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Christopher Vogler

Chris Vogler on "The Dramatic Journey"
by Ed Proudfoot
(May 2001)

In case you haven't heard, there's a memo floating around Hollywood in the form of a best-selling book called The Writer's Journey, written by Chris Vogler. The Scriptwriters Network was lucky enough to have Mr. Vogler speak at May's general meeting.

"When you write a script, you're communicating directly with the audience's soul."

As a kid, Vogler was fascinated by movies, especially swashbucklers and action pix, and began to see patterns emerge in the stories he saw on screen. While at USC Film School, Vogler began to investigate the hero in myths and legends and was greatly impacted by Joseph Campbell's works, most notably "The Hero With a Thousand Faces." While working at Disney, Vogler wrote down his thoughts in a seven-page memo that immediately trickled through the ranks, spread like wildfire through the community and eventually became the book that many writers and studio chiefs dog-ear and shelve between the Bible and Creative Directory.

"We're all on a journey and we're all connected; this is the perennial philosophy of myth."

After summarizing his own journey, which included a trip around the world, speaking engagements in Europe and Australia and a visit to Pompeii, Vogler got down to brass tacks and outlined the twelve steps of the hero's journey, which he's come to call "the dramatic journey."

"What happens to the hero happens to the audience."

ORDINARY WORLD: You wake. You kiss your mate good morning. You swig coffee and smoke a cigarette or chug wheat grass and chomp granola, as the case may be. This is the norm, the ordinary world of your everyday life.

CALL TO ADVENTURE: You sit down at your computer, as you do every morning because you are a disciplined and focused writer. Your calendar reminder pops up: "Scriptwriters Network General Meeting at 2:00."

REFUSAL OF THE CALL: You have to write. You have to mow the lawn. You have to take a nap. You do not have time to fight your way to Universal Studios. You delete the calendar reminder and set to work on the Oz of Act II.

MEETING THE MENTOR: Your mate walks in with a mid-morning snack and a kiss. Your mate reminds you that Chris Vogler is speaking at the Scriptwriters Network. You say you read the book. Your mate leaves the decision up to you, but hints strongly that you should attend the meeting and will not allow you to eat the Krispy Kreme donut until you agree.

"Get the wheels up as fast as you can."

CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD: You kiss your mate goodbye. You hustle to the car and turn the ignition. You look over your shoulder as you back out of the drive and you see a shadow in the backseat. You think it is Kostya's critic, dressed in moldy green and picking dirty fingernails, who sneers at you, but when you glance in the rearview mirror, it is only your face in the glass. You pull into the street and point your noble steed, a '77 Pinto, toward the valley.

TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES: The motorcycle cop halts you with a stiff palm and you feel her glare from behind her mirrored sunglasses. "This is the longest funeral procession in the history of the world," you think to yourself, but you remain calm as the air conditioner blows a Saharan breeze in your face. "Turn around. Why bother? You're only fooling yourself about this writing thing anyway, aren't you? Why not face facts and get a real job?" You glance at the motorcycle cop and hear her voice, though her lips are squeezed in a regulation stripe. Suddenly, it is not the officer, but Kostya's critic standing in the intersection, leering at you through sallow, bloodshot eyes. You hear a scream. No, it's a horn. The maniac behind you is honking. The threshold guardian turned ally waves you through the intersection as the maniac lays on his horn and tries to conserve fuel by hitching his car to your bumper.

APPROACHING THE INMOST CAVE: You park. You gaze at the Universal backlot as you wait for the elevator. You descend into the cavernous paint shop and think you are lost, until you see the light emanating from the open garage door. You walk into the sun and find yourself surrounded by beautiful people, all shrouded in magnificent costumes dating from the Magna Carta to the fifth millennium. You feel you are home as you weave through the extras who eat lemon chicken and talk about the day's shooting on "Pay or Play." "Hey, wait up!" You turn. "Oh, Christ, it's the maniac," you think, as you quicken your pace. The shapeshifter runs up, grabs your hand and, with a grin, says, "Sorry, dude, 'bout the honking, but this Vogler dude's got the answers, man, like he IS the answer man, dude. Let's meet up after, I'll buy you a java, we'll compare notes!" You cannot say no because the maniac has launched himself through Rehearsal Hall B's door like a patriot missile.

"To get to heaven, you have to go through hell."

ORDEAL: "So let's all welcome, Chris Vogler." Georgann grins at the myth-man as the room explodes with applause. The honker shoots you a thumbs-up as he waves his copy of "The Writer's Journey." Though the honker's all smiles, you can't help but think he's taunting you, because you forgot your copy. As Mr. Vogler details his years at Disney, at Fox, his research of the hero in myth and legend, the seven-page memo that transformed movie-making, you gaze at him and think, "Nice shirt. I wonder if it's silk. I'll never be able to afford silk." As Mr. Vogler details the twelve steps of the hero's journey, what he terms the dramatic journey, you run a checklist on your script. "Missed it. Whoops, forgot that one. Whatever I've stirred up comes back and gets me? What the hell does that mean?" You feel a sweaty palm on your thigh. You turn and find Kostya's critic peering at you through those sallow eyes and you see your fear in his pupils, you smell your terror in his breath, you feel your soul shredding itself, your brain toasting and twisting until it's nothing more than a lima bean on Mojave asphalt. Kostya's critic leans in, bringing tears to your eyes with his breath, and hisses, "You suck."

REWARD: Mr. Vogler says, "I take Francis Ford Coppola's advice and try to write the worst first draft possible, to get it over with." Laughter. You feel the twitch of a grin. Recognition. Mr. Vogler reminisces about his trip abroad and says that, while in Germany, he was hired to write an animation feature: "All these years, I was thinking, oh, geez, I can do it better than that. I can write way better than that guy. And then of course I was given the opportunity and had to put my money where my mouth was. It was a great experience." You smile. You realize that, though he may be wearing silk, he struggles just like you. He sweats through the second act. He feels that tug at his navel and, in the dark of night, wonders if he has what it takes to win in one of the most competitive businesses on the planet. "It's a matter of work, just work, just more hours in the seat," he says and you nod. You've made a connection. He is connected to you and you to him and both of you are connected to all the Networkers in the room and all the artists in the city and all the people of the world - epiphany! You glance around, smile, and let people know with a nod that, "We are connected." The honker waves. "Except for you."

THE ROAD BACK: You are elated as you drive with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting. You're glad you dodged the honker on your way out. You can't wait to share your new powers with your mate. You wind down Highland and... You brake. Hard. Because there is nowhere to go. The traffic is at a standstill. You wait. You sweat. You fret, because your noble steed is overheating. You think, "La Brea!" You pick your way through the side streets. You dodge the red light and motor into... Standstill. You look ahead. What L.A. Public Works considers construction looks like the set for Volcano. Like a lemming, you follow dozens of cars into the Carl's Jr. parking lot, to sneak onto Santa Monica, but the parking lot is blocked off and, like bumper cars in a shoe box, you and twenty other drivers whirl around the parking lot searching for an exit. They all go left. You go right and almost plow into a ditch the size of Idaho. You u-turn. You see the lights, blue, very pretty. You brake. The trickster saunters up and you recognize her as the motorcycle cop from the funeral procession. "That's gonna cost you," she says. You see the nickels and dimes trickling, falling, pouring from your checking account. You think about traffic school. Saline stings your eyes as sweat mixes with salty tears.

"Characters develop as they collide with obstacles."

RESURRECTION: Kostya's critic laughs at you from the passenger seat. "Who do you think you are? You have no talent. People don't want to hear your stories. You are average. You are nothing. Accept the truth and move back to Indianapolis, please, before you hurt yourself and ruin your marriage and go bankrupt and...." As Kostya's critic lambastes you and the motorcycle cop/threshold guardian/ally/trickster writes up your ticket, you remember something that Mr. Vogler said: "Write. The world is in desperate need of your stories." You turn and politely say, "I don't need you anymore." Kostya's critic evaporates in a swirl of acrid smoke.

RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: As your mate sponges you in the bath and offers you a gin and tonic, you talk about the journey, reveal how much you enjoyed hearing Mr. Vogler speak and declare that you feel charged about the future, your career and your life. Your mate smiles, kisses you and says, "Wow, sounds like you're the Master of Two Worlds." You smile. You like the sound of that. You pull your mate into the bath as we... FADE OUT.

"Write. The world is in desperate need of your stories."

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