By: Tom DeAngelis
Owner, The Production House
“A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” ― George Lucas
This is a very revealing statement from the man who brought the world “Star Wars”, a film that surely ushered special effects into the mainstream of 20th century filmmaking.
But when we truly examine the enduring success of the Star Wars series in the context of filmmaking, Lucas’ creative insight is accurate.
Plenty of films that featured special effects and advanced filming technology were made before and after Star Wars, but few, if any, have had its impact and staying power. And the reason is its effective building of character and theme and development of a compelling story line.
At this point you may be asking yourself, “what does a major motion picture like Star Wars have to do with a short video project you’ve been assigned to produce for your class, a video family album you’re producing for your uncle, the wedding video you’ve been hired to shoot next month, or maybe the music video you’re creating just for fun?”.
We are all visual storytellers. We’ve chosen to communicate our ideas through a visual medium. The artist who paints with a brush and a sculptor who creates with his or her hands are no different. Their medium is different but it is still visual. They begin with an idea, a feeling, a story in their mind’s eye that, for them, needs to be told.
“The artist lives to have stories to tell and to learn to tell them well.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy
As video producers we should do the same. Start with the idea, flesh it out so that you have grasped all of its nuances. Then begin to think about what pictures will help you tell that story.
You can think about that, at first, in terms of still photographs: snapshots in your mind’s eye of which images best convey your ideas. Will they be beautiful landscapes? Could they be serene sunsets at the beach? Children playing in a park? A man working at his job? A father and son walking along a beach? A mom teaching her daughter how to ride a bicycle? These are all separate and distinct visual images.
Now, narrow your focus even more. Is the man straining and grimacing as he works or is he smiling? Is mom and her daughter looking stressed or are they laughing while they go through the act of riding for the first time without training wheels? Depending on what you choose, the storyline and its meaning change.
Let these images and your story help you to decide where to shoot, what gear you will need and how you will edit your show. Story first; gear and technical execution follow.
Throughout time, the great filmmakers have known the power of effective storytelling. You can start down the path of being an effective film/video producer by embracing the same mindset.
In our next article, I’ll talk about some of the steps you can take to help turn the visualization of your idea and story into an effective and fun shooting experience.
Meanwhile, below are links to a couple of articles that discuss the importance of storytelling in the video production process.
“Why Story is the Most Important Aspect of Video”
by JR Strickland: a freelance director, and an editor and vfx artist at Riveting Entertainment.
Noam Kroll: Film Resource Community
Noam Kroll is an award winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and founder of the boutique production company Creative Rebellion.