Screen writing and story telling at trial

Recently my wife Lita and I, along with our guests, had the pleasure of having actor Tom Skerritt, screen writerSewart Stern and director John Jacobsen present a program. They are all involved in the Seattle based Film School where screen writing and other talents are taught to students.We had purchased this program at a charity auction. Stern, now in his eighties, had written Rebel withouta Cause, Rachel, Rachel, Sybil and many other famous films. He spoke about his experiences in screen writing. Skerritt has acted in many feature films. He directed some volunteers from the audience in a scene from a movie. Jacobsen talked about screen writing and story telling. In explaining the structure of a compelling story he talked about the "Cambell/Vogel" structure which he says consists of the following scenes:

  • Problem in the village
  • Need hero to go out into the world
  • Has to go to the cave, guarded by a dragon, which has the cure for the village problem. Symbolically this is a death scene. Often it is a metaphor for death. For example, giving up the old beliefsand standards such as Cher in Moonstruck who decides to go with her heart rather then with "what’s right"
  • Hero slays the dragon
  • Returns home with the cure
  • Final fight

He says the director wants us to see ourselves as the hero. (In our trials, the protagonist is our jury) The hero has two goals, one will be obvious and the other less obvious. They are almost always in conflict with one another. Jacobsen says we love the hero because above all he knows what his objective is.

Jacobsen says that the "gap" is the difference between expectation and the result. One key to writing a good scene is one wherewhat we thought would happen didn’t happen. The gap forces the hero to make a decision and each decision/gap serves as a building block to the next scene.

In the "cave scene" Jacobsen says, therehas to be a unity of opposites. The hero and the dragon (villain) have to be equally powerful.

Most important, Jacobsen says, is conflict. It’s the secret to story writing.

In trials we write the script in the sense of chosing what evidence or testimony we will present in our case as well as the emphasis we give it. We are the story teller or script writer. We are also the director in chosing the order of presenting it as well as how we present it. Since trials are story telling we should learn as much as we can about the art of presenting information in a way that is interesting as well as a compelling story.

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