Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
It all starts in glamorous Hollywood, California, where Don leads a glamorous movie star life with his glamorous co-star, Lina. Did we mention it's pretty a glamorous existence? It's also totally fake. Don may be rich and famous, but he's lying to everybody about his past and isn't very fond of Lina.
Call to Adventure
Don meets Kathy and she shakes him up something fierce by claiming that silent film actors aren't really actors. Don starts questioning himself, his career, and his choices. Originally, he wanted to be a dancer; now, he's pantomiming in one costumed period piece after another.
Refusal of the Call
When Don finds out that Kathy isn't yet the acclaimed stage actress that she dreams of becoming, he puts his self-examination on hold momentarily to mock her and unleash some quality sarcasm instead.
Meeting the Mentor
Cosmo helps Don start getting his priorities in check by reminding him that the most noble thing he could do as a performer would be to give the audience what they truly want and "make 'em laugh." In other words, maybe he should think about ditching the costume dramas.
Crossing the Threshold
Once Don embraces the studio's decision to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a talkie, there's no looking back. Adventure awaits, and for once, everybody's going to be able to hear it.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Turning The Dueling Cavalier into a talking picture is full of challenges for Don, most of them related to his co-star Lina and her unbearable voice and aggravating attitude. First, she stinks at diction lessons. Second, she can't remember that she needs to speak into the microphone, even when it's sewn into her clothing.
And then there's the horrible test screening. It's an unmitigated disaster. Fortunately, Don's allies, Cosmo and Kathy, come to his aid. Cosmo has the bright idea to turn the flick into a musical, and Kathy generously offers to put her own career on hold to dub Lina's voice.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Don lays it all on the line, creatively, when he pitches the "Broadway Melody Ballet" to R.F., who says he can't really see it, but he's willing to give it a shot. If they can pull this thing off, it's going to be a real turning point for Don's career.
Don's greatest test comes when Lina threatens to ruin Kathy's career. She runs straight to R.F. and demands that he not only remove Kathy's on-screen credit, but also force her to dub Lina's voice forever. When R.F. protests, she threatens to sue, and he gives in. Don's ally and love interest is in big trouble. Oh, and there's also still that pesky little matter of The Dancing Cavalier and how its success or failure will pretty much dictate the future of Don's whole career.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
The audience absolutely loves The Dancing Cavalier, so Don can check one thing off of his list. He won't have to leave Hollywood in shame and live in a van down by the river after all.
The Road Back
Don soaks up the audience's reaction to The Dancing Cavalier, secure in the fact that his career has been successfully reinvented and thereby saved.
Resurrection's a weird word for this step in the Hero's Journey. Really, it's more like the final, decisive, biggest boss battle. We might rename it "Just One More Thing." Now that Don's saved his own career, he needs to save Kathy's and, in doing so, their relationship.
So what does he do? He, with the help of Cosmo and R.F., exposes Lina as a fraud at the Dancing Cavalier premiere. Stripped of her power, Lina can't push R.F. around anymore, and that means she can't order him to muck up Kathy's future. Moments later, when Don tells everybody in the audience that Kathy was actually the star of the movie, he really seals his victory.
Return With the Elixir
Don admires the billboard for his and Kathy's new movie, Singin' in the Rain. He's back in Hollywood and he's a changed man. He has a successful career as an authentic actor and he's gotten the girl. Even better, she's got her dream job, too.