How to tell stories in film
Storytelling isn’t the same thing as telling a story. It’s a learned skill that when done right can make the most simple films incredibly effective.
It’s all about knowing how to deliberately craft a story to engage with an audience in the way you want it to. Pair this with a clear call to action at the end and you have a film that can really make a difference, not just to your charity but to people’s lives.
That said, this week we want to introduce you to the basics of visual storytelling, including planning, structure, and the science behind it all.
The science of storytelling
Before we get on to how to tell a story, it’s good to understand why we tell them and why we enjoy being told stories.
Stories transport us into other people’s lives and help us to understand what they experience. And our ability to empathise with stories actually alters our brain chemistry. The process is explained brilliantly in this short film, definitely worth a watch.
Before you start anything else the first thing to do is plan. Jot down what you want your film to include (i.e visuals, characters, stories) but more importantly what you want the film to achieve. What do you want people to take away from the film? What do you want them to do after they’ve seen it it? And if you have a call to action, use it!
Once you have some basic ideas in place try creating a storyboard to map out how the film might look. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, stick figures work fine. But the clearer you are about how the film will look, the easier time you’ll have when it comes to filming and editing.
Another important thing to think about is the structure.
We all know the basic principles of a story arc: you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But changing how you structure the story can change the focus point of the film and affect what people take away from it. Think about sentences (bear with me). We choose how to order words in a sentence to place emphasis or to alter the meaning slightly.
The boy kicked the ball vs The ball was kicked by the boy
See the difference? It’s simple stuff but actually very key to how we tell stories. The same thing can be achieved with visual storytelling. Try breaking your film down into parts. Rearrange the order, decide what to reveal to the audience and when. Experiment and see what feels right for you.
To give you an example, this is one of our own films we made for Age UK. As you watch it take note of how the narrative accompanies the visual, and how the two come together to tell Norman’s story.
Show don’t tell
So far we’ve given examples of films with narrative, but visual stories don’t have to have dialogue to catch your attention. In fact, some of the most effective storytelling can be seen in films without words.
If you’ve seen Wall-e you’ll know that the first twenty minutes of the film has no dialogue. It keeps you captivated through the visual storytelling alone. And to keep an audience (of mainly children!) engaged for that long is impressive by anyone’s standards. Here are some other examples of films that tell powerful stories without dialogue.
Control was shot by our favourite DOP and colleague Dan McKenzie-Cossou.
If you’d like to learn more about visual storytelling and the start-finish process of making a good film, come along to one of our storytelling workshops. We run workshops in London, or if you’d like a workshop for your team we can come to you.
To find out more get in touch with Jeremy here.
Imogen Gower in an assistant producer at Magneto Films. She recently graduated from King’s College London with a degree in English Language & Linguistics. Imogen has joined the team at Magneto and is training in film production.