Tom is a story shaman. He has a magical way of helping you find the exact story you need to tell in an organic, deliberate fashion.
—Krisi Olivero, Producer, “I Will Dance”
Story Voyagers Writers Room Experience
The Story Voyagers Writers Room Experience is a comprehensive, cohesive learn-by-doing training program for industry professionals to create and develop successful films and television series through group creative process. Writers are trained in this unique, cutting edge methodology as implemented at the Racconti Screenwriters Lab in Bolzano, Italy, the Graduate Program for Serial Storytelling at the IFS in Cologne, and working with numerous creative teams on documentary films, feature films and television series.
These workshops are differentiators, utilizing strategies employed to develop series like “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland”, while enhancing essential team building and leadership skills. This creates sustainable creative teams for future projects since team players in Writers Rooms often become leaders. This was exemplified in the writer’s room for The Sopranos where staff writer Matthew Weiner became the creator and showrunner of Mad Men, while X-Files staff writer Vince Gilligan became the creator and showrunner for Breaking Bad.
The Writers Room Experience methodology includes presentations with video clip examples, creative team story-generating exercises, improvisation, Story Constellations*, Story Mapping**, and the Storyteller’s Playbook***
The screenwriting exercises are inspired by Tom’s teachers: Jean Houston (The Possible Human), Eugene Gendlin (Focusing), Maureen Murdock (The Heroine’s Journey), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), Eckhardt Tolle (The Power of Now), Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces), Neil Landau (The TV Showrunners Roadmap) and Pema Chödrun (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times).
PARTICIPANTS WILL LEARN HOW:
- The meaning of your stories connects you to your audience
- The Creative Team is on parallel emotional journeys with their characters and ultimately, their audience
- Films and TV Series can be mapped by exploring the synergy of plot, character and theme throughout dramatic time
- The richer and more comprehensive the source material, the greater the number of multi-platform expressions
- Story structure is based on how stories function
- Story Structure is based what the audience learns and feels while viewing.
- Your story structure is defined by the genre or genre mix
- Solution-oriented stories are more engaging for the audience
TAKEAWAYS: STORYTELLING TOOLS
- The Dramedy and Heroine’s Journey video workshops and support materials.
- The Writers Room Playbook
- The Mythic Journey, Story Molecule and Plot Energy Curve Models.
The basic “Seven Steps to Writers Room Success” curriculum for this workshop follows next. Each Writers Room Experience is designed according to the specific group’s needs. I suggest we put the focus on Drama with Comedy, sometimes inaptly called ‘dramedies’.
An example of the Writers Room Playbook completes this document after the curriculum.
THE SEVEN STEPS TO WRITERS ROOM SUCCESS:
1. CONNECTING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE: THE MYTHIC JOURNEY
The four Archetypal stages of the creative process: Separation, Descent, Initiation and Return
- Be true to your feeling experience, bodily felt experience
- Find the story beneath the story: what appears to be happening vs. what’s really happening.
- Discover how theme is revealed through archetypal relationships like brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son, etc.
Experience how you, the storyteller, resonate with the archetypal themes in your story, which is how you connect with your audience
THE MYTHIC JOURNEY: a path of growth through crisis
2. BUILDING RICH SOURCE MATERIAL
- Source Material is the foundation of your multi-platform storytelling expressions;
- Source Material is the research and development that defines the physical world or worlds of your story, the back-story, the emotional network of characters and intimations of the theme (what is this story about?)
- The multi-purpose Source Material is the foundation for producing documentaries, feature films, television series and web series.
THE PLOT ENERGY CURVE: Structure is the order in which the audience learns and feel things.
3. KNOWING HOW STORIES FUNCTION: “FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION”
- Meaning comes through the contrast and opposition of:
- Worlds in contrast and people in opposition
- While establishing locations to reflect the emotional states of the audience while watching the film.
- Worlds in contrast and people in opposition
- Dilemmas are at the creative core of storytelling
- Dilemma is the choice between two things that both have positive values.
- Dilemmas are expressed through Core Triangles of Characters
- Relationships reveal vulnerability, raise the stakes and present a wide range of emotional experiences for the audience.
- To create a wide range of emotional experiences, ask: what is the angriest, saddest, most proud, ashamed, joyful, moments for the audience?
4. SEEING HOW UNIVERSAL THEMES CONNECT YOU TO YOUR AUDIENCE
- The archetypal themes are expressed through relationships
- Is there an archetypal primary familial relationship, like brother and sister or mother and son?
- Ask: what will the audience learn in the end?
5. UTILIZING HOW STRUCTURE IS BASED ON THE AUDIENCE’S EXPERIENCE
- Structure is the order in which the audience learns and feels thing.
- Structure is a holographic system based on the relationship between plot, character and theme.
- To define the genre and the palette of tones, ask:
- How deep? How dark? How real? How close? (POV).
Stories are a series of interconnected Movements: Establishing, Catalyst, Threshold Crisis, Core Crisis, Catastrophe and Climax
- Establishing/Opening: something’s missing. Exclusion creates desire.
- Desire Lines unfold through time via relationship to world(s) and other characters
- Catalyst raises questions on three levels of the story molecule
- Threshold Crisis is the first show of response by the antagonist network
- the relationship arcs are catalyzed in Act 2, and correspond to the Descent Stage of the Hero’s Journey.
- Core Crisis is an outer event that creates a crisis in the primary relationship
- Catastrophe is when it appears the main character will not reach her plot goal and relationship goals.
- It appears that the antagonist has won
- Climax is the dramatic answer to the three Story Molecule questions of plot, character, and theme.
THE STORY MOLECULE: a systematic web of plot, character and theme
6. SEEING HOW YOUR STORY IS SCULPTED BY THE GENRE OR GENRE-MIX
- Genre is based on how you perceive and find meaning in the world.
- Learn how the comedy, thriller and family genres have their own subset of structural.
7. UNDERSTANDING HOW YOUR STORY IMPACTS THE AUDIENCE RESOLUTION
- Resolution means that the audience perceives the thematic issues raised in a new way: through an emotional triumph
- See how solution-based storytelling is more engaging than problem-based storytelling
- Is the story life-affirming or life-negating? Life affirming stories are about characters overcoming difficulties
- The audience experiences an emotional triumph at the end.
THE WRITERS ROOM PLAYBOOK
STORY-BUILDING QUESTIONS FOR YOUR WRITERS ROOM TEAM:
These questions are based on how stories function and guide your team to creating a “bible” for your series of stories.
- How do we create meaning through contrast and opposition (differing worlds, cultures, viewpoints, locations etc.)?
- What is the consistent Palette of Tones throughout the series? (Ask: How deep? How dark? How real? How close?)
- What is the main dilemma each central character is experiencing?
- How can mythic structure and archetypal feeling states chart the audience’s emotional experience while watching the film?
- What are the archetypal themes we share with the characters and ultimately the audience?
- What is the genre or hybrid genre?
- What are the plot arcs and relationship arcs that engage the audience in the pilot and provide the through-line for the series? What are the corresponding plot and relationship arcs for each season?
- What are the triangles of characters that deepen the viewer’s emotional engagement through the Rule of Three?
- How do we skillfully reveal exposition and back-story without slowing the story momentum?
- What is the Storytelling Structure that will best express the franchise?
- How do we implement solution-based storytelling rather than problem-centered storytelling and what is the audience’s intended response?
Writers Room Experience & Playbook
by Tom Schlesinger
all rights reserved
I was on a pre-med scholarship at the University of Illinois when I first saw Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These transformational films astonished me; they spoke to something deep inside and changed my life. I had found my lifework: to be involved in the magic of storytelling.
So, I switched from pre-med to creative writing, and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Film from UCLA. I optioned my first two screenplays on an amazing early ride, sharing my scripts with Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. But when the scripts weren’t made into films I went into despair, wound up working as a bellman in a downtown Chicago hotel, and pondered whether film school had been a huge mistake. I confessed to a fellow bellman over a cold beer that while I loved storytelling, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to follow my dream and make movies. He suggested I come with him to a lecture that very night.
The speaker was author Joseph Campbell, featuring his book ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’, and that night triggered a life-long passion for the power of story to affect positive change in society. I was inspired to create social impact entertainment, and mythologist Jean Houston, a renowned expert on the psychology of creativity, became my mentor. Through studies with Jean, I made the single most important discovery of my storytelling career: that what we’re experiencing emotionally as we’re writing is what the characters are experiencing emotionally – and ultimately what the audience experiences when watching the film. Realizing that writers experience a parallel rite of passage with their characters led me to begin teaching human potential workshops at UCLA, the Esalen Institute, the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and the Academy of Art in Munich.
I started teaching at the National Film School in Munich and began writing, teaching and consulting in Europe, North America and North Africa. My first two collaborations with filmmaker Carolin Link in Germany resulted in nominations for two Academy Awards, with ‘Nowhere in Africa’ winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2003.
I co-wrote a film for Columbia Pictures that had the full studio machine behind it, but was a box office disappointment. I realized it was time to go deeper into my craft and in that exploration, I started my journey into documentary films. I was honored to work with renowned filmmaker Paul Saltzman on “Prom Night in Mississippi” featuring Morgan Freeman, and “The Last White Knight,” featuring Harry Belafonte – and both are still having great social impact, internationally.
So, I’d found my niche: combining narrative strategies with true stories. As if on cue, the next two films I’d be writing were powerful, transformational stories based on true events. ‘Thief River’, the ‘Hoosiers’ of hockey, and ‘Second Line West’, the story of a single mother of four, who saved the lives of a number of troubled souls by guiding them toward spiritual solutions.
As a result of these fortuitous collaborations, I‘ve taught transformational storytelling to over 10,000 industry professionals at Pixar, Lucasfilm, Deluxe Studios and the AFI.
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Tom’s extraordinary guidance on my scripts for “Nowhere in Africa” and “Beyond Silence” enriched my award-winning films immensely.
Tom is the best: full stop!
Tom’s wisdom, inspiration, and deep understanding of character and story continue to guide me on each screenwriting journey.
Working with Tom Schlesinger is worth its weight in gold!
I think I learned more about storytelling from Tom at the workshop than I learned in my last 10 years stumbling through my career.
Tom helped me focus on possibilities instead of limitations. His qualities as a guide cannot be valued enough, not to mention that he is a great guy, and tremendous fun to work with!
I would HIGHLY recommend Tom to anyone involved in visual storytelling.
Tom has a keen sense of the “big picture.” His insight allowed us to envision structure and effective character arcs in the early stages of development — important assets in creating a great screenplay.
Tom has the amazing ability to guide writers to a place of enhanced creativity.
Tom has a very unique approach to story and I’m extremely grateful to have had his guidance.
Attending Tom’s workshop was a creative turning point for me as a documentary filmmaker.
The first thing I did when I began writing was to pick up the phone and call Tom. I can’t think of a more insightful and inspiring “wing man”. He truly guides me to do my best work.
Tom is a master in working with dichotomies: logic and emotion, brain and heart, body and soul… my characters came alive as we found the optimal structure for my script.
Collaborating with Tom has been absolutely essential for me and, aside from his sheer intellectual input, so much fun!