How Do You Tell the Story?

I’ve said it hundreds of times – “the story is everything”, “without a story, you’ve got pretty pictures to a soundtrack”. So, how do you tell a story? How do you do it?

A friend called me the other day, struggling with this very question, of how do you tell the story? He was putting together a multimedia piece and he had captured sound and had taken photos during an event and was about to record an audio interview. I wasn’t sure at first, if he was asking about the mechanics of how to edit a story together in Final Cut– or was he asking me for guidance on how to tell the story? Those are two completely different discussions.

I thought back to when I was just starting to learn video journalism and had taken the Platypus Workshop. We had to tell our commitment or our story idea to an instructor, before we could start executing it. If the idea wasn’t delivered clearly and concisely, we went back to the drawing board to nail down the idea or the focus.

Every story starts out with an idea. Ideas have always come pretty easily to me, usually in spurts. All sorts of environments or activities can trigger ideas.

Seth Godin did a blog about a week ago titled, Where do ideas come from? Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we’re not trying
  • Ideas come in spurts, until you get frightened. Willie Nelson wrote three of his biggest hits in one week
  • Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide
  • Ideas fear experts, but they adore beginner’s mind. A little awareness is a good thing
  • Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks or boredom

Once I get the idea, I then start focusing it in my head. I play out the movie in my mind. What is the message? Whose message is it – mine? – the client’s? What is the motivation for the piece? A call to action? Once I get a pretty clear idea of what the story is that I’m trying to tell, then I start to put the pieces together. First I gather and capture all the assets that I’ll need, the interviews, b-roll, still photos etc. Then, when it’s time to edit the story, I’ll have a much clearer focus of how I will edit the pieces together to deliver the message.

Right now, I’m editing a feature length documentary, that is made up of ten different stories about ten different people in various corners of the globe. All together, the ten stories are unified by the theme of “the power of the individual in making a difference in the world”. Essentially the idea is, global stories about the power of one. That has been my underlying story from the moment of concept, to shooting it, to editing it all together.

So, how do you tell the story?  For me, it’s focusing on the “idea” at all times and editing toward that purpose.  There are hundreds of ways to tell the same story, but you need to know what the story is before you can begin to tell it.

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