Home » The Hero’s Journey: Jesse Vaughan at TEDxRVA (Full Transcript)

The Hero’s Journey: Jesse Vaughan at TEDxRVA (Full Transcript)

Jesse Vaughan

Jesse Vaughan – TRANSCRIPT

I love directing. It makes me relive. Not for the reasons most people think but for deeper, more profound reasons, reasons that relate to life and all its complexities.

When an actor walks onto a set, they’re handed a document, a script, something that a writer has worked painstakingly to make sure that the story structure and the dialogue in that script are as close to perfect as they possibly can get it.

And so, when the director hands that script to an actor, they expect that actor to deliver those lines as written, and when they don’t, this is what potentially happens: the story may not make sense because the character is not tracking, and the director is concerned; concerned about the audience because they may get confused. And this is why I love directing because it offers me an opportunity to reconsider life from the director’s chair, because to me, movies are an allegory to life, and this is why, on a set, a director has an actor do their lines over and over and over and over again from every possible angle until they get it right. And then we move on to the next scene.

Is it not how life is? We seem to be going through the same thing over and over and over and over again until we get our lesson right. And then we can move on to our next scene or our next lesson, and sometimes, we miss our marks. You see, on a movie set, there are marks on the floor, and these marks are designed for an actor to recite their lines for the cameraman, for continuity, for sound, and even for other actors so they don’t stumble over each other. But sometimes, an actor will say, “I’m not standing there. I’m standing over here.” The director says, “But you can’t stand over there because it took us two hours to set that light up there, that key light that makes you beautiful and look like a star.”

Actor might say, “I’m not standing there. I’m standing here.”

“But you can’t stand there because you’re standing in the dark.” And this is why I love directing, because it makes me reconsider Shakespeare, who said, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I love that quote from Shakespeare, because he’s calling all of us idiots.

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I’m an idiot. Why? How many times in my life have I had a chance to play out my role, my scene, but I chose to fluff my lines because I didn’t do the right thing, and there was this inner voice of direction that was guiding me, telling me what was right and wrong but I chose to do wrong.

I’m an idiot Why? Because sometimes, I miss my marks in life, and I choose to stand in the dark instead of standing in the light. And this is why I love directing; because it gives me a chance to reframe my life, it gives me a chance to reframe my life to consider that it’s better to hit my marks, it’s better to stand in the light and not in the dark, and it makes me reconsider Shakespeare when he gives us the answer, when he says, “To thine own self be true,” and as a filmmaker, I say to myself, “Yeah. To thine own self be true,” because I’ve come to realize that life is a hero’s journey.

And who is that hero? That hero is you. That hero is me. Because most Hollywood films are really based on your psychological inheritance and your emotional coefficient. They know all about you, because every film, basically, says the same thing: there’s a call to adventure, a goal, a through line where the character is after something. Just like in your life, and then, someone comes along, and they say, “I’m going to stop you.” And you have to fight them or whatever level you have to fight them to get to the one thing that we’d find in 95% of all Hollywood movies, it’s the thing that connects us all.

It’s the one common denominator that connects us all. Forget about your color, forget about your creed, forget about your gender, forget about your politics; there’s one common denominator that connects every single person in this room, and it’s really simple, and Hollywood knows it: you want a happy ending. You see, because filmmaking, movies, are based on a story structure. We don’t call it a formula, we call it story structure. And it actually comes from Greek mythology.

And I’ll just give you two elements of it. The first is called the ordinary world. Most films begin in an ordinary world, and if someone is to give me a script, the first thing I’m going to look for in the first ten minutes of that movie is I want to be able to psychologically and emotionally get you involved in that character, so I’m going to find some humanity in that character that you can relate to, so then you can begin to see yourself in that character. Yeah, they’re messing with your minds, I’m telling you!

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And the second thing is called an inciting incident. Most great films have an inciting incident. That’s a kickstarter for the character, something happens to that character to make them decide whether I’m going to cross that threshold, leave my ordinary world, and engage in my call to adventure. Because we all have inciting incidents in our lives. We have tragedies, we have all kinds of stories; everyone in this room has a story. My inciting incident was when I was a boy in Richmond Virginia, my father was murdered, he was killed, just ten minutes down the road; violently killed.

They shot him over a card game. They had to attach part of his head back to his neck. And I remember laying in bed, and my mom crying, “No, no, no” – 3:40 in the morning. And I laid in bed, and my best friend was gone. And I remember going downstairs, and I looked under the kitchen table, and I saw his shoes.

As a little boy, I said to myself, “He’ll never fill those shoes again.” I sat in a chair for several months at night, looking at the door, praying to God, “Please bring my dad home.” He never came home. That was my inciting incident, but I failed on my recall to action or my call to action; I failed on it. Because the same thing happened to me again, in 2000: my fiance was murdered, walking to dinner – in Beverly Hills of all places – just going back to her apartment.

Someone shot her over a little bit of money. They shot her in the neck, they shot her in the shoulder, they shot her in the lung, and they shot her in the heart. And that experience had me question: Why? Why me? Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Why am I here? And from the director’s chair it made me realize sometimes life is a battle. It’s like Armageddon. It’s like the battle of Kurukshetra where Krishna says to Arjuna, “You must fight, and you must kill your enemy.” But Arjuna says, “No, I don’t want to fight. We don’t want to fight,” but Krishna says, “You must fight. You must fight and know that I will be with you in your victory.” This makes me reconsider Luke Skywalker in Star Wars because he had to go to battle because he had to save the Empire; but was he really saving the Empire or was he saving himself? And who was that dark force he was fighting? That Darth Vader, who’d like to say, “You underestimate the power of the dark side.” That antagonist?

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And in the classic moment in Star Wars, Luke finally comes face to face in a dream with Darth Vader, and he chops off his head, and he picks his mask off, and he looks down, and what does he see? He sees an image of himself! This is why movies are an allegory to life, because he was killing the dark shadow in himself, that was keeping him from what? His happiness.

And isn’t that what we do every day? We’re fighting antagonists everywhere. They seem to be after the one thing that we all have, that we all possess. And that is our happiness. So, much like in the movies, life is about choices. And I get to work with writers and producers, and we make sure of the choices made, our heroic choices, in a film, because we want you to pull for that character, we want you to be on the edge of your seat and pull for that character; because that’s important to us: we have to engage you.

But the question is what choices are we making in our lives? Are we making the heroic choices so our families can say, “I love you,” much like we say, “I love that character” in a film? Are we making heroic choices to say, “I love everything that you’re doing in your life,” much like we say, “I love this movie,” or are we making irredeemable choices when we say, “I hate you. I hate that character, I hate what you do. I’ll never go see another movie by that director or actor ever again. Get out of my life”? And this leads me back to Shakespeare, reconsidering Shakespeare, when he said, “We’re but poor players on this stage of life.” I’m going to do that quote again.

If I were directing myself, I’d say, “Cut!” and “Let’s redo that.” When Shakespeare said, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Don’t let your life signify nothing; be a hero to a child, be a hero to your family, be a hero to your husband, your wife, your friends, find your hero within, and you will have a happy ending. And may the force be with you.

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