If you have seen Star Wars then you know Joseph Campbell‘s work. If you ever have seen The Lion King then you have seen one of Campbell’s best students, Chris Vogler, work.
Chris Vogler wrote the game-changing book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I read this book over 20 years ago and it changed the way I look at “story.” Chris studied the work and principles of the late master Joseph Campbell. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was the bases for Star Wars as well as almost every other Hollywood feature film in the past 60 years.
What Chris Voglerdid so well is that he translated Campbell’s work and applied it to movies. The Writer’s Journey explores the powerful relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear, concise style that’s made it required reading for movie executives, screenwriters, playwrights, scholars, and fans of pop culture all over the world. He has influenced the screenplays of movies from THE LION KING to FIGHT CLUB to BLACK SWAN to NOAH.
“I teach sometimes, and always say that Chris Vogler is the first book that everyone’s got to read.” — Darren Aronofsky , Oscar-nominated Screenwriter/Director, Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler
Pretty high praise from one of the best filmmakers working today. In this episode, I ask Chris to break down a bunch of concepts of the Hero’s Journey, why it resonates with people around the world and what makes an amazing hero and villain.
Enjoy my conversation with Chris Vogler.
- Storytech Literary Consulting
- Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
- Myth & the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
- Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 1:24
So Chris, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate you taking the time. I'm very glad to be here. So So you know, just so everybody knows in the audience, I read Chris's book, the writers journey. I don't want to date anybody but over 20 years ago, and it definitely changed the way I look at story. So for that, I thank you very much, sir.
Chris Vogler 3:01
Hey, you're welcome. Yeah, I was a very hungry young, youthful author.
Alex Ferrari 3:06
very youthful, you must be 30 now, so you did it when you were 10. Fantastic. So um, how did you start in the film business? Well,
Chris Vogler 3:16
I had a path that led me through journalism school first, back in Missouri, where I'm from, and then I got into the Air Force, and they sent me out to Los Angeles, I was lucky, it was the middle of the Vietnam War. And instead of going to Vietnam, they sent me to LA and I worked for an outfit that made documentary films about this space program, and so forth. And after that, I got to go to film school on the GI Bill, and went to the USC School. And, and that's really where things came into focus for me, because I encounter the work of this man, Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero with 1000 faces and was a big influence on George Lucas and many others. And that kind of, you know, focus me on my quest to find out what stories were all about. So that and also, there was a class at school that was important called Story analysis for film and TV. And that was like a career pathway for me, because it showed me that, you know, thinking critically and writing about stories and reacting to things intelligently was, you know, a way I could make make a path for myself into the business.
Alex Ferrari 4:35
Now, what um, what about Joseph Campbell's work really kind of drew you drew you in and what was the revolutionary part of his work that kind of, you know, really sparked something in you?
Chris Vogler 4:47
Well as as a kid and just a pure consumer of movies and TV from the Midwest. I grew up on a farm. It was, you know, wonderful and mysterious to me. How They sort of hypnotized me with these great images. And all that night, I was on a quest I was trying to figure out, I was looking for the book, where's the where's the the, the rules of this? Where's the physics of it? where's the where's the color chart of the periodic table or the the theory of how they do it. And you know, I got to film school and I found out well, there really isn't anything like that. And then just sort of by accident, I found the work of Campbell. And he wasn't thinking about movies. But he had thought long and hard about mythology and these patterns he kept seeing about heroes, and how that related to you know, current findings in psychology, especially the work of Freud, but more Carl Jung In school, so he was combining the patterns of old mythology with modern psychology and kind of handing it back to us and saying, Okay, here's, here's what's hidden inside all the stories, advice for how to live. And that turned out, I thought, to be a great blueprint for telling stories and communicating with an audience. So that was my, my breakthrough about it.
Alex Ferrari 6:14
Now, can you talk a little bit about what the hero's journey is?
Chris Vogler 6:18
Yeah, you know, this is a pattern that Campbell found in the ancient myths, he kept seeing the same sort of signposts over and over again. And he had, you know, somewhere between 16 and 20, different events, psychological, mostly events, that would occur in almost every story, I worked with a little refined it down to 12 things, but the essence of it is, you know, everybody at some stage in their life has an ordinary world that they know, and then they're going to go into something new and different, and you know, a new relationship, new job, a war starts or a catastrophe happens, or a health crisis, whatever it is, there, you're going to be in a new world. And so it's about exploring that world, and how the difficulties of it can almost kill you, that's sort of the essence of it, that this is Dane, you know, change in life is dangerous. And it can be threatening, but that can also change you and make you stronger and more resilient, and, you know, more more alive and conscious in humans. So that's, that's the basic essence of it, people started an ordinary world, they go out, you know, either because they're itchy inside, or they are being forced to it by outside circumstances, and they explore something new, there's often a mentor who helps them that's an important part of it, the presence or absence of somebody who can guide you and be a role model kind of, but you know, that that's, that's the essence of it, that you were transformed by an intense experience of going through a change and entering a new stage of life and you're not the same you come out as a different person. So that's kind of the, the essence of the idea.
Alex Ferrari 8:16
So would you agree that for people who are not familiar with the hero's journey, a great movie to illustrate this would be Star Wars The original one? Episode Four, then you hope?
Chris Vogler 8:28
Yeah, yeah, that that was, you know, it's always been the easiest way to show where the signpost star because George Lucas was very conscious of Campbell's work he had read about it even before film school he was aware of Campbell because he had you know, studied anthropology and various other things and and found Campbell that way and had the same I think inside I did that Jesus would be great for plotting stories and giving them a little bit of this mythological resonance in psycho psychological reality. So yeah, it's it's easy to see that signposts because he made them big he made all the turning points. Very clear, and obvious. You know, the, the pattern calls for a call to adventure and there's the Obi Wan Kenobi literal, your literal call for adventure. Yeah, there's literally this call to everything is literal like that. There's supposed to be the handing off of some kind of relic of the past that that's going to guide you and help you and so he gets his father's lightsaber from Obi Wan Kenobi. There's supposed to be a mentor, there's Obi Wan Kenobi, and so forth. You know, when they when they come to the, to the cantina. That's a typical situation in the stories that you go to a bar or a saloon or a watering hole or something and you find out what the new world is like and then boom, you take off and that's an important part of the pattern to that that sense in the audience that we know, there's some preparation that needs to be done to meet the hero and figure out what the problems are. But then we want the story to take off. And that should happen, you know, ideally, maybe 20 minutes or so into the film half an hour and maybe, but
Alex Ferrari 10:18
going when he jumps on when he comes on the Millennium Falcon, basically,
Chris Vogler 10:21
yeah, when they go off, it's it's very, very clear. And, you know, there's, there's other things too, that I think check it easy to see the yearning of the hero, you know, when he looks out at the twin sons on the planet, you know, he wants to get out there, and you know, but he's stuck. He's a farm boy, but then boom, this rush of events, takes over and then meets all kinds of monsters and you know, almost dies a couple of times. And that's, that's par for the course, on this, this hero's journey deal.
Alex Ferrari 10:53
Now, can you break down, at least just give a basic understanding for people who don't understand the basic three act structure? And how that might also translate into a trilogy? As well, like, cuz I know, I'm going to use Star Wars again, you know, star, new horror, Empire and return, all that kind of stuff.
Chris Vogler 11:10
Yeah, you know, there's a beautiful thing going on with all of this, the current study that people are doing of story structures, and narrative and so on, which is, at first, my competitors, and I were doing seminars, and workshops, and writing books, all hated each other, and we're jealous. And then, you know, and said, that other guy's system is stupid. And mine is the only one that works, you know, that was procedure. But we got over that. And we all mostly realized it, we're all talking about the same thing. And it's human. And it's kind of hardwired. So these things beautifully start to overlap. And, you know, sort of parallel to my 12 Stage pattern is something called the three act structure, which was really pioneered by a man named Syd field, who was a wonderful man, of course, last year, so and was a real pioneer, because he laid out this unwritten rules of storytelling, that he sort of put together as what they call the paradigm of three act structure. And there's nothing all that earth shaking, he knew about it, but just like my idea with the hero's journey, this can be traced back easily to at least Aristotle, who taught, you need a beginning, a middle and an end. And the energy I think of this is what's important to grasp about the strict the three act structure, it's to use a metaphor, it's like, drawing a bow, you know, you're you're, you're pulling back in the first act, you're, you're loading that bow up with energy, and then you're taking aim and the second act and dealing with the wind and all the other challenges, and then you fire it. And in the third act, and your intention, or the situation of the hero, you know, finally goes to some kind of target, and either hits or misses, you know, and if it misses, it's a tragedy. And if it's a hit, then, you know, you've got a comrade happy. And so, you know, that's one way to, to look at it. And there's, you know, many metaphors that you could, you could use on this, but that, but but that's a good one, that you're, you're gathering energy, you're building tension, then you're, you know, really zeroing in on critical things, and then sort of launching the whole thing in the final act. And that overlaps with my pattern.
Alex Ferrari 13:44
So like a movie like Pulp Fiction, which does has a it's a very unique structure. Can you kind of break that? Because it's genius, because it follows the hero's journey in its own structural way. Am I wrong in that or keep you break that down a little bit?
Chris Vogler 14:00
No, you know, that's a really interesting and challenging one to analyze. Because it's so ambitious, first of all, those guys, the writers of that we're trying to Roger Avery and Tarantino we're trying to deconstruct things and tell multiple stories, and that's very challenging, and they chose to do them out of sequence and, you know, play around with our expectations of what will happen in order, you know, and that's refreshing, but you can and deconstruct it, you can reconstruct it, and sort of lay it out in a linear way. And it's, it's a very, in some ways, conventional storytelling that they're that they're doing the heroes on all the different threads of the story, have an ordinary world they all go through some kind of drastic challenge and change and enter into, you know, some new situation and it And again, they either hit or they miss. I mean, that's the beautiful thing, especially about the main story with John Travolta and,
Alex Ferrari 15:11
and Sam Jackson it,
Chris Vogler 15:13
it Samuel Jackson is is that one of them Tarantino sees this they have this miracle happen where they're supposed to all be shot to pieces and in a drug shootout and miraculously, Sam Jackson says they're missing and he says that's that's a clear sign from God, we were spared for a purpose. And so my life has changed now. And Travolta says, that was just a coincidence, it doesn't change anything. And, you know, the story sort of sits in judgment of those guys. And at the end, the writers give Samuel Jackson eternal life and say you you're going to go on and be like, the guy in cockayne travels around, who travels around righting wrongs and doing good in a nice, Zen kind of way, doing little harm and little bloodshed and revolt is killed getting off the job, you know, he's he jumps off the toilet, and Bruce Willis shoots him to death. So
Alex Ferrari 16:12
Chris Vogler 16:15
the story and the story. The writers, you know, sit in God's chair kind of and give their their judgment. So I'm How do you react to this new thing? That's, you know, in the in the second act, the challenge, and then how does it land in so to speak, the third act, although it's all messed up, you know, in the editing process, actually, it's, you can still make that kind of clear moral sense out of it.
Alex Ferrari 16:45
Now, in your opinion, what makes a good hero and a good villain,
Chris Vogler 16:51
this is, this is great, they're sort of, you know, mirror images of each other, sort of reflections of each other. A good way to look at all the characters is that in some way, everybody else in the movie is like a another possibility of the hero that that even the love interest, male or female, is like your opposite side or your opposite possibilities. The villain is the the dark possibility of you the clowns, and tricksters around you, those are the funny possible versions of you. So the villain is some kind of mirror image first. But what makes a good hero is somebody who is complex, and they're broken somehow, that seems to be really deeply essential in all the way back to the mythology is that the hero will be strong and powerful, and you know, maybe, like Hercules stronger than everybody else, but he's got problems, and something broken or something wrong with him. In his case, it was dealing with women, and sometimes He misjudged situations and would go off on people or, you know, caused a lot of problems because he was so impulsive. So, you know, all the way back in the mythology, this idea is planted that the hero is more believable and more human because they're imperfect.
Alex Ferrari 18:22
With that said, I don't mean to interrupt you. I don't mean to interrupt you. But I just wanted to make a real point here. A good hero, like you said, all those flawed heroes, is that one of the reasons why it's so difficult to write for a character like Superman, who's essentially a God, with the movie coming out this weekend. Just curious on your take on that, like, that specific character and how difficult sometimes it is to make those kind of characters work as a hero?
Chris Vogler 18:49
Yeah, yeah, that's certainly a very interesting franchise, to me, partly for those reasons. That it is a mythological character. And as you say, he's got some semi divine potential. I actually was called in at one point by one of the studios to, you know, sort of put Superman on the couch and shrink him and put him through my mythological process. And, you know, this is I think, at a point when they were trying to decide are we going to do Batman versus Superman, this was many years ago. That was considered the this current film has a long, long history. They they asked me to sort of shrink Superman and it was all about the flaws and the limitations. That that's what makes him interesting is that even though he's invulnerable, most of the time, they're still conditions like kryptonite and red and green, right, that have different effects on him and then he's emotionally kind of a train wreck in some ways, and that You know, charming that, that when he puts those glasses on for some reason, he becomes shy and bumbling and can't say what he really thinks and is, you know, very, very easy to identify with. So, you know, you kind of get the best of both worlds is a superhuman set of possibilities, but with some realistic limitations. And then
Alex Ferrari 20:24
that's why I've been Batman. Well, that's why I like that, like Batman is such a relatable character, because people, because people can identify with him, he's, and he's much more popular than Superman, in many ways,
Chris Vogler 20:37
very, very interesting. How we use these characters as meditation devices or something. And we think through the stories about, you know, different developments, what does it mean to be a man, what does it mean to be a patriot, you know, even look at the colors of Superman's costume or Batman's costume. And it just, you know, is sort of a mirror reflection of what's going on in society at the moment, or what society thinks is important. So, you know, Batman, for some reason, that one seems to be a laboratory to experiment with all kinds of different kind of dark brooding thoughts. But is there such a range within Batman that people can just turn the dial to comedy and, you know, grotesque silly things and, and get a big kick out of it, and even find meaning in it. But then turn the dial the other way to Batman is a complete lunatic and, you know, a reflection of the nuttiness of our own society. So it's, it's really fun to see how the writers do this, but also really how the consumers are, are using it to figure stuff out. It's it's just entertainment, you know, they say, it's just cotton candy for the mind. But there's much more going on in even the silliest things.
Alex Ferrari 22:11
And you were continuing with the villain, what makes a great villain.
Chris Vogler 22:14
Yeah, just, I think, you know, very much along the same lines in the kind of fundament, that there should be, you know, a lot of powers, but also limitations. And especially when you are dealing with magical figures, who have, you know, vast magic powers, one of the things that helps is to make a rule, it costs something that every time you do something bad, or something magical. It's not free, it costs you something you may lose, you know, you may become partially partially paralyzed, you might become blinded, you know, every time you use your X ray vision, or whatever. And that just makes the game so much more interesting that he can do anything. And then for the kind of more every day, villains, I think it's useful to realize they don't think they're villains, they think the hero of your story is the villain, that they're, they're totally convinced they're right. They, they have built their whole life is built around their view of the world. And so, again, they're the mirror image of the hero. And when the hero is up there down, when the heroes happy, that doesn't make them happy. And vice versa, you know, they're when they're happiest, the hero is the most miserable. So they make diagrams, they make waveforms, and they're they're perfect mirrors of each other, sometimes.
Alex Ferrari 23:51
They balance the yin and the yang, they
Chris Vogler 23:53
balance each other and, and then there's the whole idea of archetypes, which is something I got out of Campbell's work, you know, also from Carl Jung, who said inside everybody there is a cast of characters basic characters, a mother, a father, a hero, a villain, an angel, a devil, you know, all these kind of basic human possibilities. And at first I thought, the villain is the villain, and and should be, you know, really mean and, and tough all the time. And the hero should be heroic all the time. And the mentor should be mentoree all the time and so forth. But then I realized Life ain't like that. And people have different masks that they wear. You know, maybe you wear 20 different masks in the course of one day. That you're a tough guy one minute that you're a coward the next minute and you're a teacher, one minute, you know, and so forth. So, villain. The villains are wearing a mask, you know, most of the time of the villain but there's other masks in there. And again, they may they can show kindness they can, they can be heroic, they can be a teacher to the hero. You know, they can feel sorry for the hero and an almost spare the hero all these things make them more interesting than just nah, I'm here to you know make your life art so so is it these are the shadings are what make it realistic and more fun.
Alex Ferrari 25:25
Now, the hero's journey is become, and it hasn't become but I guess it is so relatable to so many people around the world, regardless of religion, society language is that because it's just something that is hardwired into every human being, no matter where you come from?
Chris Vogler 25:42
Yeah, it's, it's, there are two things in operation here. And one of them is that I do make that assumption that in the course of evolving into human beings, we created a whole bunch of structures, like families, for instance, and societies, we created these structures and stories are one of those that, you know, I think we actually grew a part of the brain that handles that, that allows you to think and metaphors and imagine people, you know, when somebody's just talking to you and saying, Once upon a time, there was a little girl, you somehow create that world and the little girl. And that's, that's all part of being human. But the other side of it is, then you have millions and millions of examples of these things in the form of stories. And people are, are swimming in an ocean of stories in their lives. And even if it wasn't hardwired, we'd all be taught by Hollywood movies and TV and the myths and legends of our cultures, we'd all be taught? What are the basic rules of these things? And you know, what is the what is the shape, and the effect, but I go back to the first one, that it's hard wired, because it seems that certain images and situations will very reliably trigger emotional and physical reactions in the audience. You know, things like people in trouble, people helping, you know, in sacrificing their own lives to help somebody else. Somebody sneaking up behind you to threaten you, all those things get physical reactions, and it's pretty reliable across cultures. So So there's
Alex Ferrari 27:34
so would you agree that and this is something I've always told people that asked me about story, I'm like, Well, if there was no story in the world, I don't think the human experience can move forward. Like just on a daily basis. How many times do you just tell, well, how was your day at work? That the story, you know, and all these kind of things? Do you agree with that, like, without story, we just couldn't move forward?
Chris Vogler 27:56
Yes, it would be a very different world. You know, I suppose there is an engineering version of the world where, you know, everything would be expressed only as, as mathematical formulas or diagrams or something. But even that's for and the metaphor is telling some kind of a story the world is made of numbers. You know, that's as much of a story as Peter Pan. So yeah, I think it's true because of the fact that it's, it's just so hard wired into us. You know, people say, I remember this one, when Johnny Carson died, people, a lot of people said, What's it like to be Johnny Carson? In other words, you couldn't really tell me how it was to be Johnny Carson. But what's it like, you know, and give me a metaphor. It's like being the king, or it's like being on top of the world, or it's like being under a spider. All those are metaphors, and they tell little stories. So we think in poetry and metaphors, just automatically, and it's so embedded in the language, we don't even realize it. You know, like I just said, it's embedded in the language. And so I've created a metaphor that there's a, there's a mass and then inside that mass, like raisins inside a loaf of bread. There's embedded these, these ideas. So So these things are hard to escape, and you kind of can't see them, because they're so dominant. But, but now there's good things about it, because it does allow us to communicate, and to get ideas across and convince people of things by telling it in the form of a story has all politicians know very well, it's one. Yeah, it's one thing to say the veterans are being mistreated. But it's much better to say here is a veteran and isn't what happened to him and look, and he, you know, had all the sacrifice and now he's suffering. And so now wow, that's a whole different level of relationship and identification. So
Alex Ferrari 30:13
Oh, I see it I see with my, my daughters who are four, how story impact them and how I'm using story now just to kind of relay core, as George Lucas said, the meat and potatoes of our society, like, you know, the boy that cried wolf, don't lie, you know, things like that. It's so powerful and how these stories like the Grim Tales and things like that, they just gone from generation to generation now the Disney stories and, and the movies and stuff, like their movies that I saw when I was growing up. Now I'm showing them to my girls, and, and Star Wars is one of those, you know, kind of mythos those, those generate the new generations are catching up with that, you know, the thoughts that we grew up with? Younger, it's just fascinating to watch. Now, are, are we all on our own hero's journey? Basically?
Chris Vogler 31:04
Yes, that's one of the biggest insights I had, by the way, your daughters are very lucky, because you're keeping up this ancient tradition, and you're not outsourcing it to the technological stuff. That's part of it, but introducing them to it and talking to them about it. Reading the stories to them, especially is, is critical. But yeah, I mean, that was the big insight from the very beginning. I said, Wow, when I read Campbell's book, at film school, I kind of skim through it, I'm a good skimmer, and I skimmed through it on the bus on the way home. And by the time I got off the bus, my whole life had been changed. And one part of it was, yeah, this is great for making movies, this will make better, more entertaining more international movies. But at the same time, I was aware, this is a great guideline for living. It's a template. And and it's a again, it's a metaphor, it's telling you a story, once there was a person who you know, lived somewhere, and they went someplace, and it changed it. But it's, it's just so clear to me that our ancestors thought it was important. And they preserved it in the form of stories, because it's your guidebook for life, for how to deal with the inevitable things, things are going to come along and wreck your plan, no matter what that plan is. And so how do you deal with that? And the stories are just an infinite Well, of options and solutions, and failures, you know, that two examples of tragic failures. So, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 32:49
now What? What? No, no, I was gonna say, I was going to ask you, what do you how do you know you're reading a good story when you're reading? Well, I'm sure you read a few scripts
Chris Vogler 32:59
in your day. Yes, the number count, it's hard to say how many but it's well above 20,000. People like to believe but but I there's there's no question that, you know, I have file cabinets filled to prove it, of my reports that I've analyzed 20,000 stories at least. And, you know, the the elements of the good one are. I'm a sucker for poetry and and for for just good writing. And I, I now I'm sort of ruined as a reader. Because I have low tolerance for bad writing. And I'm talking here about just the how do you compose a sentence. And there's, there's, there are people who, you know, they might be giving you good information. I'm reading a book about the city of Venice right now in Italy. And it's good information, but it's given in this very flat way. Venice was a big city in the 1400s. It was important, you know, and there's no music or poetry in that at all. But But But I appreciate so much the beautiful writers. Now, screenplays are special, they're supposed to be very spare and simple and short sentences like that, for the most part. But there's, there's just a confidence that you feel when somebody knows how to how to build the nice, pretty sentences, not fancy but you know, elegant. So that's, I know, this is very subtle and hard to pin down what I'm saying. But beyond that, the simple thing for you know, like, what's makes a good screenplay is, man, they grab you right away, and you know, right where you are and who it's about, for the most part. They're very clear about this as the hero spending a little time describing her. Maybe giving her are some special behavior at the beginning that gets my attention? Why is she doing that? And that hooks me in. So, you know, there's their scripts, you read 20 pages, you don't know who it's about, you don't know what it's about, you don't know, you know, even you know, is, is this the main location? Or is this a little prologue or, you know, there's a lack of clarity. So I just like it when, when things are simple and clear. That's a sort of a motto of mine. From that the classic old romantic comedy, It Happened One Night, Clark Gale. Yeah. Yeah. Clark Gable is a reporter in that, and his motto is simple stories for simple people. And it's not condescending, it's it's a really good artistic rule. Just keep it simple. Tell me the story. And, you know, make it elegant in language and so forth, if you can, but, you know, be clear. Above above all, that's another thing I'd rather be clear than pretty in my, in my storytelling, and pretty historic, you know, sometimes, you know, overly flowery, it can also mean, look how cool I am. I'm not telling you who this guy is. And I'm going to make you wonder what's going on for a long time. Or I'm not going to tell you, you know, that sort of razzle dazzle
Alex Ferrari 36:25
is are using 75 cent words, when yes, that 10th That letter?
Chris Vogler 36:29
Yeah, yeah, or another version of it is, and then the camera using a Zeiss iKON lens with a 35 diopter on it in the corridor at about 3.6 miles per hour. And then, you know, this kind of over directing is another another version of how
Alex Ferrari 36:47
you read, have you read? Have you read scripts to have that kind of? I mean, I've never heard that is janky. But have you read something like that?
Chris Vogler 36:53
Yes, yeah, it does come up every once in a while. And I think it's generally from someone who isn't confident and hasn't done it very often before, and they're trying to prove, look, I know all this stuff, I took a class or I read a book, or, you know, I went to film school. And, you know, I, myself, I think there was a little bit of that in some of my early scripts, because, you know, also people have a passion, they see it in their head so clear, they want to make sure it's down there on the page. But I learned better ways to do that, than to say, you know, you put please put the camera on a tripod, about four feet off the ground, you know, it's not that, but you know, you it you indicate stuff like that by, he looks up from under his eyebrows, and she sees a flash of light in his eyes. And that gives you that makes the shots in your mind better than saying, with a tight close up, just from his eyebrows down to his nose, you don't have to do that you just draw attention to the the detail you want to see the gun. That's a great note. So, and it is important, these things about the body, the hands, skin, eyes, you know, referring to those in the text. It kind of creates the close ups, you know, just just writing that in your slugline his hand near the gun, you know, is that's that's better than saying a tight close up or that you've seen in your mind immediately. So.
Alex Ferrari 38:36
So you you worked at Disney for a while, correct?
Chris Vogler 38:41
Yeah, that was I guess the that was the longest run I had at any of the studios. I had to sort of like military tours of duty at Fox on either side of that at Fox as a reader and then later as an executive. But in the middle was about 10 years at Disney. And that's a long run. And that's a long run. Your normal gig is about two years. Honestly, people people say you were doing something right? Jobs. Well, I was doing something right. But also within those 10 years, I worked for about four or five companies within Disney. So I kept changing over. And as a new company was developed, like they created Touchstone type period pictures and various other and then there was image Hollywood pictures and Hollywood pictures and you know, all these different divisions and as each one was created, I would come in and write some memos and read some scripts for them and, you know, get involved and I was a little bit conscious of that trying to diversify and get as much stuff into my portfolio as I could. And that's a sidebar here but very important. A lot of my thinking and work these days is about branding. And somehow intuitively, I was good at that. And before the internet, I created a kind of viral marketing for myself through means of the Xerox machines and you know, fax machines and stuff like that. I spread a viral idea through the mind of Hollywood, which was this memo that I, when I was when I was at Disney. And the memo simply took Campbell's academic idea and translated it into Movie language. He talked about the Epic of Gilgamesh, or that fairy tale of the three shoes or something, and I would talk about, you know, here it is in ordinary people in Star Wars and various other classic films. So
Alex Ferrari 40:55
I even read that at a film student, I read that memo. That's how far that memo went, I was in Florida. And I heard about this memo that said, this is the this is the the guide book, the blueprint of all story. And of course, as a film student, you you're like, Oh, my God, I have to read this. And it would circulate around the school. And then I mean, so you did a good job. Without email. Without internet, you were able to create a viral piece of material that branded you completely. Yeah, I went, I got your book.
Chris Vogler 41:30
It definitely did. And I have another thought about the branding, which is that branding is really a matter of association. You're associating yourself with different things like Coke. One of their mottos was coke ad for life. So they say, Coke equals life, and whatever you know about life, whatever you like about life. Yeah, there isn't coke. So
Alex Ferrari 41:54
arguably, arguably, Coke takes away life. But we can talk about that.
Chris Vogler 41:58
Is that true? Yes. Yes, yes. It's certainly if you want to kill something, let it swim and coke for a while. But yeah, you know, if you want to take chrome off your bumper, that that's another it'll, it'll eat the Chrome right off. But it's this matter of the where were we with this is branding branding, on the branding thing is, is that, yes, somehow I was able to do that and brand myself with this thing, because it was almost like something that just popped into my head. When I was standing at the Xerox machine. I had written this memo. And I said, you can sort of load this up with intention. And I even left a copy of it on the Xerox machine on the glass. intentionally thinking the next person coming along may find this and who knows what they'll do with it? Well, let's see. Let's see where that goes. Wow. And, and, and, you know, I think what happened was an executive came in just copied something and found that and plagiarized it. He took my name off, he put his name on the cover, and sent it up through the company ranks because he thought it was good. And it got to the top guy in the company, Jeff Katzenberg. And he said, This is great. This is the this is the greatest thing that's happened since popcorn, you know, there's all our movies and our animation should. Everybody should read this. And eventually you got credit, though. Yeah, I claimed credit, which is a little out of my character. I'm kind of shy and retiring. But I attacked that one. When I heard that this had happened. I wrote a letter to Katzenberg. And I claimed it and I said, the word's gotten out that this memo is on your desk, and I wrote it then that this other guy, and I want something I asked for something, which is I wanted more involvement in the company. And he immediately responded to my amazement, and threw me together with the animation people and that was kind of the the high point of my involvement with Disney. They were just starting Lion King. And I went over there to talk with the animators and writers. And I thought, okay, now I have to do a sales job and I have to explain who I am. And I have to tell them what the hero's journey is. But I walked in the door and the first thing I saw was a corkboard with the storyboard of The Lion King and it was all mapped out by the hero's journey. Step one, step two step three, really memo. The memo got there ahead of me, and with me doing nothing. It did a complete sales job for me and just rolled out the red carpet. So I walked in and I knew exactly who I was and what my idea is.
Alex Ferrari 45:07
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now, arguably, Lion King was for met for well over a decade, if not 20 years, it was the biggest animated movie ever. financially.
Chris Vogler 45:29
Yes, it was, I must, I must tell you a bit of a surprise to all of us. Not all of us, but many of us who worked on it, because Disney had been on this rocket ship in line. And then they'd had a couple of, you know, they made they made 20 live action films in a row that were hits, and nobody does that. Now, something bizarre going on. And then they had made beauty in the beast, Little Mermaid, Beast. And those, those, those were so good, and so revolutionary, they completely revive things, we all kind of felt like, well, the Lion King will take a step back, and it'll just be another picture, and it's not going to stand up, you know, you can't keep going like that hit after hit. So you almost hope that one of them will drop back a little lower expectations. And then you come back and you know, try to top yourself. But
Alex Ferrari 46:28
that would that would have been probably Pocahontas, not like navy. So
Chris Vogler 46:31
one of those, one of those that followed in the chain. But you know, it surprised us all. I remember seeing the screening the opening night. They hadn't party, you know, and we enjoyed all that. But the applause when the movie was over, was kind of that was good, you know, which is true for almost all Hollywood screenings, you
Alex Ferrari 46:57
know, every single one of them. Absolutely. You're correct. You
Chris Vogler 47:01
That wasn't too bad. But But Well, we underestimated the way it would connect around the world. And I've heard that everywhere in every culture, that people say that's a Japanese story, you know, or that's an obviously African but you know, every culture relate somehow. So they they did something right. And I had my little part in it. Yeah, I just I had a little story about that opening sequence, the circle of life sequence, they had fully animated that by the time I got there. And they showed me that sequence. The first time I met with them, and then the rest of it was either in pencil sketch form or actual post it notes on the cork board storyboard style. But my reaction to it was, there's something missing. And the missing thing was when Rafiki, who's the kind of the mentor of the story, the kind of magical guy when he holds up the baby Simba, and he shows everybody. I said, Wouldn't it be cool, if those big clouds up there suddenly opened up and a chef, the light came down and lit up the baby. And everybody in the room, wrote that down and started drawing pictures of it, because the animators communicate. And instead of writing notes down, they draw pictures. So everybody drew that. And they, they stopped the production and put that piece in, which was a big, expensive deal, but they said it was worth it. And that makes the little button on the scene. It's this one little thing. And there's a exactly right place in the music where the music kind of explodes. As the baby lion is held up, and that shackle light just punches it. So
Alex Ferrari 48:57
it makes the theme it honestly without no question about it. I still remember when you were saying and I see it so clearly in my head, like, how could you not have that?
Chris Vogler 49:05
Yeah, yeah. And it was like it was all invited and set up by what they had done already. But that's that one little piece, kind of nailed it. And the I saw a physiological reaction in everyone in the room when I just said what if the shaft the light comes down, and I paused a minute and I noticed everybody's there, like shivering and quivering and kind of moving around in their seats, and then started furiously drawing that that image. So it told me something and that's very important to me is that the story or the good ideas actually reach into your body and they do something they they they cause organs in the body to react and secrete fluids, make you shiver and make your hair stand on end and make you cry and do all these other physical things to you. So that's a big part of my thinking now is The, what I call the organic storytelling, that it's in the organs of the body, where the story is actually actually happening. Your brain is, you know, processing and thinking and comparing. But the direct experience is right there in your heart, your lungs, and you know, your guts.
Alex Ferrari 50:22
And also, like, we talk a lot about story structure, and the hero's journey and everything like that for actual movies. But there is a part of that, that goes through the marketing of it to to create a storytelling process of the marketing in two movies recently that has done that amazingly well was obviously the Star Wars movie was probably one of the best marketed movies I've seen in in a long time and Deadpool, another amazingly marketed film. Can you touch a little bit on that? And how story played a part in those two campaigns?
Chris Vogler 50:56
Yes, that's something I'm very interested in. I've done work with companies that do trailers for movies and done a lot of thinking about, about how they connect. And, you know, it's, it's something in the first case in the Star Wars case, they're dealing with what you know. And the objective here was to say, you knew this, but you didn't know this. And so there are little things like, there's the sort of iconic shot of the current villain with his lightsaber with the side flame out, sort of flicks flicks it on. And that was like, Oh, this is telling you it's plussing. This, it's telling you this is going to be the Star Wars you love. But with some new twists and X ray, a simple thing. But something also a little controversial, got people talking about what does it mean, and if there's even look realistic and possible, and so that all worked very well for them. With Deadpool, that's just a brilliant job of projecting a voice. It was it was all about the voice and the kind of iconic look at the character in his reclining lazy position. Those those two things together, made a real strong campaign
Alex Ferrari 52:24
and opposed to the Batman vs. Superman campaign, which told you from what I hear I haven't seen the movie yet. But it told you the entire story. It shows you all the points, the big, big moments already have been given away in the trailer, which is I think, what would they had such a potential to do a Star Wars, if they had the confidence? I think that was the big difference. I think the studio behind it with Star Wars, there was a confidence with the marketing that like look, we're just going to just give you just enough to get you excited. And that's what brought everybody out. And with a story like Batman vs Superman, which is obviously like, you know, the fight of the of the century, they could have done that. But they didn't they went the complete traditional old school. Let's show them all on the trail. And let's see if we can get some butts in seats on the first opening weekend. Do you and I don't want to get to know you. I know these are some of your clients. So feel free to say no comment.
Chris Vogler 53:17
It's It's It's fine. I these are observations I've had anyway. You know, it's a matter of his choice about it. And this particular technique of telling you everything and giving you all the plot beats was really worked out at Disney and it was part of their success for a while that that they they were reassuring you this movie with you know Richard Dreyfus or Bette Midler, whoever it was, they were putting in movies in those days, back in the 80s talking now, they would they would lay out okay, then he's in his ordinary world, and then he's going to go to the special world and it's going to be weird and funny things will happen, but dangerous things. And then at the end with the thrill, the love of a good woman, he'll figure it out. And that worked for a while, but then people really rejected that. And as you say, it's a safety it's a, you know, a default way to do it. And it's so much better when you really know what you have to sell. I was impressed by one campaign in the last couple of years. For Maleficent the movie looks back at Sleeping Beauty and does tells a story from more or less the villains point of view. They knew what they had to sell Angelina Jolie with the weird black corns in costume, and they just sold that, you know, that was their tip and so, you know, I think that's the the ticket is you have to know what it is you have to sell and sometimes it is the story or, or it's a new Voice or new character?
Alex Ferrari 55:03
So I'm going to ask you, right? Now it's going to ask you the same question that I asked all of my guests. These are the toughest questions. So please, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life, the longest
Chris Vogler 55:21
to learn, I guess that would be something I'm still dealing with. And in in that department, I would say, honestly, it's getting out of my own way. I'm still learning that, that I tend to do things the hard way and make things hard for myself and make more of the difficulties than they they need to be. So that's, that's been a slow lesson for me that I kind of sum up by something I call it's not my idea. But the do easy method. If you're interested in this, it's it's something that was cooked up by the writer William Burroughs to deal with difficulties in his life. But you just sort of approach everything very gently. And you know, where computers maybe drive you crazy and you want to throw things, there's a way to caress them, so that it isn't so difficult and painful. And I'm not a master of this, by any means. But that has helped me. So that's
Alex Ferrari 56:34
you're still going through your hero's journey in regards to
Chris Vogler 56:36
that? Oh, most definitely. Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 56:41
So why don't your top three? Exactly. So what are your top three favorite films of all time, no order or anything like that? Just three films that really touched you? Well, sure,
Chris Vogler 56:53
I always start with my desert island movie, if denied all other films would be the one. And for many years, this has been a movie from the 50s called the Vikings, which is really the source material are very close to the current Vikings TV series. That's on the history. They're they're really drawn from the same literary source, the same historical character. It's the same idea. A great adventure movie with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine. Exactly, and, you know, amazing effects and beautiful ships and all that. Number two, would be a movie called Gilda, which is, uh, oh, yeah, black, black and white. And it's just a special film to me. Because it's a film noir. It's about a triangle of evil guy and woman who is associated with him and a young man who used to be her lover, and, you know, the the loyalties among all those three people. But it's much more profound than that. It's kind of an essay on good and evil and the devil and God and just profound kind of movie. And then our little more modern thing, is a film I'm working with right now. I'm getting ready for electric in Paris. And I had to do a French film. So I picked a film called a more, which won the Academy Award a few years ago, for Best Foreign Film. And it's about old Parisian couple. And the wife has a stroke, and she eventually declines and they have to deal with her complete downfall as a person. very uplifting story. Got it? Yeah, it's it's a tough one. But just beautifully made. And a great example of simple stories for simple people in the best way. Very confident. You mentioned that before. That confidence in filmmakers and storytellers is really nice when you have it. And this guy's very confident. He does a lot of things where he'll just have a black screen, and maybe you'll hear people say, are you okay? And the other one says Jamar, right now, there's no problem. And they're in bed asleep. And he'll just let that black Dean run for almost a minute. And you just kind of breathe and live with it. And boy, that takes confidence. But he's got
Alex Ferrari 59:33
and what is the most underrated film you've ever seen?
Chris Vogler 59:38
Let's see. Oh, yeah, I go to a film that's actually kind of hard to find called They Might Be Giants with George see Scott. And Anne Bancroft, I think is in it and it's a play on Sherlock Holmes. It's about a crazy man. And in New York who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes, and they send us a social worker to visit him. And her name happens to be Dr. Watson. So it goes well there. I've been waiting for you, you know, and she goes, but and eventually, they get, she gets lured into it and realizes he is really the latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, or he believes it's so much that, let's just accept that. And there really is like a Moriarty, a bad guy who's doing things and they rally wonderful oddball. All the oddball people in New York are rally behind them to stand up to this shadow of Moriarty. And it's a wonderful inspiring film. For some reason that one's not in a lot of packages, and it didn't get sold. And it's hard to find. But it's a little treasure.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:56
Now, where can people find you?
Chris Vogler 1:00:59
The best thing would be my website, which is www the writers journey.com. And I also have a blog at WordPress. And that is Chris bowlers writer's journey blog. I don't
Alex Ferrari 1:01:22
Okay, and can you tell the people? Can you tell the can you tell that the tribe what books you've actually written besides the writers journey? Or the cuz I know you've written a few books, correct? Well,
Chris Vogler 1:01:37
I have Yeah, actually, I'm building a little library. I wrote, you know, the first book, The Hero's Journey, 20 years ago. Then a few years back, I co wrote a book with a buddy of mine, who's a film director and teacher in New York, named David McKenna. And that book is called memo from the story department. And it's about structure and character, memo from the story to print. And my original memo to Disney is in that about the hero's journey, but also all the other stuff that David and I have used in our work over the years other frames other other systems, like there's a fairy tale analysis technique. There's a way of looking at characters that goes all the way back to the days of Aristotle. There's a chapter on vaudeville, and how the traditions of the stage are still useful for filmmakers today. So it's good that way. And then the third thing, titled that I can claim is I wrote a Japanese manga, you know, their version of Carl. And sure, a buddy of mine, got into the business of publishing in, in America in Japan. And he invited me to contribute a story and so I got one out of the trunk. I took an old movie and novel called Ivanhoe about the time of King Richard and the Crusaders and Robin Hood. And I wrote kind of a sequel to it called Raven the skull. So that's the title Raven skull. And it was supposed to be a four book series, we only did the first one so far, but it's, it was really fun to work with an artist in the Philippines, this guy. This and the editor never met him. I never met him. But we did everything by JPEGs back and forth. You know, I, I want to I want the stirrups to look like this. And I want the sword handled to look like this. And I'd send them the the images and, and man would just come back the next day exactly like I wanted. It was a great way to work. So
Alex Ferrari 1:04:01
there's my there's another book that you wrote the foreword for that actually was the reason I bought the book was because you wrote the foreword to it with myth and the movies. Yes,
Chris Vogler 1:04:11
that that's kind of a another relative of my books. It's in the family. A man named Stuart void. Tila took on a an important job. I'm glad he did it because it was a lot of labor to do it. But what he did in myth in the movies is he said, Okay, here's Vogel's idea. How does that actually work? What does if you do the diagram, what does it look like? He was doing like pie charts of the of the different steps. And what does it look like in 50 different films and he chose really good classics in different genres. And he shows there that it changes depending on the genre, and that they spend more or less time in different stages, and maybe omit stages or repeat them or something. He found all these neat patterns. sort of subcategories within the the general thing he said it still works in all these films, but it's flexible. And so you'll you'll find the the specifics in mainly by genre in the adventure movies, romances, mysteries and so forth. He found these these shadings of it. And it's a great contribution. So,
Alex Ferrari 1:05:26
great curse, I have to say it's been an absolute joy. Talking to you today. Thank you so much for taking out the time and dropping a lot of value bombs on on the audience in regards to structure. Kaboom.
Chris Vogler 1:05:40
Yeah. So I'm glad to do that. And you let me run free. And I appreciate that. And you had good questions. So I hope everybody just keeps in mind my motto, which is trust the path trust the path that you're on. Keep going till you get there. And that has its own guidance system built in. So good luck.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:04
Thanks, Chris. And Alright, so now Chris, we're out. Thanks again so much. I really do appreciate you taking the time. I know it's been I know you're squeezing the end right before you Paris ships. Thank you.
Chris Vogler 1:06:13
Yeah, yeah, I have to keep an eye on that ball. But I'm going to be working on that. Um, more film I talked about today. Oh, buttoning up my clips on that. But this is great. And I wish you luck with your in the film hustle. You got a pretty good list of people on this now and
Alex Ferrari 1:06:34
yeah, Linda. Linda says hi. I said I did Linda and of course Michael and weed and you know that Michael and I have been doing that all the heroes two journeys course digital courses he sees. So hopefully this will help a little bit with sales with that and, and move forward. So of course, thank you again, so so much. I really appreciate it's been an absolute delight talking to you, my friend.
Chris Vogler 1:06:57
All right. My pleasure. Thanks a lot, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:01
You know, I can't really tell you what a thrill it was to talk to Chris. I mean, after after reading his book and how what an impact that book made on me. If you guys haven't read that book, you got to go out and get it. Writers journey. And you can get all that you can get the links to his books, the course and all his direct websites and stuff like that at Indie film, hustle, calm, forward slash BPS 013. And if you guys haven't gone to screenwriting podcast.com and signed up for this podcast, please head over right now. Sign up, leave us a five star review. You have no idea how important it is for the show and to help get this information out to other screenwriters and other filmmakers out there who really need it. So again, just head over to screenwriting podcast.com. And if you'd like this episode, guys and love what Chris is doing, and his ideas about the hero's journey in screenwriting, you've definitely got to check out the course that I worked with him and the legendary Michael Haig and put out a course called the screenwriting and story blueprint, the heroes two journeys, it is the number one screenwriting course on Udemy has over 4000 students and counting. So if you want to check that out, just head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash story blueprint and get a special discount offer. And as always, keep on writing no matter what, talk to you soon.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.