Diana Black Begins Our Hero’s Journey

journey

The Hero’s Journey in Episodic Television – Part 1
by Diana Black

Before we explore the concept of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ in relation to episodic television, let’s first define ‘The Hero’ and the nature of the ‘Heroic journey’.

It’s generally hard to be heroic while doing the laundry, the weekly grocery shopping, shaving or any of the other mundane day-to-day things we occupy ourselves with…hence we unconsciously yearn for more – to experience ‘living on the brink’ , in fear of losing that life, so as to test ourselves on ‘the battlefield’ where we hope like hell to prevail. Perhaps this is the reason why high-intensity sport is so popular – for the adrenalin rush it provides. Perhaps it’s also why for more than a few, there’s a desire to reminisce with cherished comrades who also survived the insanity of ‘the’ war.

So if ‘normal’ life falls short of providing us with self-validation, what can we do? Among other things, we can experience pain and triumph by proxy – ‘experiencing’ being a hero via the big or little screen.

But let’s back up and first define the hero…

The Hero goes beyond the ‘every-day’ in terms of achievement and experience – but the challenge/s resulting in heroic action are generally thrust upon them, rather than being embraced willingly.

Who is or has the potential to be a hero? In a word, and I’m not being sexist here – the ‘everyman of day-to-day and of anywhere’ IF and only if, he/she can rise above that day-to-day and be willing to sacrifice themselves for those who may never know their name or ironically, don’t care to know.

Think of the fire-fighters who routinely put their lives on the line for the sake of others, those who refuse to leave a ‘man’ behind, no matter what the personal cost, or those who’ll defend with their lives if necessary, the countless other species who have no voice. Our world is rich with day-to-day heroes and the smaller they are, the more insignificant, vulnerable – the better they’ll serve and inspire the rest of us. Why?

To illustrate, let’s review J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; brought superbly (and heroically) to the big screen by Peter Jackson. Why in essence, is J.R.T.’s work considered by some to be the new mythology of our time? Well that’s another story but recall it was populated by a swathe of hero’s, each in their own way, willing to sacrifice themselves in order to rid Middle Earth of a ruthless evil. For those who haven’t seen it – SPOILER ALERT!

Consider Frodo Baggins… this humble, ordinary, little life-form proves, through great trial and personal sacrifice, that he has the potential for greatness… and so do we; at least we hope we do and yet… we fear we don’t.

If that little person could do it ‘this way’ under the worst of circumstances, then hopefully we can too. . Remember we’re an animal – we can either learn by observation, which is free or, by trial-and-error, which is potentially expensive to the point of being lethal. But it’s not enough for us to be told – ‘do this or don’t do that’…we need a detailed plan – we may have to implement it someday… and thus the narrative (the survival lesson) takes the form of a ‘journey’, with ‘sign-posts/steps’ that were formulated over two thousand years ago by Aristotle in his Poetics (335BCE) that take the form of the 3-Act Structure, which has a beginning, a middle and an end. Joseph Campbell coined the phrase, ‘The Hero’s Journey’ in relation to the main character’s experiences over the course of the narrative.

In our day-to-day life, unless we’re engaged in a dangerous occupation, we may never be seriously tested and the same applies for our potential Hero. As if providing us proof of this, we initially see him/her as ‘one of us’ – we’re exposed to them living a peaceful/normal/mindlessly blissful or miserably depressing day-to-day existence, where they hang out and the general tone extant within their social environment. The Lord of the Rings doesn’t open with Frodo in Mordor – he’s in his ‘normal’ world – the Shire but then…

But then along comes the ‘inciting incident’ followed by a ‘call to action’. Our Hero’s life is about to be turned ‘upside down’ and given the choice, they’ll respond with a, “Fuck Off!”Frodo isn’t so impolite. However, he can’t ignore the brutal fact that the Ring – left in his custody (thanks a lot Bilbo), cannot stay in the Shire if his home is to remain the peaceful, boring place he’s grown up in and there’s no one else willing to bear the Ring – Gandalf refuses. Frodo must remove it himself (moral dilemma) – fuck! Being the good, kind lad he is with a potential for greatness, he reluctantly and fearfully ‘steps up to the plate’ (demonstration of courage) and thus answers the ‘call to action’.

As a ‘little’ person (no pun intended), he thinks all he has to do is pass the Ring on – to those he perceives to be far more capable – the ‘bigger’ people who are surely braver and stronger than he. Yes – that’s doable. So we see him and Sam (along with Pippin and Merry) head out on ‘the quest’ – to make it to Rivendell. Usually a Hero once answering the call to action, ‘crosses a line’ – physical and/or psychological and in this instance, it’s the boundary of the Shire.

The observant will note that Sam, Merry or Pippin don’t volunteer to take responsibility for the Ring; they can only support Frodo through their presence, love and loyalty. The Hero, surrounded by those who love him (or not), stands alone – figuratively. Well, shit! The trip to Rivendell was hard enough – Frodo almost died. So the Hero rightly asks, “Aren’t we done yet?” Nope! ‘The’ quest hasn’t even begun. The obstacles are about to appear, the tension and the stakes now escalate.

Elrond refuses to harbor the Ring, which means this beautiful, deadly ‘thing’ must be taken to the very last place any of them want to go – Mordor. The Council argues – who will take it? Can’t we wield it ourselves? Frodo is dismayed. If the bigger, more superior folk can’t agree on the Ring’s fate – some are so easily lulled into thinking they can harness its power; oblivious or choosing to ignore, the thralldom they’ll forever endure, then what’s he – a yokel from the Shire, to do? He was so hoping to get rid of the horrid thing but realizes he can’t – he’s going to have to take it there (courageous decision).

Thus we have what Syd Field, a renowned master of screenwriting instruction, calls ‘Plot Point One’ – the last scene of Act One – where the Hero’s life is going to change big time – physically via traversing unknown and dangerous lands and psychologically with the realization they’re likely to be going ‘toe-to-toe’ with the enemy. Frodo’s dismayed – well that’s tough luck… but…if they can’t do it, how in hell can he?! But he knows he must. So now, the dramatic question for us viewer’s – can Frodo & Co. achieve the mission objective or will the enemy win?

While Frodo has support in the form of the fellowship, we’re reminded that they’re incapable of taking over the mission. Syd Field refers to this as ‘Pinch One’ and occurs halfway through Act II. While each has sworn to protect Frodo, he’s still essentially alone. He’d love nothing better than to give the responsibility of the Ring to someone else, but they’re all ‘found wanting’ (obstacle and dilemma) – Gandalf’s lack of vigilance, Boromir’s arrogance – lives are lost. Aragorn, as Isildur’s heir, is fighting his own demon of self-doubt and so he daren’t touch the Ring.

While Boromir sacrificed himself to save Frodo, thus redeeming himself in our eyes, Frodo comes to the truly bitter and terrifying realization that he must go it alone if he is to save his friends and the Shire let alone the rest of Middle Earth – talk about high stakes (the moral dilemma resurfaces). This is the ‘Midpoint’ – the point of no return. This little Hobbit must walk willingly into the maws of Hell (the sacrifice for the ‘other’), even when he doesn’t know the way (obstacle) if he’s to destroy forever, this awesome manifestation of destructive power – what clearer demonstration of courage could one possibly want.

But things aren’t all bad…he has one invincible weapon – love – the most profound and powerful gift one can bestow on the ‘other’. Sam will be by his side to the bitter end – no matter what the cost. Much appreciated but of small comfort – Frodo knows in his heart that the enemy is already there – in the form of the Ring and it’s trying to kill ‘him’ and it does – the old ‘him’. It’s a character in its own right and its malevolent power is increasing – it’s going to fight him every step of the way (the relentless obstacle). Thus we have reached the mid-point…the point of no return. Also worth pointing out that inanimate objects and the environment itself, can be characters in their own right.

Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth ( ) maintains that the Hero’s journey is twofold – not only is it a quest to sacrifice oneself in order to ‘save the other’; it’s also an inner exploration of self. Frodo is not only battling the malevolence of the Ring and those who would take it from him, he’s also waging a war within himself – not to cave into desire –- the evasion of responsibility.

The Lady Galadriel was tempted when he offered it to her…but the mirror provided a cruel reminder, backed up by Galadriel’s warning, that if he fails – the Shire will be destroyed. He like Gollum will be lost and forever homeless. Is he the happy-go-lucky Halfling that looked forward to Bilbo’s Birthday party? Unfortunately not – he’s becoming grimmer by the day; dog-tired, yet determined.

Obstacles not only geographic ones (remember the environment is a character) are piled up in front of him and Sam. They find a way ‘forward’ thanks to Gollum but he betrays them. Faramir (in the movie at least) forces him to make a significant detour and thus we as the viewer, vacillate between hope and fear. Faramir is also alone and burdened with his own internal wound – that of rejection. But he has gifts for Frodo – empathy and compassion. Far wiser than his arrogant brother, he sets Frodo and Sam back on the path.

When Frodo and Sam are effectively lost – physically and psychologically, it is Sam that reminds him what they’re fighting for – the green verdant fields and the people of the Shire but that now seems like a distant memory; one that’s fading fast. This comprises ‘Pinch Two’.

We’re fast approaching ‘Plot Point Two’ – where everything seems to be on track but then, ‘goes to hell in a basket ‘…Gollum returns and through deceit and guile, convinces Frodo to abandon the only friend he’s got – Sam. We know this is seriously diabolical – Nooooo! Frodo’s going to become Shelob’s meal – in a way ‘punishment’ for his disloyalty towards Sam. The Ring’s having a wonderful time!

But does Sam give up? Of course not but, is he too late? Hope and fear, hope and fear…Oh, my! Now we’ve reached ‘The Crisis” – Frodo’s ‘dead’. Good, honest Sam has failed Frodo – for him there are worse things than dying. Utterly heart-broken, he resolves to complete the quest alone and takes the Ring.

Could things get any worse – hell, yeah! Frodo’s not dead and destined to become the Orc’s next meal or trucked off to Sauron for torture. Fuck! Sam, admonishes himself for being a silly little, ignorant Hobbit. But with added determination, he rescues Frodo – all is forgiven, but the Ring is snatched back – we’re not out of the woods yet – we’re dealing with ‘damaged goods’ here.

With some measure of renewed vigor they make the final leg of the journey into Mount Doom. Now we’ve come to ‘The Climax’ – Frodo you fool, what can you be thinking?!

There, standing on the precipice, he has a change of heart and refuses to relinquish the Ring. All the hardship and misery that has gone before, the sacrifice of loyal friends,; it was all for nothing. But Gollum serves one last function – J.R. despised the weakness of humankind – particularly their penchant for greed and power. Driven by avarice and desire, Gollum fights Frodo for the Ring and wins! For one brief, glorious moment, he’s victorious but that will be the last thing he remembers as he along with the Ring, are incinerated by the lava of Mount Doom.

Frodo sans digit is pulled back from ‘the brink’ – both physically and metaphorically. Yet even for his monumental albeit, momentary lapse in judgment he remains the Hero. Sauron is vanquished. But peace and a return to ‘normal life’ will be no longer possible for our hero. It is not for nothing that Frodo tells Sam the last pages of The Red Book – recording this heroic journey, penned as “The Lord of the Rings” is really Sam’s. As if being punished for his brief failure, the Shire cannot remain Frodo’s home, nor will any real peace for him in Middle Earth.

The Hero is older, wiser but often ‘damaged’ in some way, so that they remain alone; no longer ‘just one of the boys’. So Frodo leaves Middle Earth with the last of the Eldarlie.

So, now we’ve explored how this is done on the big screen – thank you Frodo & Co., what about the little screen via episodic television? Is there a difference…well perhaps not, in that we have a ‘Hero’. However, does the Hero undertake a heroic journey and does that automatically equate with a transformation of the hero…perhaps not and if not, why not?

We’ll explore that next….


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer. TVWriter™ is proud to call her a member of our Advanced Online Workshop.

Cartoon: “An Incantation”

From the World’s Greatest Cartoonist. (Yes, even better than Berkeley Breathed!)

incantation

See more from Grant Snider at Incidental Comics

Follow Your Opportunity, Not Your Passion

Say what? Doesn’t advice like “follow your opportunity” directly oppose following your passion? But we all know that life’s all about going where your enthusiasm leads you, don’t we? Hmm?

Well….


 

followyourheartornot

by Carol Roth

With a job being something that we can no longer count on and more demands than ever on our time, we seem to be in constant search of balance and fulfillment. This has created a huge “follow your passion” movement, which suggests that you should earn a living by creating a livelihood from your greatest life passion.

But getting intoxicated by the passion story is akin to “business beer goggles.” You aren’t thinking clearly or seeing the reality.

For businesses to be successful, entrepreneurs need to think about opportunities from their customers’ perspective as much as from their own perspective.

While I do believe that successful businesses have leaders — and often employees, by the way — who are passionate about the business opportunity and their customers, you do not need your life’s passion as a starting point. If you were passionate about the television showDexter, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t translate into you starting a serial-killer business — despite being amoral and illegal, I don’t think the market opportunity is that large. But seriously, why do so many people think that you need to earn a living from what you love to do the most?

Passion isn’t a starting point.

Zappos.com is a business where passion followed opportunity, but wasn’t the starting point. I can’t imagine that Tony Hsieh is more passionate about shoes than most of the women that I know. He is, however, completely passionate about customer service, which helped take that business to the top of its game.

But people’s life passions generally aren’t around concepts like customer service, which drive successful businesses. Kids grow up wanting to be firemen, ballerinas, baseball players or Star Wars characters, not community builders. If you ask someone their passion, I can guarantee that 99 out of 100 times or more, you will get answers like golf, dancing, wine, scrapbooking or sex before customer service, community building and customer loyalty. If you start with passion, Imelda Marcos or Sex & the City’s Carrie Bradshaw end up running Zappos.com before Tony Hsieh.

Successful businesses identify a customer need or want — an opportunity. When the entrepreneur is incredibly passionate about filling that customer need and is uniquely positioned to be the best person to do so in some way, that’s where business success happens.

And here’s the brilliant part: As long as entrepreneurs aren’t a bandwagon hopper trying to jump on whatever is hot, they will likely find an opportunity from an area of interest. For example, if you have no interest in green technologies, it’s not likely that you will notice a customer need in that area. On the other hand, if you are a foodie, it’s quite possible that you will run into an opportunity in or around food….

Read it all at Entrepreneur

Larry Brody says, “I knew I liked Hank Isaac” and His Work

And now I know he, um, likes me too:

Lilac poster with LB

Always happy to see my name in print.

And even happier to see a mention of TVWriter™.

Merci, dood.

LYMI LB

LYMI
LB

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Liz Tigelaar, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

tigelaar headshotAspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Writer Liz Tigelaar (Life Unexpected, Bates Motel, The Astronaut Wives Club) rose through the television ranks, from intern to PA to script coordinator to writers’ assistant before breaking in as a television writer.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I went to Ithaca College and I originally had kind of been thinking I was going to go into theater and music. They had such a great Communications program and I was really interested in television, but I didn’t know what I would do in it. I was not a big film buff by any means and as my time in college progressed, I got into creative writing too.

It was actually my mom who really encouraged me. She’s a wonderful writer and she said, “You love to tell stories. You like to entertain people. You love television. Why don’t you try writing?” And so I just kind of decided to give it a try and I wasn’t that great at it in the beginning but I did really like it and I loved TV.

So it just kind of fit. Ithaca had a program where you could come out to LA and intern. I was a huge soaps fan so I interned at General Hospital and just loved it. And it was weird because I actually just worked on a show, Astronaut Wives Club, that was on the same lot and I was in the same building on the same floor as where my internship was. And it was so cool to be back there and to be on a show, looking at my old internship spot in the lobby where I would sit and answer the phones and I was like, “Wow. If anyone had told me twenty years later I’d be back here, I don’t know that I would have believed them.”

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

When I graduated, I interned at Dawson’s Creek right as that show was taking off. That really was what started and shaped my career. I started as an intern and about 6 weeks later, I was offered a job as a post PA. I did that for a year and then moved down the next year to the writer’s office, which is where I really wanted to be.

I was a script coordinator and then I was a writers’ assistant. And I wrote a freelance for them at the time with another woman who worked on the show, we were writing partners.

The freelance afforded me kinda picking what my next job would be. I didn’t get on staff from it, but I could be a little more choosy about my next assistant job. I went and I took some time off, kind of looking for the perfect job and contemplating what I wanted to do and then Maggie Friedman, who’d been working on Dawson’s and had gone on to Once and Again, called me and said that Winnie Holzman was looking for an assistant and it was right as Winnie was doing the show and doing Wicked and I ended up getting to be her assistant for a year.

That was incredible and really kind of changed things for me because Winnie’s such an iconic voice and such a known writer and a wonderful person and a person who really is able to infuse herself in everything she does, and it was like being in grad school.

AFTER WORKING WITH WINNIE, WHERE DID YOU GO NEXT?

Then I went out for staffing, I didn’t get anything again and was looking for a writing job, but if not, then an assistant job. And then I saw the pilot for American Dreams, I just remember the end of the teaser was Brittany Snow playing Meg, watching American Bandstand like it was all she wanted in the world and I felt like I was watching her watch that and this was all I wanted.

I was just like, the show is incredible. The show is a fit. Somehow it just felt like me to me. And I was like, I’ll do any job on it. I’ll go back to being a PA, I’ll be a writers’ assistant, anything. I just want to be on this show from the start. And I was lucky enough my manager at the time knew the showrunner and so she got me in as an assistant.

And from there, when they hired me they said if we get a back 9, we’ll give you an episode to write. I wrote that episode and then, myself and the other writers’ assistant, we both got to write episodes and we both got promoted. It was a really kind of nurturing, familyish like fun, really special place and a group that’s really stuck together. That was my first job on staff and I got to be on that staff for the run of the show.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION?

I had a writing partner at the time and her mom was a very high up executive in the business. A really wonderful person and she sent our material out to her peers and people she knew.

She wanted us to go to Endeavor at the time. We basically went in there and met and they signed us. Without her, I don’t think we would have been on anybody’s radar. It was definitely like a who you know situation. I will say, I’ve been with them for like 18 years now. It stuck.

WHEN YOU WERE FIRST BREAKING IN, WAS THERE A PIECE OF ADVICE THAT REALLY STUCK WITH YOU?

Yes, a couple things, Jon Feldman, who was working on Dawson’s at the time, gave me advice like, if you ask someone for notes, be willing to get notes. Because a lot of people ask for notes, but what they really mean is like, “Hey, tell me it’s good and pass it along to your agent.”

Or you give somebody notes and then they kinda want to argue what they were trying to do versus what you thought and why you should feel differently about it. He gave me advice that was just like, do the notes. If you ask for notes, do the notes. If you do the notes, you’ll get better.

This is not necessarily advice that I got, but advice that I learned along the way. I think it’s really easy, especially when you’re an assistant, you want to break in so bad and you’re working so hard, I think as different generations have kind of come up, the expectations for this has even increased this idea that like, you deserve this. Like I do my time and I deserve this.

I think that that can be kind of like looking at your career through the wrong lens in a weird way. I feel like someone hires you to do a job as an assistant, do that job as best you can. Don’t worry about what you deserve or what you think it will lead to or how long you’re doing it for.

If you do that job well, whoever gave you that job, will help you out for the rest of your life and you will eventually get where you want to be. I think it’s when you think you’re above a job or just want to hurry through it, that it can take so much longer.

I mean I look at working for Winnie Holzman. I probably worked for Winnie for 9 months. She never read my writing. I never asked her to. Winnie has been my advocate for I would say 12 years now and it’s been amazing and I know people because of her and I’ve gotten jobs because of her, but I never had to ask her for anything. All I had to do was do the job she asked me to do.

Coming soon – Part Two as Liz shares her advice about taking meetings, pitching and the most common questions she is asked by aspiring writers.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Female Showrunners Discuss – Showrunning, of course

The CW has opened its doors wide to female executive producers this fall. A few weeks ago, 8 of female showrunners gathered in front of the Television Critics Association and spoke with a candor…well, with a candor we don’t often get from, you know, those Big Boss Men:


 

womenshowrunners

by Pilot Viruet

During Tuesday’s CW session at the Television Critics Association summer tour, the network only had one show to preview: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But followed it up that presentation with a fascinating panel of eight women executive producers. It was easily a highlight of the TCA tour so far, as the women — Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Jennie Snyder Urman (Jane the Virgin), Gabrielle Stanton (The Flash), Diane Ruggiero-Wright (iZombie), Wendy Mericle (Arrow), Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals), Caroline Dries (The Vampire Diaries), and Laurie McCarthy (Reign) — spoke candidly but optimistically about their experiences and the importance of women on television.

“You definitely feel when you’re working at The CW like female voices and female stories are welcomed enthusiastically, and that’s great. I never feel like it’s being second-guessed in any way or that our experience is being hemmed in in any way by men. I just feel like it’s a very obviously female?friendly group,” said McKenna, on how welcoming the network is to women. Later, McCarthy echoed the statement: “I feel like [The CW executives] treat us like we’re showrunners. They don’t treat us like we’re female showrunners.”

The eight women, who are inarguably helping to usher in a more female-friendly and inclusive era of television, discussed why it’s important for women to help other women, and how they’re in a unique position where they can do that. “I think hiring more female writers is something you have more of a say about,” says Ruggiero-Wright as her role as EP. “You want to hire the best writer for the job. So if the best writer for a particular job is a man, I’m going to want to hire a man. If the best [person for the] job is a woman, I’m going to want hire the woman. And if it’s between the two, honestly, I’m going to pick the woman, and that’s just the truth. That’s how it’s going to be. If they are equal to the job and I have a choice between a man or a woman, right now in this job, I’m going to support the sisterhood.” The rest of the women agreed, adding that they get the opportunity to hire more woman directors and to write better characters than just “sexy secretary” or “hot housewife.” “We get to be part of a group that brings queens and monsters and werewolves,” said Plec.

When asked about the hardest part of their job, many of the women brought up not having enough time to spend with children, family, or friends because of the intense demands of their work. But Plec elaborated on something more specific, and familiar: her habit of crying when upset. “I don’t raise my voice,” she said. “I don’t get angry. I don’t lose my shit… ultimately, when I get upset, frustrated, or disappointed — whether it’s creative disappointment, personal disappointment — I cry. I hate that. Because as a woman, you feel like tears are such a sign of weakness. You’re taught to feel that’s like what defines you as a woman. ‘Oh, she’s a crier.’ I had someone, a man I worked with, say, ‘Oh, are you going to cry again, you little baby?’ And that’s, excuse my language, fucking brutal. Because in holding in my anger, my rage, my disappointment, my frustration and not projectile vomiting it all over somebody else in a screaming fit or making them feel small, which is — I know plenty of women who are like that too, by the way, but [it’s] definitely [a] predominantly male characteristic — you end up exposing a vulnerability of yourself that makes you feel weak.”

McCarthy discussed the frustrating ways in which people refer to women: “‘Crazy’ and ‘bitch’: those are the two words I hate the most. You can say almost any other word to me and I’ll like it better than those two words when you’re talking about women….”

Read it all at Flavorwire