Future of Story Interview Series: Pamela Jaye Smith
Pamela Jaye Smith is a world renowned mythologist, speaker, consultant, writer, award-winning producer/director, and the founder of MYTHWORKS with over 30 years of experience on features, TV series, commercials, documentaries, corporate and military films. Her credits and clients include Paramount, Disney, Microsoft, Universal, GM, the FBI, and the U.S. Army. She is the author of Symbols*Images*Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media, The Power of The Dark Side Creating Great Villains, Dangerous Situations, & Dramatic Conflict, and Inner Drives How To Write and Create Characters Using The Eight Centers of Motivation.
Ann: In your newest book, Symbols*Images*Codes, you discuss how powerful this silent form of communication is; can you tell us about it and how it benefits writers?
Pamela Jaye: Communication is the most important aspect of human interaction, and it is accomplished in a number of ways, from utilitarian to artistic. Some of the most primitive yet still most effective modes of communication are visual — that’s just how our brains are wired.
In our multicultural, instantaneously interconnected global village, we speak hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects with diverse and specific cultural backgrounds. How can we communicate effectively across all these borders?
Symbols and images affect people emotionally — hence their exceptional effectiveness. Because there is no particular rational attachment to them, visuals are a universal language that engages our intuition and imagination.
The more consciously you use symbols and images in your stories, the more effective your message will be. Using appropriate visuals will heighten the emotional impact of your story and will connect your audience to the rich stream of meaning — conscious and unconscious — that flows through humanity and our arts.
Ann: Can you give us a few examples like how the element of air can be used in films and their meanings?
Pamela Jaye: Air is the very essence of life itself: You can live without food for weeks, without water for a few days, but without air for only a few minutes. Since you can’t see it but you can see its powerful effects, air is often given godly status. Wind is the messenger of the gods. The random breeze can bring illumination; the flight of birds spurs inspiration; the fury of a storm is divine punishment. Creation myths often begin when a divinity exhales the very cosmos, or breathes life into inanimate objects, transforming them into living, breathing creatures.
In The Iliad, King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to bring winds to move the becalmed Greek fleet off shore and onward to Troy. He pays dearly for that upon his return 10 years later when his Queen Clytemnestra, still upset about the sacrifice of their daughter, stabs him to death.
In Dead Calm, a lack of wind brings terror for sailing couple Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill. In Master and Commander, the ship at full sail is a glorious vision of air in motion, taking the valiant men off on an adventure. In The Kite Runner, air lifting the kites above the turmoils on the ground indicates aspiration and hope.
Ann: You use the term “Deva” in your book, The Power of The Dark Side, explain to us what that is?
Pamela Jaye: Deva is a Sanskrit word meaning essence or identity. Every thing that exists has a unique character, essence, or “is”-ness, whether rock, flower, animal, person, family, company, story, situation, or concept like democracy, love, evil. Militaries have their esprit de corps, a French term meaning “spirit of the body”. Zeitgeist is German for “spirit of the time”. Business has Institutional Memory and religions have Dogma. Lovers have their special relationships, Jung labeled personalized universal patterns Archetypes, and wars are fought over ideologies. All of these are devas.
Devas influence us according to our receptiveness: the disaffected do not thrill to the national anthem, the disillusioned lover is immune to pleas and kisses, and the non-believer pooh-poohs angels and aliens. Plug into a deva, however, and your life changes: religious converts, new lovers, revolutionaries, and avid fans are all affected by devas.
In creating the antagonist or the dangerous situation in your stories, selecting an effective deva can make all the difference between a story with limp drama and one with vivid conflict. Its part of how genres work: the horror story deva is like the big url – www.scream.hrr or the western like www.goodbadugly.wst Learning to recognize, create, and use devas can increase the effectiveness of your stories.
Ann: What is the dark side’s role in stories, why is it important for writers of all genres to understand it, and why do writers take their characters into the dark side?
Pamela Jaye: Conflict lies at the heart of all effective stories. Every good story requires three basic conflicts: the hero’s internal flaw, an antagonist, and an external (sometimes impersonal) threat to the hero. These all need to be appropriate, balanced, believable, and capable of contributing to a satisfactory resolution. Ineffectiveness in these elements of conflict is one of the biggest problems story-tellers have.
The undefined antagonist undercuts the heroism of the protagonist. Just as the symbol of the Tao shows white and black swirling around each other with a dot of the other in the center, so too will the best stories have balanced weight from the Dark Side as well as from the Light.
Writers often take their characters into the dark side because it’s just so darn interesting. The villainess or anti-hero can personify our own internal rebel, the one we aren’t courageous enough to be. They challenge our mores and beliefs about proper behavior. They give us a chance to be saviors. They also challenge our own powers of seduction. Some primitive part of us still loves the chase, and like a cheetah cub, we don’t recognize food unless it's running away from us. The unobtainable, scary, dangerous person is exciting.
Ann: What are the “Centers of Motivation” that you talk about in your book, Inner Drives, and how can they help writers?
Pamela Jaye: The Centers of Motivation is a term I coined for the chakras. Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning “wheel”: the motion of prana (vitality or life energy) in, through, and around each of these Centers is said to spin like a wheel. Each of these Centers is a place where your actual physical body’s nervous system gathers into a grouping of nerves and connects to an endocrine gland which produces certain hormones which bring about changes in your body, your emotions, and your mind.
Those hormones can be adrenalin if under stress, testosterone, or estrogen when influenced by the Sacral Center, insulin, and blood sugar for the Solar Plexus, etc. These chemicals each affect us in specific ways and the influence goes both directions – which is how meditation, music, food and drink, controlled substances, and other influences work to change our moods and actions.
Learning how to select and develop appropriate chakras for your characters can help create more unique, dynamic, and believable people in your stories.
Ann: What creative techniques do you use to help get you in-tune with the energy frequency of your characters?
Pamela Jaye: I use the Inner Drives information and determine what chakra or Center of Motivation best suits a character and how they can move around on the chakras to create the most effective arcs of growth and transformation.
If I’m working as a story consultant or script doctor for someone else’s creations I read the signals in the descriptions and dialogue that help determine the best chakra for a character. I also talk with the writer about their vision. What does the character want? What is their seeming style of speaking and acting?
If creating my own characters, I “listen” to them and follow them around a bit, observing how they speak and act, and more importantly – feel.
Then armed with a specific chakra choice I can accessorize each character with distinct phraseology, styles of action, choices of words, collections, clothing, etc. to make them unique from the other characters in the story.
Using the Centers of Motivation is an excellent way to create a character arc. The chakras are effective because there is such psychological truth there – it’s who we really are and how we really act.
Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?
Pamela Jaye: My office overlooks a bougainvillea vine visited by hummingbirds, past a swimming pool, and then to a wall of tall trees and flowering plants. Immersed in the midst of busy Hollywood and the techworld of the web, it is refreshing to look up and out and see peaceful beautiful nature.
Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?
Do what they manhood bids thee.
From none but self expect applause.
He noblest lives and noblest dies
Who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
Sir Richard Frances Burton –
British explorer, author, translator of “1001 Arabian Nights”
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream at night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.
But the Dreamers of the Day are Dangerous Men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.
TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia
The 7 Pillars of Wisdom
Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Pamela Jaye: Besides doing consultations and writing on some very interesting client projects, I am also working on two new books: SHOW ME THE LOVE and MYTH, MAGIC, METAPHYSICS. I’ll be speaking at the South West Writers Conference in September and am teaching online classes on SYMBOLS and ALPHA BABES for Savvy Authors. Our PitchProxy Pros service will be pitching projects at the Screenwriting EXPO for clients who can’t be there themselves.
Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?
Pamela Jaye: The Conference explores aspects of the art, craft, and business of media-making, offering perspectives from a number of authors, writers, and filmmakers with many years experience in the Hollywood media industry.
I’ll be on the first panel “Developing the Story”, moderated by Chris Vogler. As a mythologist I’m pleased to be able to bring the wonderful timeless tools of story to today’s writers and filmmakers. We know these tools really work because we’re still telling the stories from hundreds and thousands of years ago, from many different cultures.
Ann: What benefits do writers get by attending this conference?
Pamela Jaye: The opportunity to hear from authors who are on the creative forefront of the media industry as writers, directors, producers, marketers, editors, designers, and more and to benefit from their experience in Hollywood and around the world.
To interact with fellow creatives excited about the future of our professions and determined to bring both information and inspiration to global audiences.
A fun afternoon and evening in a unique setting - a Hollywood studio where some of the most popular shows are filmed - and in a dome theatre, the future of viewing venues.
Ann: What ideas are you excited to share at the conference?
Pamela Jaye: That the classic tools of story-telling -- Mythic Themes, Archetypes, and Symbols -- are still fresh and valuable to writers today.
That studying what has worked well in the past greatly increases your craft tool-kit and gives you the opportunity to be a much better artist.
That most mythologies and wisdom systems present a future for humanity that writers can help create and it has certain steps and certain characteristics at each step. To consciously use that compelling arc of a changing consciousness can result in stories that are both engaging and enlightening.
Ann: Thank you, Pamela Jaye, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.
Pamela Jaye: I hope to see you at The Future of Story Conference. Good luck with your creative projects.
To learn more about how you can meet Pamela Jaye Smith and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles.
Meet the Author: Ann Baldwin
Ann Baldwin is a screenwriter (The Power of Dreams, Scent of a Trail, Dream Catcher) with several spec scripts in development. She reviews books on screenwriting and filmmaking, writes articles and poetry, and has several books (fiction & non-fiction) in-progress. Prior to launching her writing career, she was a special event coordinator and manager in the hospitality and entertainment industries for over 25 years.
The San Francisco Bay Area is her home, where she was born and raised. You can visit her website http://www.annbaldwin.net and her blog page http://ahigherfrequency.blogspot.com
Meet the Author: Pamela Jaye Smith
PAMELA JAYE SMITH is an Author, international Consultant, Speaker, and award-winning Producer/Director with over 30 years experience in features, TV, music videos, commercials, documentaries, corporate, military films, and games.
Smith authored THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE: Create Great Villains and Dangerous Situations, INNER DRIVES: How to Write and Create Characters Using the 8 Classic Centers of Motivation, and SYMBOLS, IMAGES & CODES: The Secret Language of Meaning in Media.