Why you’re NOT a storyteller.. ..
It’s the buzz-word of the moment and everyone from supermarkets to breakfast cereal manufacturers are claiming they are storytellers. But they’re not.
This video featuring graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, frothing at the mouth and looking like a cross between Nick Cave and Julian Assange, has been getting a lot of attention on various creative blogs.
Stefan is really angry that everyone and their dog is claiming to be a storyteller “you’re not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer!!” and whilst he’s a bit sweary and over emphatic, Stefan does have a point. Saying that you’re a story teller doesn’t actually make you a storyteller. Nor does starting a film with “this is the story of..” mean that you’re actually telling a story.
Have a look at these 2 videos – one from Quaker Oats and the other from Waitrose and see if you think they’re really telling stories…
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They both start with the leaden phrase ‘this is the story of..’ and then they go on to tell you… well they just tell you stuff. The Quaker Oats advert isn’t really a story at all, it’s just a list of the benefits they think you’ll get from eating porridge. The same is almost true of the Waitrose advert but at least they make a small effort with the visuals and use a planned sequence of images to show the movement of the crop from stream to store to table. But neither of them tell a real story.
And it’s not because an advert or video is too short to tell a gripping tale. Hemmingway managed to tell the world’s shortest, saddest story in just 5 words.
For Sale. Child’s Cot. Unused.
A really good story teller doesn’t just tell you a story: they use words and images to provoke something much deeper within the viewer, leaving people wondering what happens next, or what happened to the people involved.
In Hemmingway’s five words is whole unspoken story of love, hope and expectation and then despair and defeat. It leaves us wondering why the cot was for sale: a baby that wasn’t conceived, a false alarm, a miscarriage, or a romance that faltered before a planned future could happen?
I’m impressed by these ads from Barclays. They were made with the help of Age UK and all of them tell a little story that not only demonstrates Barclay’s scheme but also pushes home Age UK’s message of ‘loving later life’.
I particularly like the one about Kent who’s learning to use Skype: it’s warm, full of character and as is often the case with successful stories, it tells a deceptively simple tale and reveals Kent’s fears, aspirations and desire for hearty communication. It’s a story that fits well with both brands and makes clever use of multiple platforms: it runs on TV but there’s also a longer more revealing story on the YouTube channel.
There’s more to being a storyteller than telling a story.
When filmmakers talk about ‘the story telling’ of a film, we’re not talking about the story itself. We’re talking about the way in which the viewer is led through the film, how information about a character is revealed and in what order. What we’re trying to do is to hook a viewer’s attention and keep them interested by carefully shaping and crafting the story. That means surprises, new information, revelations, situations of jeopardy and moments of drama that all combine in a satisfying narrative arc. Not just ‘telling a story’.
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