Lion Taming

This is the story of how I started a VR project and ended up taming lions.

Ok, so I didn’t actually become a lion tamer…But this was exactly what I thought of when I was asked by LCC’s Course Leader for MA Virtual Reality, to come in and run a workshop for her students on screenwriting.

Clyde Beatty taming a lion with a chair. (Image from Harvard Library.)

Having only graduated from my own Master’s course a few years ago, my mind immediately went into panic and I got a huge case of imposter syndrome – what on earth could I teach these MA students? Surely they would know as much, if not more than me?

Well, the truth is, in terms of their VR knowledge they absolutely knew more than me! I’m trained to tell stories in more traditional mediums (TV, Film, Theatre etc). I’m using my residency project, Fractus, as a way to better understand and explore storytelling in VR. As soon as I admitted that to myself, I calmed down. Perhaps this could be more of an exchange of knowledge and experience, rather than me feeling I had to be “master” of all things storytelling and VR?

And so I began to think about what Screenwriting 101 in four hours might look like; what would be most useful to impart? To do this I went back to my own notes from my MA Screenwriting course at LCC and then something wonderful happened…

As I revisited the information all my brilliant tutors had gifted me during my two years at LCC, I suddenly realised that my recent time in the industry illuminated my education in brilliant and shocking ways. I revisited workshops on Narrative Structure and suddenly concepts that had appeared so difficult to grasp at the time were seen in a new context: the midpoint (that formerly illusive, mysterious beast) became obvious. When I stumbled upon John Yorke’s handy breakdown of the difference (or lack of difference) between all the many theories of structure – I almost whooped for joy.

Page 256. Into the Woods by John Yorke

When I looked at Character Development and found a note on how structure is also character changing over time, I smiled in excited agreement. Woolly concepts and half finished thoughts about screenwriting were written clearly here on the page – and helped me crystallise things I was half aware of in my mind. Certain exercises jumped out at me – why I could use this one to help me with a problem I was having on a script I was currently working on…and so it went on.

I spent three days putting together a workshop on introducing the basic building blocks to screenwriting and some useful exercises to help develop ideas – but it was I who became a student all over again, except that this time I felt less like such an idiot and painfully slow dolt!

This is not to say I suddenly became an all-knowing screenwriter upon revisiting my old lecture notes. More that I suddenly had a glimpse of what my poor tutors had been trying to bang into our heads all those years ago: a brilliant grounding in screenwriting craft, and a useful toolkit to carry into the screenwriting world. I was, and doubly more so today, profoundly grateful for their insight and time. If this perhaps started out as a confession of fear, then I am not ashamed to admit that this post has turned into a love letter to a course and my own tutors who prepared me so rigorously for a very difficult path I wished to follow.

But I digress. I was meant to be talking about my experience taming lions – I mean – teaching MA students. Funnily enough as I was heading to teach my first workshop, I ran into one of my old screenwriting tutors. I was so nervous about what was to come that when he kindly asked me what I was up to, I went completely blank! I finally cobbled enough brain power together to tell him I was very nervous and feeling like an imposter as I was in fact off to introduce a new set of LCC students to screenwriting…based very much on some of his core tutorials he’d run for our class. I told him I’d give him all the credit.

He smiled at that: “Don’t be silly,” he said, “I learned it all from John Yorke many moons ago – it’s not just mine. And anyway, we’ve all learned different things along the way. You’ll have your own things to pass on. You’ll be just fine.”

And suddenly, just like that, I felt the ground shift once again: I may not have a lot of experience yet, but I had learned a thing or two, and suddenly I was quite eager to get in that classroom and share my thoughts with other upcoming creatives.

The truth is, I was still extremely nervous walking into that classroom, and the better truth is – I didn’t need to be: The MA VR students were wonderful – switched on and eager to learn and discuss everything and anything I threw at them. And, as predicted, they certainly knew far more about storytelling for VR than me. But I do hope I held my own a bit when it came to some tried-and-tested screenwriting tools and craft know-how.

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