Mark's Newsletter Articles, Interviews and Blogs

This is an archive of all of Mark's articles and interviews from his very popular MarkWTravis.com Newsletter. The most recent is first. Enjoy.  

Staging: Triggering the Emotional Life of a Scene

Staging is perhaps the most powerful, non-invasive, non-improvisational directing tool available. Unfortunately, it is one of the least understood and most frequently misused tools. Before we get into staging methods, we need to take a moment to consider its definition and function.

Staging (or blocking as some refer to it) is simply the movement and placement of characters within the appropriate setting during a scene. In everyday life, we move through our world in relationship to each other, our environment, and ourselves according to our needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We also move in response to our environment, other characters, and ourselves. In short, we “stage” ourselves according to our needs.

We make assumptions about people’s attitudes and feelings as we observe their movements in relationship to each other and the environment.

For example: As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a waiting room at LAX and I am noticing the variety of ways people have arranged themselves. Assuming that any individual will seek maximum comfort (both physically and emotionally), I know that I can make pretty accurate assumptions about the dynamics of many relationships.

One woman on the phone has her body turned out toward the room and is casually glancing over the crowd with a light smile on her face, while the man in the booth next to her has his forehead leaning against the wall as he speaks intimately on the phone.

The couple directly across from me are about as close as allowed in this room. His hand is on her inner thigh, his other hand is playing with the hair on the back of her neck. He is looking directly into her eyes and seems unaware of the rest of the room. She, on the other hand, is splitting her attention between him and the rest of the room. Her body is faced out to the room (his is faced toward her) and her legs are crossed away from him.

Another couple, across the room, are actually sitting on either side of a pillar which forces their seats apart by a foot or so. They are talking to each other but rarely looking at one another.

Most likely, we all make the same assumptions about these individuals based on their physical behavior. And we can assume that an audience would see these relationships in very much the same way.

Our physical behavior directly reflects our emotional state, and the reverse is also true. Physical behavior and body language can trigger specific emotional responses.

This is staging – reflecting and triggering the emotional life of a scene. We allow the emotional dynamics of the scene to suggest specific staging, then create staging that will stimulate and support the interplay in the scene.

Note: Appropriate staging will support the dramatic elements within a scene. Improper or inappropriate staging can damage, undermine, or even completely sabotage the scene.

I have had scenes in rehearsal that have completely collapsed when they got on their feet. All the good work was lost because the actors were staged in such a manner that the conflict in the scene was diminished. Consequently, the actors had only one choice – they had to start acting in order to create the necessary conflict. They were focused on making the scene work rather than on the objectives of the characters.

Every scene has to be staged, and the staging is either going to support the scene or not. Learn the dynamics of supportive staging and you will be able to make any scene work.


Wandering in the Desert – the new book (part 1)

Antecdote: Last night I was at a booksigning at Book Soup in West Hollywood. The author, Laini Taylor, (Daughter of Smoke & Bone ) was delivering a fascinating description of her writing process including the facts the she writes without knowing where she is going, who the characters are, what the story is (very refreshing to this novice writer) and how her pursuit of perfection is a curse. Then, suddenly, a huge heavy volume of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich falls off a shelf barely missing one of the attentive listeners. The room went silent. Nervous jokes were made. The offending book was placed back on the shelf, I could see it struggling to fall again, to be heard, to be taken seriously. I rarely believe in ghosts or spirits or apparitions, but this gave me the chills.

Thoughts today:

I’ve begun writing my next book, tentatively titled: The Travis Technique, Directing the Actors from the Inside Out. (I invite all comments on the title.) I have known for many years that I need to write this book on my approach to working with text and actors that seems to delivery amazing performances in casting, rehearsal and production. But it’s a big book. A huge book (I think). And I’ve avoided writing it for many years, for several reasons. I avoided it when I was writing The Film Director’s Bag of Tricks, partially because I felt I wasn’t ready, partially because the Techniques kept developing and emerging and wouldn’t sit still, and partially because I was afraid.

Writing a screenplay or novel seems like a walk in the park compared to this task. But now I know that I have to stand up and face the monster. The monster is bigger than me, knows more than me, mocks me, berates me and then occasionally gives me a consoling bone, a piece of insight that keeps me plowing forward.

Perhaps in the book I will wrote about how I discovered or developed this revolutionary technique. Or perhaps I will just admit that I have no idea where it al came from (comes from, it’s still bubbling like volcanic lava) piece by piece over the past three or four decades. (That’s a long gestation period, don’t you think?)

Perhaps I wil find, once I get started, that I have very little to say and it will end up being another short book like Bag of Tricks. Or perhaps I will discover, much to my horror, that there is not end to the discussion, discovery and description of this monster. I think that is one of my biggest fears – that I have too much to say, too much to write, and that I will end up with another volume better suited for stopping doors. Or I’ll be facing the prospect of a trilogy.

You see, that’s the great thing about a screenplay – 120 pages, tops. There are only so many words you can write on 120 pages, especially in screenplay format. Or a novel, you aim for 60 – 100,000 words. You see, there are boundaries, limitations. And you get to tell a story. Beginning, middle and end – in any order you like. There’s structure. You deal with characters, plot, transformations, rising and falling action, etc. It’s great! But with something like The Travis Technique where do I begin? Where do I end? Does it have a middle? What is the story?

When Pandora opened the box and let out all the ills, disease, anger and hate .. at the
bottom there was Hope. Nice to know. Nice to know that if we release all the ills in the world, all the demons within us, that under it all resides hope. So as I open the Pandora’s box of the Travis Technique to see what is really inside I pray that I will soon spy the glimmer of hope under all the rubble and chaos.

 

A Proposal to my readers:

In earlier blogs we discussed “what is a story?’. And I think that some of these musing will find their way into the new book. We need to start there because without story we don’t have characters. And without characters there is not story. And with our burning desire to tell our stories through theater and film we need actors to become these characters. Thus, the emergence of the Travis Technique.

Without story we don’t have life. Our lives are story (a compilation of thousands of stories). And our story is life. They are one in the same. No Story, no life. No life, no story. The telling of story is as instinctive and essential as breathing. The hearing of story is as necessary and nurturing as eating.

As I write this book (and the blog on the writing process) I want to create a forum – a dialogue – with you, all of you. I want your input, your thoughts, your questions. I want you to challenge me, question me, inspire me. Join me in my pursuit to understand what it is we are doing in this art form called storytelling. No topics are off bounds. Everyone has a voice. Post your thoughts, questions, inquiries, concerns at the end of any of these blogs for all to see. This will be great.

We are all wandering in the desert, wondering where we are going, where we have been and whether or not any of this matters.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers, Mark


October 21 – Munich – the divine dissatisfaction

I’ve been on the road since October 5th and now I am finally back in Munich (after 5 days in Moscow) with a chance for some relaxation, visiting friends and taking in the Bavarian countryside. And it’s at moments like this that I begin to think a lot about what I am doing. This teaching was not my chosen profession. I always imagined I would become a working theater, film and television director. And I have, I have done all three, but what pulled (or pushed) me into the world of teaching? Have I lost my way, or found my way.

Quite honestly, I have been struggling with this question for many years.

There are those days that I feel totally committed to the teaching and consulting. Usually it happens when I am in the middle of a seminar or workshop. When I look out over the crowd of eager participants like I just did in Moscow and feel the energy, the enthusiasm, the creativity flowing between them just because of the work we are doing .. then I feel that this must be what I was intended to do.

Then there are the days that I’m consulting on a film project, working intensely with the director and actors as we explore every nuance of every scene. And I’m invigorated but at the end of the day I’m feeling cheated. This directing isn’t really directing. It’s not my project. I am merely the midwife and will have to give up the child.

Then there are the days like today, when I sit alone in my little room in Weipertshausen, doing one more rewrite of my cherished screenplay. And I’m struggling, a bit frustrated, because I can feel that it is not good enough. I know that there is more to be explored. I am convinced that the spark that I’m trying to ignite is just around the corner, but it’s such a big corner. And I ask myself, “what am I doing?” I wonder why I can’t be happy with the enormous success I have as a teacher. I wonder why there is always this tug at my heart that says. “tell your own stories”. And I curl up in corner and wonder, once again, have I lost my way?

When Billy Wilder was asked what it was like to be a writer/director he responded:”When I am writing I wish I were directing. And when I am directing I wish I were writing.” Great quote. Great insight. And when I am teaching I wish I were directing. And when I am writing I wish I were directing. And when I am directing I feel I don’t have room for wishes.

I met Billy once. He offered to mentor me. Another missed opportunity.

Now I know I will return to LA in a few days with these questions still rumbling in my mind. I think I am resigned to the fact that I will always be plagued with this dilemma. Perhaps this is best. Perhaps this is what it means to be an artist. As Martha Graham said, “no artist is pleased. We always live with a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”

Thanks all for joining me on this little journey through Europe. There will be more posts once I get back to LA.

Stay creative and remember … your story is unique, a gift for the world.

cheers, Mark

Munich, October 2011


October 17 – The Lure of Red Square – and a memory

It’s Monday Morning in Moscow.  Dark and cold outside but hopefully the sun will come out soon because this will be a day of seeing the city. Red Square is beckoning again. It will be good to be back there. It’s been been over 5 years … over 5 years since I came within a hair’s breadth of being arrested on Red Square. Foolish American!

It was 2006 and I’d been in Moscow for several days teaching a group of Russian and Ukrainian directors and actors the fine art of filmmaking. I was staying in an apartment on Tverskaja, the main street that leads directly to Red Square and the Kremlin. In fact, I was only a few blocks from the square itself. It was the last day of teaching and I was a little upset with myself because I had not been to Red Square yet and would be on a flight the next morning to Kiev.

So I had a brainstorm. Take a run to Red Square. Years ago I had vowed I would run 5 miles in every new city so the idea of a short run down Tverskaja to Red Square and the imposing walls of the Kremlin seemed like the perfect idea. Rising just as the sun was coming up, I put on running outfit, running shoes, grabbed my apartment keys and my point-and-shoot camera and happily took off down Tverskaja. What a glorious feeling (and it’s all down hill). I zigged and zagged through pedestrians, traffic and tunnels until I arrived at the grand entrance of Red Square. I took a couple of pictures and prepared myself for what was certainly going to be the stellar experience of entering the square. And I was not disappointed. It is awesome, intimidating (as intended I am sure) the towers of St. Basil glowing magnificently in the morning sun, Lenin’s tomb sitting like a fat cat on the side, confident, secure in its permanence. I jogged slowly around the massive square, in the silence hearing sounds of marching soldiers, rolling tanks and speeches projected through ancient PA systems. I arrived in front of St. Basil’s. Knew it was picture time. In my halting Russian I convinced an old woman to take my picture in front of this magnificent structure. Then, mission accomplished, I thought it would be a good idea to run out the far end of the square, give myself the opportunity to see a bit more of Moscow from another vantage point as I ran back home. I ran around a corner directly into barricades and a phalanx of policemen. I came to a screeching halt as they held up their arms, shouting at me to turn around and go back. Obedient tourist that I am I stopped. But this looked like another great photo op and I didn’t want to miss it. There was no one there to take my picture happily surrounded by Moscow’s finest so I settled for just a picture of Oleg, Vadim and Boris in front of their barracades. Bad idea.

The camera is rising to take a simple tourist photo. Boris is moving toward me arms waving. (Would have been a great photo. He would have been proud.) But the tone of his voice tells me ‘drop the camera, do not move, you’ve crossed a line’.  I drop the camera to my side. Give Boris a smile (I don’t think he’s noticing). Slowly start backing up as he is approaching. Now, I don’t want to make it look like I’m running, but I don’t want to stay there and resist. Really don’t want to turn my back on him (that feels a bit dangerous). So I am doing that awkward dance we do when we know we are in over our heads and we’re trying to maintain some sort of dignity and we extricate ourselves from a potentially dangerous situation. Like running in an angry bear in the woods. Boris is still moving. He’s stopped waving (that’s good I think) but one arm is reaching out to me. I don’t know if he wants me to give him something or if he is just trying to push my
offending presence back into the square. I keep backing up, slight wave with the hand that doesn’t have the offending camera, bit of a bow now (and then I think, ‘no that’s for Japan, not Russia’). And I’m back in the square, feeling the protective comfort of some distant tourists. And suddenly Boris stops. And I stop. We are looking a each other. I try another smile. I don’t think Boris has smiled in many years. With another slight wave I casually turn and walk into the square. ‘Don’t start running, Mark. That won’t look good. Will look like you’ve done something wrong. Just walk, be a tourist, look at the sites. Blend in. Blend in!’

30 minutes later I’m back in my apartment taking a shower. 60 minutes later I’m standing in front of eager students discussing the complexities and challenges of directing actors. 3 hours later we’re sitting at lunch and I’m telling my host and other members of the seminar about my adventure in Red Square.

My host, Gerry MacCarthy (yup, an Irishman running filmmaking workshops in Moscow) is silent, horrified. I can’t imagine what is wrong. I look at the other faces … the same horror and shock. And then Gerry says, “What did you have with you?” With the great pride of a runner/tourist I said, “Just my keys and my camera.” Silence. Don’t they get it? Don’t they see what a great adventure this was? “No passport? No money?” With a logic that any child could understand, “the passport was safely in my apartment along with my money.” “Oh my God”, my Irish host gusts. “You are so lucky.”

Then they explain it to me. Seems that if Boris had stopped me and spoken to me he would have quickly realized that I was a foreigner and an American and he would have asked for my passport. The fact that I had no passport on me (safely in the apartment means nothing) would have meant that I could possibly have been detained for 48 hours until they decided what to do with me. And even if I had had my passport the fact that I had no money on me would have been disastrous.  (The best place to have the money is inside the passport so that when Boris opens it he finds a little gift intended specifically for him. And, I guess, a gifted Boris is a compassionate Boris.)

So, today I will go out and be the best tourist I can be. Passport tucked tight in my pocket, a bit of cash in the wallet. And certainly a deeper respect for one of the many cultural differences I continually encounter.

And, coming soon, thoughts on teaching in Moscow.

Cheers, Mark

 

 


October 13 – Where IS the Travis Technique?

On the Plane to Moscow – Where IS the Travis Technique?

I’ve been in Munich for over a week teaching Master Classes in the Travis Technique, meeting with old friends, making new friends and then participating in a Teleseminar generated out of Los Angeles on the topic of creating your own one-person show. This is a typical week for me in one of my European tours. Now I am on a plane to Moscow where I will conduct another three-day Master Class on the Travis Technique.

And I am realizing that I do way more teaching and training of the Travis Technique in Europe than I do in the US. Why is that? Well, part of it is economic; I’m hired by schools, institutions and organizations all over Europe to spread the good word. It’s a great way to make a living and see the world. But the other reason is more serious. Perhaps it’s cultural, perhaps it is just me, but for whatever reason there seems to be a greater appetite, curiosity, desire to explore and experiment in Europe than in the US.

Here’s one response I heard in the US several years ago when I approached a first-time director (member of the Director’s Guild) about the work I was doing and how it might help him expand his experience and effectiveness as a director: “I’m a director. I’m a member of the DGA. I don’t need more training.”

And here’s the response I heard earlier this year from a highly accomplished and experienced director in Amsterdam who was representing the DDG (Directors Guild in the Netherlands) when I made the same suggestion, “We need this. We need to keep learning. I need to keep learning. I’ve read your new book (“Bag of Tricks”) and I’ve already used two of the tricks to great success. Thank you.”

But I am determined to bring these techniques back to LA. The good news: the DGA Special Projects Committee is going to be sponsoring a series of Master Classes in 2012 on Directing the Actor and I will be doing one of them. I’ll keep you informed when it will be happening.

And in future blogs we’ll begin discussing what the Travis Technique really is. There’s a book coming (it’ll take a couple of years) but these will give you all a head start.


Munich – October 9 – what is this thing collaboration?

There’s an energy in the room when we are collaborating. How do you explain that? What is that electricity that vibrates between us as we share ideas? What is it that connects us as well all, consciously or unconsciously pull in the same direction?

I’ve been writing about collaboration for nearly twenty years. I think that is what attracted me most to the world of theatre and film. I think I never liked being alone, working alone, creating alone. But then on the other hand I relish and fiercely protect my times when I can truly be alone, writing, thinking, musing on my muse or whatever.

Now this weekend, I am in Munich, teaching a seminar/workshop to 20 or more directors, writers and actors. We’re exploring the complexities of the challenge of creating authentic characters (always a good idea). And we’re also, a bit more subtlety, exploring the creative collaboration between writers, directors and actors. And there is a wonderful energy in the room. Partly because we are not focussed on the creation of a single project but rather the exploration of our potential relationships – our collaboration. It’s like those wonderful (and often scary) moments when you are sitting with that significant someone and openly and honestly discussing your relationship. That’s it. That’s all.

Maybe if we spent more time in our lives truly looking at how we relate to each other, where it’s working, where’s it’s not working and always with the thought that “we can do better” … maybe then we could avoid those calamities, confusions and confrontations that lead to resentments or disasters.  Maybe we could.

So, this is where my brain is going at 4 am (yes, the jet lag still has me by the throat) while in the middle of a seminar in the middle of Munich. Welcome to my world.

More thoughts on another day.

Cheers, Mark


Munich – October 8 – just little amoebas

Jet lag is a wicked reminder of how terribly vulnerable we are. We are just little amoebas squiggling around on the ground in search of food or comfort. And then the Great Energy that created it all let’s us know that it’s not nice to fool around with high-speed travel and time zones and here comes your friendly reminder … wide awake at 3 am when in a few hours you have to go and teach a seminar on the intricacies and psychological complexities of the human condition as expressed through the imaginings and belief systems of a group of artists who dabble more in fantasy than reality. That’s what the Great Energy does to us little amoebas who think we’re so clever.

But when the Little Amoeba is awake at 3 am it has a tendency to think this is the best time to think. So quiet. So peaceful. There must be clear energy in the air and the possibility for great insights. So, hold on, this could either be brilliant or a brilliant waste of time. There is no knowing. But I promise to keep it short and pithy so whichever way it goes it will be over soon.

We all believe in roles, in responsibilities, in clearly defined tasks as we collaborate in the world of storytelling. Writers are supposed to conceive and write the story. Directors are supposed to take that story and give it life on the stage or the screen. Actors are supposed to embody the characters that live and breathe inside that story. But what if this is only the beginning? What if we begin stepping outside those clear boundaries? What if writers begin behaving like actors, and actors like directors and directors like writers, and on and on. If this is truly meant to be a collaboration, why do there have to be boundaries? Why do there have to be clearly defined roles and responsibilities?

When we were children and we played ‘make-believe’ we allowed ourselves to be whatever we wanted to be. There were no limits, not even the sky. So why, as adults, do we think it is more ‘mature’ to create limits and boundaries? Aren’t we just giving ourselves permission to hide? Aren’t we perhaps wrapping ourselves in the cloaks of defined roles in order to not feel the fear and the thrill of the unknown? Haven’t we lost the wonder and excitement of the child?

I’m leaving this blog with those questions. Sometimes I think it is better to just live in a world of questions without any attempt to find the answers. I do trust that the answers will come on their own, from wherever they are now, from wherever they are supposed to come from. Sometimes looking for the answers gets in the way of the answers arriving.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Now this Little Amoeba is going to squiggle back to the world of the sleeping.


Munich – October 7

The Blog posts over the next 2-3 weeks will be short, but pithy. Isn’t that a great word “pithy”? I am now on another of my European teaching tours. This one is short (only two weeks) and only two cities (Munich and Moscow). So, this seems to be the “M” tour. Blog posts will be written on the fly (another great term “on the fly” … when do we ever really do anything ‘on the fly’?). I committing to a blog post every morning just to let you all know what’s going on in the world of Mark.

Twitter. My Twitter account (https://twitter.com/#!/MarkWTravis) is up and running (and even has a few posts) so check it out.

Newsletters. The monthly newsletter (which has been lacking a few months) will be back with wonderful information, Tips of the Month and announcements of great opportunities.

The weather in Munich is sunny but threatening rain. Doesn’t feel like LA at all … what a welcome change. Will leave my little room in a few moments and go for a walk on the Isar. (Why do we say “walk on the Isar” or any other river? We don’t walk ‘on’ them, we walk beside them. Unless they’re frozen and the Isar is never frozen.) And this walk will be wonderful, refreshing, reminding me of much of what I love about Munich, the many long walks I have taken in the past 12 years that I have been coming here.

Short and pithy, Mark, that is what you promised. Okay, here is the final thought: I will be teaching Master Classes on the Travis Technique in Munich and Moscow. So of course my mind is doing the best it can to stay focussed on the task at hand. And as I was thinking yesterday about my curious and amazing technique of working with actors suddenly this question came to me: “What are we doing? As actors, directors and writers we keep imagining, writing and creating moments of fiction in order to somehow get closer to our own truth, our own reality, our ‘facts’. We create fiction to find the facts. Or, is the problem really the opposite. Is there so much ‘fiction’ in our lives, our truth, our reality that we create another fiction which in reality is more honest than the one we live? I am writing screenplay (that I have been working on for nearly 9 years) that is pure fiction – made of ‘whole cloth’ (another great phrase). I knew from the beginning that I as writing close to my own truth and allowing myself to say things in this fiction that I was afraid to say to myself or anyone else. But it is nine years later and I am now beginning to see how clearly and deeply and honestly I was writing my truth, my life, my reality. I don’t think I write to know the world around me, I write to know the world within me.

That’s it for today. Would love to hear from any of you. And all of you in Munich and Moscow … see you soon.

(And now it’s staring to rain in Munich … see what I mean? Life is nothing if not an improvisation.)

Cheers, Mark


First Review of “Bag Of Tricks”

Of course I am in the middle of a thousand things right now. Having just completed two back-to-back weekend seminars and now only two weeks away from flying to Munich and Moscow. But when you receive your first review on a book you’ve written, somehow the brakes go on, you start to spin out of control and eventually you hope that everything comes to a screeching halt before you hit a tree.

I’ve had a wide variety of reviews of my work over the years (theater, film, television, books, etc.) so I am pretty much used to the totally unpredictable nature of this process. Might make a good blog, sharing stories about reviews and critics.  Regardless, this one is great. Great not because it is positive, but great because Erin V. got it. I kind of like the idea that I don’t know if Erin is
male or female, makes the review more generic, universal somehow. But he/she got what the book was about. Erin understood the subtext and the tone and the intention. What more could a writer ask for.

So, time for you read the review. And, if you read the book, write your own review and post it on Amazon.com.

Here’s Erin V’s review:

The Film Director’s Bag of Tricks Review By Erin V.

Author of The Director’s Journey [1999], and Directing Feature Films [2004], Mark W. Travis again gets the working relationships between directors, writers, and actors right.  It’s a collaborative business, so knowing how to work together and respect each others work is essential and these tips just make it a whole lot easier.

These are ways to help directors, writers, and actors to communicate their needs better.  Writers should read it, actors should read it, but most of all, directors have to read this one.  It’s not about tricking everyone to do what you want, but about finding the tools needed to make the film everyone can be proud of.

The information here is told with a wonderful perspective (actually making for an engaging read), and to top it all off, in the last chapter we get six interviews with other directors, each telling their own perspective on the art of directing.  This is one that will be picked up for reference again and again.

And check out Erin’s blog at:

http://onemoviefiveviews.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/book-review-the-film-directors-bag-of-tricks-get-what-you-want-from-writers-and-actors/

Cheers, have a great day.

Mark


There’s a Virus in the land.

WHERE HAVE ALL OUR STORYTELLERS GONE?

It is with great anticipation that we go to see many films. We’ve seen the promotion, heard of the stellar cast, know we’re in the hands of an A-list director. We have an idea of the story and perhaps have read some reviews. It was with these high expectations that I went to see Steven Soderbergh’s CONTAGION the other night. So, what went wrong? Where did this high-tech, high-speed train go off track?

Ironically, CONTAGION is about an unknown, indefinable and almost unstoppable virus that can be transmitted just by human contact and will kill you within a couple of days. But on a deeper and more profound level this film exposes a much more dangerous virus. This virus in not spread by contact but rather by power, arrogance and the feeling of invulnerability that is fueled by success.

This is a virus that affects our best and our brightest. It will blind you, render you deaf, numb your taste buds and allow you to smell only the odor of profit. It will not kill you, but it might kill the best part of you. This is the virus that can destroy within any writer, actor, director or producer the urge to tell a compelling story, the commitment to credible and engaging characters, and the obligation to honor the audience with a meaningful exchange of ideas and insights.

It’s name? The Royal Virus.

How could the man who brought us ERIN BROCKOVICH make CONTAGION? If Mr.
Soderbergh had made CONTAGION first, then followed years later by ERIN BROCKOVICH then I would say “Bravo, a filmmaker who is developing and deepening his craft of storytelling”. But the opposite seems to be the case. And it can only be explained by the Royal Virus.

And what about Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the ever so talented Kate Winslet?  I watched this film in wonder. I am wondering “what could they all have been thinking? What has compelled these enormously talented actors to agree to be in this film?” They are all bright. They’ve all read hundreds of scripts. And they have most likely turned down most of them because of the lack of compelling story or a lack of credible and engaging characters. So why did they all sign on for this ride that was so clearly pointless (the movie has no message or point-of-view whatsoever), lacking in story (there is not one character who has a meaningful arc) and was doomed for disaster from the beginning. (Note: We’ll talk later about Creative Success vs. Commercial Success. And the difference between Creative Disaster and Commercial Disaster.) The only credible reason that all of these enormously talented and successful artists allowed themselves to be involved in this project is – the Royal Virus.

So few of us know what it is like to live in the creative stratosphere of the A-list artists. So many of us dream of it, strive for it and some would sacrifice family and friends for it. Most of us will never even taste it. So who are we to judge or even conjecture about what it is like to live in that rarefied state?

I know what it is like to be treated like a celebrity, a rock star, a visiting Prince when I travel to some of the most remote regions of this earth spreading my experience and wisdom. I have had a taste, a whiff, even just for a few days, of what it must be like. But then I return to reality, I go home, back to the truth of who I really am. I know how seductive it can be in that atmosphere and I know how my reasoning gets warped, distorted and realigned. I know how I can lose sight of some of the most basic tenets I live by. Am I being touched by the Royal Virus? Is it possible that I, vulnerable for a moment, could become infected? Aren’t I, in these moments, a bit blinded? A bit deaf? Haven’t I possibly lost my ability to taste and touch and am only following the odor of success? Of course I am thinking none of this at the time. In fact I am thinking quite the opposite. I have arrived. I have been acknowledged, validated. And with this validation comes the responsibility to plow forward fearlessly with banners flowing, trumpets blaring and standards held high as my royal procession moves forward through the throngs. I am trusted, rarely questioned, often elevated or embraced without hesitation. So why should I question myself? Isn’t that what validation is all about? Haven’t I finally earned the right to do or say whatever I want simply because everything I have been doing up to this point, got me to where I am now. Validation. The Royal Virus.

When, as storytellers and filmmakers we base our success on the quantity of personal or financial return rather than the quality of our story, we are no longer storytellers of the highest order. We have dropped to the bottom of the barrel. We have hi-jacked an art form for profit and personal gain. The Royal Virus has won not because there’s no cure, but because we haven’t even looked for one. In fact we haven’t even acknowledged that we are ill.

My only advice to those suffering from the Royal Virus:

“Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone.”