The art of cinematic storytelling: Revision

With this topic, we will focus on the art of filmmaking through the use of cinematic storytelling.

When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it's impossible to do otherwise. -Jennifer Van Sijll

What is cinematic storytelling?

Watch any video without words or dialogue and explain the story to yourself (or someone else) as you experience it. So much of the setting, mood, concept, and main story can be inferred by the angles and content of the shots.

Within the first 28 seconds of the Bloody Bananas II trailer, a story is established, and the setting, mood, and genre are confirmed. Many of their shots mimic the techniques from similar movies, because they are successful in establishing certain story elements.

It's important to understand how visuals present the information of a story, because that impact on the viewer affects the story and message they understand.

Cinematic storytelling: then and now...

A movie audience doesn't have the patience to sit and learn a lesson. their eyes need to be dazzled. -Robert Evans

Cinematic storytelling was employed during the silent film era. Those who made the first films were finally able to commication through the movement of a shot, something storytellers with photo cameras or words could not do. How the camera moved, where it was placed, how the scene was lit, how the video is sequenced together, and what was included in the scene/frame were the tools used to advance the story.

If we take a step back and ponder why we use (and consume) the video medium today, the underlying reason is that videos create experiences often better or more engaging than any other medium. Remember that: it's an EXPERIENTIAL medium. We can let the movement of the camera develop a visceral experience for the viewer. We have the ability to let the visuals tell the story.

Although cinematic storytelling can be obvious, most often it's not. It manipulates our emotions, revealing character and plot without our immediate knowledge. That's also why it can be so effective and engaging. -Jennifer Van Sijll

Check: do my visuals tell the right story?

imageThe first video I ever made that was worth the time and effort was my application video to STA Travel's World Traveler Internship. It was a job I really wanted for over a year: to travel around the world and make videos to inspire other students and teachers to travel.

I cared so much about getting the job that I made 11 different video drafts, took 330 video clips of myself talking about my skills, and screened it with all my friends and family. The final draft had something the other 10 did not: cinematic storytelling.

In the first 10 drafts, the words I was saying to describe myself as a dynamic traveler and documentarian were not echoed in the ways I was filming. If I wanted to imply I was a resourceful self-documentarian and could prop the camera easily to film myself, I re-filmed different stand-ups that proved it was me filming the whole time.

I was clearly filming around my house and neighborhood in the dead of winter (not dynamic), but I made each shot different than the ones before and after. Whether it was sliding on my back across my parents' wooden floors, positioning the camera lower to capture vast expanses behind me, turning the camera's perspective into that of a potential traveler that was leaning in for more details, these shots took the video to the level in needed to be in order to score the job.

It was only when my story matched the way I filmed it that it became successful.

How will we think about cinematic storytelling at TGS?

Editing is not merely a method of the junction of separate scenes or pieces, but it is a method that controls the 'psychological guidance' of the spectator. -Jennifer Van Sijll

If we're using videos to communicate, we need two things: a good story and to tell that story cinematically. Otherwise, we waste time, money, effort, resources, etc. Here's how we're looking at cinematic storytelling at TGS:

- Challenge yourself to show, not tell. Try as best as you can to use the film medium and its abilities to transmit the story rather than spell it out with dialogue or text for your audience. Use words only when camera placement and movement fail to effectively tell the story. Think like you're paying by the word, and use them economically. That's the difference between documenting and dramatizing.

- Employ whatever techniques you can in order to be successful at creating a visceral experience for the viewer. That means being creative with your shooting to make sure your shot says what you want to say. If you have dialogue or text, make sure the messages of the visual and the language match.