Monday, December 26, 2011

From Word To Image

Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process
By Marcie Begleiter

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Marcie Begleiter is a writer and educator who specializes in previsualization. She has worked extensively in the film, television, and interactive industries. She is owner of Filmboards, whose client list includes Paramount, Tristar, New Line, HBO, and ABC. In her book, From Word To Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process 2nd Ed. (Michael Wiese Productions 2010), she will expand your visual awareness and communication skills about all aspects of the visual storytelling process.

Before a film goes into production there are numerous decisions that must be made, often by hundreds of co-workers; storyboarding is an effective method of communicating between all the departments during pre-production, so when the cameras begin rolling, everyone is on the same page.

She takes you from the text script (screenplay) through all the stages and elements involved in creating a visual script (storyboard). She demonstrates not only how to create the basic stick figures, but detailed, 3-D illustrations as well, while covering topics such as composition, color, and perspective. There are plenty of helpful exercises where you’ll learn things such as how to create and use Moodboards to inspire your creativity.

She supplies you with a wealth of resources such as websites, software, films, DVD’s, and texts. She uses hundreds of illustrations and single frames from films such as The Cotton Club, Vertigo, The Last Emperor, The Godfather, and The Wizard of Oz as examples.

Storyboarding is a valuable tool for screenwriters that allows you to see your stories in a new light and helps you to write more visually. I highly recommend From Word To Image for all filmmakers involved in the collaborative development of a film during pre-production such as screenwriters, storyboard artists, production designers, directors, and cinematographers.

To learn more about Marcie Begleiter you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of From Word To Image at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Story Solution

23 Steps All Great Heroes Must Take 
By Eric Edson

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Eric Edson has written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment for companies such as Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, 20th Century-Fox, ABC Motion Pictures, Lifetime, Showtime, NBC, and TNT. He’s also written episodic television. He is Professor of Screenwriting and Director of the Graduate Program in Screenwriting at California State University, Northridge. In his new book, The Story Solution: 23 Steps All Great Heroes Must Take (Michael Wiese Productions 2011), he illuminates new passageways in the story creation process through his unique perspective and opens more doors of opportunity for writers to explore.

He shares his secret recipe for creating character sympathy; nine key ingredients that are sure to foster audience identification with your hero or heroine and build an instant, emotional bond between them. As Eric states, “we go to the movies to feel deeply”, but before the audience can do that, they must first “care deeply” about the protagonist.

He has a simple and effective technique for helping you to create character conflict between the protagonist and antagonist. Eric also guides you through the major-supporting character categories, so you know exactly what each speaking character’s function is and whether their purpose is to help or obstruct your heroine or hero.

Weaved within Eric’s 23 Hero Goal Sequences, which create the Action Storyline, is a three-step, Emotional Storyline; this makes the process of showing your Character Growth Arc much easier. In doing so, your audience can experience a sense of completion as the Heroine/Hero finally lays down their shield of emotional self-protection and achieves emotional freedom, allowing them to connect with others again on a personal level; a life process we all go through, when healing old wounds.

In feature films as in life, people need not only a long-term goal, but short-term goals as well to keep them moving forward. The Story Solution provides screenwriters with the necessary steps their protagonists can take to make their journey active, emotionally fulfilling, and complete. I recommend The Story Solution for all screenwriters looking for a fresh, new approach to writing a great story.

You can reach Eric Edson at and purchase a copy of The Story Solution at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing The TV Drama Series

How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV
By Pamela Douglas

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin 

Pamela Douglas is an award-winning screenwriter with numerous credits in television drama. She was honored with the Humanitas Prize for Between Mother and Daughter (CBS), an hour drama that was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award. She also received an Emmy nomination and NAACP Image Award for writing Different Worlds, an hour drama on CBS. Her shows won awards from American Women in Radio and Television – her original drama, Sexual Considerations, and her episode of the series A Year in the Life (NBC). Her series credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Frank’s Place, Paradise, Trapper John, M.D., and many others. In her book, Writing The TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV, 3rd edition (Michael Wiese Productions 2011), Pamela gives you an in-depth look at what it takes to break into and make a living at writing for TV drama.

She covers the history of TV shows and programming from the three-network era to current day with cable and the internet, which created more opportunities for writers. You’ll learn the process of how shows get on TV to include diagrams of the two-year (month-by-month) development and first season of a new show, which gives writers a realistic road map of what to expect.

You gain the benefits from Pamela’s tips and advice on the do’s and don’ts of working on staff for a show as she includes numerous examples from her own and other writer's experience in the trenches. She includes three enlightening interviews with seven of her former USC film students as you hear what each of them went through in the fourteen years after they graduated.

Each chapter is followed by an interview with seasoned professionals such as Steven Bochco (NYPD Blues, L.A. Law, Hillstreet Blues), Ann Donohue (CSI: Miami), Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife), Georgia Jeffries (Cagney & Lacey, China Beach), David Isaacs (M*A*S*H, Mad Men) and many more who give you a wealth of sound insights to guide you on your journey.

I highly recommend Writing The TV Drama Series for all writers who want a clear and detailed picture of life as a writer for TV drama. To learn more about Pamela Douglas you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of Writing The TV Drama Series at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Driving Passion into Career Success

Hollywood Pro Reveals Hidden Passage
By Ann Baldwin

Gary W. Goldstein, author, speaker, consultant, and award-winning Hollywood film producer is President of The Goldstein Company, a film and television production company based in Los Angeles. He’s been instrumental in the success of many of Hollywood’s biggest box-office hits. His films have generated over a billion dollars in worldwide revenue and received numerous Academy Award nominations, People’s Choice Awards, a Golden Globe, and various other awards and nominations.

Gary’s films include the critically acclaimed Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (which went on to be one of Disney’s highest grossing live-action films). Another of his film successes, Under Siege (Warner Bros.), starring Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Seagal, was followed by Under Siege 2: In Dark Territory. And the much heralded adaptation of The Mothman Prophecies (Lakeshore Entertainment and Sony), starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, also helped to earn Gary a respected reputation within the ranks of Hollywood.

Gary will host his first-ever ‘live’ event for an intimate number of screenwriters, actors, directors, and others in filmmaking on October 22 in Los Angeles. This inaugural event, “Navigating Hollywood: Your GPS to Career Success,” will allow you the opportunity to meet Gary in-person and learn his unique methods for entering the land of make-believe, raising your level of success with acceleration, and building a strong career foundation, so you can turn your dreams into a reality.

“Success in Hollywood requires more than talent” according to Goldstein. “An enduring career as a working actor, writer, or filmmaker demands simple, smart strategies that are somewhat unique to the industry. The good news is that anyone, armed with insider savvy, can stand out from the crowd to get noticed and gain access.”

“Before turning to producing, I exclusively managed actors, writers, and directors, and discovered I had a knack for launching successful careers for talented folks who simply didn’t have any resume. I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for brilliant, fresh talent that just needs some mentoring to get deeper inside the beltway of Hollywood. I’m excited because this is the first time I’m sharing what works with a ‘live’ audience outside of graduate film & TV university and college environments. Being face-to-face with actors, writers, and others ~ revealing strategies and directly answering their personal questions ~ is a dynamic, exciting way to move people forward.”

Goldstein’s own backstory is key to his helping the next generation grow their careers. “I’ve been involved with some of the best and brightest in Hollywood, and certainly experienced periods where the obstacles and rejection felt insurmountable,” he said. “But I learned. There are strategic shortcuts to gain real traction and create real and measurable progress in Hollywood. There’s nothing more frustrating than the truly gifted actor or writer who wastes years being ‘a best kept secret.’”

To learn more about Gary’s upcoming ‘Navigating Hollywood’ event on October 22, visit ~

p.s. When you register, you’ll also enjoy a complimentary session in the MyStudio production booth to create your own state-of-the-art HD video, up to 5 minutes. Choose from over 1,000 backgrounds and tell your story, do your monologue, pitch your project, create a welcome video for your website, whatever you like. Gary’s treat ! The same booth used by Simon Cowell to audition in 6 major markets for his new show X-FACTOR. The picture and sound quality of MyStudio videos is that impressive!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Michael Wiese

By Ann Baldwin and Michael Wiese

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors and teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Michael Wiese is a producer, director, author, and publisher. After producing the highly popular “Hardware Wars” (a Star Wars parody), Michael was an entertainment executive with Showtime and later Vice President of Vestron Video where he launched a comedy line with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and over 300 other videos. He was responsible for creating video lines for National Geographic, Smithsonian, NOVA, Audubon, and PBS.

Today, he oversees Michael Wiese Productions which publishes a line of over 150 professional filmmaking books that are used in the major motion picture studios and in over 700 film courses throughout the world. For over 30 years, he has presented filmmaking seminars throughout the world for Kodak (including at the Cannes Film Festival), The AFI, The International Film & TV Workshops, and many others. He is the author of The Independent Film and Videomaker’s Guide and his films include The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas: A Pilgrimage to Oracle Lake (Tibet), The Shaman and Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms (Peru), and Talking with Spirits: Journeys into Balinese Spirit Worlds, which he’s about to premiere in Los Angeles at The Future of Story Conference August 27th.

Ann: Can you tell us when you started MWP, how it came about, and what your goals are for your company?
Michael: MWP was launched in San Francisco in the late 70’s to produce independent films. I had some success with my films and wanted to share what I learned with my fellow filmmakers and so I started presenting seminars. The seminar handouts became my first book (which no one wanted to publish) so I published it myself. You have to remember in those days there were no books on filmmaking. It was very hard to learn about screenwriting or filmmaking. Early on I decided to dig in and open the doors to this information so that other filmmakers could succeed. I wrote 3 more books then started to look for other accomplished filmmakers and writers to add to the line. Now there is an entire genre of ‘writing/filmmaking’ books in bookstores. This wasn’t always the case.

MWP’s goals are to influence and contribute to the next generation of filmmakers so that they can bring forth meaningful films that will inspire and transform audiences.

Ann: How many MWP authors do you have and what are their backgrounds?

Michael: We have 130 or more authors. Their backgrounds are extremely diverse. Some are highly successful in Hollywood as writers and producers or directors, others are indie filmmakers, others are professors at the top film schools, others are script doctor/gurus, and some are all these things. What they share in common is a passion to share what they’ve learned and a sincere desire to bring others along. We have over 1 million books in circulation. A little known fact is that these few authors have greatly influenced filmmaking worldwide.

Ann: You started a new imprint of MWP this year called, Divine Arts; what can we look forward to with this new line of books?
Michael: MWP had been moving in this direction for quite some time with filmmaking books that brought in other disciplines like psychology, mythology, symbolism, and the like. We called these books ‘conscious media’ because we were going beyond the ‘how to’ aspects of filmmaking and diving deeper into the exploration of the nature of reality. During some profound experiences in the Amazon with a Peruvian shaman (read the new book or watch the film “The Shaman & Ayahuasca”) my wife was told we should publish a new imprint and Divine Arts was born. It’s come together amazingly fast and with great ease. We brought on Manny Otto as Associate Publisher and have already released 5 books. The imprint will publish books on emerging and ancient wisdom traditions which integrate divine practices in daily life.

Ann: Tell us about your new film Talking With Spirits: Journeys into Balinese Spirit Worlds.

Michael: For over 40 years Bali has been a source of inspiration for me. The Balinese acknowledge ‘the unseen world’ with offerings and elaborate rituals. Spirits participate with humans in healing and bringing harmony to the human realm. Last year the doors swung open and I was allowed to film some extraordinary people working in the spirit world. This film challenges everything we know about the source of creativity, inspiration, and the nature of reality. It is really a gift of a lifetime that I received and I’m excited to share it with others at The Future of Story event.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?

Michael: Great question! Our library has bookshelves that rise up two stories. You can only reach the top shelves with a ladder. Beneath it is a long antique library table where my wife and I study. The room is filled with paintings, textiles, sacred artifacts, and instruments that Geraldine and I have collected from around the world. It is a room full of inspiration.

Outside is a 2-acre garden that we’ve been working on for the 13 years we’ve lived in Cornwall. We are in a tiny forested valley with a stream that runs down to the sea. It is reportedly the warmest cove in all of the UK and we have a jungle-like environment with sub-tropical plants. At every morning meditation, I am welcomed by the trees and thousands of flowering plants. My connection with the garden is my connection to the planet and its processes.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?

Michael: No special quotes. (I lie. We will be publishing a book of Buckminster Fuller quotes through Divine Arts next year). I am more a visual guy. We have two paintings by the Peruvian visionary painter, Pablo Amaringo, which are quite extraordinary and take me right back to the multi-dimensional world of the shaman. They remind me that we are connected to everything and participating in many, many simultaneous worlds all the time.

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Michael: Once I finish my current film of Lama Chime Rinpoche’s teaching – which I am finding very difficult to do (How can I dare cut anything out!) I will edit another feature documentary in my personal sacred journeys series that I shot last year in the Amazon. It’s called DIETA IN THE JUNGLE: 10 Days with Ayahuasca. Next I will edit TAKSU: The Power Source of Inspiration, which I shot a few months ago in Bali. I’ve got a very full plate. These are ‘little’ movies that require minimal financing that I can produce, write, shoot, and edit myself. Gone are the days where I was willing to go through development hell. I can’t tell you how fulfilling it is to simply be able to make these little movies with the same freedom as an artist with a pencil and a drawing pad.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

Michael: For many years MWP has invited its authors to meet together to discuss publishing, filmmaking, and share ways we could support one another. We’d have a smashing good time. Fifty or more authors would show up. I would look around the room, amazed at the brilliance that was expressing itself. These events were very empowering to everyone. At some point it occurred to us to open this up to the other writers and filmmakers in the community. The magic was too good to keep to ourselves.

My role, among others, is to hold the space or the vision for the event. My job is to see that this event goes beyond anything that’s been presented before, so I need to set the context. In short, I don’t ‘do’ anything. That’s Ken Lee, VP of MWP: he is the master doer. He joined us up with friends from c3: The Center for Conscious Creativity, The Writers Store, and of course, the 30+ writers themselves. We’re all in this web together. It takes a lot of people to make this happen.

Ann: What special benefits will screenwriters and filmmakers get by attending this conference?

Michael: What I really hope is that everyone will walk away with an “a-ha” recognizing that we can affect our world by the kind of stories we tell. I think a good example is the key art for the event – the landscape of buildings created from the word “story”. The image is ambiguous – which I like. You can see the city as either apocalyptic or as a future utopia. The stories we tell ourselves will indeed lead us into our future so it’s very important that we get clear on who we really are, how we relate to the environment and to each other, and how we want to live. Manifestation starts with the word.

I also expect attendees to make some great connections. Besides the 15 or so writers/filmmakers on the panels, there will be another 15 authors willing to meet and interact with the attendees. Everyone will be open and accessible so you can meet your favorite author, discover new books and tools, and further your connections. It should be a regular love fest!

Ann: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about The Future of Story Conference?
Michael: I am expecting that The Future of Story will be very powerful and transformative and that in 2021 we’ll look back and say, ‘whew, that was really something’.

Ann: Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.
Michael: Thank you, Ann, for the great questions and opportunity to do so!

Onward and upward!

To learn more about how you can meet Michael Wiese and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27th.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: D.B.Gilles

By Ann Baldwin and D.B.Gilles

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors and teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

D.B. Gilles has taught comedy writing in The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for nearly 20 years. He also taught comedy in The Dramatic Writing Department at NYU, the Graduate Film Department at Columbia, and The Comedy Institute in New York City. He’s a screenwriter, playwright, script consultant, and writing coach. He is also the author of You’re Funny: Turn your SENSE OF HUMOR into a lucrative new career (MWP 2011), The Screenwriter Within: New Strategies to Finish Your Screenplay & Get A Deal, 2nd Edition (MWP 2011), and The Portable Film School. He has a popular blog titled Screenwriters Rehab: For Writers Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together .

Ann: In your book, You’re Funny, you examine the various types and forms of comedy; tell us what some of those are to give the writers an idea of the vast array of writing opportunities out there.

D.B.: Fledgling comedy writers need to pinpoint the genre they wish to pursue. Television? Is it as a sitcom writer, sketch writer ala SNL, or joke writer for Late Night talk shows? Or maybe it’s as a screenwriter writing comedies, but which kind of comedies? Serio/comic, witty, or sophomoric? Then there’s the world of stand up. Some stand ups branch out into TV and/or film. A new comedy writer needs to pick a direction then go for it.

Ann: Why is comedy so popular, especially now?

D.B.: In tough times people not only want to laugh, but need to laugh. At the end of a tough day or week, it's good to unwind by watching sitcoms or Late Night Talk shows on TV or going out to a movie or comedy club. Nothing soothes the soul like a good laugh. In the current state of the world with the threat of terrorists, global warming, inflation, and all the other stuff that can bring people down, it's nice to know that there are places and people to turn to for entertainment.

Ann: Tell us about blogging and what your recommendations are.

D.B.: A blog gives new comedy writers the opportunity to write. They don’t have to wait to be hired by someone else. They can write about anything they want whenever they want. A blog can give a new comedy writer discipline. By writing two, three or even one post every week writers will come to understand the importance of trial and error. Some posts will be amazing, others pretty bad, others still will be somewhere in the middle. The more one writes the better one gets at learning what works and what doesn’t. If a person is comfortable writing humorous blog entries they can then move on to something bigger and more profitable like television or movies.

Ann: What is the most valued source the best comics and writers draw from and what techniques or exercises do you have to help writers tap into it?

D.B.: The best place to find material is by keeping current in what’s going on in the world. Read newspapers, TV news, Internet news, become a news junkie. Late Night hosts begin their shows with monologues usually filled with events of the day. A stand-up comic can read or hear about some news event, write a joke in the morning and perform it in front of an audience that night. It’s the same with the writers for the sketch shows and Late Night. Current events, be they political or just plain weird, are where to find material. Another way it to just look into one’s own life: family, marriage, friends, work, and your own neurosis.

Ann: What is “The Punctuation Theory of Screenwriting” from your book, The Screenwriter Within?
D.B.: The end of Act One ends with a Question Mark (The Major Dramatic Question/what the protagonist wants has been established). The end of Act Two ends with an Exclamation Point (some unexpected or surprising piece of new information that launches the story into Act 3) and the end of Act Three ends with a period (resolution: The Major Dramatic Question has been answered)

Ann: In your book, The Screenwriter Within, you discuss Character Motivation and how “conflict is the soul of dialogue”, can you tell us about this and what exercise do you recommend for writers?

D.B.: In real life we try to avoid conflict. We want to have pleasant, friendly conversations with friends and strangers alike. In a screenplay, watching nice people have nice conversations is boring. Conflict makes an audience’s ears perk up. It’s like in real life when we overhear a couple having an argument. It’s more interesting to listen to than how much they enjoyed their vacation to Bermuda. A screenwriter can’t just have her characters “talking,” They have to be talking about something that’s at stake in a scene whether a couple is arguing about where to have dinner or a hostage negotiator is pleading for a child’s life. The best exercises to practice writing conflict are to put two characters in a situation where one person wants something and the other doesn’t want to give it to him. Try writing a 5 or 10-page 2 character script with only these two characters. Another good one is to have two people who hate each other get stuck in an elevator.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?
D.B.: My favorite room is my office. It’s where I feel most creative. I’m surrounded by books, photographs, pictures, my computer, and “things” I’ve accumulated over the years that are a comfort to me. I like to feel I’m in a safe place when I write.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?
D.B.: I have two favorites:

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better”
Samuel Becket

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
D.B.: Currently working on a screenplay and a new political parody.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

D.B.: The Future of Story conference is to screenwriting what Wrestlemania is to professional wrestling. A bunch of authors of popular books on the business will be gathered in one place. I’ll be participating in one of the panels.

Ann: What are the benefits for writers attending this conference?
D.B.: Being able to meet and talk to authors of books they have read or heard about is important because it puts a human presence to the words. I’ve gone to events like this in the past as a young writer and met and talked with authors I read and admired. I still recall talking with Harlan Ellison and Dean R. Koontz.

Ann: Tell us the unique opportunities writers have for networking at this upcoming conference.

D.B.: Besides meeting and talking with authors, events like this bring kindred spirits and like minds together. Screenwriters from all over the country will be there. Friendships form and even new collaborations too.

Ann: Thank you, D.B., for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

D.B.: I've had some great teachers and mentors when I was starting out. It's very gratifying to share what I learned from them, as well as what I've experienced along the way.

To learn more about how you can meet D.B. Gilles and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Pamela Jaye Smith

By Ann Baldwin and Pamela Jaye Smith

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors/teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Pamela Jaye Smith is a world renowned mythologist, speaker, consultant, writer, award-winning producer/director, and the founder of MYTHWORKS with over 30 years of experience on features, TV series, commercials, documentaries, corporate and military films. Her credits and clients include Paramount, Disney, Microsoft, Universal, GM, the FBI, and the U.S. Army. She is the author of Symbols*Images*Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media (MWP 2010), The Power of The Dark Side: Creating Great Villains, Dangerous Situations, & Dramatic Conflict (MWP 2008), and Inner Drives: How To Write and Create Characters Using The Eight Centers of Motivation (MWP 2005).

Ann: In your newest book, Symbols*Images*Codes, you discuss how powerful this silent form of communication is; can you tell us about it and how it benefits writers?

Pamela Jaye: Communication is the most important aspect of human interaction, and it is accomplished in a number of ways, from utilitarian to artistic. Some of the most primitive yet still most effective modes of communication are visual — that’s just how our brains are wired.

In our multicultural, instantaneously interconnected global village, we speak hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects with diverse and specific cultural backgrounds. How can we communicate effectively across all these borders?

Symbols and images affect people emotionally — hence their exceptional effectiveness. Because there is no particular rational attachment to them, visuals are a universal language that engages our intuition and imagination.

The more consciously you use symbols and images in your stories, the more effective your message will be. Using appropriate visuals will heighten the emotional impact of your story and will connect your audience to the rich stream of meaning — conscious and unconscious — that flows through humanity and our arts.

Ann: Can you give us a few examples like how the element of air can be used in films and their meanings?

Pamela Jaye: Air is the very essence of life itself: You can live without food for weeks, without water for a few days, but without air for only a few minutes. Since you can’t see it but you can see its powerful effects, air is often given godly status. Wind is the messenger of the gods. The random breeze can bring illumination; the flight of birds spurs inspiration; the fury of a storm is divine punishment. Creation myths often begin when a divinity exhales the very cosmos, or breathes life into inanimate objects, transforming them into living, breathing creatures.

In The Iliad, King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to bring winds to move the becalmed Greek fleet off shore and onward to Troy. He pays dearly for that upon his return 10 years later when his Queen Clytemnestra, still upset about the sacrifice of their daughter, stabs him to death.

In Dead Calm, a lack of wind brings terror for sailing couple Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill. In Master and Commander, the ship at full sail is a glorious vision of air in motion, taking the valiant men off on an adventure. In The Kite Runner, air lifting the kites above the turmoils on the ground indicates aspiration and hope.

Ann: You use the term “Deva” in your book, The Power of The Dark Side, explain to us what that is?

Pamela Jaye: Deva is a Sanskrit word meaning essence or identity. Every thing that exists has a unique character, essence, or “is”-ness, whether rock, flower, animal, person, family, company, story, situation, or concept like democracy, love, evil. Militaries have their esprit de corps, a French term meaning “spirit of the body”. Zeitgeist is German for “spirit of the time”. Business has Institutional Memory and religions have Dogma. Lovers have their special relationships, Jung labeled personalized universal patterns Archetypes, and wars are fought over ideologies. All of these are devas.

Devas influence us according to our receptiveness: the disaffected do not thrill to the national anthem, the disillusioned lover is immune to pleas and kisses, and the non-believer pooh-poohs angels and aliens. Plug into a deva, however, and your life changes: religious converts, new lovers, revolutionaries, and avid fans are all affected by devas.

In creating the antagonist or the dangerous situation in your stories, selecting an effective deva can make all the difference between a story with limp drama and one with vivid conflict. Its part of how genres work: the horror story deva is like the big Scream – or the western like The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. Learning to recognize, create, and use devas can increase the effectiveness of your stories.

Ann: What is the dark side’s role in stories, why is it important for writers of all genres to understand it, and why do writers take their characters into the dark side?

Pamela Jaye: Conflict lies at the heart of all effective stories. Every good story requires three basic conflicts: the hero’s internal flaw, an antagonist, and an external (sometimes impersonal) threat to the hero. These all need to be appropriate, balanced, believable, and capable of contributing to a satisfactory resolution. Ineffectiveness in these elements of conflict is one of the biggest problems story-tellers have.

The undefined antagonist undercuts the heroism of the protagonist. Just as the symbol of the Tao shows white and black swirling around each other with a dot of the other in the center, so too will the best stories have balanced weight from the Dark Side as well as from the Light.

Writers often take their characters into the dark side because it’s just so darn interesting. The villainess or anti-hero can personify our own internal rebel, the one we aren’t courageous enough to be. They challenge our mores and beliefs about proper behavior. They give us a chance to be saviors. They also challenge our own powers of seduction. Some primitive part of us still loves the chase, and like a cheetah cub, we don’t recognize food unless it's running away from us. The unobtainable, scary, dangerous person is exciting.

Ann: What are the “Centers of Motivation” that you talk about in your book, Inner Drives, and how can they help writers?
Pamela Jaye: The Centers of Motivation is a term I coined for the chakras. Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning “wheel”: the motion of prana (vitality or life energy) in, through, and around each of these Centers is said to spin like a wheel. Each of these Centers is a place where your actual physical body’s nervous system gathers into a grouping of nerves and connects to an endocrine gland which produces certain hormones which bring about changes in your body, your emotions, and your mind.

Those hormones can be adrenalin if under stress, testosterone, or estrogen when influenced by the Sacral Center, insulin, and blood sugar for the Solar Plexus, etc. These chemicals each affect us in specific ways and the influence goes both directions – which is how meditation, music, food and drink, controlled substances, and other influences work to change our moods and actions.

Learning how to select and develop appropriate chakras for your characters can help create more unique, dynamic, and believable people in your stories.

Ann: What creative techniques do you use to help get you in-tune with the energy frequency of your characters?
Pamela Jaye: I use the Inner Drives information and determine what chakra or Center of Motivation best suits a character and how they can move around on the chakras to create the most effective arcs of growth and transformation.

If I’m working as a story consultant or script doctor for someone else’s creations I read the signals in the descriptions and dialogue that help determine the best chakra for a character. I also talk with the writer about their vision. What does the character want? What is their seeming style of speaking and acting?

If creating my own characters, I “listen” to them and follow them around a bit, observing how they speak and act, and more importantly – feel.

Then armed with a specific chakra choice I can accessorize each character with distinct phraseology, styles of action, choices of words, collections, clothing, etc. to make them unique from the other characters in the story.

Using the Centers of Motivation is an excellent way to create a character arc. The chakras are effective because there is such psychological truth there – it’s who we really are and how we really act.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?
Pamela Jaye: My office overlooks a bougainvillea vine visited by hummingbirds, past a swimming pool, and then to a wall of tall trees and flowering plants. Immersed in the midst of busy Hollywood and the techworld of the web, it is refreshing to look up and out and see peaceful beautiful nature.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?
Pamela Jaye:
"Do what they manhood bids thee.
From none but self expect applause.
He noblest lives and noblest dies
Who makes and keeps his self-made laws."
Sir Richard Frances Burton –
British explorer, author, translator of “1001 Arabian Nights

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream at night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.
But the Dreamers of the Day are Dangerous Men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible."
TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia
The 7 Pillars of Wisdom

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Pamela Jaye: Besides doing consultations and writing on some very interesting client projects, I am also working on two new books: SHOW ME THE LOVE and MYTH, MAGIC, METAPHYSICS. I’ll be speaking at the South West Writers Conference in September and am teaching online classes on SYMBOLS and ALPHA BABES for Savvy Authors. Our PitchProxy Pros service will be pitching projects at the Screenwriting EXPO for clients who can’t be there themselves.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?
Pamela Jaye: The Conference explores aspects of the art, craft, and business of media-making, offering perspectives from a number of authors, writers, and filmmakers with many years experience in the Hollywood media industry.

I’ll be on the first panel “Developing the Story”, moderated by Chris Vogler. As a mythologist I’m pleased to be able to bring the wonderful timeless tools of story to today’s writers and filmmakers. We know these tools really work because we’re still telling the stories from hundreds and thousands of years ago, from many different cultures.

Ann: What benefits do writers get by attending this conference?

Pamela Jaye: The opportunity to hear from authors who are on the creative forefront of the media industry as writers, directors, producers, marketers, editors, designers, and more and to benefit from their experience in Hollywood and around the world.

To interact with fellow creatives excited about the future of our professions and determined to bring both information and inspiration to global audiences.

A fun afternoon and evening in a unique setting - a Hollywood studio where some of the most popular shows are filmed - and in a dome theatre, the future of viewing venues.

Ann: What ideas are you excited to share at the conference?

Pamela Jaye: That the classic tools of story-telling -- Mythic Themes, Archetypes, and Symbols -- are still fresh and valuable to writers today.

That studying what has worked well in the past greatly increases your craft tool-kit and gives you the opportunity to be a much better artist.

That most mythologies and wisdom systems present a future for humanity that writers can help create and it has certain steps and certain characteristics at each step. To consciously use that compelling arc of a changing consciousness can result in stories that are both engaging and enlightening.

Ann: Thank you, Pamela Jaye, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

Pamela Jaye:
I hope to see you at The Future of Story Conference. Good luck with your creative projects.

To learn more about how you can meet Pamela Jaye Smith and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Kathie Fong Yoneda

By Ann Baldwin and Kathie Fong Yoneda

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors/teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Kathie Fong Yoneda has over thirty years of successful experience working in film and television. She has held executive positions at Disney, Touchstone, Disney TV Animation, Paramount Pictures Television and Island Pictures, specializing in development and story analysis of both live-action and animation projects. She also was a co-exec producer on the popular cable series Beyond The Break. Kathie is an independent script consultant whose clientele includes several award-winning writers She is the author of The Script-Selling Game: A Hollywood Insider's Look At Getting Your Script Sold and Produced, 2nd edition (Michael Wiese Productions 2011).

Ann: What did you find was lacking in the film industry that motivated and inspired you to write your book, The Script-Selling Game?

Kathie: Having worked mostly with writers on the studio side of film/TV, I quickly realized that Hollywood was like the black monolith in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – it was basically a “mysterious” system that seemingly was built to keep others out. Writers might be talented & many had degrees from film school & had taken several screenwriting classes, but there were no books or classes about Hollywood & how things worked. I was asked to write a monthly column that focused mostly on the “business” side of screenwriting and those columns eventually became the basis of The Script-Selling Game.

Ann: Why is it important for screenwriters to understand what can increase a movie’s budget and what are a few of those things?

Kathie: While I encourage writers to write what they feel works best for them and their story, there is a reason why this industry is called Show “Business”. It’s important to understand that in this roller coaster economy, studios, networks, and production companies have a responsibility to their investors/stockholders to keep a close eye on production costs. Whether you are writing a big-budget action-thriller or a low-budget comedy, I think all writers need to be aware of some of the areas that can expand production costs. Here are a couple of the possible budget-busters:

Certainly projects that are set in the historical past or into the future are going to be more expensive than a story that is set in the present, because they will require specific exterior and interior sets, props, and costumes.

Projects that require an abundance of stuntwork – fights, falls, chase sequences, battle scenes, fires, etc. – are costly. You’ll need highly-paid stunt personnel to “double” for the major stars, plus additional equipment (some which may be specially constructed) will be required. Each action scene requires days of shooting just for one sequence. The set-up, rehearsal, and placement of several cameras to cover the actual shooting is time-consuming and very expensive. Also, special additional “riders” for stunt-heavy projects will add considerably to basic insurance costs.

Ann: What is “The Elevator Pitch” and when might a screenwriter need to use it? Can you give us an example of one?
Kathie: The “Elevator Pitch” is basically an expanded logline of two to three sentences which got its name from an example I have in my book: You’re attending a film festival or at a high-rise hotel and the actor/actress or director who’d be perfect for your project gets in the elevator and punches the tenth floor button, which gives you roughly less than 30 seconds to tell him about your movie. As an example, let’s pretend that you wrote AVATAR and that up-and-coming Aussie actor, Sam Worthington, was in your elevator – this could be the Elevator Pitch that persuaded him to take the lead:

Assigned to infiltrate a potentially dangerous colony of aliens on a foreign moon, a paraplegic Marine is torn between obeying his orders and protecting the spiritual tribe with whom he has bonded. His friendship with a female alien deepens into love, and in a final showdown, he risks all to help the aliens save their homeland.
Ann: Every screenwriter’s goal is to have their project bought by a production company or studio and get a “greenlight” to have it produced. Can you tell us what “redlight” moments are and give us a few examples? What is the good news in regard to these situations for writers now?

Kathie: “Redlight” moments can happen whenever there is a change of personnel at the top or because the studio, network, or production company is undergoing a merger or an economic re-structuring. When a new head of production comes in, he/she may have a totally different outlook on what is needed to move the company ahead. Usually it’s a “thinning-out” of projects which may not fit into the new regime’s program. In truth, many of the projects that are taken off the development slate are usually those which may have been favorites of their predecessor & therefore, they want to make room for projects of their own choosing. Also, projects which are economically unreasonable, or, in the opinion of the new head, may no longer be as commercially viable, are often “axed”. And occasionally, projects in which the producer, director, or major star has had a film or TV series that has recently “tanked” or whose “star power” has waned because of negative popularity have also been “abandoned”.

Several years ago, however, the Writers Guild of America added a “Reacquisition clause” to their agreement to help writers whose projects were put on the shelf or abandoned. It would take much too long to explain in detail, but if any writers have a script which they would like to reacquire so it can be re-marketed to other production companies, networks, or studios, here is a link to the Writers Guild of America which explains more about “reacquisition.” Writers Guild of America

Ann: What are some of the things writers can do to keep productive and challenged?
Kathie: In addition to continually working on new projects, other productive things which can help a writer move forward include things like updating your marketing list, researching, entering screenwriting competitions and fellowships, which have been known to help lucky finalists obtain an option/purchase of their script or an agent/manager for representation, and volunteering at film festivals or screenwriting events.

Ann: Tell us about networking, who does it, and why it’s so important.
Kathie: Networking is all about building a community of colleagues who are willing to share and support one another with their knowledge, skills, contacts, resources, and feedback. In reality, everyone “networks” – from the PTA mom to the dad who coaches his kid’s sports team to the members of a non-profit organization to your local realtor, banker, and insurance man. In film/TV/entertainment, all of us network to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the audience, to find the talented new writers, actors, and directors, to make sense of the ever-revolving door of personnel changes at the studios, networks, and agencies. All of the information helps us to not only stay current, but to help us (and others) with our career path and in making the best choices in our jobs. It’s still true that “who you know” can be important, but building a community always works best when it’s mostly “give” than “take”. You never know when a grateful colleague may turn around and do you a favor, because you helped her out; it’s happened to me a few times, when I least expected it.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?

Kathie: Have never been asked that, but whether you’re a writer, student, CEO, or parent, I do believe it’s important to have a place where you can unwind, find peace, & relax, even if it’s for a few minutes. In the winter, I love curling up on a comfy sofa in my family room next to our fireplace, with my cat snuggled up next to me. If the weather is nice, I love reading & relaxing on a loveseat in our patio. On one side of our backyard my husband planted beautiful Japanese maples next to a small stone temple. On the other side of the patio is a soothing European-style fountain surrounded by azaleas and other flowering plants.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?
Kathie: There are so many quotes that I find inspirational, but here are three of them that come from three rather diverse sources:

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

“…You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think…” – Winnie the Pooh

And in my office, I have a bumper sticker on my cork board that I often turn to when I’m going through a stressful situation, which lifts me spiritually:

“What would Buddha do?”

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Kathie: I’ll be doing a talk on Family Entertainment for the Torrance Children’s Book Authors at their local Border’s store on August 24. On August 25, I have the pleasure of co-teaching a special class on Your Career in Television: A View From Both Sides Of The Table with my dear colleague, Ellen Sandler, at The Writers Store in Burbank. This fall I’ll be teaching a workshop in France for the Marseille Festival du Web. In late January, I’ll be traveling to the Jaipur International Film Festival to do a 3-day workshop, and in February, it looks like I’ll be co-teaching a 5-day workshop on Writing for Television with my friend Pam Wallace in Singapore. I’ll also be giving my 4 week online class on PITCH & PRESENTATION through Writers University a few times throughout the year and I am also working on a book proposal with a couple of other writers.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

Kathie: I’m very excited about participating in THE FUTURE OF STORY conference. I’ll be one of the panelists in the segment on Pitching Your Story. I plan to discuss such subjects as using the Internet to pitch your project and other opportunities that are available to writers who want to get their work noticed. I’m also planning to sit in on the other two segments (Developing The Story and Writing/Rewriting the Story), because I know I’ll be hearing new information on storytelling, which I can hopefully pass on to my writing clientele and students.

Ann: What do you think attendees will find most useful?
Kathie: Writers who attend will certainly gain a fuller, more expansive outlook on the complete process of screenwriting, with information, advice, and suggestions from more than a dozen industry specialists whose clients include several award-winning writers, producers, and agents.

Ann: Tell us about the unique opportunities for and value of networking at this upcoming conference.
Kathie: This may sound a little crazy, but in-between the panels and the special screening of Talking To Spirits, the organizers have arranged for everyone – writers, speakers, specialists, alike – to have an informal dinner from several of LA’s famous gourmet food trucks. It’s a great, unstructured opportunity to talk with over two dozen authors as well as fellow screenwriters/directors – what a fantastic way to “build” and “expand” that screenwriting community I just mentioned! I’m really looking forward to meeting the writers and answering any questions they may have.

Ann: Thank you, Kathie, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

Kathie: It's my pleasure -- hope to meet more writers at upcoming events! Aloha to all and wishing you the very best with your projects!

To learn more about how you can meet Kathie Fong Yoneda and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Pilar Alessandra

Republished from Writers Store July 14, 2011

By Ann Baldwin and Pilar Alessandra

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors/teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Pilar Alessandra is the director of the Los Angeles-based writing program On The Page and a highly sought-after speaker and script consultant . She’s worked as Senior Story Analyst for DreamWorks and Radar Pictures, trained writers at ABC/Disney and MTV/Nickelodeon and presented classes at The Great American Pitchfest. Her students and clients have sold to Warner Brothers, Sony and more. She recently released her new book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script Ten Minutes At A Time (Michael Wiese Productions 2010).

Ann: In your book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter, you discuss how emotion + action tells the story, can you share your theory about story with us?
Pilar: A string of feelings without activity? Boring. A story of activities without emotion? What’s the story? So the idea is to layer the two. Each activity creates an emotional consequence for the main character. He or she then acts on that emotion, which pushes the story. It’s impossible to know what a story actually is, unless we know what it means to people.

Ann: Why is writing in ten-minute increments so beneficial for writers? What does it do for them?

Pilar: To be honest, I’d wish on my writers more time than ten minutes, but the simple truth is that most of us have busy lives and we have to be creative in those small stolen moments. The upside is that a focused ten minutes, in which you don’t allow yourself to think about anything else but the story at hand, can be incredibly productive. You can often find yourself spewing out genius because you have no time but the present.

Ann: Tell us about “Scene Brainstorming” and one of the techniques, where you use character flaw or external obstacles.
Pilar: Every character creates natural activity in a scene simply by being himself. By applying character flaw, even shopping in a super market can be interesting. How does an uptight person get a cart? How does a perfectionist shop for food? How does a timid person check out? Exploit the flaws of the character and you’ll have instant entertainment,

Ann: Talk to us about “Character Rules” and give us some examples.
Pilar: Think about your favorite characters on the big or small scene. We get to know them through small, repeated behaviors: their character “rules.” Take a man who refuses to dance and put him at a wedding with a date. There’s a natural scene there. Or, break his rule at the end of the movie by showing him doing a tango with a woman he loves and we’ll know he’s changed (without him having to actually say anything).

Ann: What is a “Set Piece”? What well-known film scenes can you use as examples?
Pilar: A set piece is an active, trailer-worthy moment that takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. It often uses the character’s immediate environment to create a unique moment of entertainment. Think about the FAO Schwarz “playing Chopsticks” scene in Big. Think about the “cityscape implodes” scene in Inception. An “action set piece” takes a familiar fight, escape, or chase scene and uses the environment to create something fresh and new. Think of the “free running” scene from Casino Royale.

Ann: What can writers do to avoid having “A bunch of talking heads” in a long conversation scene that may be necessary for their script?
Pilar: Remember that a great dialogue-driven scene results from a blend of verbal lines and action lines. What someone does while talking is even more important, sometimes, than what they’re actually saying.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?
Pilar: My home is dominated by my kids (6 and 10), their play-dates, my husband, and the music he loves. So, in all honesty, my favorite “room” is actually my writers’ studio in Sherman Oaks where I teach my classes. The studio is divided into a teaching and working area. It’s quiet, just a little bit funky, and at its best moments, filled with writers and new ideas.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?

Pilar: Emerson’s definition of success begins: “To laugh often and much …” I re-read it all the time.

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?

Pilar: I just taped episode #200 of my podcast, “On the It remains great fun for me, but also a resource for writers who don’t live in Los Angeles. I’m also creating a workbook of my “On the Page” materials, a webinar of some of my classes, and an “On the Page app”.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

Pilar: I’ll be moderating the panel on “pitching”. As the subject is the future of story, I’ve asked the panelists to think hard about what’s next for getting one’s idea out there. Virtual pitchfests? Skype pitch sessions? Online communities? We’ll also be discussing the nuts and bolts of pitching of course. How best to communicate an idea with passion … and economy!

Ann: What do you think writers will find most useful from attending this conference?

Pilar: Take every book you’ve got on your shelf about writing and suddenly “bring it to life”. That’s what they’ll get; opinions and ideas about writing and story from the authors’ own mouths. Should be exciting!

Ann: What opportunities are there for the attendees of this upcoming conference to network?

Pilar: They’ll be in the company of other writers and have the opportunity to meet the authors of their favorite writing books in person (for a low price too). Not bad!

Ann: Thank you, Pilar, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

Pilar: It was a pleasure, Ann. Thank you!

To learn more about how you can meet Pilar Alessandra and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Christopher Vogler

Republished from Writers Store July 14, 2011

By Ann Baldwin and Christopher Vogler

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors/teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Christopher Vogler is one of Hollywood’s premier story consultants for major film companies such as Disney and 20th Century Fox, a respected teacher of filmmakers and writers around the globe, a popular speaker on screenwriting, movies, and myth, and the author of The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd edition (Michael Wiese Productions 2007) and Memo From The Story Dept.: Secrets of Structure and Character (co-authored with David McKenna) (Michael Wiese Productions 2011). He has influenced the stories of movies such as The Lion King, Fight Club, The Thin Red Line, and Courage Under Fire. He wrote the screenplay for the animated feature Jester Till and was executive producer of the independent film P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. He is president of Storytech a literary consulting firm to help writers, producers, and studio executives shape their projects.

Ann: In your newest book, Memo from the Story Dept., you discuss techniques that teach writers to become good story detectives by using their Environmental Facts, what are these and can you give us an example?

Chris: The idea is simply to encourage writers to examine their characters through six different lenses or points of view. We ask them to consider the following questions:

What are the unique conditions of Time for the characters?
What is the unique influence of the Place?
What is the Social environment of the characters?
What is their Political environment?
Economic environment?
Religious environment?

So for Luke Skywalker, the first two questions are partly answered by the first lines of the Star Wars saga, “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Luke is discovered as a teenager at a critical moment in his galaxy’s history. He lives on a remote frontier planet. His social environment is that he is an orphan being raised by his farmer aunt and uncle. His political environment is that his planet is on the edge of a great struggle between a cruel Empire and a noble Rebel Alliance, supported by remnants of an order of Jedi Knights. Luke’s economic environment is that he and his family are struggling while there is the potential for great wealth and power in space travel and trade. The religious environment is one of widespread belief in “The Force” which has a positive, light side and a negative dark side, though some, like Han Solo, are skeptical of ancient religions and hocus-pocus.

All of these conditions are choices that had to be made by George Lucas when he wrote his story. The “Six Environmental Facts” are actually a set of writing exercises to get people thinking about how those elements will shape the characters and influence the outcome of the plot. If you look at your characters in this systematic way, it can have a “crystallizing” effect on your story, where all these elements begin to work together to create a complete, multi-dimensional world for your characters to exist in.

Ann: Can you explain the importance of alternation and contrast in creating a good rhythm and balance for a story and the audience?
Chris: Here’s the truth – human beings are easily bored! We need to continually refresh the audience’s attention with vivid contrasts. Visual artists know that the eye is automatically attracted to areas of high contrast in a composition. A dynamic composition is one in which there is a lot of range, exploring the extremes of possibility. Alternating between light and dark, funny and sad, quiet and loud, allows us to enjoy both ends of a spectrum and compare the two experiences.

Ann: Can you share with us one of the writing exercises in your book, Memo from the Story Dept., regarding newspaper clippings and the different kinds of daily writing for writers and their benefits?
Chris: We encourage writers to develop the HABIT of collecting raw material for potential stories, whether it’s clipping intriguing news articles or bookmarking websites. I have kept a file for years of visual inspiration in the form of cards, magazine photos, images from the Internet and so on. Its part of a general effort I made years ago to CAPTURE as much of my story thinking as possible. A very important step was to start writing down story ideas as they came up and DATING them so years later I had some idea of how long that idea had been simmering.

I keep faithful to something I call my Work Diary which is my first stop in any day’s writing routine. I simply jot down the writing tasks I have to do that day, maybe some story problem I have to fix or a rough outline for an article. It’s my warm-up exercise and it helps me gets my thoughts in order. Often I have many things I could be working on and I find I need to prioritize.

Ann: In your book, The Writer’s Journey, you discuss how writers are like shamans and why writers need solitude and concentration; what can you tell us about this?
Chris: Shamans are the wise men and women of tribal cultures, and they are sort of like emissaries to the spirit world, traveling there to find out what’s on the spirits’ minds and then bringing back the answers to tribal problems in the form of dances, songs, or stories. I believe there is something very close to travel in the writing process. We have to go deep into another country, the world where the story takes place, and it takes time and energy to get there. It’s hard to be yanked back to the Ordinary World where everyone else lives. Once you’ve made the trip to the Special World of the story, you want to stay there a while.

Ann: What are “The Rules of Polarity” in stories such as rule #1 Opposites Attract and rule #2 Polarized Conflict Attracts the Audience?

Chris: Polarity in stories seems to follow some of the rules of magnetism and electricity. Characters with opposing qualities or objectives can make entertaining stories when they are forced to work together, and may even be attracted to one another, as positive and negative magnetic poles are drawn to one another, because each side has something the other wants. Audiences seem to enjoy watching this kind of attraction of opposites and are almost magnetically attracted to such stories.

Another rule of polarity is that polarized values sometimes reverse themselves. For example, a comedy team of a tough hero and a sensitive sidekick might reverse polarity under pressure, producing a situation in which the hero has to show a rare sensitive side, and the sidekick has to take over the job of being the rugged action protagonist. It allows characters to empathize with one another and can provide lots of comedy and drama.

Ann: How can stories heal us?

Chris: Stories give us metaphors that help us process and manage our life problems. They give us examples of human behavior against which we can compare our own performance. I’ve found stories very comforting when I am ill or stressed, giving me someplace else to go. Stories can be vehicles for expressing ideas, and sometimes these ideas give us new frames for understanding our challenges and healing our emotional wounds.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?

Chris: Over the years I’ve made a nice office space for myself, with an L-shaped desk that is like a starship control center with different areas dedicated to the current projects. For inspiration I have many models of medieval castles and a wall of shelves covered with toy soldiers from different time periods.

Outdoors, there is a golf course near my house and I walk around it to clear my head.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?
Chris: I like to pick a visual image to focus each project and I keep that within my field of vision somewhere on the desk. As for motivating quotes, my favorite is posted above the computer screen, and comes from the English sailor Sir Francis Drake, who said “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Chris: I am continuing to develop material for future non-fiction books about story and character, but I also have some fiction projects in the works. I want to revive a book series I started called RAVENSKULL, a fantasy based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel IVANHOE. The first part was published as a Japanese style “manga” or graphic novel, and I want to continue the story in some form. I love working with artists to add a visual element to my storytelling.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

Chris: The Future of Story conference is an exciting new project which developed out of yearly gatherings of authors who have been published by Michael Wiese Productions. We discovered we all felt the same impulse to share what we learned in our careers, and it seemed a natural step to open the doors to the writing public. We all have the same feeling – let’s empower artists by giving them the insights and information we gained over years in the business.

My role has been to help develop a sense of the MWP “brand”. I’m interested in how companies and individuals brand themselves by identifying the essence of their product or service. The essential theme of the MWP brand is the generous sharing of expert knowledge for the betterment of everyone. Branding is closely related to storytelling and in both fields you have to identify a theme in order to effectively move an audience.

At the conference I’ll be heading up a panel on the future of story development. We’ll be talking about the evolving development process of the major studios as well as how individual writers and producers will develop stories in the future.

Ann: What special benefits will writers get by attending this conference?

Chris: They’ll hear from experts in a wide variety of fields, all turning their minds to the future of our craft. They’ll get the latest techniques for improving their writing and advancing their careers. Most of all, I think they’ll get a boost of energy and inspiration from a remarkable gathering of smart, successful and generous-minded professionals.

Ann: What ideas are you excited to share at this upcoming conference?
Chris: I stand right between past and future, as someone who has excavated some ancient story patterns and tried to adapt them to modern books, movies, and games. I have a science fiction fan’s interest in peering around the corner to imagine what will happen next. I confidently predict some things about storytelling will change so radically we won’t even recognize them, but many of the old, tried and true techniques will find new and unexpected uses in the future. One of the most exciting new areas to me is pulling useful story ideas from unorthodox sources, such as computer science, physics, dance, psychology, and anthropology. Everything is fuel for the storyteller’s imagination.

Ann: Thank you, Chris, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

To learn more about how you can meet Christopher Vogler and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.