why are you shooting? what’s your story? who cares?

05 Sep

You do.  But before you can answer why you’re shooting… or even what’s your story… or who cares you have to know the answer to these questions or you’re wasting your time and everyone elses.

When I was in film school, I had a great instructor who gave me the best bit of advice about how to make a good film that everyone would see.  Now, granted the value of advice changes over the years – and this was eons ago when 80’s hair was well… it was the 80’s we all had 80’s hair… so it was a while ago… but the value of this single bit of advice has not diminished even a drop.

Drive-In Movie Theater Screen by KB35.Bill Neff, gods of cinema bless his twisted soul, said to me, “If you want to tell a great story that everyone wants to see over and over again.  You go out and you make a great story that everyone wants to see over and over again.  It’s that hard and it’s that simple but that’s how classics are made.”.

It’s simple, it’s obvious, it’s down right zen… and like all of those things it’s so incredibly true that it’s pure genius.  So – how do you do that?  How do you tell a story that everyone wants to see over and over again?  Where does it come from?

I actually asked him that very question and this is the advice he gave me – which I pass along to you – and you hopefully, will take with you and pass along to others.  He said, “What kind of a story would you want to see?  Ask yourself that – and then ask if what you’re shooting is good enough that you’d want to see it.”.

Once again, simple, obvious, and the kind of thing we all over look.  The kind of thing we all take for granted and ignore because, like velcro, like duct tape, like anything thats so obvious that you can’t live without it… It’s something you have to do to understand why you need it, and then you can’t live without it.  Once you begin the process of creating a great story that a lot of people want to see you can see the benefits of it.  Until then process and procedure just seems like a lot of extra work – and you just want your idea – your story to get made.  There’s where the mistake is made by people.

Hooking up the camera by Tostie14.

Over and over and over again – on youtube, on google videos, on hulu, on almost everywhere on the internet there are literally hundreds of thousands of videos now… and only a handful are actually worth the time it takes to watch them.  Most of them are made because someone had “a cool idea”, but they had nothing else.  Others are all but unwatchable not because the story is bad but the visuals and the script don’t have anything to do with the story and the audience just goes “Huh???”. 

Even more suck because the characters are about as appealing as a block of wood… or the direction just doesn’t click… or… well there’s a lot of reasons but the bottom line is the world isn’t benefiting from those movies being made and the chances anyone really wants to see it … are really low. 

It’s also why some movies … are very small, very low budget, very simple cast, very simple crew… and very very good.  (See – shot on $500… and damn good.)

So why is it that there’s 2,220 movies about cats on and the rare little flick like  Because those who just grab a camera and shoot something that was ‘cool’ or they thought’d be ‘awesome’ or a ‘good idea’.  These people knew everything about those 30 seconds that you saw that were interesting… and nothing about the other 3 minutes, 10 minutes, 45 minutes or 90 minutes of the film they made.

Bottom line… they didn’t know their movie – didn’t know their story.

image On the left – is a collection of the top 10 Videos from – 2008.  Odds are a couple of these you’ll remember.  Most you won’t – in fact it’s telling that several no longer even have their Youtube links active now, and it’s already 2009.  

To say ANY of these have a story is … really stretching it.  None of them are noteworthy and none of them will you remember (except maybe Achmed the Terrorist… and only because of the screaming tagline “I KEEEEL YOU”). 

Point being here – yah these were all popular in 2008.  But for the most part no one will remember any of these in the future, and aside from the 3-4 weeks they were each popular – no one remembers them now.

And aside from becoming parodies of themselves… they generally speaking aren’t remembered except for their 5 minutes of fame.  Now – a lot of people are writing columns right now about how to make one of the viral videos and what does it take to make a viral video… and the truth is – about 30 seconds, a ton of luck a camera and you have a great viral video.

But… on the other hand… if you have a great story – if you shoot a great movie – then it’s going to go viral on it’s own and that won’t take luck.  It’ll just take some hard work.

So if you want a good – sorry – a great story… Then… you have to examine the why you are shooting what you are shooting.  We have to ask ourselves why are we shooting it?  Is this something that’s interesting enough to catch our attention and hold it – and if it’s not then ask yourself why it’s not.

They say every story is worth telling.  So look at your story and figure out why it’s worth telling.


Now – open up a copy of Celtx or your preferred word processor or just grab a notebook and write down what makes your story worth telling.

  Write it down in a very clear, concise sentence so that when you need you can look at that – and you know why your story is worth telling.  The purpose of this is to write the vision statement of your film.  What’s a vision statement?  A vision statement is just that, what your vision of the story is in a single statement.  It doesn’t have to be wordy, or lengthy, or witty.  It just has to be something as simple as “This is a story about a boy and a girl.”, or “This is scary tale of one man in a bar.”, or “The story of my kids at the beach.”.

Now, you can begin to write out the story.  Start with a simple framework of what you see in your mind as it happens step by step.  Make it a simple outline and then keep moving on.  The goal here is to work in layers – like a painting – you put a layer of story down.  Nice and simple.  First the order of events – then the smaller details – then the characterizations.  And at each turn ask yourself if what you’re putting into your story fits in with that statement.  Is the funny bit about the guy who drops his hot dog in the sand a part of your story about your kids at the beach?  If not – then set that aside and put it in another story.  Keep your story clean – keep your vision clear – and stay focused on the story you’re trying to create.

Next… play through your story in your head.  What parts of the story really hold your interest?  What parts of it make that vision statement – and your elevator pitch -  become true?  What’s an Elevator pitch you ask?

Well that’s your story – if you were to tell it to someone in the time it takes to ride an elevator.  Imagine you only have 30 seconds to sum the story up… well that’s your elevator pitch.   Often, your elevator pitch and your vision statement are going to sound almost identical you’ll find.   But the imageElevator pitch is how you’d sell the idea to someone else, so feel free to add in the most important “sales” points to sell the story to people.  Just remember – it’s got to be short and sweet.

Now – the next step if you’re really into your story is to take the story you’ve written and start putting down not just as words – but visually.  Take each scene, break down the visual elements, add notes, details, thoughts – as I mentioned Celtx is really great for this, and it’s free.  

Even if it wasn’t free – of all the software I’ve seen or used for writing scripts, plays, movies, even comics – Celtx is probably the best I’ve seen, and it’s certainly the best at being able to build, rebuild,image add layer after layer until you have a completed story – script – storyboards – you name it.  Just because you’re not an artist doesn’t mean that you can find pictures, images, and other visual media that can bring your story to life better and in ways that can help you share that story to others and – even yourself. 

You’ll often find the process of building each layer of the story makes you closer to the story.  Makes it more real to you.  Unfortunately as you get closer to the story you may find yourself becoming so familiar with the story you forget things, or you just “assume” things about the story, and even find yourself tacking more and more on to the story. 

Which is why at each step you drag out that vision statement and you ask yourself – does this add to my story?  What’s missing from my story?  Is this still a story I want to tell?  If I don’t why not?  What would make it a story I want to tell – and does that match up with the story I have envisioned?

At the end of the day, it’s all about your vision.  It’s all about your story.

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Posted by on September 5, 2009 in Uncategorized


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