Keith Cunningham



      First, some news...

German edition of THE SOUL OF SCREENWRITING due out in Fall-Winter 2017!

New Seminars at Master School Drehbuch Berlin for Fall 2017:


           Dozent: Keith Cunningham

           Berlin - 09.09 und 10.09.17 - 2 Tage
           With the opportunity to work on your own characters and story - 290,00 €

           In English Language!



           Berlin - 10.10. bis 28.11.17 - 6 Abende
           jeweils Di 19.00 bis 22.00 Uhr
          Termine: 10.10., 17.10.,  
zwei Wochen Herbstferien, 07.11., 14.11., 21.11., 28.11.17
          350,00 Euro

           In English and German Language! 

A New Professional Stage

It is natural that one arrives at a certain stage in one’s profession and in one’s life where the task of synthesizing and integrating one’s life work comes to the foreground.  You meet it in Close-Up.  As I say, this is a natural stage in our personal evolution and in the life of the soul.

There was a moment a few years ago when I looked back and realized that I had spent over 25 years traveling an average of 180 days per year for my seminars and projects.  These travels had taken me to Berlin and Cologne, to London and Marseille, to Jerusalem and Ramallah, to Cape Town and Rio, among many other places.  Yes, I was weary of traveling so much.  But there is a real inner turning: from taking in stimuli and inputs to concentrating on the essences that are distilled from it all.

Stories that Matter

One essence, or essential, that stands out most clearly to me, is that we are all on the cusp between two worlds.  An old world is passing away, and there is no holding it back.  A century ago, another old world passed away: the European world of kings, queens, and competing empires.  That world was swept away in an agonizing world war.  And with it was swept away the age-old romance of man and horse, of individual valor and the idea of ‘noble’ warfare.  Machine guns and clouds of mustard gas turned them to dust and ghosts floating away toward the horizon. 

The world passing away before our eyes is the post-WWII era of skyrocketing affluence, skyrocketing population growth, and skyrocketing resource extraction.  It’s the world of ‘god-like’ powers and the ever-tightening symbiosis of man and technology fueled by cheap and abundant fossil fuels.

In this era, stories of all shapes and sizes flowered through the burgeoning media.  Success overleapt success as the media multiplied, divided, and multiplied again, to take up every tiny niche of our physical, social, and psychic environments.  Now we are virtually awash in a tsunami of stories. 

But which stories really matter, among all those millions?  Which stories would you take with you if you were marooned on a desert isle, and had to live by your wits—and be sustained by your stories?  The stories peddled by advertising would probably not be among them, because they only have value in that old world.  

I’d venture to say that, as a culture, we have largely lost sight of which stories really nourish us and which are junk food.  Professionally, as a dramatist, I have a rich tradition behind me.  Or beneath me: I stand on the shoulders of giants.  From its beginnings, drama has explored and mapped out the ways and hazards of human conflict: what pulls us into conflict, the dynamics of dilemmas that appear to have no way out, how conflict forces us to change the way we see things, and how conflict may be successfully resolved.  In fact, drama carries many of the tools and insights we need to discern which stories really matter. 

 Reacting and Responding 

One very key difference between drama as such, and advertising, propaganda, and other forms of narrative rhetoric that use the devices of drama, is the level of internal complexity.  Rhetoric—persuasion—is built on rhythms of stimulus and reaction.  The goal is to provoke a reaction, and to channel the energy of that reaction toward a desired outcome.  This has its own domain of complexity, like that of a clever machine, but does not approach the levels of human complexity that appear in drama.  Drama is not a knee-jerk, but speaks to the entire person; it is not an ad jingle designed to stick in your head, but a symphony full of many voices and modulations.

This is because drama makes us identify, not with one character or position, but with all characters and positions, and with elements and resonances that come in through décor, perspective, and all of the tools of the art.  When a dramatist violates this fundamental rule, he or she cheats the audience, producing only an imitation, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

 The Return of the Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey has certainly suffered from overexposure in recent years, with the necessity of each blockbuster super-hero movie to top the one before it.  Many people are tired of heroes in general, finding them too masculine, too violent, too western, or a mere construction of the market.  Some others complain that it favors the triumphalism of the ruling elites over the poor and oppressed.

And, since 1991, we have been told that we have reached the ‘end of history’.  No more dialectic.  Nothing to debate anymore: just sit back and watch the markets go up and up.  Now we know how that turned out. 

In reality, the Hero’s Journey is a universal factor in the human psyche: the manifestation in consciousness of the survival instinct.  On this level, it is beyond ideology; it just is.  Wherever survival is thrown into question, the Hero’s Journey archetype tends to irrupt into consciousness to activate survival attitudes and behaviors.  This phenomenon was extensively researched some decades ago with cancer patients.  Can the Hero’s Journey be manipulated and abused?  Of course, just as any human thought, feeling, or identification can be abused. 

The more relevant question is: can the Hero’s Journey not be abused, given the great temptation to do so?  The answer to this question has been the domain of great drama, as well as of the great mythologies of the world.  Joseph Campbell termed the hero the person of ‘self-achieved submission’, and he or she who ‘participates joyfully in the sorrows of the world’.  It is a far cry from the preening, violent, grandiose figures in blockbuster movies.

The New Heroes

Who or what takes the Hero’s Journey?  Any entity or system that is self-aware and finds itself in crisis and dilemma, with its security thrown out the window and its survival in question, is already on the journey.  Men, women, children, the wealthy and the homeless, the newborn and those facing the final exit—yes.  Families, corporations, tribes, societies, and cultures?  Yes again.  How about civilizations?  Yes.

Biologists and systems theorists have shown us that the Earth itself can be seen as one gigantic living, self-regulating and self-aware system.  This we call the biosphere.  Today the entire biosphere is in crisis, with its survival up in the air.  As in many of the greatest tragedies, the source of the danger is also the source of potential healing and reconciliation.  That’s us.  We are the self-awareness of the Earth.

So many people are stunned and petrified by environmental, economic, and political crises.  At the same time, the potential solutions are out there.  What is missing is the willpower, linked to a viable and hopeful vision that could lift us to a higher orbit of aspiration and accomplishment.  The Hero’s Journey is a journey of breakdown and breakthrough; it is about the courage to take steps in the unknown, guided by awareness, purpose, empathy, and faith.  

Who is going to tell that story?  Where are those special storytellers?  They are out there, at the Post-Carbon Institute, Transition Movement, and  Why are these storytellers so far ahead of the media people, the screenwriters, playwrights, ad execs, and game designers?  Because they have embraced the new worldview.  New worldview is not about new technologies and platforms, it is about the shift from the delusion of inexhaustible resources and infinite growth to an attitude of caring stewardship for the biosphere that sustains us. 

There is an old world passing away and dying.  Always, in a Hero’s Journey, an old way of seeing must die for a new way of seeing to be born.  This is the moment we happen to be living today.


——If you can see stories as something far more than a way to kill the hours between dinner and bedtime, as something more than a set of hooks and voracious memes to hook an audience into addiction, then welcome.

We’ve got a lot to talk about!




Dozent: Keith Cunningham

Berlin - 09.09 und 10.09.17 - 2 Tage
With the opportunity to work on your own characters and story - 290,00 €

In English Language!


Have you ever dreamed of creating a rich, complex, and vibrant character like Wiesler in The Lives of Others, Truman in Capote, or Ada in The Piano?

Screenwriters and directors see creating lead characters who are complex, compelling, and charismatic as a Holy Grail of the dramatist’s art.  Bringing these characters to life, on the page and on the screen, demands something more than technique—it demands insight.


The Insight Process

A few writers may be naturally gifted with the genius of dramatic insight into human nature. But, through The Insight Process every writer can develop his or her insight into a powerful creative instrument. The Insight Process makes writing an adventure of ongoing discovery. There are payoffs for the writer, as magnificently complex characters come to life. The character orchestration and the texture of your dramatic writing also become richer and more effective.

The Insight Process is a training for the mind, senses, and imagination that generates ‘Eureka!’ moments in our work, moments of real discovery that result in characters who glow with vibrant life and spontaneity.

This 2-day seminar/workshop is multi-dimensional and very active for participants: it is about developing a powerful instrument to generate dramatic insights - and it is equally about how to integrate our insights into human nature into complex and compelling characters. There will be a series of Internal Software insight exercises, as well as character and story development work, and insightful analyses of some great, complex characters.


Two Very Rich Days

The Art of Dramatic Insight focuses on 5 areas central to discovering and integrating complexity in our characters:

1.   The Insight Process: training your capacity for insight.

2.   Seeing What Is Hidden: paradigms that reveal the hidden sides of characters.

3.   The Entelechy Dimension: paradox and destiny in characters.

4.   The Power of Character Orchestration: the Theory of Illumination

5.   Text and Subtext: Revealing insight dramatically.


The Art of Dramatic Insight workshop is active, engaging, and fun. Veteran writers and directors as well as newcomers will gain from The Insight Process. The process changes writers. You may find new enthusiasm for writing, and for living! While not a story development seminar, you are encouraged to bring characters and stories you are currently working on, as there will be opportunities to apply what you learn to your own work.


masterschool-drehbuch dozenten keith-cunninghamAbout the lecturer
Keith Cunningham (born in Philadelphia, PA, USA in 1951) is a global expert in screenwriting, story development, and the transformational power of drama. He began leading professional seminars at the American Film Institute in 1984 with colleague Tom Schlesinger. They went on to work with the Director’s Guild and the Writer’s Guild in Los Angeles and many other institutions.
Since then he has trained thousands of writers, directors, producers, and commissioning editors in hundreds of seminars spanning all aspects of dramatic storytelling, offered from Los Angeles to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Brazil. MORE ...

To sign up:



Dozentin: Keith Cunningham

Berlin - 10.10. bis 28.11.17 - 6 Abende
jeweils Di 19.00 bis 22.00 Uhr
Termine: 10.10., 17.10.,  
zwei Wochen Herbstferien, 07.11., 14.11., 21.11., 28.11.17
350,00 Euro
In English and German Language!


This 6-week creativity workshop focuses on the dynamics and dimensions of creativity as they relate to story development. We will work with ‘right-brain’ creativity, the problem-solving dimension, and also the ‘left-brain’ dimension of creativity that leads to entirely new approaches, paradigm shifts, and integral insights.

The creative process is harnessed to the tasks of story development from beginning to end, and yet also with some new perspectives and fresh twists. The advent of new media and platforms for dramatic storytelling means that writers have vast new possibilities for creative expression. Now, the challenge for writers is to find approaches that will lead them into this new territory while building their dramatic skills.

The Creative Journey is built on a carefully designed sequence of Internal Software creativity exercises that open the dramatic imagination. It also incorporates writing, character study, and story development in a systematic design framework. Each weekly session will comprise an adventure into the creative imagination carries the journey forward:

  • Dimensions of Creativity and Creative Encounter
  • Enhancing the Capacity for Creative Encounter
  • Seeds of Creation: the Origin and Future of Stories
  • Creativity and Productivity: the Art of Relevance
  • Story Design and Creative Decision Making
  • Opening Creative Spaces Within and Around You

Open up your creative resource as you never have before, together with other adventurers in the creative dimensions. Veteran writers and interested novices are all welcome. Presentations will be in English, writing in German or the language of your choice, and exercises and discussions will be in a mix of English and German.
By request you receive writing exercises for the autumn hollidays.


To sign up: 



The demand for consultations is steadily increasing.  So many of the seminar participants find them exciting and productive and come back for consultations.  Among the recent sessions, I am proud to have consulted on Bottled Life, by Urs Schnell and DokLab of Bern, Switzerland.  Bottled Life is the controversial investigative documentary about the Nestlé corporation’s attempts to commodify the water we drink.  Find out about it at:

 And find out more about consultations with me at the Consulting page. 

        The Soul of Screenwriting


The Soul of Screenwriting is consistently getting 5 star reviews from readers at and  Here is a recent comment from a writer:

 Dear Keith,

 I want to relay to you my deepest thanks for the amazing help and inspiration your book on the Soul of Screenwriting has been. I am currently adapting my novel, ... set in New Zealand and Samoa, into a film screenplay and have had enormous pleasure in the challenge of structuring along the 16 Story Steps and the Mythic model.  It goes without saying that whatever the final result, it will be immeasurably better with your help than had I not read your book.

And a most amazing thing -- your exposition of "MODE versus NEED" actually helped me resolve a personal psychological crisis. It made me wonder -- How much of me is in my main character, and how much of him in me?  (Shakes head slowly in some consternation).

Thank you for your deep perception into what makes a great story, your fluency in describing your ideas and your compassion to share these with fellow (and in my case, beginner), screenplay writers. 

Serious writers sooner or later want to go beyond following somebody else’s tips and formulas about creating drama for the screen: they want to know what it all has to do with themselves, their own creative process, and their understanding of life.  Sooner or later, they want to go beyond characters who are manipulated like puppets and really get into the creative encounter.  The Soul of Screenwriting was written for these serious writers as well as writers starting out on the path.

In The Soul of Screenwriting, I give the writer a guide to her own creative process as well as the greatest in-depth story paradigms that really work, some of them derived from the insights of all-time top screenwriters such as Waldo Salt and John Sayles.  The fruit of my long years of collaboration with my seminar partner Tom Schlesinger, The Soul of Screenwriting will give you an understanding of why drama has the power to transform people.  You will understand how the dynamics of drama speak the language of deep psychological change so that you will possess understanding.  This will liberate you from mechanically following someone else’s tips—and it will liberate your own deeper creativity. 

I have brought to bear all of my research into the dynamics of the creative process, my insights as a psychologist, and my practical experience as a writer to produce a book that will grow with you through a creative lifetime. 

Many readers find The Soul of Screenwriting a unique treasure among screenwriting books.  At least one person got angry because, as he said, “You actually have to read it!”  If you are not intimidated by reading, this might be the book for you. 

Buy the book!!

        The Story Arks Institute


The weather is changing all around us.  The atmosphere is warmer, more turbulent, and more laden with carbon, now over 400 ppm.  The seas and oceans are changing, also warming and becoming more acidic than in millions of years.  The very earth beneath our feet is changing as it becomes more loaded with synthetic chemicals.  People view this with both alarm and denial.  They look for leadership.

Very often the message that comes from the media is simply, “Sit back and enjoy the show.”  That message may sell movie tickets, but it is far from an adequate response to the crisis. 

The artists of any culture have always had a function to look ahead.  They are like the lookouts at the top of the ship’s mast who are the first to see the iceberg off the starboard bow, or the first to glimpse the promised landfall in the distance.  This comes from the way art and storytelling force us out of left-brain logical sequences into whole-brain syntheses that include the intuition. 

Sometimes the visionary gifts of the storyteller can be put in the service of market-driven goals, but at crisis points storytellers have a larger and more ancient task: to serve the community and see a way forward.

The Story Arks Institute is designed to be a platform where media professionals can come together to think, visualize, and respond more proactively, using their professional storytelling skills and media reach to focus the important issues for the larger public.  Call it a “visionary think-tank for the new stories” that will foster the changes humanity needs to adapt and survive.

Defining stories as entertainment is itself limiting.  It places 'entertainment' as the frame around stories.  But stories are more important than entertainment, and more important than the market.  Stories—good, healthy stories—are how we understand our presence in this world.  They should guide us in how to live individually and collectively in harmony, in tao, with the natural and social environment that supports us.

If we ask how stories can serve society and that larger harmony, rather than serving the market only, then that different framing leads to new possibilities.  One thing stands out in terms of how the media will function in the new world that is being born out of the breakdown of the dying world of exploitation and consumerism: storytellers will have to come out of the bubble of their own fantasies and learn how to use stories to build communities within the Community of Life.

The Story Arks Institute is currently initiating projects with a number of research institutes, governmental bodies and NGOs that will bring scientists and film/video makers together.  These new projects are all being designed to use the power of the media to visualize and dramatize the human issues involved with climate change, urban design and regional planning, technology addictions, the paradoxes of progress, and a host of other topics.