I am a story/career consultant. I analyze story for a living. It is very rare that I come across one that is perfectly structured. I feel that the last film that fell into this realm for me was The King’s Speech. I am always on a quest to understand how story can be structured in a way that makes us feel the content, the message and the pursuit in the strongest way possible. I found this in the brilliant story of Philamena. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote it based on the book by Martin Sixsmith. This movie is what strong storytelling is all about.
This is a spoiler alert: Philomena is about a woman facing the shame of a choice that was made 50 years earlier. I will be going through the set up in Act I of the story so that you can see what led to it being crafted so perfectly.
It begins when Philomena hears in church, “You are the cause of your shame. You and your own indecency.” Then, they show flashbacks of a Young Philomena during the trigger moment, when she meets John. This moment would later lead to the choice. We see the symbolism of an apple with regards to the forbidden fruit.
When we meet Martin who is set up on page 3, he is at the doctor’s office. We learn that he lost his job and he is in search of a way to process the change. This creates empathy. His doctor suggests that he try running.
We see more flashbacks of Young Philomena with John. In the present, Philomena tells her daughter, Jane that today would have been Anthony’s 50th Birthday. Jane doesn’t know what she is talking about. She shows her a picture of when Anthony was a baby. This sets up the “why now” in regards to why we are entering the story when we are.
In the inciting incident from the flashback, we see Philomena when she is pregnant and talking with Mother Barbara. Mother Barbara asks her if she took her knickers down for him. She says, “He got an awful lot for a toffee apple.” She asks about Philomena’s mother. One of the other nuns says that she died ten years earlier. This builds on the empathy that we feel for Philomena. She was left motherless at a young age. So, when she gives birth to a child as an unwed mother, she has to make a choice of what to do that will be for the betterment of her child.
In the present, Philomena’s daughter, Jane, meets Martin at a party. She hears that he lost his job and that at one point he was a journalist. She tells him that she knows a story about a woman who had a baby when she was a teenager and kept it a secret. The nuns took the baby away from her and made her have it adopted and she’s kept it a secret for all of these years. Jane tells Martin that the story is about her mother. She asks him if he’d want to do a story on this.
This is the trigger that brings the two worlds of Philomena and Martin together. Both have gone through loss. Both are on a quest for meaning. I think it’s fascinating that shame is what drives Philomena; yet, through the story, the question of who should be feeling this is debated.
The trigger incident from the past was the choice that was made. The trigger incident in the present had to do with the sequence of when Philomena hears about “shame” in church and the fact that it is her adopted son, Anthony’s, 50th Birthday. The trigger incident is continued with the moment when Jane runs into Martin, a journalist, at a party right after he lost his job and asks him if he wants to cover this story.
The dilemma for Philomena is that if she doesn’t find out what happened to her son, she will never know the answer of whether she made the right choice or not. The dilemma for Martin is that he has no job and he is given the opportunity to write a story of human interest that could bring him more opportunity, which could also help in processing his own loss.
The pursuit has to do with getting the story for Martin. For Philomena, it is about finding out what happened to Anthony. The obstacles have to do with getting information from the nuns, uncovering a secret that they were keeping, discovering what really happened to young unwed mothers at the Abbey, finding people who knew Anthony and could share the truth.
The part of the story that mesmerized me was the idea of who really should be feeling shame from the choice that was made. I found the story to be so powerful. The movie was phenomenal. The script is simply brilliant.
My Storywise 5-Week TV Pilot Teleseminar will start on Tuesday, May 6 at 7:00 p.m. PST. It will meet every Tuesday night. There will be a break between Week 3 and Week 4. So, the last class is on 6/10/14.
Participants will get a recording either the night of or the day after the teleseminar. So, if you miss a night or if you’re on a different time zone and can’t make the call, you will get all of the information sent to you if you are signed up.
Participants will be allowed to ask questions at the end of each call.
Here is a LINK to a YouTube video on the event.
Here is a list of the SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKERS. They will critique your pitches.
5/6/14 – Jeff Melvoin (EP/Showrunner – ARMY WIVES)
5/13/14 – Craig Sweeney (Executive Producer – ELEMENTARY)
5/20 – Julian Meijos (Writer – WHITE COLLAR)
6/3/14 – Jim Brandon & Brian Singleton (Co-Producers – BIG TIME IN HOLLYWOOD)
6/10 – Michael Narducci (Executive Producer – THE ORIGINALS)
SERVICE FEE – $200.00
At this level, you will get to participate in all ten (5) weeks of the Storywise Teleseminar; this includes listening to the calls (up to 2-3 hours in length per call). You will have an opportunity to pitch your pilot, and you will get to turn in a 2-3 page pitch document on your pilot script for a written critique. There is no limit on the time of when you can turn in your pitch document.
SERVICE FEE – $700.00
At this level, you will get to participate in five (5) weeks of the Storywise Teleseminar; this includes listening to the calls (2- 3 hours in length per call). You will have an opportunity to pitch your pilot script, you will get to turn in a 2-3 page pitch document on your pilot script for a written critique. You will also get a Pilot consult with this service. I will read one (1) draft of each script and give you written and verbal notes. This includes one (1) meeting up to one (1) hour in length to go over the notes.
SERVICE FEE – $2,400.00
At this level, you will follow alongside the Storywise Teleseminar and receive written and verbal feedback from me at each phase of the pilot writing process. This includes written and verbal feedback on your concept, your outline and three drafts of each script. This includes five (5) meetings up to one (1) hour in length to go over the notes, the log lines, the pitches and career guidance.
Your personal fall can be what drives you toward your professional win. As a story consultant, I like fiction that connects the central character’s personal wound to the professional outcome; their personal dilemma is tied to their professional dilemma, so that accomplishing the external goal signifies a win on both an internal and external level. For me, this is what drives story. When we understand why the central character wants the external goal and what is at stake if they don’t get it, we root for them to get what they want. If you learn how to apply this same concept to your life, you will be astounded by what kind of results you will see.
I’d like to give you an example of a recent film that I thought could have been even stronger if the personal dilemma of the character had been better connected to the professional outcome. In Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal, the dilemma is 9/11. The goal is to get Osama bin Laden. The lead character is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative who is in pursuit of the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. My question is why her? What is motivating her character to want to achieve this goal on an emotional level? How is her personal dilemma connected to the professional outcome? For me, this is something that could have made this great movie even stronger than it is.
In the new TV series, The Americans, written by Joe Weisberg, the personal dilemma/wound is strongly connected to the professional outcome. We learn early on in the pilot episode that Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is a KGB agent in pursuit of an ex-KGB Colonel who is a whistle blower on undercover agents. When Elizabeth and her husband Phillip (Matthew Rhys) apprehend him, they miss the ship that was their chance to complete the mission and hand him back to Russia. This is the professional dilemma. The goal that stems from this is to figure out what to do with the Colonel in order to complete their mission. Elizabeth wants to kill him. Through a flash back, we discover the personal wound driving her to achieve the professional goal: When Elizabeth was training as an agent in Russia, the Colonel took advantage of his position and raped her. This is an excellent script and pilot episode. This story really moves because we know why the central character is in pursuit of the professional goal and what the personal stakes are if it is not achieved.
In your life, I want you to think about how you can do this to add fuel to the fire of your professional goal. Have your life turns caused you to move away from your goal because of the scars they’ve left behind? Learn how you can connect this wound and use it to motivate you toward a new professional goal. By using what you lost to propel you further, there is no end to what you can accomplish.
In my own life, I lost a job after 15 years with two sister companies. It was a big fall for me that was very unexpected. After learning how to take inventory of what happened, I learned how to use this loss to move forward instead of falling victim to my fall. I knew what my strength was as a studio executive, my notes on story. I used this strength and designed a business around it. Since my personal story was a large part of what led to my new professional goal (i.e., teaching story on a global level to stop isolation and create community), I learned how to link the loss I went through to this professional outcome. This year, five years after opening my own company, I taught in London with The TV Writers Summit and I am about to go to Australia to teach the TV Writers Studio. I achieved my professional goal by linking my personal wound/dilemma and using it to propel me forward instead of hold me back.
In my upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success, I teach, based on the concept of life imitating art, how we can learn from fiction, and how we can apply it to our own lives so that when we go through a turning point and experience a fall, we can get back up and use the fall to achieve a professional goal that can enrich our lives more than we ever imagined. We can become the active hero in our own story.
The idea that we are all evolving or that we all have the ability to evolve to a higher consciousness is a hot topic in the media. Authors are taking us on a journey into a deeper awareness of ourselves. Lecturers are covering concepts like how to find joy and true happiness and how to help us lead a more authentic life. We are learning the lesson that all the answers lie within. We are discovering the beauty of looking inside ourselves instead of externally for our happiness. The concept of being able to find real fulfillment inside is a gift. It makes you feel all your prior hard knocks in life happened for a reason — to move you toward something greater. It seems that people of all ages are moving into this place of awareness. I question what the key is to evolve to this place since we all seem to arrive at different ages and points in our lives.
It feels as if there is an invisible realm full of guides who are keeping score of our individual falls and triumphs. It’s as if once our falls begin to outweigh our triumphs, we begin to evolve. We are humbled. We are vulnerable. We may first try to distract ourselves with things like work, exercise, shopping, alcohol, drugs or anything that numbs us to the pain. When we tire of the distractions, we finally are free to move toward something more meaningful. We reach for books, listen to talks, share authentic connections, attend concerts and the list goes on. Our intention is just to feel better; we may even be on the quest for a quick fix. But what we soon recognize is that there is no quick fix to evolving. In story, I coin this as the character shifting from ego to spirit after going through a number of obstacles. In life, I think we go through this shift from ego to spirit on a daily basis. If we are truly evolving, our friendship with the spirit grows stronger. The ego starts to lose ground and begins to feel neglected. This is when change begins.
When we begin to trust our instincts and our vision clears so we may see the full potential impact of our present-day choices on our future, we begin to transcend. When our pain outweighs our pleasure, something has to shift. We recognize that sometimes the choices we make positively or negatively affect others and as we evolve we become more aware and adept at thinking before making decisions. When we actually move into something more, we think about how our choices and our goals could help the greater good. We move into a heightened place of awareness or higher consciousness and we begin to absorb and interpret the sights, sounds and experiences of our life in a new, more evolved way.
I just returned home from a magical experience at a place called Miraval. It is just outside of Tuscon, Arizona. The buzzwords I heard at this place were “mindfulness”, “being present”, “finding your joy”, “breathe” and “moving in a more authentic direction”. The people vacationing there came full of stories and, more impressively, full of hope, as well as vulnerability. Miraval is one of those havens where people can go when they want to dig deeper into themselves and grow to a place of deeper awareness, a place of more. There are life-affirming lectures of all types, a huge array of spa services, every type of exercise imaginable and part of your daily room rate goes toward a massage. On top of that, the food is excellent, served in well-portioned, charming arrangements that are very reasonable calorie-wise. As if that was not enough, it is all-inclusive, except for the alcohol (i.e. once you pay the daily room rate, you do not have to tip). In other words, you can just let go and not worry about anything other than being present or breathing. Miraval also offers a wide array of activities (some of these are at an extra charge) that are designed to help you move past your fears and to feel the gift of evolving.
Since I am currently exploring this concept of how our goals cannot only benefit ourselves but the greater good as we evolve into something more, I plan to do a series of blogs that discuss some of the books that have fallen into my lap at the perfect time – those books that you read at the exact right time in your life – that explore this idea to help guide you to a stronger place of being. This is a message that benefits us all. It is an important one. We all have felt or feel the desire to evolve into something more.
Higher consciousness: Is this a state that we will all become familiar with? Is it part of our destiny? As an author and a Story/Career Consultant, I study and am fascinated by the concept of how we move from ego into a higher consciousness that benefits the greater good both in our lives and through the stories that we tell. How do we move into a higher consciousness? What has to happen in our lives? I’m always seeking to further understand this shift so that I can help writers identify the shift in their own lives, in order for them to know how to apply it to the stories they write. I feel that writing from a place of higher consciousness is the key to affecting universal change through story.
I have found, from reading about others who have gone through this kind of transformation, a common story point in the experience – what I refer to, both in life and in story, as the “all is lost” moment. In scriptwriting, this is a moment when the central character is as far away as possible from achieving his/her goal. In life, we hit this type of moment when our world appears to suddenly turn upside down. We lose our balance. Part of our journey back to balance, I am learning, is directly linked with reaching a higher consciousness.
To reach the desire to move toward a higher consciousness in my own life, I feel like I had to hit my “all is lost” moment; it came after losing a job that I had for 15 years with two sister companies. At that moment of loss, I realized that I had become married to my career after my divorce years before. When I lost my job, it felt as if I was going through a second divorce. In finding a new direction, I knew that I had to find something deeper that meant more, spiritually. It took me losing all that was (i.e., the past tied to ego) to motivate me into venturing into all that could be – the infinite space of possibility. I find that behind the personal stories of many authors/screenwriters, there is a moment like this that causes the same type of transcendence. This is why we connect to what they write.
L. Steven Sieden is the author of the book, A Fuller View: Buckminster Fuller’s Vision of Hope and Abundance For All, which explores the life shift of “Bucky” Fuller – a wise visionary, architect, inventor and motivational speaker ¬– after he hit an “all is lost” moment. For the first part of his life (before the shift), Bucky had served as an officer in the Navy during World War I. He got married and experienced the birth and untimely death of their first child. He then went through a major business and financial failure with his own construction company. As a result of that endeavor, Bucky lost all of his money as well as the investments of his friends and family. Sieden writes, “With the loss of his construction company and the birth of his second daughter, Allegra, Bucky found himself stranded with a young family in 1927 Chicago. He had no money, no job, no formal education beyond high school, a reputation as an unsuccessful businessman, and no prospects for the future.”
Sieden continues, “Extremely dejected, he seriously considered drowning himself in Lake Michigan. It was then that Bucky had the famous mystical experience that transformed his life. He realized that he did not belong to himself, and consequently, did not have the right to end his own life.” Then Sieden goes on to explain, “In that cosmic flash, Bucky suddenly understood that he (like every human being) belonged to Universe, and he committed himself to an experiment that provided the foundation and context for his every action and decision during the next fifty-six years. He decided to embark upon a lifelong experiment to determine and document what one average healthy individual with no college degree and no money could accomplish on behalf of all humankind that could not be achieved by any nation, business, organization, or institution, no matter how wealthy or powerful.”
Justine Willis Toms, guest commentator in Sieden’s book, adds, “One concept of Bucky’s that remains a touchstone for me over the years is that we can all be ‘trimtabs’ – that is, we can play a role in changing the course of things. A trimtab is a small device that is part of the rudder mechanism, which plays a crucial role in controlling the direction of a ship or an airplane. The metaphor was so important to him (Bucky) that ‘Call Me Trimtab,’ serves at the epitaph on his gravestone.”
DeAnne Hampton is the author of The New Human: Understanding Our Humanity Embracing Our Divinity. Explaining her own shift into a higher consciousness she writes, “As I began stepping back from my egoic restlessness and dropping into an emerging essence that responded to my anxiety with more inspired thought and creative possibility, I was given graceful mirrors within my routine that allowed my physical energy to grow in equal proportion to the conscious work that I was doing and engaging within the higher realms. Enthusiasm grew as I created the space for more nothingness to enter, accepting that as my consciousness expanded from within, my ego that enhanced itself from without would become extremely uncomfortable.”
DeAnne adds, “I began to seek a new counsel within that increasingly guided me in conscious action to balance doing with being. Curiously, without knowing what it was, friends and colleagues started noticing a new glow, a radiance emerging that I would come to understand as the light of my inner being, hungry for spaciousness and room to grow… I no longer belonged to my self, I was suddenly swept up by my own higher intent to know my Self: the formless, creative, intelligent force of my spiritual essence.”
I was mesmerized by these two depictions of the life shift into higher consciousness. These books helped to increase my own awareness and understanding of how better to teach the idea of transformation into a deeper place of being – a place where we can each become a “trimtab” and, in the process of doing so, effect change in ourselves and in the world.
Celebrating the New Year often symbolizes a fresh start and a new beginning for each one of us. We reflect on the year past and give gratitude for our successes, think about what we wanted to do but didn’t or what we tried to do but perhaps didn’t work out. We celebrate our wins and mourn our losses. We reflect on what could have been and learn to embrace what is. We think about what we want our life to look like and why we want it. We also consider the obstacles we face. We gain fuel from all of this introspection and look at the start of a new year as a way to think about our new plans and how to start putting them into action.
Similar to many of you, I thought about how I wanted to bring in this New Year. Where do I want to be? What do I want to be doing and how do I want to feel? Well, I decided that because I am in the midst of writing my next book (Change Your Story, Change Your Life) that I would like to be at a Writing Retreat. I searched online and found a Wellness Immersion Retreat, a retreat geared towards wellness through writing, yoga, painting and healthy eating. When I read the description of this, it sounded like heaven to me. So, I decided to give it a try. I knew that it meant being away from home, friends and family for the celebration of the New Year but it also meant opening up myself to a whole new experience, new friends and new energy.
This particular retreat was in Tulum, Mexico, at a gorgeous resort (the Shambala Petit Hotel) nestled on the beach. I knew I loved this place as soon as I saw the coziness and the community of the grass huts and the plaque as you entered the hotel that read, “We are what we think. All that we are arises out of our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” Each night at dinner we saw the owner, Roberto Hernandez, who made all of his guests feel as if we were part of his family. It was a very unique and memorable experience.
Stephen Lloyd Webber and his wife, Jade Webber, headed the retreat. Don’t be fooled by their youth and beauty, they are the real deal. The Webbers have had successful retreats like this one all over the world. Stephen teaches the writing part and Jade teaches a daily yoga and meditation practice as well as painting. They both participate in the critiques of the writing every night. Stephen and Jade started the retreat with asking each one of us about our goals. I eagerly told them my goal and hoped in my heart that it would happen.
Fourteen writers/artists gathered to drink it all in and satiate their thirst for the experience. I made plans to meet a fellow author and good friend there. We are both writing our next book. Upon arrival, my friend and I were taken to our room, which was gorgeous and felt like a giant tree house. It had a phenomenal ocean view. As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, this is where I am going to write my book. I knew that with this type of inspiration, the words would come. I was right.
Everyone else came by themselves, with the exception of a mother and daughter. So, we started with a group of strangers and quickly, through the experience, became an instant family.
Each day started with yoga and meditation. Jade often started it with a discussion before jumping into the practice. After that, we’d write some personal pages and then, go to breakfast (which we ate in peaceful quiet). So, we sat and ate our meals and took it all in with our heart and soul. Glances at one another were full of peace and gratitude. After breakfast, we’d gather for a discussion with Stephen and for our writing exercise assignments. Then, we’d write for a few hours before meeting for lunch, which was always a delicious new surprise. After lunch, we’d meet for discussion and then go and write again for several hours before dinner. I’d return to our room, sit on my bed with the ocean view and I would let the words flow. Every night we’d meet for dinner, which was always comparable to what you’d get at a five star restaurant. After dinner, we’d go through our critiques of what we wrote that day. I LOVED this part. There was no greater opportunity for me than hearing the voices of the other participants, which included some very talented writers.
I collected so many beautiful memories on this trip: the ocean in every shade of blue imaginable, men raking leaves, dogs sleeping, Mayan ruins, footprints in the sand, hearts opening, sounds of drums and techno, a child’s laughter, stories being revealed, voices emerging, wounds surfacing, and healing beginning.
I set my goal when I got there. I wanted to write 15,000 words of my book. Through the journey of the writing exercises, the experience of the place, the gift of my friend’s companionship, and the energy and stories of the participants, I was able to hit my goal. I wrote 4 chapters. I made new friends. I found peace within. I started the year with putting a plan into action. I highly recommend this experience to anyone that wants to go on a vacation and accomplish a goal. It was a beautiful way to end one year and start another.