CHRISTOPHER VOGLER is one of Hollywood's premier story consultants and a popular speaker on screenwriting, movies, and myth. He is president of Storytech, a literary consulting firm that helps writers, producers, and studio executives shape their projects. His seminal book, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY - 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, has just been released by Michael Wiese Productions. Christopher and I spoke recently about what's new in the 25th anniversary edition, what storytelling and mythological principals have stood the test of time, and his current cinematic moment from a popular streaming show.
Order Christopher Vogler's book here. Read more about the author and his services at thewritersjourney.com or at chrisvogler.wordpress.com.
Learn from Christopher and panelists Darren Aronofsky, Jeffrey Kripal & Will Linn for a celebration of The Writers’ Journey 25th Anniversary Edition on October 22nd at 5PM (PT). Michael Wiese Productions and the Myth Salon are honored to host this special event with MC and friend of the family, Corinne Bordeaux, who will lead our discussion on myth, story and Chris’s contributions.
Dave Watson: What's new? What are you up to now?
Christopher Vogler: This super crisis (COVID-19) has given me a moment of pause. It’ not a run-of-the-mill disaster. One by one I’ve had plans, especially travel engagements, fall by the wayside though I’m still on for one to Oklahoma in September. This sort of energy transfer, though, with us withdrawing into ourselves, will not go away. Michael Wiese Productions, the publisher of The Writer’s Journey, is wisely trying to supplement the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Writer’s Journey with webinars and virtual meetings.
I find myself coming back to the Shamans and the role of artists. Shamans were the original artists. In uncertain times Shamans would be consulted, go deep within themselves, they would perform a ritual dance, help people digest challenging times, and advise villagers to do something collectively to help them through a crisis.
DW: And each crisis was probably unique.
CV: This one certainly is. But, you have to remember that as people we’re smart. We will adapt.
DW: What's new in the 25th anniversary edition of The Writer's Journey?
CV: The biggest thing is that I am sticking my neck out, reaching into a new area, looking at the Chakra system, which can be very useful for writers. When I was working within the studio system, I had to defend and justify the scripts I thought would be commercial, and I noticed I would frequently point to a part of my body, my gut, throat, or some area I tapped into when reading a story. Now, when I‘m writing, I think about the seven Chakras as targets for my emotional effects. You have to hit your audience in the gut, the heart, make them choke up in the throat, make them feel something somewhere in the body.
Also, I’ve added a chapter called, “What’s the big deal?” The truth is: In a story a scene is a deal, a negotiation, where the terms of a contract are worked out. It’s not an absolute rule of storytelling, but it’s a good rule of thumb, a good test. I watch scenes and think, “What’s the transaction here?” Watching Ozark, every scene is a rapid-fire deal.
DW: What myths/mythologies stand out to you in mainstream films today?
CV: I see an exploration of the trickster archetype. The focus has moved from Batman to the Joker. Now that we’re in this time of lockup, I’ve seen a drive away from classic heroes. Even heroic stories such as The Avengers play a role with lines like, “We can’t trust him now.” That’s a stage you get to, where you start trust someone and then you’re not so sure. That’s the trickster.
Also with Batman, half the people of Gotham think he’s bad during the story, same with Spider-man in his world. They have to prove to people that they are doing good and change how the public see them.
DW: Now we’re getting down to perceptions. The media play a role in those stories, too.
CV: Yes! And it’s how people see consequences when you stand up for something. When you stand in the public spotlight, people will make an agenda out of you, just like they do with the two superheroes I mentioned.
DW: What myths/mythologies stand out to you in foreign films?
CV: The general thing that jumps out to me is how we incorporate all levels of society. I saw Roma and Parasite, and believe those films are trying to tell us we need to be more compassionate about people at all levels of society. I’ve seen scripts about the burden of guilt, and think some films are about attempts to reconcile the conflicts in societies.
DW: To see how connected we all indeed are, and that may be why Parasite connected with people worldwide.
CV: Yes, and many foreign films pay attention to classes. We’re trying to find our ways right now, with myths and characters between two worlds. We’re also dealing with dislocation. In Parasite you see the son come down stairs when he is leaving the rich-family’s house. The camera holds on his expression. We know he’s thinking, and realizing that he can insinuate himself into this upper-class life. The director uses that visual, and stairs, a few times in that film. It’s the moment of transition between classes and two worlds.
DW: With all the zoom meetings, our phones, many of us are between two worlds. What's next for you?
CV: I’m showing up in this new way like an online oracle. People need interpretation of stories and I put it into a framework of history and mythological comparisons. I’m still fascinated by history.
DW: Is there an era that you’re drawn to more than most?
CV: The eras of exploration, such as the Roman empire, the Spanish armada. A lot of ambitious historical epics are done in graphic novel formats now, and kids read about them now. When I used to pitch historical epics to Hollywood studios and mention that the Vikings would make good movie material, some execs would respond, “Yeah, people love football movies!”
DW: Now we have long epics, which you mentioned in our previous interview.
CV: Yes, we have a huge appetite for long stories that we become absorbed in.
DW: What's your current favorite cinematic moment? One that currently inspires you?
CV: Well, I mentioned Ozark and when I was a boy growing up in Missouri, I visited the Lake of the Ozarks that is almost a character in the series. To me it was a dark and scary place. In Ozark there’s a scene that I think is about communicating with the divine. The main character is standing on a cliff staring out at the huge lake. There’s no dialogue. He just starts throwing pieces of bread out into the lake. Many people speculate on what the scene means, but I think what he’s doing is he’s trying to communicate with the lake, as if it were some ancient, powerful god.
Founder and editor of Movies Matter, Dave Watson is an educator and writer in Madison, WI.