Storytelling Theory


The Art of Filmmaking and Editing


Lesson Info

Storytelling Theory

Here are three definitions that I love. What is a story? Well it's the way we explain the world to ourselves, or the way ourselves to ourselves, or the structure we use to create meaning for our lives. Now what do those three definitions have in common? Ourselves. Ourselves, right. This applies to everybody. Everybody here, everybody out there. It's a universal human experience. And what else? What's the other thing that those three definitions have in common? There's some sort of interpretation, explanation. Interpretation and meaning, yes. Storytelling is such a huge part of our existence that we require it to interpret life. We actually end up thinking and relating to other people in terms of stories. And our brain is wired to interpret the world in terms of stories. I read this quote in the New York Times by a professor named Drew Westin, and I think it's really, really instructive. Because he makes this point, our brains evolve to expect stories. Our species existed for mo...

re than 100, before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the the majority of humans would even know how to read and write. Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Think about that for second. We're so used to living in the modern world. We go to school. We learn to read, everybody does this. That's not the history of humanity. It's just the past few hundred years, really. The history of humanity is a process of cultures communicating, individuals communicating in terms of stories. Think about the Bible or the Quran, they're all stories. Think about fables. Aesop's Fables. They're all stories. How many of you have kids? What do they say to you when it's time to go to bed every night? (mumbling) Story. Read me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story. Do you think that's an accident that every kid asks for the bedtime story, wants to be read to? When they're hungry they say I wanna eat. But when they're hungry to feel something or to be stimulated, they say tell me a story. So we have the opportunity as filmmakers to take this universal human trait and feed what people are already craving. It's an easy job, really, when you think about it. Because everybody wants it. So all we have to do is find a way to deliver it to them. You're already a storyteller because everybody dreams. What are your dreams? What are they? Stories, fantasy pieces. Yeah, they're crazy stories sometimes, right? I mean think about it. Everybody in here has had a dream that was like wow, where did that come from. And yet for whatever reason, psychologists debate this, but for whatever reason, we need the process of dreaming and telling stories to ourselves for our own psychological health. So if you have the ability to come up with these kinda stories in your dreams then you have the ability to do it consciously. It's built in, don't ever doubt your ability to tell a story or tell it effectively because it's innate. If you're breathing, you can tell a story. So I just, we keep on trying to make this point. You can do this. When we put together our outline for this program, the very first sentence to start out today was you can do this. And that means everybody out there too. You have to believe. You have to know that because you're alive and you're sentient, you have the ability to tell stories and connect with people. So I wanna watch something, I want y'all to watch something, I think is so super instructive about how we are craving stories. We're craving them to the point where we will really work, we'll do some work to try to take what we're watching and assemble it into something that is a story for ourselves. That has some sort of coherence. Or some sort of meaning. This is a film that a group of people called Everynone, you can go to their website Everynone, N.O.N.E., .com, and watch a number of their films. They're super fantastic. And they're really a source of inspiration for Ross and I, because they're great storytellers. There's not a lot of high production footage in any of what you're about to see. But they tell a story and I want you to pay particular attention to someplace in the back of your brain that the minute you start watching this film, you're gonna become engaged. And something inside you is gonna go, "What is this about?" And it's gonna try to extract meaning. And it's gonna try to put the pieces together as you're watching it. And it's really important for you to pay attention to what's happening there with yourself because that happens to everybody. The minute they press play, they're ready. They're hungry, they've come to the table, and they want you to feed them. So let's watch this, pay attention to your brain, and then we'll talk about it afterward. The moment was... How would you define a moment? I can't, I can't even say. I don't know, ask me something simple. A moment in normal time? Normal time is this. What is a moment, though, honestly? It's that thing, it's beyond the senses. I'm like-- I don't know. (light happy music) (camera clicking) (balloon popping) (page turning) (fastener clicking) (birds chirping) (sniffing) (skateboard scraping) (grass breaking) (swing squeaking) (string breaking) (splashing) (kicking) (cheering) (sizzling) (blinds rolling) (map unrolling) (sheet snapping) (cloth folding) (ball hitting) (screaming) (kissing) (bird chirping) (wrapper rustling) (drilling) (paper rustling) (wet feet slapping) (shoveling) (waves rolling) (baby crying) (gun shooting) (inspirational horn music) (wind blowing) (newspaper falling) (clicking) (squeaking) (thudding) (swooshing) (laughing) (tearing) (squishing) (licking) (door closing) (bus passing) (yelling) (school bell ringing) (ball rolling) (pins clacking) (Frisbee landing and scraping) (kids yelling) (splashing) (birds calling and wings flapping) (pencil writing) (chalk drawing) (spritzing) (record static hissing (splashing) (clicking) (screaming) (clinking) (lawnmower revving) (rustling) (hitting) (squishing) (paper rustling) (swish) (creaking) Cheese! (camera clicking) (umbrella opens) (bubble pops) (clicking) (swiping) (screaming) (tearing) (crying) (bottle popping) (explosion) (music lightens) Now I'm gonna go ahead here. (audience clapping) Yeah, a hand for Everynone. I'm gonna go ahead and let you know this is where the film ends, okay, but how many of you were so engrossed that you wanted it to continue? That you loved what you were seeing so much and you felt moved by it that you didn't want the film to end? And did you notice that part in your brain that the minute the film started, you're like, "What's this about?" So what was it about? (mumbling) Life, yeah, go. Yeah, people online are loving it. Maxim says really like the editing. Fast cut at first showing how sometimes we don't take time to enjoy life. And then slowly shows all the simple moments of life. I thought it was beautifully done. Yeah, and it's all about having your film relate to other people, so that they can have that emotional reaction, that emotional connection. I mean, how many of you could relate to the guy when he was running after the bus? (laughing) Or how many of you could relate when he stepped in dog crap? (laughing) Everybody's like, "Aw!" Everybody in the studio. You could hear it. And when we do these performances on the road, people have the same reaction. And you started to see things in your own life that allowed you to connect. And that was all random footage. There was no story there. But they ended up creating a story and arranging things in such a way that you started to storytell to yourself, relate it to your own life, and build that connection. So again, another great shout out to Everynone. Go there to see a lot of their films. Yes? Can you spell out what their website is? It's Every and none, n-o-n-e, .com. Thank you. Really excited to have them give permission for this. So here's the thing, did you notice yourself trying to piece together some sort of story? Yeah. Everybody does that. It's a built in advantage that we have as filmmakers. It's a built in advantage. So I wanna make this point. The purpose of filmmaking is storytelling. And a lot of people don't get that. A lot of people don't understand that if I'm pressing record on my camera, the reason I'm doing that is to tell a story. It's not to record what's happening. And I think that's the first mistake a lot of photographers make. They're like, "Okay, let me press record, "because this is happening." No. You should never press record on your camera until you first know what the story is. Otherwise what's the point? You heard me reference Ross earlier, when he made the wedding film that we saw earlier, he knew what the story was before going in there. He knew that faith, commitment, kindness, love, and family were all gonna be discussed by people that the bride and the bride loved. And so he knew what his story was. And then when he went there, he set himself up for success so that it wasn't just randomly running around, trying to capture everything that was happening, and hope that the brides liked it later on. And normally I would make you do another oath here. But I think we made the point earlier. Never press record, can you promise me that you will never press record on your camera until you know what the story is first? All right? Mm. Thank you. So, let's talk a little bit about the process of storytelling. We create the stories. Make no doubt about it, like we just saw, we're always working to create stories to interpret our lives in terms of stories. What we do is we link events into some sort of plot, that then creates meaning for us. Whether that plot is watching a bunch of random clips and remembering times in our own lives or loved ones, and somehow feeling meaning, or because the storyteller has led you from this to this to this to this in the process of having a story unfolding. The whole point of all that is to create meaning. And really it's this process of meaning that I find so interesting. I have a degree in psychology which is one of the reasons I love working with Ross and filmmaking. Well, Ross is a psychological study in and of himself. But this idea of filmmaking is all about moving people. Psychologically. We crave meaning so much that these work. Anybody know what these are? [Audience Members] Rorschach blots. Rorschach blots. And what are they used for? To say what's in your brain? Yes. In psychological testing, they'll flash one of these before and they'll say, "Tell me what you feel." And the patients will be like, "Well, this reminds me of my childhood and the way my mother mistreated me," or something like that. Think about this for a second. These are random blots of black ink. They have no meaning. And yet our desire in life, in the world, is so strong to connect and create meaning, that we start extracting meaning from nothing. So if we're working that hard to extract meaning from something that has no meaning, just think how much harder we're working when something's supposed to have meaning, when your film is supposed to have meaning. I keep on trying to hide this, because I want you to know you have the inherent advantage because people want it, you just have to feed it to them. Now because we're talking to photographers here and out on the internet, I wanted to make this point. Photos don't require storytelling. It's a really big mindset difference between the art of filmmaking and the art of making good photo. We've all heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. But what does that mean really? And why? Let's take a look at some of my photos that I've arranged for you. Take a look at this one. What does that mean? What does that photo mean? What does it mean? Um... I think it means maybe solitude? Solitude, what does that mean? It looks like a peaceful moment. Peaceful. What does it mean? Very relaxing, we're lying out the sunset. What does it mean? He stole mine. (laughing) Relaxing (mumbling), all right. What does this one mean? Youth. Youth. Joy. Joy. Fun. Fun. Vacation. Vacation. (laughing) Exuberance. I used to be able to do that. I could probably do it right now if I wanted to. (laughing) I hope you got that on camera. (laughing) I could do it. What does this photo mean? Exhausted. Exhausted. Peaceful. Peaceful. Content. That's how you look after a good swim. Content. Yeah, played out. Played out. Do you realize what happened? When you view a still image, you create the story. You have time to reflect, and it's that time for reflection where you start storytelling to yourself. And what's so interesting about this is that every one of you would see a photo and have sometimes completely different emotional reactions to it. Some would say exhausted. Some would say relaxed. Some would say content. And the reason for that is because you will look at the photo and you'll start a process of deriving meaning that is in relation to the experience you've had in your own life or the way that you feel right now. Apparently you're tired right now. But apparently you feel at peace. Because the same image will create a different emotional reaction in everybody. Depending on what experiences you've had in your life. And it's the process of storytelling that gives the image its meaning. Remember, we're always looking for meaning. In everything. And we always look for meaning via the process of storytelling. But films work entirely differently. You don't have that built in time to reflect and to start storytelling to yourself. Let's look at a few clips. What does that image mean? She couldn't figure out how to work her iPod. Trying to figure out how to use it. Grandma with flip cam, right? Oh, camera. (mumbling) Grandma using a flip cam. What does that clip mean? Message from a loved one, a note from a loved one. Message-- Or from anyone. Yep, opening a letter. Okay. What does this clip mean? Going to work. Getting ready to do something. Going to work. Or getting ready to work, yeah. Sitting down, getting ready to do something. What does that clip mean? Something's completed. Just finished a paper. Printing. Yeah, printing something. See with clips, with moving images, our brains go through an entirely different process. Moving images force you to pay attention to the action. You pay attention to what is happening. So people instead of telling me what a clip meant, started to say what was happening in the image. Opening a letter, sitting down, grandma's using a camera. But you didn't talk about emotions. You didn't talk about the meaning of the clip. You talked about the action of the clip. Time unfolds and you don't have time to reflect. You have to pay attention to what's going on. And so because your attention is focused on the unfolding of time, there's no time to actually create meaning from the individual clip. So with filmmaking, what you have to do to create meaning, is arrange all of the individual pieces together to control the message and tell a story. You end up building a story across time. Kind of like by connecting the dots. So what I wanna do is I wanna show you the film that all four of those clips were taken from, because those clips in and of themselves have no meaning. But they do have meaning when they're arranged into the story that we wanted to tell. Let's watch this film, and then we'll talk about it. (light music) Shannon, I remember the first time I held you in my arms. You amazed me from the beginning. Making an impact the day you were born. Special boy. I know. He's pretty awesome, to say the least. You're a mom now. I know. I had my first Mother's Day. Oh my goodness, yes. I was thinking that, I saw a commercial for Mother's Day. I was like that applies to me. First Mother's Day, yes. I know. Dear Wesley, I remember hearing you cry for the first time in the delivery room. It was the sound that I had been waiting more than nine months to hear. A sound so beautiful that it brought a flood of tears to my eyes and truly took my breath away. The first time I held you in my arms, I remember feeling your heartbeat and touching your skin, and my heart was instantly filled with an indescribable love. Now it's recording. It's from Aunt Margie. Wow, oh my gosh. It's a blanket. It's handmade, it's a quilt. It's a handmade quilt. It's beautiful. Oh my gosh, it's gorgeous. I'll read it. Okay. The baby quilt is a gift of love in memory of Grandma Hebert. How delighted she would have been to have lived to embroider the quilt herself. This was her tradition and I wanted Wesley Joseph to experience the tradition. What a beautiful baby boy. Wesley Joseph, named after my grandfather, Wesley Massey. And my father, your grandfather, Joseph Hebert. You are a gift from God. A miracle of life that continues to amaze me every day. You have been in my dreams for many years. Now here you are in this world. My flesh and blood. Yes, you truly are a gift from God. I cherish each and every moment with you that I am blessed with today. The moments in which I experience a part of you. See these toes. Yes I do. Yes I do. I see these toes. So I can't tell you how pleased I was when you involved me in your latest journey, motherhood. It was an amazing journey. The good news that you were pregnant. The doctor visit updates. Our brainstorming sessions discussing my ability to get to DC on time. He's an angel. Yeah. He sure is. Yeah. I cherish each and every moment with you that I am blessed with today. The moments in which I experience a part of you, your smile, your precious baby scent, the soft feel of your skin and how sweet it is to kiss you all over. And of course rubbing my fingers through that thick and beautiful head of hair that you have. Shannon, Wesley's birth has made you a mother. And I believe that this is your greatest accomplishment. As a mother, you'll feel and experience love like none other. Wesley's birth made me a grandmother. Thank you for this gift. I'm excited about the future and my role with Wesley. Shannon, thank you again for this gift. I love you, Mom. Know that you have a family who loves you in ways that words cannot describe. Love, your mother. (peaceful music) Okay, question. Did you guys feel anything? (mumbling) Yes. You did. Why? Because there was a story there. There was a story there. I could relate to the feeling of being a parent. Personal connection. Boom, right there. Here's the trick of storytelling. You don't know that baby from a can of paint. (laughing) You're never gonna see that kid again for the rest of your existence. But for three minutes and 30 seconds you felt something. For, even if it was for a minute, think about the concept of how powerful stories can be that we can get you to care about a random stranger that you have absolutely no connection to whatsoever. So in three minutes we take you into the story, bring connection to you and the characters, and then we send you off. And how we do that is we play on your own existing emotions. We know that there are people out there with kids who can relate, and when they see that, they don't see their own baby, the think of their own moments. And Jeff and I invented this genre. At least we think we did. We can try and google other birth announcement videos. No, no, we definitely invented it. We did, we did. I'm trying to be humble. Because before we did this we went out and googled, we YouTubed, we everything, looking for some example of the birth announcement film, and there was nothing. We thought what's the first thing that happens when you have a baby. Well after the obvious. You go home and yada yada. You go to the photographer and you say, "It's time for new born pictures." Then you make a card and you send that out to all your family members, and it's a birth announcement, that's like tradition of this country. So we decided to take that tradition further. Now that we have the ability to produce quality like that, tell stories, imagine getting that link on Facebook, or in an email, of here's the birth announcement. And what's really interesting and cool about this is that the pictures don't go away because you could pull screen grabs off of that and make an entire album, and we've done it. So it's not-- Yeah, let me just elaborate on what he said. We have made albums from the individual frames in the DSLR H264 file itself. The .mov file. You stop it on a particularly sharp piece, you do a little bit of resizing, and then you can go ahead and actually take the session that you did for the purpose of filmmaking and turn it into a photo product also. And what I really thought, and obviously you saw that that was the bride from the other wedding. That was actually the prequel/sequel. (laughing) It's a Tarantino thing, you do it out of order. But what I did with this is if you go to you're gonna see some specials we have on some continuing education. And what I did with the wedding that you watched and that birth announcement is basically I have these DVDs called Making Magic. And it focuses specifically on the genre for editing. So I start with all the footage, a blank timeline, and then you and me, the audience, we make the film together and you see why I put a clip where I did, all the layers of audio. In that birth announcement, it teaches you how to, all the ways you build that story out because when you look at all the footage, 700 gigs of footage, it's those letters, those voiceovers, they're seven minutes long each, but the film was three minutes. Why did I choose what I did? How did I come in and out of the story and how did I make it seamless? Every decision has a psychological effect in editing. And when you watch the Making Magic DVDs you can see why they work, and I show you the compare and contrast of each one, and how audio works and things of that nature. Well, let me talk to you a little bit about, yeah, go ahead. I was just gonna say, it seems like the way that you're describing us, our reaction to the images, is the same logic as the way the shots are reacting to each other. Like we have, the movie matters to us because we're making that meaning with our viewing, but in the same way, what you're saying with the specificity of how you're putting images together, shot by shot, that interaction is what's making that happen. Yes. You're driving the meaning, and we're gonna get to this. But we're leading you to that meaning. We're not leaving it up to the viewer. I wanna talk a little bit about how we ended up telling this story, because I think it's instructive. We all took the oath that we weren't gonna press record on our camera until we know what the story is. Do you think we showed up there without knowing what we were gonna do? Of course not. We came up with this idea, so let me give you some information about the shoot. I'm gonna deliver information to you. We came up with the idea, we talked it over with the client, they agreed, we showed up, we shot it, we edited it, and we made a successful film. Is anybody excited by what I just said? I am. (audience laughing) Are you? Well I'm a filmmaker. Okay. What I did was I just delivered raw information. Let me take the same information and I wanna wrap it inside of a story. When I was born, 42 years and 5 days ago, my mom wrote a letter to me on the day I was born, because she was so overcome with emotion that she wanted to remember it. But more importantly, she wanted me to read about it one day. She wanted me to read what she was feeling. So she wrote this letter to me, and when I found out that Shannon's mom was gonna be visiting her when we were filming the birth announcement, it reminded me of this, and that's how I suggested the letter. So why don't each of you write a letter to your child, and we'll film that. They agreed, and the minute they agreed, we knew we had the story. What was really cool about this is my mom didn't know she was the inspiration for any of this, and she showed up in Phoenix, Arizona for our 33rd tour stop. She's in the audience with 100 other people, and we show this, and I tell everybody how my mom was the inspiration, and I looked at my mom and I'm like thanks for being the inspiration for this film, Mom. And she teared up and started crying and the whole audience clapped for her and she had a really special moment. Do you see what I just did? And what's really gonna blow your mind in the next half is that that's actually true. (audience laughing) It is true, it is true. My mom's watching. Thanks, Mom. (audience laughing) The first time I just gave you information. But that's not compelling. That doesn't create meaning for us. The second time, I told a story, took the same information, and made it meaningful. And I know there are a lot of people out there watching who were like, "Oh, he made his mom feel special. "That's like such a great feeling." That's what you have to do. That's what you have to do. You have to find a way to take the information and create meaning. Here's an example, in the moments video that we saw. There was a clip of a gravestone that said Last. That in itself doesn't necessarily have meaning, but what was the clip right after it? It was footprints on a seashore with the ... The tide. Surf washing over them away. What was the clip right before it? A new born baby. A baby's first steps. So we have a baby's first steps, we have a gravestone that says Last, and then we have footprints in the shore being washed away. That's how you create meaning. And you can create multiple meanings from that. Mm hmm. And that's how you move people. You assemble together the clips piece by piece by piece and control the message. Because see, information without a story doesn't have meaning or sub meaning. It's like I told you. We made this successful film. We had this idea and they said okay. Versus my mom was the inspiration, right. And she came up, she was responsible for helping us to make this, the first ever birth announcement in the whole world. Thanks, Mom. It's storytelling that helps the viewer to connect. And why do you really wanna tell a story? Because you want your viewer to anticipate the next shot, like the moments video. And not the end of your film. How many of you have been watching something on YouTube, you press play, and you're like, what's the point? You're sitting there, you're gonna give it 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and then you're like, "God, how much longer is this gonna continue?" You failed as a filmmaker if that's happening. You want your viewer to anticipate the next shot and not the end of your film. Because you want them to be that engrossed. So with storytelling, you wanna constantly establish purpose for what you're showing. You have to realize, storytelling is a collaboration between the filmmaker and the viewer. It's the viewer's role to put the story together and understand it. But you know that's gonna happen. We've talked about how we're all sitting there just waiting for the filmmaker to feed us. If they're pressing play, they've done their job. Because they're gonna go into autopilot and start trying to extract meaning. So what's your job? It's your job to give the viewer the proper pieces in the proper order so that they reach the conclusion that you want them to reach. Don't leave it up to them. Because it's kinda like connecting the dots. Everyone can connect the dots in different ways. A lot of times there'll be a one, two, three, four, and you're supposed to connect them this way. But with films, people will start connecting things that they see in ways that are different than what you want them to if you don't purposely and and have a purposeful storytelling approach. I know you talked about this some, but obviously the section is on storytelling, and this person's Woodbridge, Virginia. The question is how do you prepare in advance. Do you ever go in with an idea that actually won't work because of what reality does? Can a good sequence fit most situations? Or does reality dictate where the sequence goes more often than not? In a documentary situation, I'm assuming, was what he's talking about. I think that's when it came, yeah. So yes reality can totally dictate where you, where you're gonna go with the story. But you can alter reality through storytelling. That's kinda the idea. So you don't want to, when I say alter reality, I don't mean, show up to a wedding and come out with a birth announcement film. (audience laughing) I mean go to a wedding and enhance the emotion of what's happening and when you watch a wedding in real time, they got married. And that's why I say, there's no anticipation in that. You have to get personal with the characters. Develop them and sort of, you formulate the concept with that. So you take reality and you find out, there are many stories there. You can go many directions. So that's the idea. When we're working with a client, we, Ross and I, brainstorm ourselves before talking to them. Because most of the time, they don't have a specific story in mind they wanna tell. They're not thinking like that. So what we'll do, is we'll talk to them and say here's some thoughts that we have. And in more cases than not, that leads to some sort of story that ends up being right in line and harmonious with what they want in their own lives. But we take the responsibility to start that conversation about what the story should be with them. And then we develop it jointly.

Class Description

Have you ever thought about using your talents, training and equipment to design moving images to tell a story? This film workshop is your opportunity to learn how to become a visual storyteller with Jeff Medford and Ross Hockrow. Whether you're a photographer or an aspiring filmmaker, you will come out of this class with all of the skills to produce web commercials, wedding, birth, family and event films.

Discover what you'll need for your camera bag, lighting, how to shoot a conversation - all during a live shoot! You'll learn how to create a story throughout the editing process. This film workshop is 3 days of non-stop information, all of which will allow you to expand your business and increase your profits.



I am thankful that I found CreativeLive and signed up for this class. For a couple of years I have been looking for a comprehensive course to teach me about filmmaking for the independent artist. I have sought the professional guidance of "people in the business" but they were more interested in taking your money than helping. And they were very condescending and arrogant. At CreativeLive I have found people who are like me and willing to share their knowledge with me. This particular course gave me the foundation to know what to purchase and where to start in my first efforts of filmmaking. This course, though very informative, I would wish if was a bit more technically than theoretical. Ross is great at what he does but I felt spent too much time on too many theoretical aspects of filmmaking and not enough fundamentals. Jeff was better at explaining the technical aspects of filmmaking but did not speak as much as Ross. Overall, I find that Jeff and Ross were wonderful teachers and I learned so much from them. I am looking forward to enrolling in additional classes at CreativeLive and hopefully if Jeff and Ross teach more courses, I will sign up. Thank you so very much Jeff, Ross and the CreativeLive team!