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 that 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 http://thestorydepartment.com/ 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.