and powerful and you know, maybe like Hercules stronger than everybody else, but he’s got problems.
Something broken or something wrong with them in his case. It was uh dealing with women and uh, sometimes he misjudged situations and and would go off on people or you know, cause the a lot of problems because he was so impulsive. So, uh, you know all the way back in the mythology. This idea is planted that the hero is more believable and more human because they’re imperfect you know with that said, I mean interrupt it.
I don’t mean to interrupt you. I just wanted to make a point here a good hero. Like you said all those flawed here is that one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to write for a character like Superman who’s essentially a God, uh with the movie coming out this weekend, um, just curious on your take on that like that specific character and how difficult sometimes it is to make those kind of characters work as a hero.
Yeah, yeah, that’s certainly a very interesting franchise to me partly for those reasons, um that it is a mythological character. And as you say, he’s got some semi-divine, uh potential I actually was called in at one point. Um by one of the Studio’s to uh, you know, sort of. Superman on the couch and Shrink him and put it through my mythological process.
And um, you know, uh, this is I think at a point when they were trying to decide are we going to do Batman versus Superman? This is many years ago that was considered that this current film has a long long history. They uh, Uh, you know, they asked me to sort of shrink Superman and it was all about the flaws of the limitations, uh, that that’s what makes him interesting.
Is that even though he’s invulnerable most of the time they’re still conditions like Kryptonite and red and green that have different effects on them. And then he emotionally, uh, kind of a train wreck in some ways. Uh, and that’s you know Charming that that when he puts his glasses on for some reason, uh, he becomes shy and bumbling and can’t say what he really thinks and uh is you know, very very easy to identify with.
So, uh, you know, you kind of get the best of both worlds a superhuman set of possibilities, but with some realistic limitations and then that’s why I’ve been Batman, Well, yeah, that’s why I like that like Batman is such a relatable character because people because people can identify with it.
He’s and he’s much more popular than Superman. Yeah in many ways very very interesting. Um how we use these characters as meditation devices or something and uh, we think through the stories about, you know, different developments. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be the Patriot?
You know, even look at the colors of Superman’s costume or Batman’s costume and it just you know is sort of a mirror reflection of what’s going on in society. What Society thinks is important? So, uh, you know Batman for some reason that one seems to be uh, a laboratory to experiment with all kinds of different kind of dark brooding thoughts.
But there’s such a range within Batman that people can just turn the dial to Comedy and you know, Absolutely things and and get a big kick out of it and even find meaning in it, but then turn the dial. The other way to Batman is a complete lunatic and you know a reflection of the nuttiness of our own Society.
So it’s it’s really fun to see how the writers do this, but also really how the consumers are are using it to figure stuff out. Uh, it’s just entertainment. You know, they say it’s just cotton candy for the mind, but there is much more going on in even the silliest things and then and you’re continuing with the villain.
What makes a great deal. Yeah, just uh, I think you know very much along the same lines and the kind of fundamental there should be you know, a lot of powers but also limitations and uh, especially when you are dealing with magical figures who have you know, vast magic powers, one of the things that helps is to make a rule it costs something that every time you do something bad.
Um, Something magical, uh, it’s not free. It costs you something you may lose. You know, you may become partially partially paralyzed you might become blinded, you know, every time you use your X-ray vision or whatever. Um, and and that just makes the game so much more interesting than it can do any.
Uh, and then for the kind of more everyday villains, I think it’s useful to realize they don’t think they’re going they think the hero of your story is the villain, uh that are totally convinced. They’re right. Uh, they uh, they have built, you know, their whole life is built around their view of the world.
And so again, they’re the mirror image of the hero and when the hero. Up there down when the heroes happy that doesn’t make them happy and vice versa, you know, they’re when they’re happy as they are always the most miserable so they make diagrams they make uh waveforms and they’re they’re perfect mirrors of each other sometimes um balance another thing in the they balance each other.
And then there’s the whole idea of archetypes, which is something I got out of Campbell’s work, you know also from Carl Jung who said inside everybody there is a cast of characters basic characters a mother a father a hero a villain an angel or devil, you know, all these kind of basic human possibilities.
And uh, at first I thought the villain is the villain and should be you know, Really mean and tough all the time and hero should be heroic all the time and the mentor should be mentoring all the time and so forth, but then I realized I think like that and and people have different masks that they wear, you know, maybe we’re 20 different masks and the course of one day that you’re a tough guy one minute that you’re a coward the next minute then you’re a teacher one minute and you know and so forth.
So illin, the villains are wearing a mask, you know most of the time of the villain but there’s other masks in there. And again they made they can show kindness they can they can be heroic. They can be a teacher to the uh, you know, they can feel sorry for the hero and uh and almost spare the here all these things make them more interesting than just I’m here to you know, make your life hard.
So, uh, So is it the shadings are what make it realistic and more fun? No, the hero’s journey is become and it hasn’t become but I guess it is so relatable to so many people around the world regardless of religion Society language. Is that because it’s just something that is hardwired into every human being no matter where you come from.
Yeah, it’s it’s uh, there are two things in operation here. And one of them is that I do make that assumption that um in the course of evolving into human beings. Um, we created a whole bunch of structures like families for instance, uh, and societies we created these structures and stories are one of those that that you know, I think we actually grew up part of the brain.
That handles that that allows you to think in metaphors and imagine people, you know, when somebody just talkin to you and saying once upon a time there was a little girl you somehow create that world and the little girl and that’s that’s all part of Being Human, but the other side of it is. Then you have millions and millions of examples of these things in the form of stories and people are swimming in an ocean of stories and their lives and even if it wasn’t hard wired, we’d all be taught by Hollywood movies and TV and the myths and legends of our culture’s we’d all be taught.
What are the basic rules of these things? And you know, what is the what is the shape? Then the effect but I go back to the first one that it’s hardwired because it seems that certain images and situations will very reliably trigger. Emotional and physical reactions in the audience, uh, you know things like people in trouble people helping, you know in sacrificing their own lives to help somebody else, uh, uh, somebody sneaking up behind you to threaten you all those things get physical reactions and uh, it’s pretty reliable across cultures.
So so there so. So would you agree that and this is something I’ve always told people that ask me about story. I’m like well if there was no story in the world. I don’t think the Human Experience can move forward like just on a daily basis. How many times do you just tell? How was your day at work?
That’s a story, you know and all these I think do you agree with that? Like without story? We just couldn’t move forward. Yes, it would be a very different world. Um, you know, I I suppose there is an engineering version of the world where you know, everything would be expressed only as uh as mathematical formulas or diagrams or something, but even that’s for and the metaphor is telling some kind of the story the world is made of numbers, you know, that’s as much as a story as uh as Peter Pan so, Yeah, I I think it’s true because of the fact that it’s just so hard wired into us, you know, people say I remember this uh-uh when Johnny Carson died people a lot of people said, what’s it like to be Johnny Carson in other words, you couldn’t really tell me.
How it was to be Johnny Carson, but what’s it like, you know and give me a metaphor. It’s like being the king or it’s like being on top of the world or it’s like being under all those are metaphors and they tell little stories. So we think in poetry and metaphors just automatically and it’s so embedded in the language.
We don’t even realize it, you know, like I just said it’s embedded in the language. Uh, I’ve created a metaphor that there’s a there’s a a mass and then inside that mask like raisins inside a loaf of bread. Uh, there’s embedded these these ideas. So so these things are hard to escape and you kind of can’t see them because they’re so dominant.
But but now there’s good things about it because it does allow us to communicate uh, and to get ideas across and convince people of things, um by telling it in the form of a story as all politicians know very well. It’s one it’s one thing to say the uh, the veterans are being mistreated. But it’s much better to say here’s a veteran is what happened to him look and he you know had all the sacrifice and now he’s suffering and and so now wow that’s a whole different level of relationship and identification.
So I see it. I see with my my daughters who are for uh how story impact them and how I’m using story now just to kind of relate. As George Lucas said the meat and potatoes of our society like, you know, the boy that cried wolf a lot of you know, things like that. Um, it’s so powerful and how these stories like the grim tales and things like that.
They just go on from generation to generation now the Disney stories and and the movies and stuff like that movie that I saw when I was growing up now, I’m showing them to my girls and in Star Wars is one of those. You know kind of miss all those there’s generate the new generations are catching up with, you know, the thoughts that we grew up with.
Uh, younger it’s just fascinating to watch now, um, our are we all on our own hero’s journey, basically, Yes, that’s one of the biggest insights. I had by the way, your daughters are very lucky because you’re keeping up this ancient tradition and you’re not Outsourcing it to the the technological stuff that’s part of it.
But introducing them to it talkin to them about it reading the stories to them, especially uh is critical. But yeah, I mean that was the big Insight from the very beginning I said wow, uh, when. Red camels book at film school. I kind of skimmed through it. I’m a good skimmer and I skimmed through it on the bus on the way home.
And by the time I got off the bus my whole life had been changed and one part of it was yeah. This is great for making movies. This will make better more entertaining more International movies. But at the same time I was aware. This is a great guideline for a living. Uh, it’s the template and it’s again.
It’s a metaphor. It’s telling you a story once there was a person who you know lived somewhere and they went someplace and it changed him. Uh, But it’s uh, it’s just so clear to me that our ancestors thought it was important and they preserved it in the form of stories because it’s your guidebook for life for how to deal with the inevitable things.
Things are going to come along and wreck your plan. Uh, no matter what that plan is. And so how do you deal with that? And the stories are just an infinite well of options and solutions. And failures, you know that two examples of of tragic failures. So yeah. Now what what no. No I was gonna say, um, I was gonna ask you what do you how do you know you’re reading a good story when you reading I’m sure you but a few scripts of your day.
Yes, uh the number count it’s hard to say how many but it’s well above 20,000 people like to believe but but I there’s there’s no question that you know, I have file cabinets the prove it of my reports that I’ve analyzed 20,000 stories at least and um, you know, the elements uh of the good one. I’m a sucker for poetry and and for for just good writing and I now I’m sort of ruined.
As a reader because I have low tolerance for bad writing and I’m talkin here about just the how do you compose a sentence? And there’s there’s there are people who um, you know, they might be giving you good information. I’m reading a book about the city of Venice right now in Italy and it’s good information, but it’s given in this very flat way then it was a big city in the 1400s.
It was important, you know, and there’s. Music or poetry in that at all? Um, but I appreciate so much the beautiful writers now screenplays are special. They’re supposed to be very spare and simple and short sentences like that for the most part but there’s there’s just a confidence that you feel when somebody knows how to how to build a nice pretty senses.
Fancy, but you know elegant so right. That’s I know this is very subtle and and hard to pin down what I’m saying, but beyond that the simple thing for you know, like what’s makes a good screenplay is man they grab you right away and you know right where you are and who it’s about for the most part.
Uh, they’re very clear about this is the hero I’m spending a little time describing her. I’m maybe giving her some special behavior at the beginning that gets my attention. Why is she doing that? Uh, and that hooks me in. Um, so, you know, there’s. There are scripts. You read 20 Pages. You don’t know who is about you.
Don’t know what it’s about. You don’t know, you know, even you know, is this the main location or is this a little prologue or you know, there’s a lack of clarity. So I I just like it when when things are simple and clear and that’s a sort of a motto of mine from um that the classic old romantic comedy It Happened One Night Clark Gable.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah Clark. Reporter in that and his motto is simple stories for simple people and it’s not condescending. It’s it’s a really good artistic rule. Just keep it simple. Tell me the story uh, and you know make it elegant in language and so forth if you can but uh, you know be clear above above all that’s another thing.
I’d rather be clearer than pretty. In my my storytelling and pretty support, you know, sometimes you know overly flowery it can also mean uh, look how cool I am. I’m not telling you who this guy is and I’m gonna make you wonder what’s going on for a long time or I’m not going to tell you, you know, that sort of razzle-dazzle is are using $0.75 words.
When yes that tent that yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah or another version of it is. So and then the camera using a Zeiss Ikon lens with a 35 on it in the corridor at about three miles per hour and then you know, this kind of over directing is another another version of how you read. Have you read?
Have you read scripts to have that kind of I mean, I’ve never heard that distinctive, but have you read something like that? Yes. Yeah, it does come up every once in a while and I think it’s generally from someone who isn’t confident and hasn’t done it very often before and they’re trying to prove look.
I know all this stuff. I took a class or I read a book or uh, you know, I went to film school and you know, I myself I think there was a little bit of that and some of my early scripts because you know also people have. A passion they seed in their head. So clear they want to make sure it’s down there on the page, but I learned better ways to do that, uh than uh, you know, you put please put the camera on a tripod about four feet off the ground, you know, not that but uh, you know, you indicate stuff like that by uh, he looks up from under his eyebrows and she sees a flash of light at the size.
Gives you that makes the shots in your mind better than saying with a tight close-up, uh, just up from his eyebrows down to his nose. You don’t have to do that. You just draw attention to the detail. You want to see the gun. I think great though. So so and and it is important these things about the body hands, uh skin eyes, you know referring to those in the text, uh, kind of creates the close-ups, you know, just just writing that in your slugline his hand.
Near the gun, you know is that’s that’s better than saying, uh a tight close-up or that you see in your mind. So so you um, you work at Disney for a while, correct? Yeah, that was I I guess that was the longest run I had at any of the Studio’s I had to sort of like military tours of Duty at Fox on either side of that, uh at Fox’s a reader and then later as an executive, but in the middle was about 10 years at this that’s a long run in a long run.
Yeah, you’re normal gig is about two years. Uh, honestly people people say you’re doing something right jobs. Well, I was doing something right but also within those 10 years I work for about four or five companies within Disney so I can. Changing over and as a new company was developed like they created Touchstone, uh Hyperion pictures and various other and then there was um, imagine pictures and Hollywood pictures and you know, all these different divisions and as each one was created.
I would come in and write some memos and read some scripture them and uh, you know get involved and I was a little bit conscious of that trying to. Diversify and get as much stuff into my portfolio as as I could and that’s a sidebar here, but very important a lot of my thinking and work these days is about branding and somehow intuitively.
I was good at that and before the internet I created a kind of viral marketing for myself through mean of. The Xerox machines and you know fax machines and stuff like that. I spread a viral idea through the mind of Hollywood, which was this memo that I remember when I was when I was at Disney and the memo simply took Campbell’s academic idea and translated it into movie language.
He talked about the Epic of Gilgamesh or the fairy tale of the the three shoes or something and I would talk about. You know here it is in ordinary people and Star Wars and various other, uh classic films. So I I even read that at the film student. I read that memo. That’s how far that memo went and was in Florida and I heard about this memo that said this is the this is the the guidebook the blueprint of all story and of course as a film student you like.
Oh my God, I have to read this and. It would circulate around the school and then I mean so you did a good job without email without internet you were able to create a viral piece of material. Completely. Yeah, when you pluck it definitely did uh, and I have another thought about The Branding which is that branding is really a matter of Association are associating yourself with different things like Coke.
One of their models was coke adds life. So they say Coke equals life and whatever, you know about life, whatever you like about life. There is in Coke so arguably to take arguably Coke takes away life, but we talk about that later. Is that true? Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s certainly if you want to kill something let it swim and Coke for a while.
But yeah, you know if you want to take Chrome off your bumper that that’s another delete the Chrome right off. But oh, yeah, it’s uh, uh this uh matter of the uh, where we with this is branding branding on the branding thing is is uh that you know, somehow I was able to do that and and brand myself with this thing because um, It was almost like something that just popped into my head when I was standing at the Xerox machine.
Uh, I had written this memo. Uh, and I said, you can sort of load this up with intention and uh, I even left a copy of it on the Xerox machine on the glass, uh intentionally, Thinking the next person coming along may find this and who knows what they’ll do with it. Well, let’s see. Let’s see where that goes.
Wow, and and and you know, I think what happened was, uh, an executive came in copied something and found that and plagiarized it. He took my my name off he put his name on the cover and sent it up through the company ranks because he thought it was good and it got to the top guy in the company Jeff katzenberg.
And uh, uh, he said, this is great. This is uh, this is the greatest thing that’s happened since popcorn, you know, all our movies in our animation should uh, everybody should read this and eventually you got credit though. Yeah, I I claim credit which is a little out of my character. I’m kind of shy and retiring but I attacked that one when I heard that this had happened, I wrote a letter to katzenberg and I I claimed it and I said the words gotten out that this memo is on your desk and I wrote it and not this other guy and uh, I won something I asked for something which is I wanted more involvement in the company and he immediately responded to my amazement.
And threw me together with the animation people and that was kind of the the high point. Of my involvement with Disney. They were just starting Lion King and uh, I went over there to talk with the animators and writers and uh, I thought okay now I have to do a sales job and I have to explain who I am and I have to tell them what the hero’s journey is, but I walked in the door.
And the first thing I saw was a uh, cork board with the storyboard of The Lion King and it was all mapped out by the hero’s journey Step 1 Step 2 Step 3. Memo the memo got there ahead of me and with me doing nothing. It did a complete sales job for me and and and just rolled out the red carpet. So I walked in and they knew exactly who I was and what my idea is and Lion King was from that for well over a decade.
If not 20 years. It was the biggest animated movie ever financially. Yes, it was. I must I must tell you a bit of a surprise to all of us who not all of us but many of us who worked on it because Disney had been on this rocket ship in live and then they had a couple of uh, you know, they made they made 20 live-action films in a row that were hits and nobody does that uh, no something bizarre going on.
Um, and then they had made uh, Beauty and the Beast Little Mermaid. And those those those were so good and so revolutionary they completely revived things. We all kind of felt like well The Lion King will take a step back and it’ll just be another picture and it, you know not going to stand up. You know, you can’t keep going like that after hit.
So you almost hope that one of them will drop back a little and lower expectations and then you come back and you know, try to top yourself, but that would that would have been probably Pocahontas not lying. So one of those one of those that followed in the chain, but right, you know, it it surprised us all.
All right. I remember seeing the uh, the screening the opening night. They had a party, you know, and uh, we enjoyed all that but the Applause when the movie was over was kind of that was good, you know, which is true for almost all Holly. Screenings, you know every single one of them. Absolutely, correct?
Yeah, you’ve got that wasn’t too bad. But but we underestimated the way it would connect around the world and I’ve heard that everywhere in every culture that people say that’s a Japanese story, you know, or that’s an obviously African but, you know every culture relates somehow so they they did something right.
Uh, and I had my little part in it. Yeah, I just I had a little story about that opening uh sequence The Circle of Life sequence. Uh, they had fully animated that by the time I got there and they showed me that sequence. Uh, the first time I met with them and then the rest of it was either in pencil sketch form or actual Post-it notes on the cork board storyboard style.
Um, but my reaction to it was um, there’s something missing. And the missing thing was when who’s the kind of the mentor of the story the kind of magical guy when he holds up the baby Simba and he shows everybody I said wouldn’t it be cool if those big clouds up there suddenly opened up and a shaft of light came down and lit up the baby and.
Everybody in the room wrote that down and started drawing pictures of it because the animators communicate and instead of writing notes down. They draw pictures. So everybody drew that and they they stopped the production and put that piece. Um, which was a big expensive deal, but they said it was worth it.
Um, and that makes the little button on the scene. It’s this one little thing and there’s a exactly right place in the music where the music kind of explodes as the baby lion is held up. Uh, and that shaft of light just punches it. So, uh, it makes the same it honestly without no question about it.
I still remember when you were saying it. I see it still clearly in my head. It’s like, how could you not have that? Yeah. Yeah, and it was like it was all invited and set up by what they had done already, but that’s that one little piece, uh, kind of nailed it and um the I saw a physiological reaction and everyone in the room when I just said what if the satellite comes down, And I paused a minute.
I know everybody’s they’re like shivering and quivering and kind of moving around in their seats and then started furiously drawing that that image so it told me something and that’s very important to me is that. The story or the good ideas actually reach into your body and they do something they cause organs in the body to react and secrete fluids make you shiver and make your hair stand on end and make a cry and do all these other physical things to you.
Uh, so that’s a big part of my thinking now is the what I call, uh, the uh, organic storytelling. That it’s in the organs of the body where the story is. Actually it’s actually happening that your brain is, you know, processing and thinking and comparing but uh, the direct experience is right there in your heart and your lungs, you know your guts.
And also like we talked a lot about story structure and hero’s journey and everything like that for actual movies, but there is a part of that that goes through the marketing of it to to create a storytelling process of the marketing and uh two movies recently that have done that amazingly. Well was obviously the Star Wars movie was probably one of the best marketed movies.
I’ve seen in a long time and Deadpool another amazing. Market film. Um, can you touch a little bit on that on how story played a part in those two campaigns? Yes. Um, that’s something I’m very interested in. I’ve done work with companies that do trailers for movies and uh done a lot of the thinking about about how they connect and um, You know, it’s it’s something in the first case of the Star Wars case.
They’re dealing with what you know, and the objective here was to say, uh, you knew this budget didn’t know this. And so there are little things like, uh, there’s the sort of iconic shot of the current villain, uh with his lightsaber with the side flame out, uh, sort of flicks flicks it on and uh, that was like, oh this is telling you it’s plussing this it’s telling you this is going to be the Star Wars you love but with some new twists and write a simple thing.
But something also a little controversial got people talkin about what does that mean? And at this even look realistic and possible so that all worked very well for them and with with Deadpool that’s just a brilliant job of projecting a voice. Uh, it was it was all about the voice and the kind of I kind of look at the character in his reclining lazy position.
Uh, those two things together made a real strong campaign. And opposed to the Batman vs Superman Campaign, which told you from what I hear I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it told you the entire story it shows you all the points the big the big moment already been given away in the trailer, which is I think what they had such a potential to do a Star Wars if they have the confidence, I think that was the big difference.
I think the studio behind it. Would Star Wars there was a confidence. With the marketing the like look we’re just going to just give you just enough to get you excited and that’s what brought everybody out and with a story like that man vs Superman which is obviously like, you know, the fight of the century they could have done that but they didn’t they went the complete traditional old school.
Let’s show them all in the trailing. Let’s see if we can get some butts in seats on the first opening weekend. Um, and I don’t want to know you I know you some of your clients so feel free to say no comment. It’s it’s uh, it’s fine. I these are observations I’ve had anyway, um, you know, it’s uh, uh a matter of choice about it and this.
Particular technique of telling you everything and giving you all the plot beats was really worked out at Disney and it was part of their success for a while that that they they were reassuring you this movie with, you know, Richard Dreyfuss or Midler whoever it was they were putting in movies in those days back in the eighties talkin now, Uh, they would they would lay out.
Okay, then he’s in his Ordinary World and then he’s going to go to the special world and it’s going to be weird and funny things will happen but dangerous things and then at the end with the through the love of a good woman, he’ll figure it out and that worked for a while, but then people really rejected that and as you say, it’s a safety it’s a uh, you know, uh a default way to do it and it’s so much better when you really know what you have to sell.
Uh, I was impressed by one campaign in the last uh couple of years for Maleficent the movie looks back at Sleeping Beauty and does tells the story from more less the villains point of view. They knew what they had to sell Angelina Jolie with the weird black thorns and costume and they just sold that you know, that was there.
And and so, you know, I think that’s the ticket is you have to know what it is. You have to sell and sometimes it is the story or or it’s a new voice of new character. So there’s so I’m gonna ask you. No, I was gonna ask you the same questions. I ask all of my guests. Uh, these are the toughest questions.
So, uh, please be prepared. What is the lesson that took you to longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life the longest to learn? Uh, I guess that would be something I’m still dealing with um, and uh in in that department. Um, I I would say honestly it’s getting out of my own way. Um, I’m still learning that that uh, I tend to do things the hard way and uh, make things hard for myself and uh make more of the difficulties than they need to be.
So, uh, that’s that’s a been a slow lesson for me that I kind of sum up by uh, Something I call is not my idea. But the do easy method, uh, if you’re interested in this it’s something that was cooked up by the writer William Burroughs to deal with difficulties in his life. But uh, you just sort of approach everything very gently and uh, you know, where computers maybe drive you crazy and you want to throw things.
There’s a way to caress them. So that it isn’t so uh difficult and painful and I’m not a master of this by any means but that has helped me. So that’s you’re still going through your hero’s journey in regard to that. Oh, most definitely. Yeah. Oh, yes. So what are you so what are your top three favorite films of all time?
No order or anything like that. Just three films that really touched you. Well sure. I always start with my desert island movie if denied all other films. What would be the one uh, and for many years? This has been. A movie from the 50s called the Vikings which is really the source material or very close to the current Vikings TV service that’s on the History Center.
They’re really drawn for the same literary Source the same historical character. It’s the same idea. Um a great adventure movie with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine and then amazing effects and beautiful ships. Uh number two, uh would be um, a movie called, uh, Gilda, uh, which is a oh, yeah, black one.
Um, and um, it’s just a special film to me because it’s a film noir. It’s about a triangle of a evil guy and a woman who is associated with him and a young man who used to be her lover and you know, the loyalties among all those three people. Um, but it’s much more profound than that. Uh, it’s kind of an essay on good and evil in the devil and God and uh, just profound kind of uh movie and uh, then I’ll little more modern thing.
Uh is a film I’m working with right now. I’m getting ready for electric in Paris and I had to do a French film. So I picked a film called. I’m more which won the Academy Award a few years ago. For best foreign film and it’s about uh old Parisian couple and the wife has a stroke and she eventually declines and uh, they have to deal with her complete downfall as a person very uplifting story.
Got it. Yeah, it’s it’s a tough one. But uh just beautifully made and a great example of simple stories for simple people in the best way. Uh, very confident you mentioned that before that confidence in filmmakers and storytellers is really nice when you have it and this guy is very confident. He does a lot of things where he’ll just have a black screen and maybe you’ll hear people say are you okay and the other one says I’m all right, there’s no problem and they’re in bed asleep and he’ll just let that black.
Being run for almost a minute. Uh, and you just kind of breathe and live with it boy that takes confidence but he’s and what is the most underrated film you’ve ever seen? Let’s see. Uh, oh, yeah, I I go to a film that’s actually kind of hard to find uh called They Might Be Giants with George Scott.
And uh and Bancroft I think is in it and it’s um a play on Sherlock Holmes. It’s about a crazy man in New York who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes and uh, they send a social worker to visit him and her name happens to be dr. Watson. So, uh, he goes well there I’ve been waiting for you, you know, and she goes but.
And eventually they get she gets lured into it and realizes he is really the latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes or he believes it’s so much that let’s just accept that and they’re really is like a moriarity a bad guy who. Doing things and uh, they they rally Oddball all the Oddball people in New York are rallied behind them to stand up to this shadow of Moriarty and it’s a wonderful inspiring film for some reason.
That one’s not in a lot of packages and it didn’t get sold and it’s hard to find but uh got a little treasure. Um, now where can people find you. Uh, the best thing it would be my website which is uh, www.the writer journey, and I also have a Blog uh at WordPress. And uh, that is Chris vogler’s writers Journey blog.
I don’t okay and can you tell the people. And can you tell the can you tell the the the tribe what books you’ve actually written besides the writers Journey or the because I know you’ve written a few books, correct? Well, I yeah, actually I’m building a little Library. Uh, I wrote you know, the first book that hero’s journey twenty years ago, uh, then a few years back.
I co-wrote a book with uh, a buddy of mine who is a film director and teacher in New York named David McKenna, and that book is called Memo from the story department and it’s about Thomas structure and character Memo from the story to print. And my original memo to Disney is in that about the hero’s journey, but also all the other stuff that David and I have used in our work over the years other frames other.
Uh other systems like there’s a fairytale analysis technique, uh, there’s uh a way of looking at characters that goes all the way back to the days of Aristotle, uh, there’s uh a chapter on and how the traditions of the stage are still useful for filmmakers today. So it’s good that way and then the third thing, um, the titled that uh, I I can.
Is I wrote a Japanese manga, you know their version of. And sure uh a buddy of mine got into the business of publishing in in America and Japan and uh, he invited me to contribute a story and so, uh, I got one out of the trunk. I took an old movie and novel called Ivanhoe about the time of King Richard and the Crusaders and Robin Hood and I wrote kind of a sequel to it, uh called raven.
Golf, so that’s the title Raven skull and uh, it was supposed to be a for book series. We only did the first one so far but uh, uh, it’s it was really fun to work with an artist in the Philippines this guy, uh, and the editor never met him. I never met him but we did everything by jpegs Back in Forth.
Uh, you know, I I want this I want the stirrups to look like this and I went the sword handle to look like this and I’d send them. The the images and uh, and man it would just come back the next day exactly like I wanted and it was a great way to work. So there is my there’s another book, um that you wrote the foreword for that actually was the reason I bought the book was because you wrote the forward to it was myth and the movies.
Yes, uh that that’s kind of a another relative of my book. It’s in the family A Man Named took on an important job. I’m glad he did it because it was a lot of Labor to do it. But what he did in myth in the movies is he said? Okay, here’s vogler’s idea. How does that actually work? What does if you do the diagram?
What does it look like? He was doing like pie charts of the of the different steps. And what does it look like in 50 different films and he chose really good Classics in different genres and he shows their that it changes depending on the genre and that they spend more time in different stages and maybe omit stages or repeat them or something.
He found all these neat patterns. Uh sort of subcategories within the general thing. He said it’s still works, uh in all these films but it’s flexible. And so you’ll find the specific in mainly by genre adventure movies romances Mysteries so forth, uh, he found at least shadings of it and it’s a great contribution.
So great. I have to say it’s been an absolute Joy, uh talkin to you today. Thank you so much for uh taking out the time and dropping a lot of value bombs on on the audience and regard to the structure. Yeah, so I’m glad to do that and you let me run free and I appreciate that and you had good questions.
So, uh, I hope everybody uh, just uh keeps in mind my model which is trust the path trust the path that you’re on keep going till you get there and uh, uh that that has its own guidance system built in so, uh, good luck. Thanks, Chris. And uh, all right. So now Chris we’re out. Um, thanks again so much.
I really do appreciate you taking out the time. I know it’s been I know you’re squeezing me in right before your power strips and thank you. Yeah. Yeah. I have to keep an eye on that ball. But uh, I’m going to be working on that. I’m more film I talked about uh today. Butting up my Clips on that but uh, this is great.
And uh, I wish you luck with your uh in the film hostile. You got a pretty good. Uh list of people on this now. Yeah, Linda Linda says Hi, I did Linda and of course Michael, um, and we and you know that we you know, Michael and I have been doing that. Oh, um the heroes to Journeys, um course the digital courses.
So hopefully this will help a little bit with sales with that and and move forward. So, of course, thank you again so much. I really appreciate it’s been an absolute. Thrill. Talk to you my friend. All right, my pleasure. Thanks a lot Alex. You know, I can’t really tell you what a thrill it was to talk to Chris.
I mean after after reading his book and how what an impact that book made on me. If you guys have not read that book you got to go out and get it, uh writers journey and you can get all that in the you can get the links to his books, uh, the course and all his direct, uh websites and stuff like that at indie films /z.
So a lot of you guys in the tribe actually email me a lot of questions and specifically certain things about different parts of the business, and I do my best to answer them, but I had this idea of creating an episode a week at least one episode a week. I’m going to try of just answering questions.
Just answering straight questions from the tribe. So I wanted to and I want to call it. Ask Alex. I know it’s extremely creative but we’re gonna try to do this, uh once a week and we’re going to create a YouTube show around it. So you can watch me answer the question and then I’ll also be releasing it on on the video podcast as well as the regular podcast as well.
So want to try to get more value to you guys and this is a community. So, uh, and this is our tribe. So everybody talkin asking me questions. It might be a question that somebody else has that they haven’t asked it to me, but this other person did and if I can answer for everyone, maybe I can help more and more people.
So that’s the goal of what we do what I do here at any feel muscles. I want to try to provide as much value to you guys as possible. So if you have any questions, email me at ask Alex. In the film hustle, that’s ask Alex at indie film hustle. And we’re going to be we’re going to create a website as well.
Uh, that would be indie film hustle Alex so you can be able to go straight there and hopefully we’ll have episodes every week on me answering questions for you guys. So, um be launching that in the next probably within the next month or so, but. Please send in those questions and uh, you know anything about the film industry, uh film business Phil marketing post-production, whatever you want me to answer.
I’ll do the best. I can to answer those questions for you guys and provide good value to you guys. All right. So again, that’s ask Alex at indie film hustle and the website is going to be indie film. So thanks as always for listening guys and don’t forget to head over to filmmaking podcast and leave us a great.
Hopefully a wonderful review for the show helps us get the word out on what we’re doing with any film hustle and help more filmmakers out there. Okay, by the way, I wanted to give you guys an update on something. A few weeks ago, I mentioned and launched basically announced that I was doing a feature film called.
Uh, well that has now changed. I have shifted into another project that project didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. So. I decided to just shift and move to another project. So I’m working currently working on another feature film right now and we’ll be announcing what that feature film will be in the coming weeks.
Uh, possibly the next month or two because I’m working hard on it right now and getting a bunch of stuff labeled out, but there will be a feature film made by me and the indie film Hustle Gang, uh sometime this year regardless of what that movie. Is so I have a lot of exciting stuff coming up as well guys.
Uh, I mean the tremendous amount of exciting news exciting things. I’m going to be bringing to you guys and exclusive courses exclusive topics, exclusive projects all sorts of different things. Now maybe bringing to you guys to help you further along on your quest to be a working filmmaker and to survive and thrive in the film business.
So as always guys, thanks for all your support. I can’t do this out. I can’t do this without you guys. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you, please share these episodes. Please share our links when you see them on Facebook and Twitter and then in the blogosphere just help us and get the word out. All right.
I really appreciate. Everything you guys do so keep that hustle going keep that dream alive, and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening to the indie film hustle podcast at indie film hustle.