I JUST DID AN INTERVIEW FOR VEJA MAGAZINE IN BRAZIL for a LECTURE THAT I WILL BE DOING IN BRAZIL SOON! (It's the TIME Magazine of Brazil and the text is below. Enjoy.)
QUESTION: We’re experiencing some changes with the advance of the internet and social media. Stories began to be told by anyone and in a different way, with a small number of words and the help of images and videos. Can these stories be compared to the “classical” idea we have of storytelling? Did this new possibility change the way we receive stories or the way we expect stories to be?
ANSWER: This is a great question and one that we are just beginning to understand. However, here are my thoughts on the subject.
Yes, more new stories are being told than ever before in history, and these stories are being told in ever new and changing ways... New tribal formations are being formed every day and people all over the globe are engaging others and connecting in ways never thought possible...
Now, with the rise of all these new stories, it's becoming very hard to process all this information and thus we have to pick and choose what stories we want to tell and listen to. And so, the question arises what new stories engage and stick with audiences and why?
I and the other speakers will be discussing this topic in depth in our free conference on May 10th. But a short answer is simply this -- the stories that truly affect people are those that still follow the classic fundamental rules of narratives. These are the same basics that Aristotle discussed over 2000 years ago and are still in play today. This is true because even though the way we tell stories have changed a great deal over the years, human beings essentially remain the same.
Cervantes, Shakespeare, Garcia Marquez, and all the great story- tellers knew this. We need stories to help make sense of the confusion of daily life. Like all great art, they help put the chaos of existence in order and allow us to have a road map of how to life.
QUESTION: What’s the importance of storytelling your consultancy see nowadays?
ANSWER: James McSill and I provide a service that does not really exist today but is incredibly necessary. We are lecturing around the globe to demonstrate to people that the rise of things like POWERPOINT are leading to the death of storytelling in the world today. And it is this very rise of things such as Powerpoint that are indicative of what is wrong with storytelling today.
You see, Powerpoint allows us to put information in bulletpoints and lists that seem to be easy to read. But these forms are actually counterproductive to how human beings process and retain information. We learn by storytelling, so that much of what is presented today just filters through people and they retain little to nothing of it.
Think about it. It is easier than ever to write a story. With the rise of computers and the internet, anyone can sit in front of a keyboard and pump out a story in a few minutes. This is both a blessing and a curse. There are more writers than ever before, and there are also more bad writers than ever before. The ease in which computers allow us to create and distribute stories leads to many people not taking the time to CRAFT their stories into a powerful and transformative work of art... And that's what stories should and must be if they are to survive.
What do people expect from books, movies and television shows? Are there rules or a pattern that can be taught to those wanting to write something successful? Do this change over time?
Yes, the good news is that there are rules that govern storytelling! And the better news is that we will share many of these rules with people at the free seminar on May 10th.
We believe that these rules are constant and no matter how the forms of storytelling change over time, they rules remain the same. And the good news is that no matter how talented a writer you are, you can learn these rules and become a better writer and storyteller.
QUESTION: What is the most common mistake people make when writing a book or a script? How can you guys help them overcome this problem?
ANSWER: The most common mistake I see is that people are too nice and too lazy. What I mean by this is that they are too easy on their characters and stories. They fall in love with their characters and they are willing to make their lives as difficult as they must be for a good story to occur. Drama is about conflict and tension and it is a storyteller's job to discover what is the worst possible thing that could happen to the characters in their story and then have that exact thing occur.
And then, even if a writer is able to do this, they usually don't want to do the draft after draft after draft necessary to perfect the story. Writing is hard work and most people are not willing to do the years of work necessary to become a great storyteller.
QUESTION: What would you say to someone who’s beginning a writing career in Brazil and in the world? What is the most important tip you could give to him/her?
ANSWER: Take your time. Study your craft. See the best movies from all over the world. Read the best books. Watch the best TV shows. See the best plays. Write, write, write and then throw out everything you've written and start again. Think about what makes your story unique and different than any story ever been told in the history of the universe and then decide what form would be best to tell your story -- film, tv, theater, fiction, non-fiction. Then, write and rewrite and then share your work with other writers who can offer constructive feedback. Do NOT send your work out into the world until it is ready. And then rewrite some more!!!
And expect to be rejected and know that you are being rejected because you still need to grow and learn more before you will be ready! Don't take the rejection personally but instead see it as an opportunity to grow and learn and change as a human being. This model of learning and growth is the basis for my latest book that recently came out in Brazil, BE THE HERO OF YOUR STORY, in which Brazilian Author Eliana Barbosa and I talk about how you can be the hero of your story if you are willing to see the obstacles in your life (like the obstacles in every great hero's story) as being there to prod you forward to grow and change and learn what you need to learn to become the hero you were born to be.
QUESTION: What do you think of the television series that are on air currently? Do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why?
ANSWER: There is more great television in the world right now than ever before. I love show like The Newsroom, Game of Thrones, Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Damages. The list could go on and on. I think many times the writing is now better on TV than in movies. I miss The Sopranos and Seinfeld and love any TV show when a great writer really has a chance to explore themes and characters deeply.
QUESTION: Game Change writer, Danny Strong, said your classes were really valuable to him and that your lessons still influence his writing process. Were you involved in any of his projects directly? What can you say about this improvement he’s declared to have had in his writing?
ANSWER: The two movies that Danny wrote for HBO, Recount and Game Change, are two of the best movies that have been written in America in the past ten years. Period. They just happened to have been written for TV instead of for the big screen, but that doesn't devalue the great storytelling in both of them.
Danny did not write them in my class. He was a young writer when he was in my class and we did mostly exercises that were a page or two long. However, it was by doing these exercises and learning his craft that he was able to write such great scripts 10 years later. I think this is a good example of the growth of a writer in terms of big picture thinking and many years of writing instead of instant success.
QUESTION: Can you give me some examples of your work? For instance, the characters you helped improve, the stories that you helped develop. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during this job?
ANSWER: Much of what I do is ghostwriting in which I can't talk about the project and that's okay with me. I enjoy diving into a story and trying to fix it. All writers, myself included, are sometimes blind to the failings in our own work and we must find others to help heal our stories. There is no shame in this and it is part of the process that we all go through to get a piece of work to reach its dramatic potential.
So, it is hard for me to think of a project that I can talk about here, but I can mention this. A few years ago, Sunsilk Shampoo realized that it wanted to tell hair dramas instead of just showing pictures of beautiful women waving their glossy hair around in the air. They knew that to connect and engage female consumers that bought shampoo, they needed to tell hair dramas.
Therefore, they hired me to work with the copywriters around the world to write short scripts for TV commercials that talked about real hair problems that real women had. These hair dramas proved to be the basis for the most successful ad campaign Sunsilk ever had. And for me, this was further proof of the power of storytelling.
QUESTION: How can storytelling be used to improve advertisements’ power?
ANSWER: The story I just told works is an example of how narrative can endow advertising with a power beyond the ordinary. There are others, as well, especially with the rise of the internet and the fact that all brands have their own websites now which allow for more brand storytelling than ever before.
QUESTION: You are coming back to Brazil in May. Do you know Brazilian literature, movie and television productions? What do you think of them? Who’s the most promising Brazilian author/screenwriter in your opinion?
The wonderful Brazilian films, City of God and Central Station are two of my all time favorite films. However, they are both at least a decade old so what this demonstrates is how unfamiliar I and most Americans are with modern Brazilian cinema. This is a shame and it's a function of how big budget Hollywood studio films dominate the screens in America and keep great international stories away from American audiences.
However, with the rise of digital media, I think there is an opportunity for storytellers all over the world to self-distribute their film and books and get in touch with audiences that they would previously not be able to engage and connect with. So, again, we see the rise of the power of good storytelling to touch and transform global audiences.
In terms of Brazilian storytellers, I am looking forward to meeting and working with new faces from Brazil. I always find it exciting to discover new voices outside of Hollywood that have something fresh and original to say. In fact, I remember 20 years ago, a shy 18 year old Chinese-American boy from a little town in Northern California who walked into my classroom and handed me startlingly wonderful and original scripts every week. I instantly new that an important new American voice had been born in my class.
And then just last week, I looked up on the movie screen and that student, John M. Chu had just directed GI JOE! It was wonderful to see his name on the screen and to see how far he has come... But it didn't happen in a few days, and the majority of successful people seem to be 20 year "overnight successes."
I have also felt excited about some of the writers I have worked with in Brazil. For example, I have been privileged to read the work of a young writer in SP by the name of Andre Schuck who is developing an animated project, a novel and a graphic novel that are all wonderful. He understands Hollywood storytelling, but brings a fresh Brazilian sensibility to his stories that make them clever and fun to read.
And James McSill tells me that two authors that have been published by DVS, Márcia Luz and Branca Barão, are wonderful writers. And in fact, we shouldn't forget James McSill and Editora DVS who will revolutionalize kids books in Brazil with the new literature that they are developing for the youth market.
QUESTION: Are you working on a new project for a book or a screenplay? If so, can you tell me something about it?
ANSWER: Thank you for asking. I am always working on several projects at once and love to jump from filmmaking to playwriting, fiction and non-fiction. So, I have just finished two new plays with American actor, Joseph Bologna who starred in the wonderful American film about Rio with Michael Caine, BLAME IT ON RIO. One is a comedy about a senior citizen trying to use a computer and the other is a historical drama about Abraham Lincoln.
And I have a new documentary film coming out soon, Making Light in Terezin, which tells the story of how theater, comedy, dance and song helped the Jews in the Terezin concentration camp in WWII survive the Holocaust. I have also been doing a companion book to this piece that features all the interviews from the film in their entirety. And I have two new books that I've written, a murder mystery and a young adult fantasy series that I recently finished...
And as I mentioned earlier, I'm also proud to say that I have a book in print in Portuguese in Brazil that came out last year, BE THE HERO OF YOUR STORY, written with the wonderful Brazilian writer, Eliana Barbosa.