Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video The art of storytelling in film, part of Filmmaking Forum: Conversations.
- Hi everyone. In this episode of the film-making forum conversations course, we're going to focus on the essence of film-making, which is the art of storytelling. I asked film-makers and editors what they wanted to share about understanding and following through on good, solid storytelling strategies, and we also talked about the importance of content over technology, as well as the multidimensionality and adventure of filmmaking. I hope you enjoy.
- So, what I find in terms of the storytelling aspect of it, to be super helpful, is to do story analysis, or to know what your movie is before you start. Even though that will change. So, what I ask people to do, whether they're doing a ten minute film, or a 30 second commercial or feature film, is to describe what they want the audience to take away into sentences.
This is not plot. I am not talking plot. I'm talking about what the core of the project is. So that if they audience didn't walk out feeling that they had understood that thing. You would've failed. So, if you can do that, I call that the log line. So, if you can figure out what you want the audience to feel by the end of your project, as opposed to the beginning and what that journey is. If you can figure that out, then, for each piece of the project along the way, whether it's a scene in a commercial, whether it's a two minute sequence, or three minute sequence and a feature, or in a short.
Then you can say, "How does this chunk help the audience to get the overall log line?" So, I guess what I'm saying is that the script analysis, whether it's a dock, a commercial, narrative, fiction, whatever. Is a great touchpoint to get back to solve editing problems all the time. - As an art form, filmmaking is multidimensional, which is why I love it so much.
You have what it looks like. You have what it sounds like, and you also have this kind of feel if you like on top of it. You have the camera, so we're really fortunate and that's one of the reasons why I love telling stories. It's because you get to play with all these different sides of filmmaking. I respond best to filmmakers who use all that plasticity. Not just one. And I think one of the important things to remember is that technology needs to be slaved to the story, not vice versa.
- As far as physically pressing buttons or getting shots in order, doing a really lush sound design. It's a lot easier than it was, say twenty years ago. So that's the one thing, but also with that, storytelling hasn't changed. You still have to tell a good story. You still have to have a good art. You have to have characters that you care about. You have to have shots that move people. Personally, I like to be emotional, but not sentimental. I like to be honest, but not cruel.
And so, that's storytelling. It doesn't matter if I'm cutting on a flat bed, and physically cutting 16 millimeter film. Or if I'm cutting on final cut pro on my laptop. If you can't tell a good story, it doesn't matter what you have. - A lot of it really goes down to content. And I try to keep that focus on filmmaking. The fact I reel all day every day NY Techs and NYU against tools. It was always about the story. It was always about using the tools to enhance what it is you're doing because tools are going to come and go and they're going to change.
But at the end of the day, the story and the content is what people really care about. And we forget sometimes. Especially in our artificial filmmaker environment sometimes. We have knock-down, dragged out arguments about whether film is better than video. And the people watching the story just don't care. Your audience has never been in a movie theater once. Not even once have I overheard a conversation when somebody is like, "Aw man, isn't that great that they shot him on the red or this?" They're talking about the story. They're talking about the characters. They're talking about how much the movie excited them. Or how much a horror movie scared them.
They're never ever talking about the elements that we spend so much time and energy focusing on. - Story is by and large the most important thing to pay attention to. I think a lot of times when I talk to young editors or anybody really, there's a lot of focus on the technical, because it is a technical profession. It's the intersection of technical and creative. But, I think the thing to really emphasize is that everything that we do technically is in service of something else and that is story.
Form follows function. So, I think as long as you're really getting comfortable with reading and dissecting and understanding story, I think it's only going to help the technical. And it's only going to make that part come up. If somebody was like, "What should I focus on? Learning this piece of equipment, or reading a book?" I'd say read a book because that is going to give you more insight into the ways in which stories are being told. Than just knowing a manual and how to work a piece of equipment.
- Tell stories that you think will improve the world. You only get so many years on the planet and you have to choose what stories you're going to tell during those times. Choose the ones that you absolutely have to see and couldn't live without. Don't choose things other people are telling you about would sell. Because it might not. You don't know. - I do feel that film can change. I think it's one of the most powerful tools people have for change. You can change one person at a time. So, I think doing something that involves you, the way that some films can.
I think it does change. I mean, I wouldn't keep doing these things if I didn't think it does change. There's a lot of things worth fighting for. If we don't be the change we want to be, then we're not taking responsibility. - Whenever you're in that comfort zone and you're not flying between the trapeze. You know the moment where you let go and you're panicked. I think you're in a too safe place and the magic won't happen. The moment that you let go of the first trapeze to grab to the second, that's when the magic happens.
And so, don't be scared. Don't be fearful. Just have courage and follow your dreams.
- Advice for novice filmmakers entering the industry
- Finding, enhancing, and tweaking your story
- Experimenting in filmmaking
- Solving problems and troubleshooting your film
- Changing your approach or finding new angles
- Communicating and collaborating on set and in the edit room—and with clients
- Working on different genres of film
- Teaching and mentoring new filmmakers