Do You Have What It Takes to be in School of Rock?4 min read.
Bringing your employer brand to life requires impactful storytelling to captivate and inform your talent audience. Here we look at how one commonly used story structure was used in the film School of Rock…
There are certain films that you can’t help but watch, even for just a short while, when you come across them on the TV schedules.
Who can resist a bit of Back to the Future? Or maybe a couple of scenes from the Godfather when it’s on? You are bound to have your own personal favourites.
School of Rock, the story of Dewey Finn, a failing rock musician played by Jack Black, who blags his way into a supply teaching job to cover his rent, is one such film.
And what has that to do with the price of milk? It is a great example of one of the most popular story-telling architectures - The Hero’s Journey.
When you have established your employer brand essence, you need to bring it to life with human stories that truly reflect the give and get of life in your organisation. These tried and tested architectures will illustrate what it takes to succeed at an organisation by overcoming challenges and learning lessons.
Once a candidate learns what it takes to succeed at a company, they will have a much better idea of whether they can do it. Whether they can become the hero of their own story.
Hearing how someone else succeeded can motivate people and demonstrate how much progress can they make.
There is a degree of flexibility within every structure and, ultimately you tell the story you want to tell, but there are ten elements to the Hero’s Journey framework which shows how events both internal and external can influence a person’s…to use a much over-used expression…journey.
Let’s see how it was used to tell the story of School of Rock and our ‘hero’ Dewey Finn.
1.Explain the Hero’s backstory
Where has your hero been and where they are headed?
Dewey Finn is a music-obsessed dreamer/freeloader, convinced he can make it big as a rock star with his band, No Vacancy. He genuinely believes that “one great rock show can change the world”. He has no regular job and his living circumstances, behind a curtain in a corner of his former bandmate Ned’s apartment, are almost as bad as his personal hygiene ‘regime’. If his life was a bus his destination would be marked ‘Nowhere’.
2. Reveal the hero’s character
Include their strengths, flaws, weaknesses, and fears
Dewey is anti-establishment (he thinks ‘rocking’ is a vocation), irreverent (advising the kids to ‘stick it to the man’), delusional (his band sucks), conniving (he has lied his way into a job which should have gone to his friend and for which he has no qualifications or experience) but also extremely passionate, and empathic towards the children, recognising their fears and concerns (reassuring Lawrence, who is worried about not being cool enough for the band; Zack, whose overbearing father disapproves of rock, and Tomika, an overweight girl who is too self-conscious to audition as a singer despite having a great voice), and unlocking talents they weren’t aware they had, with his relentless positivity.
3. The call to adventure
What event triggers the hero into action? What forces them to act?
No Vacancy perform a gig, prior to the upcoming Battle of the Bands. Losing himself in the role somewhat, after an overly long guitar solo, Dewey decides to make an ill-advised stage dive into the audience and face-plants in spectacular and embarrassing fashion. At the next rehearsal he is fired from the band and replaced. Undaunted, he vows to form a new group and win the Battle of the Bands.
The next morning, Dewey's roommate Ned Schneebly and his domineering girlfriend Patti, demand he either pay his overdue share of the rent or move out.
Now desperate for cash, Dewey answers a phone call from Rosalie Mullins, principal of the Horace Green prep school, offering Ned a short-term position as a substitute teacher. Recognising the financial opportunity that has landed in his lap, Dewey impersonates Ned and is hired.
4. What’s possible?
What does the hero hope to achieve? Capture the imagination of audience and compel them in the pursuit of that goal.
The next day, in his bogus role, he observes the students in a music class, and hatches a plan to form a new band with them to audition for and win the Battle of the Bands contest. He assigns the class an assortment of roles both in the band and in management, production, and backstage. We can see that he is opening their minds to new viewpoints, instilling new confidence in them, unlocking potential, and starting both he and them on a journey.
5. What adversity and conflict does the hero face?
What are the forces working against our hero, what are the realities and obstacles and what internal fears are being raised?
The day before Battle of the Bands, a parents' night takes place at the school, during which the parents question Dewey's teaching methods. Meanwhile, Ned receives a paycheck from the school via mail and realises that Dewey has impersonated him. He, Patti, and the police arrive at the school and confront him. When principal Mullins arrives, Dewey reveals his identity, admits he is not a teacher and flees. Back at home, disappointed with Dewey for impersonating him, Ned tells Dewey that he should move out.
6. Enter the guide
Who shows up to lend support - a boss, a belief, a principle?
The next morning, the parents angrily confront the prinicipal at her office. Meanwhile, not wanting their hard work to go to waste, the kids sneak out of the school in the school bus and show up at Dewey's, who leads them to the competition and decides that they should play a song written by Zack. We see the impact of Dewey teaching the kids to stick up for themselves and the rebellious streak he has been a catalyst for. They’re sticking it to the man. Ned, against the wishes of his girlfriend also goes to the show. He too has been inspired by Dewey to reveal his true nature.
7. Trials and tribulations
What is the learning journey like? How does the hero dig deep to overcome trials and tribulations?
Dewey must continue the deception of being a qualified teacher, and impersonating his friend, while keeping his classroom music rehearsals hidden from the principal by deploying pupils as lookouts and faking lessons with the use of unconventional methods, which he makes up on the spot. He reveals an amount of personal charm and empathy in his growing relationship with the principal, listening to her anxieties and uncovering hidden aspects of her personality behind her stiff, professional, exterior.
Sneaking the kids out of school to audition for Battle of the Bands, Dewey must again concoct a lie by persuading the organisers to allow them to play, saying the kids are terminally ill with Stick-it-to-the-maniosis. It works.
8. Worthwhile success
Show the audience what it takes to win and reveal a surprise outcome over and above what the hero wanted to achieve at the outset. What did they learn?
Having had enough of being constantly pushed around, the real Ned finally stands up to his girlfriend Patti and goes to see School of Rock perform at the Battle of the Bands.
Initially dismissed as a gimmick, the band wins over the crowd thanks to a unified, well-rehearsed performance and the self-belief Dewey has instilled in them.
Much to Dewey's disappointment, his old band No Vacancy wins, but the audience chants for School of Rock and demands an encore. While upset at the deception, the parents are surprised and delighted at the performance and the revelation of their children’s talents. The principal is ecstatic.
Dewey has inadvertently discovered that teaching music rather than playing it may be his calling. He has also lit a fire under Ned.
9. The moral of the story
Reveal the universal truth in your story that connects the audience with the shared values
Follow your dream, don’t give up on it, be passionate, don’t hide your talent, everyone has a talent that can be nurtured. And it’s a long way to top if you wanna rock ’n roll.
10. More evidence
Use this climax to suggest or showcase other stories that prove that more employees have had a similar journey
Sometime later, an after-school program known as the School of Rock opens. Dewey continues to coach the students he played with before, while Ned, who has had his passion for rock music reawakened, teaches beginners.
It’s the way you tell ‘em
Purposeful stories come in a variety of guises and must be matched to the outcome you’re looking for. You don’t, however, need an epic tale to make a small point.
To tell a story of endurance, and determination to achieve something special, doesn’t require a huge drama. Quite often, the smaller the story, the better. If you can zero in on something small and seemingly inconsequential to an organisation that happened to matter to one person, consider the message conveyed to the entire audience. Small things matter. People matter. We take notice.
More of your audience will be able to identify with a small example of bravery and persistence than with a big story outside of their sphere of experience that they are unable to empathise with.
Remember, it’s not the size of the story or the enormity of the action, it’s how you make people feel that counts.