Jose Silerio, Ingmar Bergman and Teaching Save the Cat! Structure in Sweden
Just got back from a weeklong workshop in Sweden and what a great experience it was.
Having jumped on a plane to spread the Cat! word a couple of times before, I was eager to do so again. Have Cat! Will Travel we always say. But, truly, what makes these trips worth the mileage is the opportunity to learn how others tell a story in their own unique voices… or, as I learned in this trip, how to retell a story that combines its unique voice with something a bit familiar.
We were invited by Arvid Unsgaard, a writer himself, who runs a one-of-a-kind screenwriting school aptly called StoryUtbildningen (that’s Story Education for you non-Swedish speaking readers) in the Gotland Region.
From the moment Arvid greeted me at the airport, I knew right away he and I were kindred spirits. We talked nothing but story and, better yet, the importance of structure in telling a good story. But in the course of one of our discussions, I was surprised to hear (and maybe I shouldn’t be anymore) that structure is viewed by – let’s just say some Swedish filmmakers – as the “enemy of art.” (Before any of you say Ingmar Bergman, no, it wasn’t him! Hmmm, maybe it’s about time I rewatched The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries… though the private tour of his residence was definitely inspiring to say the least. But I digress…)
So what’s wrong with structure? If anything, I’m a firm believer that structure liberates art. Picasso anyone? It’s the same thing with screenwriting and filmmaking. Boyhood anyone?
As Blake himself says, learn the rules before you break the rules. If anything, structure gives your audience a sense of familiarity. From the first time we heard our first nursery rhyme or first joke, there was always some kind of built-in structure that helped boost the tension and anticipation. It makes the punch line so much better. In fact, it’s what makes the punch line work. And this structure followed us through our first picture books, first comic books, first young adult books, and even our first love letter (if it didn’t turn as you wanted, you probably didn’t structure it right 🙂). Structure works. Mold it, rework it, or even hide it. But it’s still there.
That’s why I think Arvid’s philosophy to train the next generation of Swedish filmmakers to embrace structure is what’s exciting. In a world where everything is global (if you say that in your best James Earl Jones voice impersonation, it sounds so much better), it’s only fitting that a small group of young screenwriters with their diverse upbringing in the middle of nowhere, as they would say, are learning ways to showcase their unique backgrounds and voices onto a world stage where an audience across the Atlantic can appreciate and enjoy their distinct stories in a familiar manner.
And that’s all we want. Unique voices. New tales. Fresh approaches to storytelling that can be heard by a broader and eager audience.
Thanks again to Arvid and his students (Hugo, Philippa, Joel, Daniel, Camilla, Matilda, Amanda E., Amanda L., Jonatan, Jacqueline, and Carl) for the wonderful and warm reception (which one really needs in Sweden during January). I’m sure I’ll be watching your movies soon enough in my local theater – while eating some knäckebröd.