Seizing the Sword

Once past the Ordeal, the hero is ready to Seize the Sword, says Chris Vogler. In July we received development funding for THE MORTAL COIL. Next it was selected into SPAAmart and now the AFC is funding the production of the animation ACID SUN, after only one application. It sounds like OZZYWOOD Films is seizing the sword. What is the secret? And is the Ordeal now finally over??

I have just returned from SPAAmart, Australia’s film financing market, where Wojciech and I pitched THE MORTAL COIL to twenty-four industry executives from Australia and overseas. It was only the second time ever I applied for this competitive market. One hundred percent hit rate. Luck? Possibly. But my recent string of successes cannot be ignored as an unusually high hit rate. An AFC project manager with impressive film credits recently told an audience how his applications used to be rejected at a rate of 8/1. No future for me as an AFC project manager, I guess…

If luck is one factor, what other factors are there? The talent of the writer, first and foremost. I have the honour and the pleasure of working with brilliant people. Without an interesting concept you can edit until the cows come home. THE MORTAL COIL has the support of Richard Taylor at the famous Weta Workshop in Wellington. Given the amazing track record of that effects house, their attachment is a major bonus and it helps convincing decision makers that this project will fly.


There is no doubt in my mind that the story development approach is another crucial factor in those recent funding successes. I used to get sucked into reading, analysing and assessing screenplays. Most scripts have enough weaknesses on the scene level for a script editor to provide his money’s worth in surface level feedback. The writer takes on board all the comments and does a – often completely useless – rewrite. My rejection rate used to be higher than average until I changed my development strategy. By focusing on the story, the writer doesn’t touch the screenwriting software until the structure works. This sounds like a longer process, but the reality is just the opposite.

If there is an easier way, why do we keep getting caught in this trap? Why do we all give feedback based on the script? I believe that we are scared to tell you – the writer – to fundamentally review the story. What if you walked away to find yourself another editor? It would mean the potential loss of some hard-earned business. Will those essential story changes guarantee a movie that works? Of course not. The most quoted line in the movie industry is William Goldman’s “Nobody knows anything.” But a well-structured story will increase the chances that better people read your script and give you better feedback so you get a step closer to funding.

Once you have successfully applied the principles of story structure and you’ve made it past the Ordeal of story and script development, remember Vogler and don’t confuse the Sword with the Elixir. I, too, am fully aware that the Final Confrontation is yet to come.


The Australian Film Commission is paying $60,000 towards the production of ACID SUN, the first project I took on as a producer after becoming a father late 2004. Parental responsibility had brought with it a greater focus and a more radical selection of projects and short films just didn’t seem to cut it any longer. “Short films no longer work as a calling card.”

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