The Writer’s Journey

After a long needed sleep, we were in the meeting room ready for a day with Chris Vogler.

After a verbal bio where Chris explained his journey from a farm in Missouri, through time served in the army, to being a story consultant in Hollywood on a range of projects, most notably The Lion King for Disney, Chris began to unpack some key aspects of story structure and universal qualities inherent in every story.

Chris has a certain “magic talent”, he has an uncanny ability to be able to tell what’s wrong with a certain script, he knows where to move scenes, or what characters to include when and how.

He’s worked with directors and screenwriters such as Will Smith and Darren Aronofsky. Pre-Google, he was a font of information at the studio, because he knew a little bit about a whole range of stories, from fairy tales to epic to urban myths and the studio chiefs would often press him for obscure facts. Throughout his workshop, he informs us that he is “a master at stating the obvious,” he just elucidates it and sharpens it into a more logical order.

According to Chris, all good screenplays must create a physical reaction in people. If you put certain characters and situations on screen, it goes straight to the organs of the audience’s body; touches the viscera, not just the brain.

‘Not only, but also’ is another technique that Chris employs; he explains something obvious, then something unexpected: a physiological experience that can help develop a more layered complexity to the narrative.

Chris listened to each of the writer’s pitches and ran through some feedback around the pitching process, the execution and then peeled back some of the potential challenges in pulling the narrative together in full draft form.

The four playwrights were both extremely nervous and excited to meet Chris. However they were all fairly surprised that somebody as important as Chris was so approachable, he was described as; humble, easy-going, warm, genial, wise and fun.

Lally said Chris helped tremendously, he individually took time to respond to each person and listen to their ideas. Lally explained that Chris helped show her that she got too attached to detail and she needed to talk about her story more broadly and “sell the big ideas.”

Tom said that one of the many things he took from Chris was about the structure of his presentation; Tom talked more about the importance of things happening at key times. However the things that were actually important were the characters, the family and those relationships at the centre of things. So you can get too caught up on structure.

Reg feels he has got to find the best way to sell his story. However, because of the help from Chris he discovered that the plot for his film story is stronger than he thought. He feels that he can approach his pitching with renewed confidence.

Chris helped Max realise that she should also really talk about the man character more, so really getting across who the audience should be rooting for. And making sure that she has enough selling points about the characters involved.

Vogler’s warmth, experience and clarity helped sharpen everyone’s story and their telling of it.

In a final exhortation to the writing group, Chris explained that his universal solvent to overcome the trials, rejections, development merry-go-round and production challenges is that we all need to “Trust the path!”

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