Video Picks: The hero’s journey- Director, Jesse Vaughan

Director Jesse Vaughan reckons 95% of all movies involve a happy ending. So why do they follow a similar narrative path? Kirsty introduces us to the ‘The Hero’s Journey’, a template that filmmakers like Jesse use to tell enthralling stories.

How do scriptwriters and filmmakers ensure these happy endings make sense to the plot? It starts with the ‘story structure’ – in many cases based on ‘The Hero’s Journey’ developed by Joseph Campbell. This structure, influenced by Greek mythology involves a ‘hero’ travelling from an ‘ordinary world’ to a ‘special world’ in order to overcome a problem or challenge that they can’t ignore; and then returning, victorious to the ‘ordinary world’.

You might not recognise Jesse’s name, but his work has won him 27 Emmy Awards. Jesse says: “I love directing because it gives me the chance to reconsider life from the director’s chair.”

For Jesse movies are an allegory to life  – a story that reveals a hidden meaning, often moral, political or spiritual. Film plots are about stitching together a series of choices in a character’s life- these help us decide whether to connect and invest in their journey (or not).

Credit: ‘The Hero’s Journey’: Jesse Vaughan at TEDxRVA.

In the video, Jesse talks about how actors sometimes miss their marks – literal marks on the set designed to help with their lines or to ensure the lighting, sound and continuity is kept in check. In life and in film if you miss your mark your journey’s path can distort- he talks honestly about events that have challenged him.

Jesse touches on Star Wars and Shakespeare for reference points. Next time you’re watching a film see if you can identify a ‘Hero’s Journey’ story structure, in which the hero overcomes adversity and triumphantly returns to everyday life, granting the audience a happy ending.

Looking for more inspiration?

As well as films ‘The Hero’s Journey’ story structure is used for books, games design, and animation. Find out more about the 12 steps at

There are of course many alternative ways to tell a story  – for example, explore ‘The Touchstone’ and ‘Wagon Wheel’ structure’ at

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