Sunday, May 25, 2014

Just what does it take to make compelling stories - myth busting.

It wasn't that long ago when lean forward meant watching television. 

Television tried to ape cinema to keep viewers locked to the screen. Techniques included that old cinema trick; the popcorn stay-in on sports nights,  today its pringles. 

Its programming schedules were also devised to keep viewers on one channel with techniques such as 'tent poling'.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe term tent-pole or tentpole refers to a broadcast programming or motion picture expected to hold up (as is the function of a tent pole) and balance out the financial performance of a movie studio or television network. It also refers to movies that are expected to support the sale of ancillary tie-in merchandise.

Individual storytelling in docs and factuals also followed a pattern. A style developed called the television documentary. It was an elongated news features, with all the earnestness to boot.

The reporter's voice carried the narrative and the visuals adequately knitted the story together. In the more visually aesthetic school of the 60s, Cinema Verite schooled a generation to up the ante.

The hypocrisy of the Cinema Verite approach, albeit unintended, still meant off camera asking your subject what they were doing today and whether it was filmable. So much for not interfering.

And herein ladies and gentlemen lies the first problem for creating compelling video.

Compelling video comes from generally well define variables, each of which can be delineated into a thesis, but broadly you can shape compelling video by its:

  • the content ( if you take pictures of cats, you get cats)
  • the style of genre - meaning TV docs differs from Cinema Verite
  • the style of the filmmaker.
  • the period of the style and the audiences reception. That means docs in the 1980s are different to docs and audience of 2000.

Of all of these, personal style and picking the right content is something you can develop. I'll come back to these, The really tricky one for the professionals is how different periods require differing approaches.

'It's the audience, stoopid' to paraphrase Clinton. And the logic goes like this. The audience you once knew in the 1990s is not the same as the audience today. Meaning the personal style you used to win awards, is markedly different to the style appreciated by audiences today. 

Just listen to this rare critique of a BBC executive speaking about how his colleagues are challenged by twitter and criticism. 

 YouTube and its bespoke audience - the new lean forwards make demands on programme styles that are fundamentally different ten years ago.

The tropes, cues and styles that made traditional news and doc making compelling has changed because the audience needs have changed.

The Cinema Verite or award winning classic doc may bag you an audience, but as mass viewing goes, the audience have cottoned on to something else.

It's a world of YouTube and Netflix, where once sacrosanct rules of movie making existed, and still do for television, for online with its massively growing audience, the rules are are absurd, defunct, old hat.

That doesn't mean you can't still watch Nanook of the North and think it's a cracking film, but that the mass audience yearn for something that indulges in contemporary practices.

The question is what are those? As a filmmaker who specialises in forms as well as a researcher I'm continuously testing audiences to find out what these parameters are.

Audience define the culture and sociology of viewing habits. It's the reason, Hollywood continues to remake classics, because of what audiences are looking for.  What worked ten years ago may not necessarily work now.

In my six years PhD research, this is where it gets interesting and in the next few posts I'll illustrate more details about the audienece and making compelling videos.