Story Session 3: Richard Walter

Richard Walter is a celebrated storytelling guru, movie industry expert, and longtime chairman of UCLA’s legendary graduate program in screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist, his latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, is available in stores July 2010. His previous published works include the novels Escape from Film School and Barry and the Persuasions and screenwriting books The Whole Picture: Strategies for Screenwriting Success in the New Hollywood and Screenwriting: The Art, Craft and Business of Film and Television Writing.

The Importance of Narrative

  • You will grab onto something that you truly love.
  • This is my first Christian conference. I’m not actually a Christian. I’m a Jew.
  • I was at one scholarly conference years ago, and I had a book come out, and I had copies to give out. I was on a panel with a bunch of scholars, and one of them said, “Ya know the problem with your program at UCLA is that we encourage students to write screenplays that are too encoded in the dominant narrative mode.”
  • Aristotle says that, “A story is something that has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is small, the middle is big, and the end is small. This is a model of human life. We always want a quick death.
  • Isn’t it interesting in the Christian belief that in a life of wretchedness all you have to do is ask for forgiveness and then sit in heaven. There’s a reflection, something holy, and healing in narrative, and that is why I think we find narrative in Scripture.
  • As a writer of narrative, you tell stories, and you talk about this idea that narrative is transformative, and told me a story.
  • On Monday I will face my screenwriting class. On the first class there will be 40 or 50 people that are vying for those 8 spots, and I listen to everyone’s pitches to get in.
  • About 10 or 12 years ago I saw someone that I recognized. I said, “I thought you were graduated” but he couldn’t graduate yet, because his AIDS came back. He lost his job, and he had a brain tumor. He had to stay in school to get medical coverage. I couldn’t deny him a spot in the class.
  • His pitch was to write a story about a gay man who was closeted, and he gets diagnosed with HIV. It inspires him to come out to everyone.
  • I thought, “No, not another gay AIDS story.”
  • He handed in his script, and the title was “The Day I stopped Worrying about Aging”
  • It was a comedy, it was funny.
  • He’s worried about not aging, instead of aging.
  • At one point he meets with his evangelical Christian brother, and his brother said that he wasn’t surprised because he was being punished for not being a Christian.
  • This troubles the character.
  • It seemed to me a mistreatment and stereotype of Christians.
  • I know a lot of Christians, and I don’t know any Christians that act that way.
  • I told him that this was a bad scene, because of the portrait of the Christian.
  • But he said “Thats my brother, and thats the way he really is.”
  • I told him, “I don’t care if thats the way your brother is. You’re trying to get your brother to understand you through this movie. What about trying to love your brother?”
  • He rewrote the screen and it was great. He won awards.
  • Our students have written for Stephen Spielberg, Jurassic Park, and several others.
  • If you’re creating narratives, you’re doing something that is important.
  • We are convincing people of our way, but it seems that you’re saying that transformation happens through narrative, and telling stories.
  • In this idea of story, there is this notion of sympathy.
  • God sent Jesus to die on the cross. What if Judas decided not to sell Jesus for pieces of silver, where would we be? We wouldn’t be saved!
  • We don’t want to find villains in order to focus on evil, but we should sincerely ask for forgiveness. That is why I think that movies with villains that are more sympathetic are much more effective.
  • Even the villain is not much more superior to anyone else. We don’t believe that we are better than anyone else, but we are saved.
  • If you can provoke people in a movie, you don’t have make them feel good, but just provoke them to feel something, then that is the key. If you look at the narratives in Scripture, they are wonderful stories, they are not feel-good stories. Some of them are, but not all of them.
  • You are going to be much more effective as a Pastor if you don’t make them feel good, but provoke them to ask questions.

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