Story Types That Lend Themselves to Video
Transitioning into video, I think one of the tougher parts for me personally was just thinking about telling of stories in totally different way. In photography, there is a thing and I don't totally understand why this is the case but it is the case which is that you can skip from thing to thing to thing without really much connective tissue. And without a very clear narrative arc and your audience just seems to get it. If I was doing a photography story or a book for an essay or something. One page we're in the hospital, then we're in a field, then we're back with the family. Then it's a detail, then it's a shot out the window, and for some reason in that format, your audience fills in all of this information in between. And they create this landscape for the story that really doesn't require you to be so literal, and say we're here and then we're here and then we're here. And in video that's just different. In video, it requires a really crafting of story. A beginning, a middle and a...
n end. It doesn't always have to use conventional techniques. I'm gonna show you some things that follow a conventional technique, but we can also talk about switching of order, playing with time and space, playing with things being out of chronological order. That's all fine, but it does need some intention and storyboarding, so I think one of the things that I've started to think about is that you just have to start to think. When you're in video you have to think what is the story? How would I describe it, if someone were to ask me what is this thing about? How would I sum it up? If I was in an elevator with someone and they say, "Oh I'll tell me what your short film is about." Could I explain what happens in the story or is it like with a portrait series, it's not necessarily that. Well it's a series of portraits. They get at the identity of women incarcerated in blah, blah. In stills, it's a little bit different but in video there needs to be a strong sense of story and narrative arc. And so I wanna talk about how we do that. How we think about when we enter into subject matter. How we think about story and also then little later on, how we shoot so to achieve it. It's a two-part process. One is that you need to be thinking about how would this actually play out? If I was going to try to craft this as a story, how do I get people into this? Who are my characters? How do I like get them into this world of even if it's short film, how do I bring people into this world? And then what happens in this world and then how do I summarize it. And you have to think, okay if that is the story, then how do I shoot that? What does that look like? What are the elements that I need to make sure that before I'm wrapped with shooting, and before I'm completely done. I make sure I have these elements. storyboarding is about thinking of all the things you need, and then making sure you actually have them. What I'm gonna do to kick this off is I'm going to show you the introduction to the film that I just completed with Christopher LaMarco, my co-director. The film is called The Pearl. And this is the first five or six minutes of the film, and what I want us to think about is this is for a longer piece. This is a 94 minute film, but whether it's long form or short form. The introduction part serves a couple of purposes. One it lets you know where you are, it sets some of the stakes up. It introduces you to some characters. It introduces you to some of the concepts that you're going to be dealing with without also just giving everything away right away. We are going to watch the introduction of this film, and I want you to just be thinking about story structure as we do so, and then we'll come back together and talk about it.
There is so much potential here. That's the dilemma. At what point do you do this? This question, it's really. It's funny living in two worlds but it's my reality. (train horn blowing)
How on a minute, wait.
What are you doing?
I'm lifting it up to watch it.
Lifting up what?
That exhaust feedback line.
That shouldn't be blowing exhaust.
Push the button on the thing, am I getting any propane up?
Not yet, but I'm hearing it. (engine turning over)
Watch your fingers.
Alright. (engine revving) As brothers we learn to live together in our own little private world.
Don't forget that fuel pump. We'll blow that fuel pump up if we don't get it unplugged. A few months ago we had one of the biggest blow up fights we've ever had. Finally the stress just erupted between the two of us, and so I spelled it all out. I told him, there's still something you don't know, and here's what it is. Part of me is female, always has been. And he replied, "Dear Jody, you're my family, "my only family and let me tell you about Crystal." (dramatic music) It turns out that my own brother had been keeping the same secret hidden from me all those years in the same way. (dramatic music)
My wife Edith died, just three and a half years ago. I was dressing as much as I could at home just to try to remain somewhat sane. She put up with it, and we stayed together for 46 years but she wouldn't want me going out. (slow piano music) The thing is you need to reinvent yourself for the world that's coming. (slow piano music)
This introduction does a couple of things. One is that this is gonna be a film that follows three storyline of these four characters. Two of the characters are brothers that then transitioned into being sisters. But basically it's three storylines, and the film is going to track these people over the next three years. And so this introduction does a couple of things. One is that you learn that there are three different characters or three different storylines you're gonna be following. For us in the edit that was a little bit difficult to differentiate in part because one of them looks like the other one. So we put names in, it's not only that you see different people's faces but there's a card for each one that says what their names are, and also what the location is. In each one you're brought into the idea that they're in a different place. It's a different character and it's not their own backstory. Everyone's talking about where they've come from. The first one is a little bit more ambiguous in part because we wanna pull people in. So we start off in this car. We don't really know where we are. We know that this person's name is Nina, and all takes place in the car. And she's in the dark and she's changing, and she talks about well there so much potential. And do you do this and your life is moving ahead and she says I'm kind of living in two worlds, but that's my reality. So it sets up her situation but with a little bit of ambiguity. In the next one, now that we're like alright. Now we're in the world of this movie. We go to a new place and we meet two new people, and they're doing their own activity. Also involving a car, so there's a little bit of uniformity that's happening. They're working on a car and they are talking about, and you're just watching them interact, but again you learn about a little bit about backstory and what's at stake for them. So I say once I was fighting with my brother all the time. And the stress was getting to us and finally it erupted, and I had to come out with something. And said I'm gonna tell you something that you don't know, here's what it is. I've always been female always have been, always have been and the reply was well me too. So now we learn this backstory. And we're like the stakes are getting a little bit higher, but in the mean time, they're doing the same thing. Which is one got into a care and going on this journey. And with the second one that same thing is happening. You meet these characters, you get a sense of where they're coming from, but they're on the road again too. Then you meet this third character, she's in a different state, she's a different age but you hear her backstory. Well I was married for almost 50 years. My wife Edith passed away. At that point I realized, I had only been doing this in the house, and we see her in her home. I was doing it in the house to not lose my sanity but when my wife Edith died. I just got so lonely, I decided to go out with it. And then we watch her go through some packing of the bags again and then getting on the road. This didn't just happen by accident. These were not all shot necessarily at the very beginning of the project. These aren't necessarily things that we went to one person's house, but there is a sense that in order to get this story moving and set on it's course. We've gotta establish a little bit of uniformity in especially a situation where we're gonna have interweaving stories. 'Cause otherwise it's just gonna feel like three totally separate films. What we didn't want at the beginning was to feel like three short films that were slammed together. So there's a sense of uniformity. A sense of them being individual enough that they differentiate from themselves, and yet they all go on the road. And then they're on the road and you don't necessarily know this right away, but you get the sense that like, oh maybe they're all destined to be arriving at the same place. They're all on the road, and they're all gonna land in one place. This is a great example of just like setting things up. Who are your people? Where are they? What's going on in their lives? What kind of obstacles might we be set up to see, and then allowing it to just play out. Allowing it to exist in, that was very much a mixture of vérité footage. By that I mean totally just observational filming making. And allowing people to just do whatever they'd be doing in their lives, mixed with voice over that was happening from interviews, And later on tomorrow, we're gonna talk about interview and how that can be used. But it allows us to if we just were to watch those scenes without any of that voice over, we wouldn't know the backstory of the brothers that then became sisters. We wouldn't know that Amy, the older one in the very end had been living as a male and married for almost 50 years. And it was upon the death of the wife that she decided to come out. And with Nina, we wouldn't in some ways know this ambiguity of living in one world and the other. So it's vérité footage that allows us to get close, and feel like these are real people. But there is voiceover where we get understand a little bit of there in a monologue. Does that make sense? Does anyone have any questions about this? Yes.
A ton of questions swirling around. First of all, that's fascinating. I loved it. I'd like to see the whole movie. When you approach this project, you approach these people and then you like you said shot footage here and there. And then did you know that they were going to be traveling some place? How much did you know the story before you started filming? And I image, it evolved organically. I just like to hear a little bit more about that.
Sure, so in a scripted film, and something in the narrative setting option. Often what happens with you, everything is completely storyboarded because in order to shoot something, you need to know what you're shooting or at least most things. Some experimental stuff uses improv. There are avant garde techniques out there but let's say, it's typical narrative, everything would be storyboarded out, broken into scene by scene and shot accordingly. Not necessarily in chronological order but you would like, let's say you had a bunch of scenes that happen in the bathroom. Maybe a woman is a waitress but she's got a compulsive hand-washing thing. So like she keeps returning to the bathroom every 20 minutes during her work shift to wash her hands. You wouldn't necessarily follow her through her shift and every time she goes the restroom to wash her hands. You would probably, in that setting, knock all of those shots out. If it was a narrative, you would like to shoot everything that was in the bathroom in one go. Change her outfit. change your hair whatever. In documentary, I believe that it's really important to be storyboarding and thinking about where things fit, and what your arc will be and what elements those are going to be. But because it's real life, you can't necessarily write it before you shoot it, and you can't necessarily in some ways shoot it before you write it. It's a little bit of an interaction. And when I say write it, I mean in your head. I mean with your co-director or your co-creators or the other collaborators in video. Part of the reason that I feel like video is such a collaborative sport is that it takes a fair amount of plotting things out and figuring out where things go. And that doesn't always happen in paper. That can happen when you break for lunch. and you say alright today we saw this and this and this. And what's relevant.you know what's relevant. And now that I've seen this, what do I need to know in order for that to make sense. Now that I know this thing about her. What's the next thing. Where do we think she's going? What do I need? Now that I've seen the thing, what do I need to know about her backstory in order to contextualize this. It's like a very much a building process but it is something that takes a lot more plotting and planning. I'm not going to say it takes more thought than photography because photography takes a lot of thought too. It's just a different type of plotting and planning. So in this situation, I bumped into this story very much by accident 'cause I went hiking in the town that they're all landed at and are all at for this. You'll see another scene. The place where they're all going in this is where I met them. So obviously, I couldn't have shot them before I met them 'cause that doesn't make sense. So some of this is that in order to get them to this place that I feel like is the real beginning of the story, and is the real launch pad. We had to find ways to get us to that launch pad so even though I met them right here. We have to make material that allows us to travel with our characters from different places around the Pacific Northwest region that like gets them to there, so that they can then launch if that makes sense.
Oh, I have another question here.
Quick question, about bumping into your stories. So this was one where you bumped into it. when you're on assignment for an NGO or a publication, how often do you find that you find a different story than what maybe they were looking for. And how do you balance that with deadlines and influencing or do you find you're going back with a new story that you've pitched.
That's a great question. So in terms of personal projects, I personally have always believe in bumping into model. I'm not the type of journalist that sits at home, unfortunately because I think this actually makes for great storytelling. I am not the person that sits at home and says, hmm, what do I wanna tell a story about. I often, I'm just out in the real world and something really, I smack into something and I think, oh God I haven't seen this before. And then everything changes. In shorter term stuff when I'm on an assignment or in and editorial setting. The great thing about working with really talented editors is that they are very opened to the idea that yes there is a written story, yes there is an idea that you into the field with. But they are aware that that changes. And the best editors really want you to capture what's happening. They really want you to be authentic and raw and honest about what you're seeing. The NGO world for the most part is the same. It can get a little bit trickier, and I think this is stuff to be honest about and upfront with, and even upfront with that actual client. Is that when an NGO is your client and your working with them. It can be a little but trickier because they have an agenda. They have a specific point of view and a message that they wanna get across. And that can sometimes be in contradiction with what you're finding on the ground. There are a couple of ways to approach that. One is that you just real life with editorial and advocacy world can be the same thing, but they can be slightly different. And sometimes, you have to just make advocacy work because that's what they want. One is that you can encourage and some NGOs are great about this is that you can really encourage to go with the real story that you're finding anyway. We have some work with some NGO partners like Doctors Without Borders, who are fantastic about being really honest about what we see in the field. Not necessarily only focusing on their programs. We're not necessarily on the ground to looking at Doctors Without Borders, but we're looking at the issue. The disease that they're covering, the epidemic or whatever And they're really, really opened about we trust that you're here because you're a journalist. It's gonna be used for our purposes to get to our audiences, to get the education out there that we need, but we want you to come back with what you're really seeing. Because I think where that question is coming from is when those things are budding heads, that's a very uncomfortable place to be, and you want to be honest. And you want to collect what you're actually seeing, and when someone has a different idea, that can be a real conflict. And that happens in photography too. At the worst case scenario, you have an editor that wants something totally different. And that's when you're like, well then you could have hired a painter and they could have just painted the thing for you. Because what I'm seeing is different but most people in those positions are in those positions because they really understand how this all works. Any other questions before I move on? Okay, so like I said, this introduction that I've just showed you. It really is there to set up the place, set up the characters, set up what some of the issues are, and also excite people. It should be a little, depending on your tone. In our case, we were gonna make a dark and edgy movie so the beginning of it should a little dark and edgy. It should be like you don't wanna see everything. We start off in this moment with Nina in the back of the car, where it's like. What is she? Is there something sexual going on here? Is this something secretive? You can't see everything. There's just little flashes of skin and we wanna create an enticing and interesting, engaging moods that hopefully people will stay beyond that short attention span especially since it's a long film.