Yu Jen Shih
The Power of Storytelling in Filmmaking
"It was late at night. Harris, a policeman, was walking down a dark and gloomy alley, patrolling in the notorious district. The visibility was low. The air was full of the 18th-century putrefaction that most cities in the country had back in the day. Then, out of nowhere came..."
These are the stories that make you want to say, "Go on!" This is how storytellers attract readers’ or viewers’ attention, but there’s more to storytelling than just suspense.
Storytelling has evolved by incorporating meanings, values, suffering, predictions, and many more aspects.
What does the history of storytelling entail?
San rock art in Southern African from Unsplash
Since we humans acquired a spoken language, we have been telling stories. Stories evolved from tales we told one another to cave paintings before modern humans arrived in Europe.
The central idea of storytelling is to expand our imagination and creativity into other mediums such as texts, images, photos, and videos. As motion pictures, entertainment, and social media began to adapt the modern form of storytelling, it shifted into different narratives.
In filmmaking, stories use characters, dialogue, expressions, camera movements, lighting, sound, and editing choices to create memorable moments that the audience can remember. But how do filmmakers elicit such a response from the audience? Is there the right format to do so?
To be interesting, be interested
Dale Carnegie once famously said, "To be interesting, be interested." To speak the language of enthusiasm, we must embark on a search for something we truly desire.
This is no different when it comes to film storytelling. Having someone be interested in a narrative makes the narrative itself interesting, and there are a number of identifiable ways filmmakers use to prompt this response. Here we will look at three of them:
1. Emotional investment
Emotional investment in storytelling, in its literal sense, is investing emotions into the work. This involves pouring our hearts out and creating things, people, and happenings that matter.
La La Land 2016 from Lionsgate
For instance, the production team of the 2016 film "La La Land" pours their hearts into depicting the struggles the actor and actress encounter throughout the film, struggles that we as viewers can easily relate to. This journey should be obvious to viewers. Every good story should revolve around a challenge, struggle, triumph, and failure that each of us can relate to. This brings us to the next aspect: empathy.
Empathy revolves around how we, as viewers, can emotionally relate to the characters and their stories on screen. Different techniques are used to capture different emotions, and through emotions, we get empathy. The film "the Pursuit of Happyness" is an excellent example. Throughout the film, audiences are expected to feel for the family.
The Pursuit of Happyness 2006 from Sony Pictures
When the characters or the filmmakers put in their emotions, we establish a bond with the story, strengthening our understanding of the circumstances.
The last method filmmakers use to create captivating story is suspense. This is the exploration of the unknown, or simply a mystery waiting to be revealed.
Your Name 2016 from Toho
In the 2016 film "Your Name", the feeling of suspense dominates the second half of the film as viewers are dying to find out what really happened.
Suspense makes storytelling more appealing because viewers are naturally attracted to mystery in search for an answer.
One movie that I resonate with the most is Nope from 2022. Director Jordan Peele used this film to stress a very big issue the cinematic world is facing: the lack of spectacle.
We are drawn to cinemas for the pure enjoyment of a spectacle, captured by both excellent cinematography and storytelling. Of course, the film delves into the disturbing scenes that are too enthralling for us not to look at them.
Whether it’s a horror movie, a drama, or any other genre, the point of storytelling in films is a combination of narratives and a bit of cinematic magic. And the goal is to inspire.