Archive for the ‘the bible’ Tag

Story Structure

In recent years the word and concept of Story has become fetishised. Every dull brand has a story, every prostituted hack is a storyteller. But despite this cheapening, Story remains a fascinating aspect of human behaviour. I have been interested in the structures underlying Story for many years. A couple of landmarks were being sent, on my second job, at Melrose Film Productions by my boss and mentor the late Peter Cole (ex-BBC Panorama), on an early outing of Robert McKee’s Story course in London. And reading Into The Woods by my former Channel 4 colleague John Yorke (Head of Drama).

robert mckee story book and course

Also on the McKee course, which has since become something of a screen industry cliche, were John Cleese, Joanna Hogg and a famous British sci-fi writer, I think it was Brian Aldiss but I forget. It took place at the Liberal Club off Northumberland Avenue over a weekend and it was a profound experience. I remember writing to McKee after to thank him for a transformational couple of days.

into the woods book john yorke

Into The Woods I found a great synthesis of the various theories I’d heard over the years.

Another key experience was the first time I worked on a development with my Little Dot colleague Paul Woolf. I was a Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 at the time and he was a senior Development Producer at Maverick TV. He is now based in Philadelphia heading up Unscripted Development in the US for Little Dot Studios and we’ve been working together closely throughout 2019 – a lot of Skyping. I was struck by how Paul applied story archetypes to the factual entertainment programme we were developing at the time – not an obvious tactic but it worked really well.

I use concepts of Story Structure all the time in developing documentaries, even when derived from sources more focused on movie and drama scriptwriting. In the area I work in much of the time, short form online docs, there is a tendency to neglect narrative and default to what are in effect mini character portraits. I’m a real Story merchant, pushing all the time for narrative drive in documentaries.

violet vixen poster real stories original documentary

A good example is the recent Real Stories Original Violet Vixen. The young director, Leanne Rogers, brought me some lovely footage centred on Leo, a charismatic 11 year old exploring his gender identity. But there was little story in place. I gave her a commission for a 25-minute doc on the proviso that she add an element to up the narrative drive. I suggested she encouraged Leo (and his mum) to go see his hero. It turned out his hero was Courtney Act, drag queen graduate of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Leanne managed to pull off the encounter and the trip down to Brighton to meet Courtney (the charming Shane Jenek) gave the film a spine. Our timing was lucky too as Courtney won Celebrity Big Brother while we were in the edit – he has since been given his own show on Channel 4 this Christmas.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year thinking about Story Structure. My starting point was reflecting on Why Do Us Humans Love and Tell Stories?

Cavemen at camp fire telling stories cartoon

My conclusions in brief can be summarised thus:

* to distract us / entertain us
* to find meaning / patterns in our experiences
* to get a sense of there being order
* to think about what we would do in the circumstances / rehearse situations
* to get guidance on how to understand other people
* to connect to others through shared experience
* to pass on information
* to pass on values
* to define our identity/give us common ground/bind the group
* to feel better about our lives (by comparison)

All of these seem to me to grow out of our Human Condition and the imperatives of evolution.

* to distract us / entertain us – the world is a tough place
* to find meaning / patterns in our experiences – evolution has made us great pattern spotters
* to get a sense of there being order – we need a sense of meaning and purpose
* to think about what we would do in the circumstances / rehearse situations – we’re more likely to survive if we’re well prepared
* to get guidance on how to understand other people – we’re more likely to thrive if we have insight into how our fellow bald monkeys think
* to connect to others through shared experience – we have an inherent need to belong (to the family and tribe and race)
* to pass on information – e.g. to help our offspring survive & thrive
* to pass on values – to help our society run smoothly
* to define our identity/give us common ground/bind the group – we need the group to survive
* to feel better about our lives (by comparison) – the world is a tough place.

In the same way, archetypal stories grow directly out of the human condition. Let’s start at the beginning – Birth. One of the main story structures is Paradise Lost. We spend nine months floating around in a benign place, well fed, nicely muffled sound, a steady reliable rhythm of heartbeat. And then we get ejected. Into a tough place.

When I was doing some research on that second job at Melrose I went down to the old Docklands to meet a bloke whose big theory was that the trauma of Birth was the defining moment of our whole lives. I’ve reflected on that from time to time over the years and I buy it more and more.

So what I’m calling the Paradise Lost story is: I was in a perfect place. I got ejected. I need to get back there. I reckon this is reflected in all sorts of human behaviour from people tending to drift back in their later years to where they grew up (or a place similar to it) to men spending so much time and effort trying to get back up that little birth canal. This story is intimately linked to the concept of Home.

It’s the central human story of the Bible – the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It’s there in The Godfather – Michael gets sent off to Sicily after tasting the forbidden fruit of illegal killing (the murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey) and works his way back not just to the family kitchen but also to the desk in the background. It’s there in Where The Wild Things Are – Max gets sent to his room and from there finds himself in that wild place, it’s fun but he’s happy to sail back to the peace of his childhood bed.

al-pacino godfather murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey

Of course it also the story of both Trump and Brexit as highlighted in John Harris’ excellent 3-parter for BBC Radio 4, The Tyranny of Story, which has been repeated this week. “Make America Great Again” – America was a great place (e.g. in the post-war 50s boom); that disappeared; Trump is going to bring it back. “Take Back Control” – Britain was a great place (e.g. when we had an empire); that disappeared; Brexit is going to bring it back. Neither Hilary nor Remain came up with an effective counter-narrative.

where the wild things are maurice sendak book childrens

Over the holidays I’m going to reflect more on the connection between the human lifecycle (both as individuals and a species) and the core human stories.

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In the Beginning of the End (serpent mix)

 

jim morrison

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of everything that stands
The end, no safety or surprise
The end
I’ll never look into your eyes… again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free?
Desperately in need of some stranger’s hand
In a desperate land

In the beginning
God created
The heaven
And the earth

And the earth
was without form
and void
and darkness was upon the face
of the deep

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain

And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters

There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby

Weird scenes inside the gold mine

Ride the highway west, baby
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake
He’s old, and his skin is cold

And God said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly
The moving creature that hath life
And God created every living creature that moveth

Be fruitful and multiply

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind
And cattle after their kind
And every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind
And God saw that it was good

Now the serpent was more subtle
Than any beast of the field
Which the Lord God had made

The Lizard King

King of the universe

So God created man in his own image
In the image of God created he him
Male and female created he them

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the East
In Eden
And there he put the man he had formed

The West is the best
The West is the best
Get here and we’ll do the rest

The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you takin’ us?

And God said: Behold
I have given you every herb
And the earth brought forth grass

And God said: Let there be light
And there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good
And God divided the light
From the darkness
And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Divide the light from the darkness

The killer awoke before dawn
He put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
“Father?”
“Yes, son”
“I want to kill you”
“Mother… I want to… fuck you”

And God blessed them
And God said unto them
Be fruitful and multiply
And replenish the earth
And subdue it

C’mon, baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock, on a blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock, c’mon, yeah
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill

What have you done?

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life
And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

The voice of your brother’s blood
Cries to me from the ground!

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me

He made the stars also

Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of God
Wandering, wandering in hopeless night
Out here in the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned
Immaculate

The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end.

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