StoryMaker – Interview with James Bonnet (25 June 2007)

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Introduction

After I’d posted the interview with Evelyn Clark, I was on the lookout for someone to interview. One day, I received an email from Regina Kuan in Singapore asking if I’d like to interview James Bonnet. I immediately wrote to him requesting an interview. He agreed and I’m sure you’ll agree with me, after reading this interview, that his experience in this field is quite impressive. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you James Bonnet …


Aneeta: James, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

James: It’s my pleasure, Aneeta.

Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you. Please tell me a little about your background – where were you born, what was your youth like, what do you do for a living, where do you live and a little about your family.

James:  I was born and raised in New York City. As a teenager, I spent two summers in Texas, working on the pipe lines. When I returned, I studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and spent one summer performing at two summer theatres, the Grist Mill Playhouse and Bucks County Playhouse. At nineteen, after many live television performances, I was selected to create the role of James Roosevelt in the hit Broadway show, Sunrise at Campobello.

I now make my living as an author, teacher and story consultant and live in Los Angeles with my wife, Diane. We have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Aneeta: That is impressive! How did you first get into storytelling?

James:  After I came to Hollywood, when I was in my early twenties, I gave a script I had written to Peter Tewksbury, the director of a television I was working on as an actor. He liked the writing and asked me to become one of the writers for a new television series he was creating, It’s a Man’s World. This made it possible for me to join the Writers Guild of America, where after a few years, I was elected to the Board of Directors.

Aneeta: can you please tell me about Astoria Filmwrights?

James: Astoria Filmwrights is a research project that has been studying all the significant story models and theories about story from around the world and their connection to the creative process, metaphor, storymaking and film. The culmination of this work is the breakthrough “unified” theory of the origin and nature of story.

Astoria Filmwrights is also an emerging production company and a school for writers and filmmakers that will be dedicated to the discovery and development of future filmwrights – the filmwright being the primary creative artist on a film. He/she is the one who originates the idea, sits at the top of the pyramid and guides everyone else’s creative efforts. Walt Disney was a filmwright; Steven Spielberg is a filmwright.

Aneeta: One thing intrigues me – everyone speaks of storytelling. You have a term, storymaking. Why do you make this distinction and what does it mean?

James:  I make a distinction between storytelling and storymaking. Storytelling is the retelling of a tale that already exists. Storymaking involves the invention and creation of a new story. My work is primarily concerned with the creation of new stories, either fiction or non-fiction, that will become story films or novels. Applied to a film, one might say that the screenwriter is the storymaker and the director is the storyteller, and sometimes the same person functions in both capacities.

Aneeta: I know you’ve written a book, Stealing Fire From the Gods. Please describe it for me.


James: Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Complete Guide to Story for Writers and Filmmakers is an attempt to bring everything the writer or filmmaker needs to know about story into one book. It reveals how the great myths and legends were created and shows how stories with that kind of magic and power can be created again. It is considered by many top professionals to be the most definitive and comprehensive guide to all things related to story and storymaking, including new revelations concerning the essence of story (that without which there would be no story), the high concept great idea, the structures of the whole story passage, the anti-hero’s journey, the threat (the cause of the problem), the value being pursued, the ultimate source of unity, and the use of the quintessential to make your characters not only memorable and merchandisable but truly charismatic. It also contains a critical assessment of the three act structure, many new and completely revised illustrations, and the analyses of many important new stories and successful films. My belief is that with this new, deeper understanding of story, writers will know how to tap creative sources deep within themselves and have the tools to use modern metaphors to create powerful and entertaining stories that have a significant impact on the world.

Aneeta: I understand there’s also a DVD on Storymaking. Would you care to share this with us?


James:  James Bonnet’s Storymaking is the first DVD in the Story for Writers series. It takes writers and filmmakers on a journey inside the process of storymaking. And while revealing the secrets that made fairy tales and all the great classics so powerful and enduring, and the top grossing films so successful, it guides the writer to a profound understanding of story, the creative process, and a true mastery of the storymaker’s art.

Aneeta: From you website, http://www.storymaking.com your successful career as a storyteller is clearly stated. For the benefit of my readers, can you please describe your journey?

James: As mentioned above I started out as an actor and got my first professional writing job on the television series It’s A Man’s World. I went on to write or act in more than forty television shows and features, but ever since that first professional writing experience, I have been creatively driven by only one thing: discovering the secrets that underlie great stories. To that end, I established Astoria Filmwrights. In 1990 I started teaching my seminar, The Master Class. The first edition of Stealing Fire from the Gods was published in 1999, the second edition in 2006. My new book, Cracking the Story Code: The Dominant Patterns Found in the World’s Great Stories and Films, will be ready for publication in the Fall of 2008.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters to storytellers. What advice would you give storytellers who would like to start out on this journey of storytelling?

James: The real key to success in this field is an understanding of story. Story is at the heart of all the different media and all the different genres. If you plan to write, produce or direct story films, or write novels, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about story. It will give you a tremendous advantage. Then after your work is of a professional quality, perseverance is another key to success. You never give up until you find the people who share your chemistry and your vision and respond to your work.

Aneeta: This is all I have to ask, James. Is there anything you’d like to add?

James: I think that pretty well covers it. I help writers and filmmakers master their craft, through an understanding of story.

Aneeta: Thank you.

James: Thank you, Aneeta. I appreciate your interest in our work.

[Editor’s Note: James Bonnet is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Singapore International Story Telling Festival on 24th of August – 9 the September 2007.]


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

Click here to return to the index of interviews on ‘Blow Your Own Trumpet!’


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