Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tell me a story - The art of storytelling

The room, animated with the whirring din of conversation, wine freely flowing, all of a sudden died to a gentle hush.
The throng of guests all seated slowly began to rise, parting like the chorus line of a black and white 20s film.
There he was.. the man...and he was heading my way.

I wiped the palm of my hand on a napkin, bowed my head gently in expectation and extended my hand; a colleague sitting nearby did the intro.

Mr Mandela this is David…….

At that moment brimming with deity conscious I looked at the official photographer.

He looked back.

And then shrugged his shoulders, mouth upturned gesticulated at his camera; the film had finished.

And that was that.

My encounter with Mr Mandela is but a hard copy of an image available only in my mind.

If you’ve laughed at or sympathised with me in some way, then it may well be because I have told a good story.

The grand denouement of meeting a figure many of us would want to encounter; the picture which we would have wanted to show mum, dad, family and friends but alas no film.

Grrr the chances of that happening; the chances of any of that happening.

The art of storytelling appears as an article in this months Havard Business Review (HBR) from an author Peter Gubber who’s credentials as a film maker and executive with Rain Man, Batman and the Colour Purple behind him shows he tells far better cracking stories than I do.

It would be a trite difficult to at first think there is a philosophy that underlines telling a good story, but this article and a fair few before it brings the issues bang up to date.

Gubber delineates four areas of storytelling crucial to the form as follows:

  • Truth to the audience
  • Truth to the Mission
  • Truth to the teller
  • Truth to the moment

    With such momentos as a storyteller never tells the same story twice and the unwritten contract between author and audience.

    Sadly HBR's article is locked behind a pay wall and it wouldn't quite be cricket to recount the article chapter and verse, not to mention the ethical implications.

    They want to make money on it, so be it.

    But it did have me reflect on my journey looking at the art of storytelling particularly with a video camera in hand.

    At its basic level videojournalism is point and shoot, and in some cases that's enough for the story when it's unfolding as a dramatic event before your very eyes.

    But there are many times when its the construct, a visual-auditory jigsaw puzzle which relies on more than what's in front of you.

    I often use this example if you want to play along.

    You're driving 50km/hr on a road and a ball bounces in front of your car.

    What do you do?

    Now, instinct, don't think, what are you about to do?

    breaking instinct

    If you work in the police force you'd have been coached to slam the breaks; there is a child running after that ball.

    Instinct, learnt or otherwise is a powerful reaction to what we do; film making no exception.

    Sometimes it comes from practice; there's a reason why actors graduate to directors or news makers become doc- film makers.

    The art of making mistake after mistake and refinning that moulds a different perspective.

    The art of videojournalism; perhaps the boldest transition to newsmaking, as one person carves out the whole news journey, involves more than a multitude of knowledge nuggets involving tech-push buttons and point and shoot.

    I'm reading the HBR article again and agree with all their points, but if I were to sum up videojournalism in four points it would be

  • Passion
  • People
  • Perpectives
  • Preparation

    And briefly before I let a yarn go sour, it goes something like this.

    I'm nuts about video and it's look and feel; how it can be manipulated; how the sound adds to the video; how what's usually out of the lens adds to he story; how leave people to do so and they'll tell you what the story is; and rather contradictory how you've got to work the story to get the best out of people and it.

    If it looks easy, it may be because it is, but I have got into the habit of discarding my first idea - too easy.

    Where's the hook e.g. emotion, draw etc?

    People, people, people; at parties I'd be in the kitchen listening to stories and different perspectives.

    And then the prep work that goes on behind the scene and on the ground, by the-seat-of-your-pants and by engineered desire.

    And that in a nuteshel is it, unless that is you want me to flesh out some, and if that's the case then this story is not as bad as I thought after all.

    to be continued. . .
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