Teaching the telling of stories
By Jessica Lum
April 3, 2008 10:43 p.m.
Wednesday evening in front of the Humanities Building, some 200 students formed a snaking line.
While one would guess this group was waiting in line for a free film screening or some other special event, they were, surprisingly enough, in line for a class. Suffice to say, this isn’t just another lecture.
This widely anticipated course, “Navigating the Narrative World,” Film and Television 291A, is led by Robert Rosen, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and UCLA Film Professor Peter Guber. The class offers the rare opportunity for non-film students, both graduate students and undergraduates, to study storytelling.
Rosen and Guber believe storytelling is central to our existence as humans, socially and professionally, whether in show business or business in general, the courtroom or the classroom. The two also hope that students from different backgrounds will be able to interact and build meaningful connections with each other throughout the course.
“Narrative is everywhere,” Rosen said. “Story lurks in the wings, it is ready to leap out there and to take the disorganized … nature of our existence and give it shape.”
Even in the modern world, Guber finds that storytelling is central to human prosperity.
“State-of-the-art technology will only get you so far. State-of-the-heart technology is what we are talking about,” he said.
Rosen and Guber will be inviting renowned guest speakers each week to share their own stories about how different types of narrative have affected their lives and successes.
“Every one of them in their lives has realized their potential narrative and they have the potential to excite a student or ourselves,” Rosen said.
Notable speakers range from television producer Mark Burnett, who has produced several reality television shows such as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” to Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment.
“We have Deepak Chopra coming, and he’s a brilliant speaker. We have Tony Robbins coming to the class. … Tony’s going to talk about the most important stories in the whole world ““ the ones running in your mind, the ones running your life,” Guber said.
The pair joked that it was relatively easy to attract the speakers.
“We did better than the Yellow Pages. We went to Peter’s Rolodex,” Rosen said. “I know a few people; he knows more. We contacted them and because of UCLA and because of who made the call, they said yes.”
Rosen and Guber are connoisseurs of the professional world, and realize that increasingly, interdisciplinary communication skills are a must-have.
“How do you, in the contemporary world, draw lines or erect great walls separating, for example, … show business ““ the show from the business? They’re always interlaced with one another,” Rosen said.
As the dean, Rosen works with finance, staff and public relations. Guber has a background in law, in addition to work in business and experience in front of and behind the camera.Both said the one unifying element in their lives and their successes is storytelling.
“Whether it’s in business, law, politics, in art, in religion, … the ability to marry otherwise soulless information and data, … rendering an experience to the listener we call the audience is the art form we’re studying,” Guber said.
The class goal is to dig deeper into a topic that might usually be discussed in a literature or screenwriting class, but is now extrapolated into different fields of discipline.
“We’re archaeologists. We’re here to uncover the narrative that is embedded in all these areas and how they work,” Rosen said.
Chantelle Silveira, a graduate student at the Anderson School of Management, is one of the students in the class hoping to benefit from narrative education.
“(The course) teaches the more qualitative aspects about communicating with people and conveying certain messages through stories,” he said.
“I think that storytelling in general is extremely important in any profession.”
Despite the students’ different backgrounds, Rosen and Guber feel that once students better understand the importance of narrative, their mastery of the art is capable of changing their lives.
“I only more recently found storytelling to be the secret sauce of my success. I wondered what the difference between success and failure was. I’ve had so much failure in my life,” Guber added. “Failure and success are very close to one another.”
Guber and Rosen hope that hearing stories from successful people in a wide range of fields will illuminate their uniting factors.
“(By) being sensitive to that rich matrix of narrative in which we live and navigate our way through, overlapping, intersecting, narratives that are embedded everywhere, … you become better able to find stories that are compelling and memorable (or) worth telling,” Rosen said. “You become empowered and better at it as well.”