Honest Storytelling

From the conversation I sometimes have with budding filmmakers and storytellers…

Some of them often say to me that they want to make films and stories to relieve the tension of daily life from the audience for 2 hours; to give them 2 hours of relaxation. Worry-free enjoyment, forgetting their frustrations by the light of the screen.

I think that wanting to be a filmmaker to make people forget their worries for 2 hours is not a good reason. Storytelling – from the very ancient times – is about the power to inspire people; to make their lives better. Storytelling is not a “drug” to make them forget their lives, it should give them tools and ways to face life with courage. And this is why I want to be a filmmaker.

There is an amount of preperation that takes place – life experience that prepares you to truly discover a story by being able to face the fears that exist within the drama of the story itself. This preperation is an “active”, not a passive. Ultimately, are we throwing ourselves into the unknown in our own lives to finally come out of it (perhaps with a few scars), but having seen a side of the world that is rare…. Are we taking the paths less taken, so that we are constantly challenged to have fresh perspective?

Storytelling should make people look at themselves, and see what is good and bad in them, be honest with themselves… and become better people.

Storytelling should make people ask questions about themselves. It should not be an escape – because they can also escape by taking drugs, and forget their worries by drinking.

Personally, a person needs to first and foremost be honest with him or herself,

And ask: Do you want to tell stories to inspire yourself? Or do you want to tell stories to give an escape from reality?

Because the answer to either of these questions is absolutely opposite paths to each other. If you want to tell stories to inspire yourself, and respectively, a better world – then you have to face storytelling with courage – the same courage that will show through in your stories. You also have to be courageous about living. If you want to tell stories to give an escape from reality, then it is a different path – it is all about escapism.

I’ve given up a lot in life in order to follow this path – and through all the preperation there are times when I find myself wondering WHY I have given up so much in order to throw myself into the rare experiences that can teach you… wondering what makes it all worthwhile, when it would have been easier to go with the flow of social lexicon and taken up a safe job, etc etc.

I would have given up long ago if all I wanted to do was give people an “escape” for 2 hours. That doesn’t seem like an act worth dying for. That isn’t a goal worth sacrificing for.

And realising this, I was pushed to dig deeper, and see if there is anything valuable – which is why discovering the essence of why stories have been told since the ancient times was re-affirming. Stories were never told for escapism. It is only because of the immense amount of commercialisation that we have forgotten this under the farce of mediocrity.

Perhaps it’s different for everyone, but me being me, I can’t base my life around money (money is a side plot, and so is fame). So, I was forced to ask these questions of myself. Which is also why I was drawn to the teachers who insightfully understood that storytelling involves the writer facing their own dilemmas and fears – and mostly, that the most courageous acts of storytelling is where the writer isn’t certain of how it will end…. that is very much the same “unknown” as throwing yourself into strange life experiences. Only when the writer is willing to be transformed in the writing, will the audience be capable of transformation. That makes absolute sense. And it is by no means superficial – because this is an exploration of the ABYSS that is the human psyche! It is frightening, and extremely rewarding.

Because in the end, we all die – and we all face the moment of truth in our deathbeds – where it ceases to be opinion, where it ceases to be whatever lies we told ourselves.

I often meditate on that – on that moment I take my last breath – and what I will realise then about the way I have lived. Did I achieve anything?

And you know what, I bet at that point it’s not going to matter how much money I have, or how much fame, or even if I have placed myself in the history books… at that point all that’s going to matter is if I used each and every day to realise more and more about WHO I AM. WHAT I AM. WHY DO I EXIST.

All of that will culminate at that point. So, I ask these questions now, so that I don’t totally waste my existence by imagining that being a part of society and ignoring the basic questions will end well. Introspection is a very important thing, as is action.

Of course, I understand that this is not the popular path. That everyone has their own time and pace and reincarnations before they realise they need to start thinking about who they are – beyond the name and psychology. Some come to the point where the questions feel powerful and passionate, and cannot be ignored. For others, the questions are like small whispers, and can easily be ignored. I suppose the difference is time.

But basically, maybe this makes clear where I am coming from. I am unable to ignore these fundemental questions of what I am doing here, because they have taken over my soul! In answering them, a revolution takes place on how I should live. I am allergic to plasticity.

The wisened old teachers, through their life experience, have understood this – and so, when I am often lost, their wisdom helps to bring some clarity on what I had almost forgotten. That every moment exists as a challenge to be courageous, not as an escape. The clarity speaks for itself. So why would we give our audience any less?

I find myself inexplicably drawn to crystaline yet outrageous ideas. Outrageous only in the sense that it goes against popular opinion, and crystaline because the truth of it is unavoidable. And perhaps I am drawn to them because:

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” – Herbert Agar.

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.” – George Bernard Shaw.

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” – Rene Descartes.

Yes, I think it’s very important to doubt everything you think you know… go back to square one… because when you’ve removed everything you have always believed to be true, there is the real chance to see clearly. Nothing should be followed blindly, or because people tell you it is so. I think it is important to test it for yourself, experience it for yourself.

I would imagine a work becomes important because you are facing something you fear (and by association, something you love), you are facing an insecurity by exploring it within a story. When you do this, the story begins to have a depth of soul – because of the honesty involved; in the courage it takes to face yourself. That very thing you face becomes the problem within the story.

The thing is, in real life you have not found a solution to your dilemma, so it would only be fair to not resort to easy solutions within your story – in this way, writing your story begins to parallel you facing the fear in real life… because you have to face it to explore it, and write about it, and resolve the problem (or conflict) within the story. This is what certain screenwriting enigmas refer to as stepping into the unknown. It is a profoundly liberating experience.

Just as you are unresolved and struggling with the fear in life, so do you give it the same respect in your story, and by the time you cross over an impossible wall – break through – and come to a resolution, it would have been one that carries real insight. These kind of stories usually become classics!

So, there is a certain line of thinking in screenwriting – which quite rationally insists that you can’t possibly know the end to the dilemma you are facing, because obviously when you are facing it in your own life; life surprises you when you think you’ve got it all figured out. So it is unrewarding to figure it all out for your story, because it ceases to breathe. Life teaches you by surprising you, so too must that happen within the story – and the only way that can happen is when you stop trying to completely control where the story is going – and rather focus on the relationship you are having with your characters. You have a clear goal – that is of course there. You know where you want to go. But HOW you will get there is the dilemma. This I refer to as honest storytelling, because the writer has merged into the story in the writing of it. He or she is living the story while writing it.

And I don’t mean reliving a past experience… even when you do that, you have to come to terms with fears that you have in the present moment. The same principle applies here, and for all kinds of dramatic films, regardless of genre.

I find myself extremely attracted to this kind of screenwriting, because obviously you can see the soul within it – it breathes life! That is a rare thing in a story. It is only possible when the writer is exploring the very problems that are most haunting them, without knowing if they will ever succeed… and somehow, break through. Because once you have, the story will be ready to be shared with others. That kind of storytelling can truly inspire, because it has integrity of the highest form.

I mean, isn’t this what the Hero’s Journey is talking about anyway? What else is the refusal of the call except the refusal to face oneself? And what else is apotheosis except the final facing of the demon that you, despite the terror you felt, somehow managed to be heroic and went in search of, and have finally come face to face with. Except, you realise, that it is not a demon, but a God… and more than that, it is not a God – but You, yourself! There is no superficiality in that! And it certainly isn’t just a cool metaphor.

I think that at some point certain storytellers who have the capacity to be courageous in self-exploration realise that this is what stories are really about. That the writer must sacrifice himself/herself by the telling – because the writer also faces herself/himself at the point of truth within the story, where the resolution finally arrives. You simply can’t second-guess that, you will end up cheating yourself. Hope this made some sense. If anything, hope it gives some food for thought.

Personally, I find this kind of thinking extremely valuable because it is so radical and unshackling. But it is certainly a frightening enterprise, I give you that. Nothing is more frightening than having to face yourself, through and way past the Demon and the God that you are. 😉 Most storytellers avoid this altogether because of what it is, and that very escapism is what is called mediocrity. I would say this applies to all artforms, not just screenwriting.

~ by revolutionwithin on October 4, 2009.

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