A screenplay is a story formatted for its telling on a screen. Still images or moving pictures – they’re both photography. One of them is viewed at 24 frames a second.
Both photography and movies are doing the same thing (most of the time) – telling a story. Being an effective storyteller is one of the single most enduring ways for a human being to connect to another.
Stories have the power to connect us through time, but only if they’re passed on. It seems human beings have been doing this for a very long time. Joseph Campbell sets out the framework for “the hero’s journey” and how he observed this framework in action. Be it on cave paintings, in Greek mythology, or how various religions use it. The framework is used to create effective advertising and marketing campaigns. In “The Writer’s Journey”, Chris Vogler shows how he applied Campbell’s work in his role as story fixer at Disney over a period of 20 years. Campbell’s work inspired George Lucas to write and make Star Wars. Movies, especially children’s movies, are structured and produced using this framework in order to maximise commercial success. Once you recognise the various structural elements they’re quite easy to spot. There may only be one story being retold over and over again, being changed slightly each time. We are always drawn in. In matters of love, family, life and death, we are drawn in over and over again.
Talented photographers familiar with this, capitalise on this framework when preparing a body of work. Especially of an event that took place, so that all of their images together convey a story.
Campbell’s framework proposes that everyone is the hero of their own story. When you start to look out at life and those around you through this lens, you are not at the centre. Suddenly you aren’t the only person with problems. And just like that you’re empathising. You’re connecting yourself to other people. Just as you are the hero of your story, these complete strangers who will never meet or see again are each the hero of their own story.
As I read, I imagined my Dad being the hero of his story. The screenplay I’ve written is the story of how my Dad died five years ago. That sounds morbid (and my Dad was a deadpan, eccentric, morbid man), but there was still life, love, and a lot of humour. You read that right; I found humour and happiness in my father’s death and my hope is that is clear in my screenplay. Every metaphor you’ve heard about there not being darkness without light and vice versa, it’s easy to find your own truth any of those metaphors:
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato
Even though this screenplay is based on a true story, like many “true stories” told before it, it is not a documentary; it is a work of fiction. That said, what you take, learn, feel from any story, can be very real, and different for each person.
The framework of Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’ examines the ‘metamorphosis of the hero’ or protagonist. The protagonist typically journeys to face the antagonist, but must change or lose something in order to succeed. Following which there is a ‘rebirth’:
Scar throwing Simba off pride rock to his ‘moment of death’. Simba then leaps forth from death, he is ‘reborn’ – The Lion King
An addicted Spud’s suicide attempt by suffocating himself in a plastic bag is abandoned when Renton comes back into his life. In that moment Spud chooses life. He struggles to escape his plastic bag fate, made worse by vomiting inside it. The bag is torn open, the vomit spills out, and Spud breathes. He is quite literally reborn. – Trainspotting 2.
Not many people know this, but I’ve written for a very long time; since my teens. For years it was private. Slowly I sent things into the ether not really knowing what I was up to, other than gaining surface feelings of vanity or validation. Then it became more regular. Just like Campbell’s framework shows, I got by in ‘the ordinary world’ using a series of coping mechanisms until eventually an ‘inciting incident’ occurred: My father died whilst living on the other side of the world from my whole family. I could no longer get by any more. My ‘outer problem’ was: “I can’t be a self proclaimed movie buff without learning how movies worked”. The ‘threshold guardians’ were my own excuses for not taking the necessary next steps learning the craft: “I’m starting a new job”, “my wife’s just had a baby”, “but I’m not a writer”. Until it eats away at me enough I commit to the decision to ‘cross the threshold’, literally of a bookshop door, to buy my first book on screenwriting. What business does a building consultant have in the theatre and arts section of a bookshop? Why am I wasting my time? I should be learning about building services surely?
I soon found myself having crossed the threshold form the ‘ordinary’ world’ built by my self-identity, to the ‘extraordinary world’ of the craft of writing and story telling.
I Journeyed the ‘special world’, moving through spaces and communities that were new to me. I discovered mentors in not just the new texts I bought, but in an online community who gave me the tools I needed for my journey. I met my sister, Sabrina, in this special world, who I unexpectedly discover is the most important mentor of all. We grow closer even though we’re miles apart. With this, I discover my ‘inner problem’, the problem which was the real one all along: finding reconciliation with my father in death and discovering a real fear of facing my own mortality before my sons become men.
‘Mentors are characters who were once heroes’
My sense of identity was challenged. Who was I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Why does any of it matter? I faced it and all I found is love. My sense of self died. I am reborn to do what I what.
The hero or protagonist comes ‘full circle’, crossing the threshold once more journeying back to the ordinary world from the special world – “the prodigal son returns”, bringing with them the ‘boon’. The hero’s journey is only fully realised once they return to the ordinary world to share the lessons or treasures they obtained, with the village.
Here I am offering to share my screenplay with you. DM me if you’d like to read it.
I am not afraid of death and so I am not afraid to live. I have completed my ‘writer’s journey’. My metamorphosis is complete. I am a writer.