I first met Vicki back in 2010, where she directed the Act One writing and producing programs and later served as my writing mentor. One of her (many) influences on my work is her passion for enduring stories: tales that feel fresh, yet resist the fads so common in Hollywood, to remain impactful generations later.
With the help of Catharsis, storytellers test ideas, improve current “recipes” and troubleshoot problem ones—all toward a more delicious product.
“People are hungry for good old-fashioned storytelling,” Vicki says. Here’s how she and Barbara deliver it.
Catharsis is the culmination of everything Vicki and Barbara have done over their Hollywood careers. “We get so many phone calls from independent producers. We wanted to find a way to work with these people, to be flexible with their needs,” she says.
The structure of Catharsis allows them to do just that. As story experts, they work alongside writers and producers very closely, overseeing story development, challenging story decisions and troubleshooting the structure of tales that need a little or a lot of help. Whenever possible, they follow the story through post-production, to ensure it remains strong through rigors on-set and in the editing bay.
“We look at every project holistically,” Vicki says. “We assess how much work is involved and the type of project, and how we can deliver the best product.”
Vicki and Barbara also take their expertise into the halls of higher education, conferences and organizations. No venue is too small; they even offer private instruction.
A few months ago, the pair set their plan in motion. On September 4th, they launched their website: storycatharsis.com.
As for the types of stories Catharsis addresses, Vicki says they’re up for anything. “Barbara and I have strengths and preferences for genre, of course. Depending on the project, we [may] bring in others to work on [genres] we prefer not to cover ourselves. We’re happy to do everything, and we bring in experts in every genre.”
No matter what the project, Vicki and Barbara seek to elevate its story craft and infuse a fresh perspective. Their efforts can bring catharsis, too, to writers and producers struggling with stories they’ve spent days, months, even years developing.
So how did Vicki come to this exciting new chapter as a storyteller?
“Realizing I’m a writer is a constant, daily discovery,” she says. A scribe since childhood, she pursued a theater degree, which led her to teach, direct and act for stage. At some point, however, she realized she was encouraging students to take risks toward their dreams. Yet she had not stepped out to pursue her own: writing for screen.
Soon after, Vicki took time off from theater to focus on writing and honing her story skills. This later led to hired writing on various productions, as well as working in development around Hollywood.
The Catharsis journey really began when Vicki entered Act One, a training program taught by Hollywood insiders who also happen to be Christians. “I first met Barbara at Act One and was really impressed by her,” Vicki explains. “She’s just a super smart person, and really cuts to the heart of things that I care about in culture and Story, as well as challenging people to rise to a higher level.”
Though Vicki has continued to admire Barbara over the years, she admits the two couldn’t be more different. Their journeys into faith were opposite, for one thing. “I was a pagan [before I became a Christian],” Vicki chuckles. “And Barbara was a nun!” Their personalities, too, approach the world in different ways, with Barbara’s being more outspoken and Vicki’s quieter, though no less courageous.
Still, the two developed a great working relationship. And it accelerated when Vicki became the development executive assigned to a project on which Barbara was a potential writer. Based on that experience, Barbara asked Vicki to join her at Origin Entertainment, where she was a partner, to run their development arm.
From there, Vicki stepped into an administrative position at Act One. Barbara had founded the program but was now transitioning out of it. Yet she still remained on the board as an advisor and, in some capacity, Vicki’s boss. “Working with Barbara now [on Catharsis] is the first time we’re equal partners,” Vicki smiles. “I like this much better!”
Vicki brings Catharsis strong administrative skills and a perspective that balances Barbara’s massive vision. “She speaks to an audience who just love her, and I speak to a different audience.” Vicki notes. “Yet we share a common belief in what story should be.”
In addition to Catharsis, Vicki is writing a pilot for Cortez Brothers. “It’s a great TV drama,” she enthuses. “I’m really, really excited about that.”
She also recently wrote a feature script for a producer friend, which she believes has great potential. But overall, she explains, the point of Catharsis is “so we could write more. It’s where our heart is.”
“Writers write,” she asserts. “If you want to be a writer, write something.” She observes that new writers often worry about the business of writing long before they master craft. Instead, they should disregard a career completely and write for the sake of loving to write. “Hone your craft,” she says. “Enjoy your craft, and explore why you really want to write. People give up on that way too soon.”
Why the rush to pursue a career? Visions of riches and fame drive many new writers, Vicki explains. As soon as these writers hit their first big hurdle, they realize what they’ve set out to do is hard. Many become disillusioned.
“Our goal at Catharsis is to get people over that hump.”
I asked Vicki what she’s seen out of Hollywood lately that excites her.
“There’s so much!” she says. “It’s impossible to consume everything, even just the critically acclaimed material.” Overall, she’s especially encouraged by the start of the Hunger Games trilogy, the level of craft within its story and its timely themes.
Another area she’s very optimistic about is the family market. “Dreamworks has improved their storytelling tremendously,” Vicki explains. “They’ve always been cutting-edge in animation and competitive with Pixar, but now they’re really honing their story skills . . . I think even Disney is seeking a heightened level of storytelling, due in part to the Pixar union and their choices of story.” She points to Tangled as a great example of bold, classic storytelling among Disney’s recent offerings.
Let’s say you want to tap Vicki and Barbara’s expertise on your next project or company production. How do you go about it?
“Ideally, people should call us when they have an idea,” Vicki says. “When we start with a project from the beginning, we save people time, money and effort.”
Catharsis can help writers and producers shape the property they’re developing. Should it be a documentary? A short film? A feature? Catharsis can help answer those questions, saving the project years of potential floundering. “However,” Vicki adds quickly, “we can come into a project at any point, and often times do so very late in the process . . .” By then, she admits, they’re usually “bearers of bad news.”
Many people are unaware of or underestimate the value of quality story development—early. “People get in over their head, and then there’s a lot of fixing to do,” Vicki explains. Compounding this, many independent producers and investors often look for a story they like, not necessarily the best story or one that fulfills the writer’s vision. Investing time and money to do it right the first time can shave years off some projects.
Catharsis also helps writers understand their style and vision, to accomplish what the producer wants. “So much of what we do is story communication, trying to put words to art,” Vicki says. Some writers think they’re expressing something well, but really aren’t.
Another possibility is partnering with small production companies, to serve as their development arm. “Many companies cannot afford a development executive,” Vicki explains. Catharsis comes in for a defined period to do anything from sorting through the scripts they have, to helping make decisions about which projects are ready for a time and fund commitment.” Catharsis will even hire a writer on the company’s behalf and work with them to develop a project.
You can’t put a price on an enduring story. Consider partnering with Catharsis on your next project, and learn more at storycatharsis.com.
Thanks, Vicki Peterson of Catharsis, for sharing your journey with us.