The Power Of Authentic Storytelling by Mark W. Travis

Watch the video interview on Youtube here


Film Courage: So Write Your Life, is that part of The Travis Technique™?

Mark W. Travis: Yes. It’s a part. There are 3 main elements of The Travis Technique™. 1) is Write Your Life which is the autobiographical storytelling. Which is, besides telling your own personal stories, it’s all the basics of storytelling, all the structural aspects of telling any kind of story. So it really grounds you in storytelling. And one thing that’s important is it’s not a writing class, per se. It’s storytelling. Can you tell the story? Directors, writers and actors need to learn how to tell the stories not just write them. Writing comes next. Can I actually sit down and tell you a story, take 3 minutes and tell you a story? And then can I examine my own character within the story (know my own character)? And can I consciously take you on a journey through that little 3-minute story? When you tell an autobiographical story, the goal is…if I were to tell you an autobiographical story right now Karen, my goal would be, I’m going to take you through an event, and it will take me 3-5 minutes to tell you, and my goal is to have you experience while you’re listening to the story exactly what I experienced when I lived it without having to tell you “Well then at that point I was really sad and all that.” I don’t have to fill that in. I will tell you the story in such a way that you get it immediately. Now that’s the power of storytelling whether it’s verbal or cinema or a play or even a novel (to be able to do this). So that’s what Write Your Life is about. It’s a very powerful experience. This is why a lot of people take it over and over and over again. They keep coming back and take it again. Take it again. It’s like going back to the gym and working out all those muscle of telling it again, the basics.

Watch the video interview here on Youtube

The other 2 aspects of The Travis Technique which is the Interrogation Process (which you know about a little bit). The directorial technique of working with actors to access the character. It’s a process of not directing the actors, but actually accessing the characters, talking to the characters and how to stimulate the characters with the understanding that when you cast somebody in a movie, basically from my point of view when I cast somebody, I am communicating to that actor “The character I want you to play exists already.” I tell the actors this. The character exists already inside of you. You do not need to create the character. You do not need to develop the character, you do not need to do anything. One thing that you have to do which is very, very hard (it’s almost impossible), you have to get out of the way and let the character come out because the character is inside of you. The problem is, you’re in the way. Because the character is inside you. The problem is, you’re in the way but I can help you. Now that’s the Interrogation Process which helps the actor actually remove themselves from a process and allow the character to emerge and we can talk more about that.

The third part of The Travis Technique is the power of staging. And this all has to do with very simple concept that is so powerful that we all deal with every moment of our lives. Which is we move in the world, pretty much in the same way (all of us), we all move around the world avoiding conflicts, seeking comfort, even as we set up to shoot this, that’s what we did. We all move in relationship to the environment, and to other people and even the way we sit, what chair we want, we all move this way. Now this is how we move in life in response to all the elements around us. The Power of Staging is we’re creating something artificial. So I can stage a scene in such a way (which I can demonstrate)…I can stage a scene in such a way that how I move the actors, in relationship to each other, in relationship to the environment (whatever it is) …and even in terms of their own body language, I can move them and actually stimulate within every actor the emotion I need for the character at that moment. Whether it’s comfort, discomfort, anger, rage, abandonment, whatever it is. I can move them in such a way that this gets triggered in the actor. And the actor does not have to create that feeling. The actor has to now struggle with that feeling. As we move through life (all of us), we’re impacted and we have emotional reactions to things. We feel sad, we feel happy, we feel abandoned, we feel uncomfortable, whatever. We have emotional reactions. We don’t go through life trying to create emotion. I don’t know of anybody who has ever done that. “I think I am going to be happy in the next second and I’m going to…” No. We don’t do that. We would like to have that but we have these emotional reactions. So my goal which is very successful in working with staging is I trigger emotions inside the actor which are appropriate for the character and now as the character they have to struggle with that emotion. What to do with it. And now it’s authentic. You’re not watching an actor create an emotion or pretend to have an emotion. You’re watching an actual person struggling with or embracing (whatever they’re doing), dealing with genuine emotions. And that’s the Power of Staging. And the other aspect of that is when it’s working well, the audience sees it immediately. The audience will react emotionally, too. You are actually triggering emotions in the audience simultaneously as I’m doing it with the actor. So again, getting back to what we were talking about before, because of projection. Because when we watch a scene or we watch a movie or we watch a play, anything. Even if we watch people in life we project ourselves into them. And we see two people arguing at another table and we say “Ohhhh…he’s so uncomfortable!” Well, why are you reacting that way? Because you’re saying “If I was there, this is how I would be feeling.” So through staging, I can trigger emotions in the audience. And help the audience identify more deeply with the character. So those are the three elements.

Watch the video interview here on Youtube

Film Courage: So when you’re doing a weekend seminar, are you beginning with the writing portion and then working in Interrogation and then doing the Staging or no?

Mark W. Travis: Well, not in a weekend. [Laughs] It’s a great question and it’s something that Elsha and I struggle with all the time for every workshop we put together. Our ideal situation, yes we would deal with all of it. But then it’s going to take days or weeks because each one is so massive. So what we have is a weekend job that we do frequently that is just called Write Your Life and you can learn that. Then we have other weekend workshops that we do which are longer which are in the Interrogation process. The last time we did that it was actually longer, it was 10 days. Just for directors, just to learn the Interrogation process. Or we will include the Interrogation Process and staging together, so The Travis Technique is really an umbrella of a lot of stuff. And we have found if we try to teach too much in a short period of time, we’re skimming over the surface and we like to do workshops where you can really plunge yourself into one technique, one aspect of it to really benefit from digging that deep into the process.

Film Courage: One last question and then we’ll move on, in terms of the Writing Your Life portion, what are some thing you see get in the way of people telling an authentic scene from a version of their life? Do people tend to paint too rosy of a picture of a scene that is really from their own life? Or the opposite (because people tend to embellish memories that aren’t there) that are too traumatic and you can kind of sense that it’s not authentic.


“Your agenda now is to be honest. That is what a lot of people struggle with. They struggle first of all with looking at what was really going on and when they see it, it gets a little shaky. Then to reveal it gets even shakier. That’s the business we’re in. We’re storytellers and we don’t tell stories for people to change their opinion about us. We actually tell stories so people can have an experience.”


Mark W. Travis: Well, yes, all of that can happen and there is more that can happen. First of all we have to look at someone…I mean next time (wherever you are)…if you and David are some place and your friends tell a story, just listen and ask yourself (seriously) and this is not critical at all, why are they telling this story? “Why is she telling this story? Why is he telling this story?” You know, there is an agenda, there is a reason, maybe they are telling this story to make a point clearer that they were trying to make earlier and they are using the story to tell it. Fine. Maybe they are telling the story for self-aggrandizement? Maybe they are telling because they want sympathy or pity? Who knows? There is always a reason for telling the story. And since it’s an autobiographical story, the reason to tell the story is for you. “I want to tell the story so you understand something about me.” So I’m doing it for me. I’m trying to elicit something out of you. Well what we do in Write Your Life is can you tell your story and think of the story as a gift? I want to give you a gift. The gift is the experience you are going to go through hearing this story. It has nothing to do with me, even though it’s my story. Because when we make a film or tell a story, that’s a gift to the world. If I make a movie, I don’t want people to be thinking of Me The Director. Not at all. I want them involved in the story. And the gift of the story, whether it’s told or it’s a film, the gift of the story is two-fold. 1) is what the viewer or listener is experiencing as the story is unfolding. That is one gift. Those 2 hours of a movie or 5 minutes of listening to the story. That’s one gift.

The other gift, which is even bigger in a way, is the legacy of the story. We’ve all seen movies that we will never forget. We’ve all seen movies that have changed our lives in a certain way and sometimes we’re not even aware of it until years later and we go “Wow! When I saw that movie…something shifted!” That is the power of what we’re doing. That’s also the gift of storytelling that it can last forever. And again, it’s not about the storyteller. So getting back to your question, one of the traps you can fall into, are you’re telling the story so that the listener will see you in a different way? Well then it’s all about you. Or you doing it for self-aggrandizement or something else? Are you willing…this is a big question in Write Your Life…are you willing to tell the story and reveal (really) how vulnerable you were? How stupid you were? How arrogant you were? Which means how human you were at that time? Can you do that? That’s not asking for pity. In other words, how honest can you be? So what we focus on in the Write Your Life is can you tell it honestly? Get the agenda out of the way! Your agenda now is to be honest. That is what a lot of people struggle with. They struggle first of all with looking at what was really going on and when they see it, it gets a little shaky. Then to reveal it gets even shakier. That’s the business we’re in. We’re storytellers and we don’t tell stories for people to change their opinion about us. We actually tell stories so people can have an experience. That may shift something within them, maybe even change their opinion about themselves. It’s not about us. We have to tell these stories honestly, authentically. We, the director, writer and actors actually have to (this is really ironic) we are the primary…this is what I call the Golden Triangle (Director, actors and writer – That’s The Golden Triangle. The rest is the support system.) We as that Golden Triangle, the primary triangle of telling stories, have to get out of the way. We have to remove ourselves from the very thing we’re doing, which is very hard. It’s not about the writer. It’s not about the director. And it’s certainly not about the actors. It’s about the characters. We have to get out of the way and serve the story and serve the characters and that is hard.


Question for the Viewers: Please share your thoughts. What do you think about what Mark W. Travis is saying in this video?




MARK W. TRAVIS is regarded by Hollywood and independent film professionals internationally as the world’s leading teacher and consultant on the art and craft of film directing. He is known as “the director’s director.”

Fueled by the desire to generate organic and authentic performances in an instant, Mark developed his revolutionary Travis Technique™ over a span of 40 years. Not limited to filmmakers, The Travis Technique™ has proven to be an essential set of tools for all storytellers, writers, directors and actors.

Mark Travis has taught at many internationally acclaimed film schools and institutions, including Pixar University, American Film Institute, UCLA Film School, FAS Screen Training Ireland, NISS – Nordisk Institutt for Scene og Studio (Norway), Odessa International Film Festival (Ukraine), CILECT – The International Association of Film and Television Schools, and the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (hosted by Griffith University Film School, Brisbane, Australia).

Productions directed by Mark W. Travis have garnered over 30 major awards, including: an Emmy, Drama-Logue, L.A. Weekly, Drama Critics’ Circle, A.D.A, and Ovation awards.

His film and television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Capitol, Hillers, and the Emmy Award-winning PBS dramatic special, Blind Tom: The Thomas Bethune Story. Also the feature films Going Under (for Warner Bros. starring Bill Pullman and Ned Beatty), Earlet (documentary), The Baritones, and The 636.

On-stage, over the past 20 years, Mark has directed over 60 theatre productions in Los Angeles and New York, including: A Bronx Tale, Verdigris, The Lion in Winter, Mornings At Seven, Equus, Café 50s, And A Nightingale Sang, Wings, Linke vs. Redfield, The Coming of Stork and others.

Mark is the author of the Number-One Best Seller (L.A. Times), THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors. His second book on directing,

DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS (published in April of 2002) is currently used as required text in film schools worldwide. His third book, THE FILM DIRECTOR’S BAG OF TRICKS: Get What You Want from Writers and Actors was published in 2011. Mark’s popular DVD, HOLLYWOOD FILM DIRECTING, is available now.

MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors.








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