MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT



"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser
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R.I.P. Christopher Kühne

























This is an interview Chris did with VoyageLA in March.


Hi Christopher, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?

Born and raised in Mexico City, I grew a strong interest in ancient texts, History, and the classics early on. At 18 years old, I adopted fitness training as a discipline, which I have kept ever since. I have successfully dabbled in several passions throughout my life (from being a professional magician to fitness coach to video editor), but deep inside I always knew I was born to become a storyteller. To tell you how I grew aware of my call, I’ll tell you a true story. In 2009, I was taken on a group tour to a rural community in Mexico to mentor children on writing over the course of two weeks. I was assigned to mentor a shy little girl wearing cotton gloves despite the 92-degree weather who was bullied by other kids. After catching a glimpse of a notable mole on the back of one of her hands before she hastily put the glove back on, I understood why. Despite futile attempts at trying to make the girl speak to begin the mentorship, I paused and set the agents of the power of story in motion. Inspired by the mythology of Eros or Cupid, I came up with a story of the time Eros felt sad after his victims, whom he would strike with pointy arrows infused with love, complained of the pain these caused. So people began disliking falling in love. Mocked by everyone and feeling purposeless, Eros quit his job and retired to a remote forest, and the world became loveless. But as Eros endlessly sobbed, he felt the warm touch of a hand on his back. He turned and saw the most beautiful girl he had ever seen: so beautiful, he wished he could be mortal. After Eros explained to her the reason of his calamity, the girl smiled, reached for his face, and gently wiped his tears off. “Love should always feel like that.” The little girl began. “Gentle.”

In an instant, Eros took her hand and kissed it, causing a blinding source of light to sprout from the back of the girl’s hand. “Little girl,” Eros began, “From now on, everything you touch will be filled with the power of love. Use your power wisely!” Once the bright light on the back of the girl’s hand faded, she glanced down and saw a heart-shaped mark on it. The End. When I had finished telling the story, the girl’s eyes were wide with astonishment. She took her right-hand glove off (secretly-not-so-secretly, like children do) and stared at the mole on the back of her hand, which was shaped like a heart. Two weeks after the mentorship ended, I learned from one of the community’s leaders that the girl wasn’t wearing gloves anymore. She was now one of the most outgoing and social kids in the community, and the kids who once laughed at her were now her friends. They invited her to play with them and even asked her to teach them how to write stories. She excelled at it. So it was that the transcendental power of storytelling worked its magic once more, changing two lives forever and igniting the spark of what was to become my path as a storyteller. A year later, in 2010, I went on a family summer trip to Los Angeles, where I visited the backlot at Universal Studios, home to iconic films. As our studio tour tram drove by a real ongoing production, something deep inside me clicked and encouraged me to imagine a life working there, in the middle of the entertainment industry. In 2012, shortly after having earned my BA in Communications and Mass Media, I suffered an accident while wakeboarding in Mexico, which left me out of commission for about four months. This was the catalyst that forced me to turn my life 180º and set on my hero’s journey. I knew since an early age that my life wasn’t in Mexico, so I took this as a wake up call to pursue my aspirations.

Three months later, in January 2013, I was shooting a project at the Universal Studios backlot: I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in filmmaking and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. When I caught sight of a studio tour tram full of people touring the backlot, I saw myself from three years before on it, now looking at me actually shooting a project there, where legendary films have been shot. I was looking at myself from the other side. It was a very strange and incredible experience, almost like peering at oneself from the past and future simultaneously. When the epiphany concluded and I came back to the present, I knew the feeling I had back in 2010 was now manifesting in front of my eyes, coming to a full circle. In 2016, shortly after graduating from NYFA, I had the opportunity to work on my first major project, serving as a story consultant on acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Emilio Ruiz Barrachina’s award-winning film, El Violín de Piedra (The Stone Violin). In the spring, I began working with Hollywood producer and literary manager Ken Atchity (Joe Somebody, The Kennedy Detail, The Meg) on story and film development, establishing a professional relationship that continues to grow to this day. Shortly after that, I teamed up with Mr. Barrachina once more, this time coming onboard as a co-writer on his romance drama feature film Yerma: Barren, a modern adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca´s play Yerma, set in 21st century London.

In 2017, I divided my time and enrolled at UCLA to pursue two certificates: Film and TV Development and Business and Management of Entertainment, graduating in 2019. Today, my efforts to spread and share the power of story continue with Storyan, my psychoanalytical story development company, which focuses on helping writers find the story behind their stories to improve their craft and keep transforming the world through authentic storytelling. Storyan is a development company which offers writers specialized story development services with a psychoanalytical approach. Digging deeper and beyond screenwriting, I works with writers to shed light on the foundations behind their stories: from logic and psychology to marketability, content, and form. While academia primarily teaches writers how to write screenplays, Storyan helps them understand how to compose authentic stories to improve their craft and write better stories (and scripts) that resonate on both commercial and artistic levels. I’m also currently working as an Associate Manager on a project by Steve Alten (best-selling author of The Meg, on which the 2018 Warner Bros. blockbuster film is based) and serving as a co-executive producer on an upcoming animated series with Kevin Smith attached.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The biggest challenge has been being an immigrant. You first manage to come here, and then you realize you’re sort of an outcast competing not only against people born here but also against other outsiders like you. There’s so much stuff going on and so many people doing the same thing, it’s easy to disappear within the pile. But once you discover your voice and the elements that make you stand out from the rest, it only takes believing, patience, and perseverance. Discover your personal mark or brand before you go out there. You have it deep within you.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?

I’m a recognized screenwriter working part-time as an associate manager and story consultant in the industry. My writing is characterized by a fusion of high concept and deep storytelling aimed at resonating with audiences of all backgrounds and beliefs through sound entertainment. Most high concept films nowadays rely solely on content to reach audiences; Form has been mostly relegated to projects dealing with social trends and issues — a good thing, given that it helps delivering the message to the audience efficiently. But we’re also witnessing a split of the craft into factory-made, cookie-cutter products. Content makes money, but content alone fails to deliver a good story. Enter Form. You have to think of Content as the King and of Form as the Queen, and the kingdom of story can’t thrive without both of them. I’m religious about this philosophy every time I write and mentor. But knowing this alone is not enough to understand storytelling (and writing). Reading and understanding the very foundations of storytelling, spanning from the beginning of mankind, has shaped most of my writing and perspective, and studying classic film has given me the cinematic vision to apply my views, ideas, and beliefs to my craft. You’ve got to read the classics, and you’ve got to watch classic cinema. You’ve got to know works like Aristotle’s Poetics by heart. You don’t build a strong house without building strong foundations first, no matter what you build on top of it. It applies to story, it applies to everything.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?

Just like your outer world in a dream reflects your inner world (i.e., the elements in your unconscious), so the outer world of the character reflects his or her inner world in the dream, which makes up the story. And this also applies to real life. Here’s why. The human psyche has been, is, and will always be the same, everywhere, independently from location, culture, race, era, laws, customs, etc. It’s universal and eternal. Therefore the same mental symbols will always be present. They only change in appearance but preserve the same function. There’s a magnificent quote by Schopenhauer that illustrates this meaning perfectly when he said, “The Universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.” Thus we see that life is a story, and a story is life; two manifestations of the same creating power, mirroring and complementing one another.

As we read in the Vedas, “Truth is one. The sages speak of it by many names,” so the universal story is one. Writers tell of it by many ways. That’s why we are all storyans, we’re all born storytellers because we are walking stories ourselves just as everything around us is a story — namely, a manifestation of the one story. But now, what distinguishes “awakened” or conscious storytellers is the act of telling the story of the unconscious, consciously. It’s about knowing, recognizing, embracing, and telling the universal symbols of the psyche while remaining conscious throughout the process. In other words, you have to be a conscious creator of the unconscious. That’s what art is. Which perfectly mirrors the deed of the true hero who comes back from the journey transformed to heal and restore the world, kingdom, tribe, society, etc. Only the hero who remains conscious through the unconscious trials and ordeals of initiation into life will attain the wisdom and knowledge to heal the world.

In practical terms, what writers need to keep in mind is that that such transformation of the character doesn’t take place at the end of the story or journey. As Karl Graf Dürckheim said, “When you are on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey.” In other words, we see the transformation of the character grow and develop throughout the story journey. It is only the realization and recognition of such transformation that we see at the end of the journey, given that the character learned to apply the attained wisdom and knowledge. Many writers confuse this and make the character change only at the very end of the story. But the changes in the character take place through the trials and ordeals along the journey, just as we attain growth from the trials and ordeals of our lives. It’s the infinite pattern of death and rebirth. So, as we follow the journey into the unconscious while remaining conscious throughout, we become aware of the elements of the psyche that make us human and resonate with us universally, which are responsible for making up the story, whether you are writing about living toys, talking cars, suffragettes in Victorian England, or hyper smart computers. The story is always human and universal.


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