"Once Upon a Time" - an iconic phrase that instantly inspires thoughts of dragons, wizards, cowboys, pirates, and galaxies far, far away.
Admittedly, it seems a bit cliché, but that simple sentence encompasses one of mankind’s most treasured abilities - telling stories.
Most can recall memories of a mother or father reading their childhood favorites, all in an attempt at scaring away monsters, or closing the eyes of sleepy heads. The practice of storytelling has been around for a very long time. Since the moment we developed the most basic forms of communication, stories have been the catalyst for passing down our imaginations, fears, loves, passions, philosophies, and religions. In fact you could say that we owe everything that we hold dear to that time honored tradition. Without it our evolution as a society, culture, or even species may not have been possible.
How does this pertain to digital media?
In more ways than you may know.
First, let’s take a look at photographs. It’s easy to understand the principles behind why we use pictures to convey messages. It could be said that the quickest way for a person to ingest information is through sight.
One of our most basic instincts is the ability to learn analogical signs that relay specific information. This means that at a very early age we know that when a person gives a thumbs up - they’re approving of something; when a person mimics putting food into their mouth - they’re hungry; when we see someone smile - they’re happy, and so on and so forth.
With pictures, these analogical messages instantly communicate what is happening within the image. Think about watching the evening news, ever see a news anchor without that boxed image floating next to their head? It’s there because we can quickly identify the story being told, and do it without ever having to listen to a single word.
What to do -
Keeping this in mind - think about the story that is being told within the image you’re taking. What does it mean, Who are you telling, Why are you telling it, and Why should anyone care.
An example of a powerful story being told with a photograph can be found HERE.
Using what we know about analogical messages, we can easily understand how putting a series of images together in sequence over time (video), can tell very profound stories; or, in some cases - very weak ones.
Just as with photographs, every frame of footage within video or film, tells its own story. Storytelling with video can be very complicated. Not only should you have to make sure that every shot has a composition, but you’ll have to put them together and sculpt them into a beautiful, cohesive masterpiece that evokes a waterfall of emotion. Remember, if you can make your audience feel what you want them to feel, you can make them do anything.
So, without going into the process of storytelling itself, which should be its own undergraduate course, I’m going to assume that you already know about the Aristotelian paradigm (three act story structure) and proceed with a couple of helpful tips.
Following these simple guidelines can help you stay on point with telling your story.
What to do:
It’s very important to put a lot of time and effort into the pre-production of your project. This means that if there’s a script, some projects such as documentaries don’t necessarily use them, it’s vital that you take the time to storyboard your film. By this I mean actually draw a picture for every shot that will take place in the script. Of course you don’t have to be an artist to do this, simple stick figures will do fine. But, it’s important that you note a couple of things within the drawings:
Videos are two dimensional creations that imitate three dimensional environments. You will have to make sure that when you draw a character, you also draw objects around them that give relative direction to what is supposed to be going on.
Camera direction is also very important. Make sure to add simple arrows, or small notes that direct camera movement - as well as framing (wide, close up, choker, etc).
Make sure to notate the scene from which the shot takes place. (used in shot list)
Include a camera setup number. For every shot that will be filmed in the scene, with the camera set-up the same way, assign it the same number. This makes it easier during production to capture every shot needed without having to constantly set the camera up and then tear it down. (used in shot list)
Place an ID number next to each drawing that indicates where you can find that shot within the script. Make sure to place the matching number in the script at the proper location. (used in shot list)
Make a shot list. This is a list that shows the order of the shots that will be captured during production. Using it will help keep you on task with making sure you have everything you need to tell your story.
When editing your work, keep in mind that you are telling a story. Though you may like a particular shot, if it doesn’t add anything, consider removing it. Being clear, concise, and doing it in a relatively short way tends to work best. In my opinion, the editing of video or film is ultimately where the story is finally crafted. It can make or break your project. You should always keep the overall story that you want to tell in mind during this process. It’s also a good idea to get outside opinions of the video to make sure that others will receive it as you intended.
You may find yourself having to edit a particular piece that doesn’t follow a specific story, script, or outline - but simply must sell a specific emotion or idea. I find that in this scenario, selecting music for the project first gives me a clear direction from which to build upon. When working in this manner, keep in mind that songs which use spoken words or lyrics limit your ability to evoke particular emotions. If the song has the “vibe” that you’re going for, but constantly references irrelevant subject matter - find a new piece; work with the emotions that the melodies, tones, beats, and rhythms give you.
These were just a few helpful pointers on two forms of digital media. There are many other topics and ideas not covered here. But, hopefully this gets you thinking a little more about what it is you are telling the world with your art.
Everything you create tells a story. It affects people in many different ways, and if you put forth the time and effort to construct a strong enough message - people will be passing it down for years to come.