Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Hero's Journey - Day Two

What does one do on a beautiful, warm Autumn's day in Perth? The kind of day where it's all blue skies and smiling faces? When it's the Sunday of a long weekend no less?

Clearly, the only answer if you're a student of storytelling, is to lock yourself in a cold, dark, damp theatrette buried in a secret underground location in the heart of the city protected by implacable security guards and devious henchmen to watch movie clips all day. (Okay, I may be exaggerating - it wasn't that cold).

"But I can do that at home!", I hear you exclaim. This may well be the case but it would be without the wisdom of our visiting mentor whose name is whispered upon the air conditioned breeze with awe. The man with only half a face. Whose insight is so penetrating that only one eye can be revealed! (Too much with the mythical introduction maybe?).

Putting aside my Trickster's archetype...

Today we watched lots of movie scenes as Karel Segers showed us each of the Twelve Stages in the Hero's Journey. Each scene or sequence demonstrated the practical application of the stage being discussed. Personally, I find this much more powerful than reading or being told dry analysis of certain films. There was also plenty of interaction which allowed for clarification and the testing of our understanding.

And this just in - Pixar scores a crushing 6-1 victory over Dreamworks in the animated feature stakes as we marvel at Toy Story 1 & 3, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc. and WALL-E versus How to Train Your Dragon (though there were some animated clips I didn't recognise which hints at one of my (many) flaws - but we'll come to thatItalic later). Several of the Pixar sequences were themselves mini-12 stage Hero's journeys which might account for their phenomenal box office record and critical acclaim.

But there was plenty of live action fare to keep me occupied such as The Untouchables, The Lives of Others, Frozen River, Avatar, Touch of Evil, Jaws, Phone Booth, Gladiator, Die Hard and Groundhog Day. Other films discussed were Star Wars, Thelma and Louise and Casino Royale.

What's one thing that strikes you about this list? That's right, not a single Australian film! (That's perhaps a topic for a separate post!). The other point of relevance is that while each of these films may deploy the 12 stages to varying degrees you could hardly say they are similar by any stretch of the imagination! Hence allaying the 'fear of formula' restricting creativity.

So what did I learn?

There were some key points... and you may even have caught me scribbling away redefining my script in terms of the 12 stages and character archetypes:

The vital importance of telling the story from the Hero's Point of View was stressed. There is no such thing as omniscient POV.

That some styles of story may not suit this model - film noir, for example, or a tragedy.

Perhaps the most interesting, which I had not heard before, was the concept of movement when crossing key threshold points - at the end of the First and Second Acts and right after the midpoint. As in actual physical travel. This is also where chase sequences are most likely to be found. Some of the examples were quite elaborate and extended sequences so I have to think about this in terms of my own stories (which is good - a fresh perspective).

And the surprise of the day? After spending 6 hours watching film clips I travelled to a small and foreboding 'inmost cave' - the local video store - where I suffered the ordeal of picking out a DVD that would provide entertainment value on a warm Sunday night. Astonishingly, I rented a film I wouldn't have given a second thought to before seeing an excerpt today - the animated feature Despicable Me.

I have overcome my flaw! (Well, one of them at least...)

Thank you to Karel for his expertise and good humour. You can find more information at his blog or follow him on Twitter via @ozzywood.

Thanks also to Evangeline Than for getting Karel out here and WAnimate and ScreenWest for supporting local writers and animators.


  1. lol It wasn't that damp either. But it did feel pretty cool to have exclusive access guarded over by door-people.

    I think one of Karel's goals is to inspire us Australian writers (and animators) to create those winning Hero's Journey movies so he can use our examples in future seminars. :-) We're breaking new ground in Australian cinema.

    I had some excellent insights that helped me move forward with my own current WIP too. I think a lot of the writers in the room hit on some key aspects that were missing from their current scripts (and animators learned a great deal too). I'm glad I'm not alone in that. I did kind of feel like the newbie in the room with my mouth hanging open at all my "Aha!" moments.

    I went back to the classics last night after the seminar and re-watched the original Star Wars: A New Hope with fresh eyes. Over the weekend there were a number of clips of movies I realised I hadn't seen yet which I'll be tracking down soon (such as Toy Story 3! Why haven't I seen that? And, like you, I'd also not seen Despicable Me.)

    Thank YOU, Richard, for the fun overview and I'm sending my thanks out with yours to Karel. I think this is a great way to spend a weekend. The only thing better is to spend it writing. :-)

  2. It was nice to meet you Rebecca and all the best with your novel. Now you can write the film adaptation as well... :-)

    I am a traditionalist so for me it will always be 'Star Wars' not this Episode IV: A New Hope malarkey - things started going downhill for George when he started tinkering in this way. Leave them alone!!! (he cries several years too late).

    Despicable Me was okay but didn't really work for me as Vector was hardly the imposing shadow in the external journey and the impact of the children seemed far too obvious in the internal one. Had some fun moments though, I guess.

    Toy Story 3 is very, very good. So enjoy!

  3. Thanks for the write-up Mr Hyde, We at WAnimate appreciate the glowing review and applaud your new found interest in Animation.
    It was great to meet you


  4. Thank you, Tanya. It was an excellent weekend and I will now endeavour to watch the three Pixar movies I have not seen, namely Cars, WALL-E and Ratatouille. Oh, might have to throw in How to Train Your Dragon! :-)

  5. I have to admit, I loathe ratatouille, and cars is worse.

    WALL-E is Magical though. And How to Train is a gorgeous film

  6. So I can cross two off the list? Phew! I bought the Iron Giant for my nephew once - that's gotta count, no? :-)

  7. For hero's journey, you need to see Kal Bashir's 510 stage version over at

  8. You see Dave, 510 seems barely enough. I am waiting for the next generation 1252 stage model with the flexibility to add a few more in case of emergency.

  9. @rwhyde
    You're not getting it. It's not that there are 510 stages.. it's that there are alot of options. Also, a stage is not necessarily a stage, but a reference, a message a symbol... . You need to be a little open minded.

  10. That's right, I'm not. So please don't spam my blog with your ads anymore. Thank you.