THE BIZ : A Memo’s Journey

The Katzenberg memo, in which the former Walt Disney Studios chairman (who’s now one-third of the Katzenberg-Spielberg-Geffen trinity) pilloried Hollywood’s free-spenders, has joined the show-biz vernacular. But there’s another, lesser-known Disney memo whose influence arguably exceeded Katzenberg’s.

In 1985, Christopher Vogler, a Disney story analyst and student of Joseph Campbell, wrote a seven-page memo synopsizing the myth-master’s description of the archetypal Hero’s Journey, culled from thousands of years of stories, myths, legends and fairy tales. It was far from the first time Hollywood heard of Campbell--he’s been a conversational staple at least since George Lucas cited his influence on “Star Wars"--but outside of a few screenwriters, critics and academics, precious few people had actually read “Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

So Vogler’s memo became a sort of a Cliff’s Notes for Hollywood literati and it soon began a journey of its own. Dawn Steel in 1987 asked Vogler for a copy and made it required reading for Paramount executives, producers and writers. Other studio story departments followed suit. The memo grew to a 15- and then a 40-page essay as Vogler continued to test and refine his ideas, talking with colleagues at Disney, friends at other studios and students at the UCLA Writer’s Program, where he teaches a story analysis class.

Writers, producers and actors asked for copies. Among them was Jeff Arch, who, among other projects, wrote the story for “Sleepless in Seattle” and co-wrote the film’s screenplay, says Vogler’s work is “brilliant.” “Every time I write something, I run each charcter throuh the system Chris has outlined,” says Arch.


Finally, the memo made the ultimate metamorphosis; Vogler write “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters.” Published last year, the book presents the Hero’s Journey in 12 stages.

Vogler, with a story credit on “The Lion King” and a hand in “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” continues his journey as a literary consultant for several divisions at Disney, says the Hero’s Journey “is much bigger than just a device for telling Hollywood stories. It’s a way to live your life.”