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The Power of Stories

Lesson 2 from: Screenwriting for Film and Television: How to Begin

Julio Vincent Gambuto

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Lesson Info

2. The Power of Stories

In this lesson, we’ll explore why stories are so effective as a communications tool, what makes for a powerful story, and how best to decide if your story is a movie, a TV show, or something else. Understand the power of images, events, drama, and the like.
Next Lesson: Key Concepts

Lesson Info

The Power of Stories

Yeah. Let's kick things off by talking about the power of story. Why do I want to start this way? Because I think it's important to understand the tools that you're working with and understand the power of the tools that you're working with, right? Our entire world is made up of stories and storytelling. It's the way that humans process all the things that are happening around them every single day. It's the way that you think about when you get up in the morning, your morning routine, it has a certain order and linearity to it. It's part of the story of your day, which is part of the story of your life, right? Um, we all have that movie running in our brain, the movie of our life, right? And we're contributing scenes to it every single day because our brains are wired for story. The human brain is a story making machine, right? It's why theater is spin so powerful classically and in our history, it's why film and television has the significance in our culture that it has because we ar...

e storytelling beings. So let's quickly look at the brain. I know you've probably heard this before, but I want to just review it so that you can see it through the lens of screenwriting and building scripts. Left Brain, right? You and I are probably not left brain. People write, quote unquote. These are the scientists and mathematicians. If you found your way to me, you probably probably don't consider yourself a left brain person. But let's put that aside for just a second. The left brain deals in facts and figures and data and numbers order, linear charity sense logic primarily, it's based in reason, right? There's a reason and a reasoning and logic to why things happen, A to B to C. To D. Things add up. There's an answer. There's a number. Things are orderly left brain, the right brain. I consider myself a right brain guy. I'm sure perhaps you do too. I'm not sure. Perhaps you do right Brain deals in creativity. Color, image, movement, taste, sex, Yes. Sex, joy, energy, emotion, right? People who sort of use this brain or the side of their brain more or focus more on this side of the brain, um, are more emotional beings. I got news for you. Story exists right in the middle. The brain processes story right in the middle. And so when you look at your scripts and you look at your writing, I want to make sure that as storytellers, you are tapping into all of that, that you're tapping into reason and causality. Why does something that this character does cause something else in another character, right? I want your stories to have a logic to them. I want them to have an order and a linear charity. Now look, we've all seen those movies like memento, which is nonlinear or actually memento is reverse linear, right? It's in reverse. There's still a logic to it, right? It still goes in an order. Even though it's a reverse order. It's an order stories need to be told in a certain order in order for you to get this? You know this in your real life, right? Like if I say to you, hey, I wanted to teach a screenwriting class. I teamed with Creative Live here. I am in front of you teaching. That's three points to that story. You understand it because I told it in that order. Now if I told you the story as I teamed with them teaching here, I am teaching, I wanted to rate, you know, uh teach a screenwriting class, you might be able to decipher the story and find it, but your brain is going to have to work harder. So an audience has to work hard if you're not being clear. And so you need a reason logic order to your stories. You also need taste and the senses and the fields and the color and movement. So I want you to look at those lists and I'll put them up on the screen again for the left brain and the right brain. And this is something that I call a filter? Whenever you're looking at your work, go through and do a pass strictly focusing on logic. Okay, Is this logical A. To B. Is this logical B to C. Is this logical seated? D strictly do a pass on taste? Huh? What does that mean? It means? Okay. What are the things that any of the characters are tasting? What are the things that any of the characters are smelling? What are the things that any of the characters are hearing? What does this world feel like? And I think if you use each of these as a filter, your work is gonna become much richer and deeper and your storytelling will be stronger. So um the left and the right brain are super important. Use those lists when you get further along in this process, to put your work through those filters. Okay, what's the sexual energy of these characters throughout the entire thing? Where do these characters feel emotion? Where is their movement? Right. What are the words I use for movement? What are the verbs I use in my writing for movement? There's a difference between walking briskly and walking swiftly. There's a difference between running quickly and running fast, right, small little nuances. But those things make your writing deeper. Left brain and right brain now stories exist to explain change and to explain chaos. I want to talk more about change later. But right now, I just want to focus in on chaos. Right? The brain makes narrative so that you can understand and have meaning and significance in the chaos all around us. And that's frankly why 2020 has been so nuts in 2021 and 2020's right? Because we're now at a point where with media and messages all around us all the time, we live in chaos, and the brain is always trying to create the story to cut through that clutter. So you've got to do that in your writing as well, right? You maybe been thinking about your story for years and years, you've been jotting it down for months and months or you're coming at it completely clean. Either way, there's a lot of thoughts that surround your story and you've got to find the meaning, the through line, the skeleton the point use any of those words so that it is super, super clear, clarity is important. Now let's talk about media convergence for just a second. What do I mean by that? I mean now a tv show looks like a movie and the movie looks like a tv show and a web series looks like a Youtube show which looks like what tv show used to look like and all these media are converging and so the format and the structure of all these things is constantly changing. I want you to rest assured that they all have a basis in story. So if you understand the fundamentals of story, which of course we're gonna get into in this class, you can apply it to any of those um frames or any of those expressions or media. Right? So it's important to know that those things are always gonna change, right? The technology is always going to change. Um you know, Quimby was on the scene now they're off the scene, we were almost on the verge of 10 minute Tv shows forever. Youtube has sort of given that to us already, that's another conversation. But the point is that the media is always changing. Technology is always changing. The format is, is changing and it is always in flux. But the roots of story go back thousands of years and they are never changing. So I want you to get that craft out of this class so that you can understand how to use those and apply them directly to whatever you're working on. Okay, so my question for you is what is the story that you want to tell? And I think it's a big question. I think it can be one that you think about or have thought a lot about in the past before. Why are you here? Right? Why you're taking this class? What is the story you wanna tell Now? Some of you are writers and have been writers for a long time and have lists and lists of stories and movie ideas and Tv show ideas, books or journals or however you note in your life, your ideas, others are coming at this with a blank page. Welcome. In fact, I would probably pause this video and spend an hour coming up with 10 ideas for movies or TV shows that you want to write so that you have one that you really love that you can work on in this class. knowing what story you want to tell is obviously super, super important because as we get into talking about the fundamentals, I want you to take that story and really begin to break it down into its component parts so that together we can rebuild it as strong as possible. Now there's a lot of different types of stories and the reason I spend some time on this right now is because I'm a guy who's got a ton of family stories right? I love to tell them at the dinner table. I love to tell you to stand up. I used to love to tell them on stage, I tell them at dinner parties, a cocktail party all this funny time. My dad that did this and I can do his voice this funny time. My mom did this and this is what she sounds like. It's not really what she sounds like. I just exaggerated for the storytelling, right? But the point is that there are stories that are appropriate for certain moments and certain media and you gotta get really clear and really honest about the story that you want to tell and what the appropriate media and medium is for it. Why do I say this? Because I've spent years right telling family stories thinking these should all be movies. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn't, but that's about me. Right, that's about the perspective that I come to from that story. What is that storytelling done in my life. Has it been therapeutic? Has it been expressive exactly how have I dealt with that story? I want to push you to start to think about how do those stories affect an audience? Right? It comes from you, it's not about you, it comes from you and it's meant to affect someone else on the other side of that screen, so give some real thought to what kind of storytelling do I want to do and therefore, you know, if you're here, it's film and television, right? But I want you to get really honest and clear about the story that you want to tell and what the appropriate medium is for it. So for example, you've got your cocktail parties, your family stories, right? Those are the things that go back for a second, those are the things that you you talk about at a dinner party or a cocktail party before the pandemic. We used to go to cocktail parties and um usually you're telling that story to prove something right? Like you over here, someone say, oh my family is so funny, let me tell you this story, or oh my dad is crazy, and then you pipe in and say, oh my dad is crazy to let me tell you this story to prove this point. Point being my dad is crazy, or let me tell you the story to prove this point, kids, they say the darndest things. Have I got a story for you that proves that point very often, stories are proving points and I want you to think about that and keep that in your mind as we go through this class because I'm a firm believer in every story is a creative proof of a point that you want to make. Okay, so you got your cocktail parties, your family stories. Those are things that you know, you say around the table or with a drink in your hand. Let's look at poems for a second, write poems classic, thousands of years old as a form and as a medium, poetry and storytelling, obviously they're embedded like that. But the stories that you tell via a poem can be very different, right? They don't sound like a cocktail party story. They're not laid out like a cocktail party story. They don't look and feel like a family story. So I want you to think about, okay, I have this idea for a movie and ask yourself, is it a better poem? And I mean that seriously, or is it more poetic cinema? How do I make it poetic in my expression of it as a screenplay? Right, so what are some of the things in poetry that you can pull from to make your screenplay more poetic or you're like, you know what, actually it's a better poem. I'm not gonna write the screenplay, I'm gonna write this poem. I want you to find the best medium for your story that's possible. Next is it an article or a news segment? There are plenty of stories that make really good media sound bites or media segments. Does that mean it's a movie? Does that mean that it's a Tv series? Right. Give some deep thought to this as well. Then you've got your short films. Your short film is a completely different format than a feature film. Why do I say completely? So when I was in film school, when I did my thesis in film school, I made a 20 minute short film that had 29 scenes in it. Right? Because I'm a crazy type a person. And I believed that I needed these 29 scenes to make this short film huge mistake. Why it was more expensive than it needed to be. It was more challenging than it needed to be. Was it a good training ground for the feature? Absolutely. But as a short film, the short film is about biting off a slice of a world, biting off a slice of a character, a small nugget of exactly what you would say in a feature. I just took my feature and scaled it down into a 20 minute short. But when you think about short films, I want you to think about them as um, heard this term once in film school, a maquette um, a ket meaning a small little piece of that represents the larger whole short films usually have like one twist in them or one revealing them or one moment of clarity in them or are they build to one climax? The format is a little bit different. I also know a lot of filmmakers who use short films as a training ground for ideas that they want to make as features. Right? So have a really, really good friend who wants to make a feature about ice skaters. And so she's made a short about ice skating because as a director for her, she wants to sort of understand how do I work with ice skaters? What's it like to shoot on ice? What's it like to shoot with people who are on skates etcetera, etcetera. Those are production issues, but as a writer, it's also a really good training ground to say, okay, great. How do I distill what I'm trying to say into a short film, What piece of the story do I bite off to present as a short film. And that could be a really good training and development ground for a larger feature film. You can understand how the characters talk, how they relate to each other. Um, you can figure out what your imagery is and how that all works, etcetera, etcetera, a television series. Now. What is special about a television series as a medium? Television as it said, is a writer's medium and film is a director's medium. Why is that sort of the rule of thumb? Well, it used to be that television had only limited angles, right? And therefore it wasn't about the most creative or incredible shot that you could get visually. It was about characters talking on a tv set. And until the last few years, tv sets were generally, you know, 20-30" or so. Now, of course you can get one that's 60 and 70 in the size of a wall. But when TVs were TVs very often those shots were just a face, a person talking and therefore it's a dialogue based medium. So if you've got a story that's heavy dialogue or you've got a story, you like to write a comedy and heavy dialogue or even drama in heavy dialogue, right, That's a different medium. And you know, it's funny enough, I don't have a theater on here, but I should have theater on here because theater is a really great place to tell stories in conversation. Right? The set never changes. Or there are limited set changes and your you have the opportunity to really dive deep into a subject into a conversation around something. Right? So the short film, I'm sorry, the television series though, think about it as a writer's based medium. Also key to tv is that you've got to have a series, right? You've got to have a story that can be told and told and told and told and told and uh events that occur and occur and occur reveals that unfold unfold and unfold climaxes, always climaxing throughout the series, so that the viewers are always engaged, right? That's a really important part of creating a television series. Do you have enough material for a series? Right. It's an important question to ask. And then of course, there's the feature film. Earlier, I said a feature film is the director's medium, because the feature film is a visual medium, right? And I struggle with this all the time, because I'm super talky and my scripts are super talky and anytime anyone reads everything, they're like, this is really tv but I wanted to make movies. So I've had to sort of understand how I lean into more of my visual side, my visually expressive side to make sure that I make my points a little bit more um visually. So these are just different types obviously of media, but I want you to give real thought to what kind of story do you want to tell, and in what medium do you want to tell? It?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Case Study Films
Story Analysis Template.xlsx
Sample TV Scripts
Story Design Worksheet
Story Fundamentals Worksheet
Seed to Script Process

Ratings and Reviews

Carlos Sandoval

Just a great way to start on your path to screenwriting. A clear and concise class with a friendly tone and humor. I think it is important that a teacher has actually worked in the field. Kudos.


Perfect for a beginner or actors who need a better understanding of what is and why is. Info packed and FUN too!

Asem Nurkina

I took this class last year. And after one year of working with presented tools (story design worksheet, story fundamentals workseet, seed to script process) on different projects I can say that it is very powerful and useful course I ever taken. I can strongly recommend this detailed screenwriting guidance by Julio Vincent Gambuto.

Student Work