Tyll Zybura

Sinngetriebener Mensch

Hollywood’s Magic Formulas

Tyll Zybura, 16.05.2016

Taught with Katharina Pietsch in Summer 2014.

Course commentary

As one of the largest commercial producers of stories in the world, Hollywood supports an industry of screenwriters and story consultants, which is a market for magic formulas of how to create successful stories. Some of those formulas are derived from traditional three act structure models, others focus on characters as a means to drive audience emotions – all of them make strong claims as to their own efficacy.

In this course we will look at some of the most prolific screenwriting/story theories and their claims, analyze what they teach us about stories and try to connect them to academic narratology. We will start with plot point models (e.g. Field) and the Hero’s Journey (Campbell, Vogler) and will proceed to theories like Dramatica (Phillips, Huntley) and the Emotional Toolbox (Hutzler).

With each of the approaches we will focus on two main questions: What does it tell us about what stories are and why we like them? Where is the ‘magic’, i.e. the arcane core of the formula that vindicates its claim?

We will use the following six movies as reference points for the theories that are discussed in class. Please watch at least four of these six movies during the term break (watch all six if you can):

  • Black Swan (2010)
  • Winter’s Bone (2010)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
  • The Godfather (1972)


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