The Day The People Stood Still – Cinematic Storytelling

Kuleshov effectDuring the national house arrest I am studying Cinematic Storytelling and after each session I type up my notes. I thought it might be useful to publish them here as there are some great insights into the art of telling a story using the visual medium of film. I’m not looking to go in depth but just try to impart some of the snippets I’m picking up from the course. There are some great ideas.

Here’s one: Film is a temporal medium in that the artist controls time as well as space. Obvious once you say it but worth thinking about. The Moscow School did a lot of work on Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) studying how film worked and they found that a shot is interpreted in the context of the shots surrounding it. So much so that they found that an identical expressionless face was interpreted differently according to whether it was preceded by a plate of food (Hunger), a body in a coffin (Sadness) or an alluring woman (lust). This is known as the Kuleshove Effect.

Sergei Eisenstein created the idea of a montage which is a series of shots without plot which convey ideas. To the Russians this conveyed great ideas such as the people rising up against the Tsar but the Hollywood version of montages is usually a sort of scene setting devise such as the training scene in one of those boxing movies overlayed with music.

Now some terminology. Exposition is what the viewer needs to know. It is what the director must convey for the story to be understood. e.g. that The bomb will go off at midnight or that the guy with the moustache is a detective. Film is constructed of frames, shots, sequences, acts and movies though only animators are really concerned with frames. Story boards are like comics and are used to pitch idea. Perhaps to prospective sources of funding. Conflict is what drives the story. The director’s job is to guide the eye of the viewer. In this context line, colour, shape and rhythm play a large part. Contrast and affinity are very important to create emotion.

There are various structures to stories. The Heroes Journey is a popular one which fits for films like Star Wars and Lord of The Rings. But get this: some bloke named Kenn Adams created the story spline which he thinks can be used to construct most stories. The story spline is a series of sentences with only the first few words filled in. The creator of the story must complete the sentences. It goes like this:

Once upon a time…
Every day…
But, one day…
Because of that…
Because of that…
Because of that…
Until, finally…
And, ever since then…

Part of the course is to construct a story using this method. Here’s mine:

The Day The People Stood Still

One upon a time there was a planet which mastered the challenges of science and technology though the benefits were unevenly spread and their industry gradually killing the other animals on the planet.

Every day some of the people worked like slaves to buy things they didn’t need while other people sat and fretted that they couldn’t own as much.

Then one day a virus erupted and spread all around the planet.

Because of that the government’s ordered that people should stay at home and because of that industry stopped and because of that nature began to reassert itself and polluting gases subsided and because of that the people started to appreciate what the planet gave them naturally and the time and peace they had to enjoy it.

Until finally one day the virus petered out and just as the government was about to spend billions of tax payer’s money restarting the industry that had been destroying the planet the people said ENOUGH!

And then the glass clouds over and either they lived in peace ever after or the whole economy collapsed and there was mass starvation and war. Difficult to tell from the limited information available.

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