|OUR STAFF||Chris Vogler|
Here is a brief survey of my career and how I came to The Writer’s Journey.
I grew up in the area around St. Louis, Missouri, living in the suburbs until I was twelve, when my father, a cement finisher, decided to move the family to a farm in Mark Twain country, 40 miles west of the city, an idyllic world like something out of Tom Sawyer. Books and movies stirred my soul, especially fantastic tales of heroic adventure in other times and places. As an undergraduate, I studied journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, got my B.A. degree in 1971 and served as an Air Force officer for a few years, making documentary films for the Pentagon and Congress on military space and missile programs. I was stationed first in Los Angeles and then San Antonio, where I spent a fruitful and enjoyable year acting in community theatre in my off-duty time.
I went to film school at the University of Southern California on the GI Bill and had two significant experiences there that shaped the rest of my life. One was a class called “Story Analysis for Film and TV,” which taught me a set of skills that led to years of employment in the film industry, and the other was encountering the work of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), the American student of comparative mythology whose book The Hero with a Thousand Faces left me thunderstruck.
As a film student, I had been on a kind of quest, looking for the guiding principles of storytelling. There they were in Campbell’s book, the stages of the archetypal “Hero’s Journey” that he found in ancient myths and fairy tales. I had a real “peak experience,” a life-changing epiphany, after reading the book and using its concepts to help me understand the huge impact of a new movie that had just come out: the first of the Star Wars films. I later found that George Lucas had encountered Campbell’s ideas in his own school days and consciously applied them in his works. It seemed clear to me that the Hero’s Journey, as Lucas had discovered, offered a terrific tool kit for designing and troubleshooting movie stories, though I could also see many other applications for the ideas in all walks of life.
Armed with Campbell’s language and concepts, I started working as a story analyst for movie producers and studios, first as a freelancer for The Ladd Company, Orion Pictures and United Artists but soon joining the story analysts’ union as a “reader” for Twentieth Century Fox. After a couple of years there I went over to Disney and worked myself into a position as a story consultant. Over the course of a decade I continued to develop my ideas about storytelling with the mythic perspective given by Campbell.
At the movie studios, I had a chance to test my theories on literally thousands of scripts and novels that came under my gaze. At some point in the mid-80s, I decided to set down my observations into a formal document that would attempt to show, with examples from modern and classic movies, how Campbell’s mythic signposts and character archetypes were still active and useful today. In effect, I translated Campbell into movie language, providing three or four examples from films for each of his stages, where he gave examples from myths and legends. The Disney corporate culture of the day encouraged memos to communicate new concepts, so I couched my theory in that format, turning out a tight, seven-page document that I called “A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and distributed it among my friends and colleagues at the studio.
Partly by my design, the memo soon became a minor Hollywood sensation, passing like wildfire among the small but intense world of young development executives and agents and entering the collective brain of the movie industry. It also led to some recognition within the Disney Company, where I started working with the animation department and contributed story ideas to THE LION KING, ALADDIN and HERCULES among others.
Around that time, I started teaching at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and used “The Practical Guide” as a handout in my story analysis classes. It grew with more examples and a section on the character archetypes that show up in almost every story, and eventually there was enough material for a book that became The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Screenwriters and Storytellers, published by Michael Wiese Productions in late 1993.
The book was picked up as a textbook for writing courses and opened a door for me to a world of lecturing and consulting, mostly in Europe where I participated in a number of programs to train makers of fiction films and documentaries. In the States, I began traveling to writers’ conferences and learned that The Writer’s Journey was having an influence in publishing and was being used to shape thrillers, science fiction novels and stories in almost every genre.
Meanwhile, I continued to work as a consultant to the major Hollywood studios and served for a few years as a development executive back at Fox for the Fox 2000 division, during the time we were making films as varied as COURAGE UNDER FIRE, VOLCANO, FIGHT CLUB, ANNA AND THE KING and THE THIN RED LINE.
On my own, in between studio jobs, I got involved in a couple of independent films, Steve Guttenberg’s adaptation of a play by James Kirkwood, P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD, and Helen Hunt’s directorial debut, THEN SHE FOUND ME. I wrote the script for an animated film produced in Europe, JESTER TILL, about the beloved European folktale trickster Till Eulenspeigel, and the first installment of a Japanese-style manga called RAVENSKULL, a fantastic adventure inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe.
Along the way, I refreshed The Writer’s Journey with new essays and examples, most recently producing a third edition with evocative illustrations and discussions of concepts like catharsis and polarity.
These days, I am associated with Paramount Pictures, advising on movie projects like THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, THE SHOOTER and BEOWULF. I have also been called in by filmmakers like Roland Emmerich and Darren Aronofsky to apply my story techniques to their projects, 10,000 B.C. and THE WRESTLER. I was invited by Will Smith’s company to give notes on I AM LEGEND and HANCOCK.
The concepts of The Writer’s Journey have attracted the attention of major companies like Procter & Gamble and the Swarovski crystal company, where I have given presentations on using mythic story techniques to enhance the power of corporate branding. New and unexpected applications for The Writer’s Journey are surfacing all the time, and there is no end in sight.
If you are curious to know more about The Writer’s Journey concepts, you may contact me at:
BRAD SCHREIBER has worked as a producer, writer, executive and critic. He has sold and optioned screenplays, was nominated for the Kingman
Films Award for his script The Couch and has won awards from the Edward Albee Foundation, the California Writers Club, the National Audio Theatre Festivals and was a
fellow of the National Press Foundation in Washington, D.C.