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Kean grew up in Indianapolis playing basketball 25 hours a day, attended Indiana University studying English as a Creative Writing major, and in 1971 got his first job out of college as a tour escort in Hawaii. He has been living on Maui ever since, and while he had several careers including video production...read more

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Nov. 7, 2007 by Kean Salzer

Classic Story Structure Unwrapped #1

I’ve decided to roll a little of my film interest and study into this Maui blog to see if any of you are interested in cinema and help those who are to see how this art form is designed to allow storytellers to help us as audience see how to live.

If you’ve read my bio you know I spend a lot of time in LA teaching Classic Story Structure. My favorite quote about this subject comes from Robert McKee’s book Story. “Structure is a selection of events from the characters’ life stories that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life.” McKee is saying when a film is done well it is not only telling a story, but it is designed to get you to connect emotionally, open your heart and learn a lesson about how to live.

John Truby, whom many consider the closest to a scientist when it comes to Story says “...a story, in order to be considered great, has to be about moral choices. A great story shows us how we are in some kind of slavery and it shows us how to escape..unless it is a tragedy, and then it shows us the consequences of not making the right choices.”

If Content is King then Story is Emperor....We live in a day when monarchy has all but diminished to window dressing, but you can get a better idea between the two if you think about the contrast in authority and power between Herod Antipas in Israel and Julius Caesar, his boss, in Rome.

Every single movie person will tell you it is all about the story. Ironically, I have heard people say that to me while handing me a greenlit script that is completely fixable, but without even the basic Classic Story Structure steps. And the interesting thing is while it is possible to create entertaining motion picture art without Classic Story Structure, thank you Charlie Kaufmann and others, it has been impossible to resonate with a huge audience without it.

Classic Story Structure is somehow in our collective DNA. And since film has become such a part of our worldwide cultural connection we seem to only recommend others see a film if we have sensed it was about how to live and it satisfied us on that sub-conscious level where we need Story Structure to lay a foundation for the emotional experience we need from a great film.

Most of you haven’t studied the exhibition patterns of blockbusters v. break-evens, but the essence of the $200 million dollars profit difference is whether the audience that was driven to the theaters by the studio marketing department in the first weekend will tell their friends to go see it and extend the film’s run past week 4 or 5...good old word of mouth. And since word of mouth is the basis of all successful marketing it seems only stories willing to submit to Classic Story Structure play on a worldwide stage and allow the filmmaker to continue his quest for a lifelong career of making films he wants to make instead of studio projects that pay his mortgage.

Artists think they dislike structure...it feels like the vice principal walking the high school hallways with a list of rules about skirt length and shirts tucked in. And most of the bad movies they have seen over the years have attempted Classic Story Structure and settled for formula, while masterpieces seem to be ripe with visual metaphors and themes hidden in cinematic camera angles and unresolved symbols...think the first Matrix, White Rabbit, Blue v. Red Pill, Trinity, Morpheus, Oracle, Prophecy, Neo, etc. Hundreds of little pieces sprinkled organically throughout the story and all critical to the story and all designed to take you out of your formulaic viewer pattern and into your subconscious mind map to decipher as you engage.

But here's the key:  Even as the film is filled with wonderful art and symbols hinting at a path to understanding...underneath all of the art the story is being driven by structure.  In Matrix it is classic story structure...a single hero on a journey...in this case a myth genre so he is challenged to pay the price, travel into the underworld, find his mentor and allies, face his own weakness and old ways of dealing with his brokenness, overcome the opponent and bring back an elixir to help heal the world...We'll take a look at Classic Story Structure Steps and maybe even how to do them in future blogs.

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