I have always been a visual communicator. For over 35 years I have been making a living taking photographs for magazines all over the world. I have always “seen” the world and captured its stories through visuals. Somehow, it was far easier for me to communicate with images than with words. But it was also a bit frustrating for me because many times when I was photographing a person, I felt like I was leaving a portion of their story untold.
When I photograph people, invariably I spend a good deal of time talking and listening to them. It’s this rapport that usually enables me to capture a more intimate photograph. For me, this has always been my favorite part of the “process”, yet I never had an outlet for my subjects’ words, other than through the captions of my photographs.
When I started producing documentaries, my conversations with my subjects finally had an outlet through their recorded interviews that became the backbone of the “script”. Even though the script was not something that I wrote using my own words, I was instrumental in the process because I was selecting the words and giving them an order. I was involved in the process and structure of screenwriting.
In recent years, I have become fascinated with story structure and screenwriting. I have read numerous books on the topic of screenwriting and this past weekend I decided to immerse myself in an intensive 3-day workshop with John Truby. John has taught some of the best screenwriters around. I knew going into this, it was going to be a great and informative workshop, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be. Essentially, John gave me knowledge of the “process” and the structure of storytelling to enable me to take an idea and turn it into a really good story.
I have come away from this workshop with a deeper understanding and respect for a well-written story. We can all spot poor writing in a film. It stands out. Even the layman who knows nothing about “the process” or story structure can identify really bad writing. The audience may not know why the story or the film doesn’t work – they just know it doesn’t and they’re not buying it. Like any other craft, screenwriting has gone through stylistic changes over the years, but the fundamentals remain. After all, telling stories is as old as time and there has always been a constant – and that is “the audience”. Ultimately the audience will decide if a writer has done their job well.
I think those of us who are “content creators” in this era of multi-media communications need to broaden our understanding of all kinds of mediums in order to effectively communicate. Many times, I see creatives become too narrowly focused on their one set of tools and in the process lose sight of their end goal – and that is to deliver the message or story to the audience. Ultimately, the audience will always let you know if you’ve hit the mark or not because they are looking at the “whole” and not the “parts” of the story.