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Jim Krause | Classes | P351 Video Field & Post Production

Week 10


  • Screen Art Videos in lab this week (and carry out Peer Critiques)
  • Pitch Drama/Storytelling or ALT Video preproduction
  • Lab next week: Moving Camera lab & Drama/Storytelling & Final Project meetings
  • Today: The Art of the Short Story (cont.)

Art of the Short Story (cont.)

The short story has many virtues. Because it's short, it's relatively easy to produce especially when compared to a feature length film. The format is recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. There's an Oscar for animated and live action short films.

Your upcoming storytelling projects are a way for you to experiment with the genre.

Visual Narrative

A visual narrative is a story told mainly through imagery. Since it's not necessary to memorize lines or record dialog, production is simplified. However capturing diegetic audio and sound design are still important. Look at and listen to these visual narrative examples:

Visually driven with voiceover

Outside of storytelling aspects you can couple a visually driven narrative with diegetic sound and voiceover. as in, Sometimes I Wonder. This allows an actor to read lines another subject might thinking.


Perspective, or who is telling the story? Most films are told in the 1st or 3rd person.

  • 1st person stories are told from the "I" or "we" perspective. (Carter Ross's "Shattered" is an example. Movies using the voiceovers to describe action from the leading character's perspective. "It was a hot afternoon in June, when she burst into my office.")
  • 2nd person is told from the "you" or the reader's perspective. This is tough to pull off in fiction and not commonly done. It is common in non-fiction ("how to") programs & commercials ("You ought to fly United")
  • 3rd person is told from the "they" or narrator's perspective. (Most common in film and documentary.)

The essential ingredients:

Trying to obtain a goal and the conflict encountered trying to reach it are essential ingredients to storytelling.

The "aha" moment - Some writers present the story elements as a puzzle. They string the viewer along and make them curious as to solving the puzzle (Memento, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc.) or resolving the essential conflict.

Sometimes just figuring out why they chose the title for a short is enough. (How They Get There)

  • The Black Hole - short film with 1 actor and no dialog. Karma comes into play.
  • Cake (Winner of Greensboro 48 hour film festival) Often breaks the 4th wall.
  • Cart - the Film
  • How They Get There (Spike Jonze short film) With no dialog this short reveals the reason for its title.
  • Shovel Ready (Winner of the 2010 48-hour film festival) Elements: Character: Marco or Muffin Gabbowitz, a person who works with animals, Prop: a horn
    Line of Dialogue: "Do you think you can do that again?"
  • Sparks (Winner of the 2012 Campus Movie Festival)

There are lots of good examples at Short of the Week.

Structure: Framing, Blocking & Sequencing

It's important to have a beginning, middle, and end. This is true for scenes and for the overall story structure. Usually in the beginning (1st act) we are introduced to the main character, goal and conflict.

Hitchcock's rule: The size of an object in the frame should equal its importance in the story at that moment.

Visualization and sequencing matters. Many open with a wide shot, as the importance of establishing characters in time & space is vital. However, many times starting with a few close-ups is more interesting.

Sample 2-shot scene - A sharply dressed gal in a business suit is on her way to meet someone.

Version #1:

  • MS girl walking down hallway
  • CU low angle tracking shot of high heels

Version #2:

  • CU low angle tracking shot of high heels
  • MS girl walking down hallway


In Version 1 we immediately see where we are and what's going on. The 2nd shot (CU tracking shot) provides the viewer with no more information except showing off her fashion sense. It also inadvertently brings into play "Hitchcock's Rule making us wonder how the shoes are important.

In Version 2 we start with the CU high heels. This immediately poses the question of who they belong to and where we are. These questions are answered by the 2nd shot where we see who they belong to and where we are.

A good storyteller knows how to string along their audience.

Maximum efficiency and artistry of shots

When filming a narrative scene, a common practice is to record all action with a wide shot from the first position. Then the camera is usually placed on the reverse, or "answering" angle, and all the action is captured again from the 2nd position. The camera is then moved in (maybe with a lens change) and the DP get closer coverage of certain sections.

Setting up shots can take time, especially when one takes audio, lighting, and camera rigs into consideration. On a film set, moving the camera into a new position and resetting not only takes time, but stops momentum.

Reducing the number of shots required not only helps save time, but can add a level of realism and artistry to the shot.


Quick exercise: A man has an engagement ring in a small box that he plans on giving to his sweetheart. He is waiting for him/her with anticipation on a park bench. Imagine you have just 3 shots to setup (start) the scene, introducing the potential fiance into the frame in the last shot.

How will you approach this? (FYI You do have access to handheld stabilizers, sliders, and even a mini-jib. Whether you want to use these is up to you, as setup takes time.)

  1. Shot: _____________________
  2. Shot: _____________________
  3. Shot: _____________________

On framing action - the closer the camera is to the line of action and to your characters, the more depth you will have and more dynamic it will be.


Characters should act rationally and believably. If the characters don’t follow the rules it can be intriguing, but must be explained otherwise it's random nonsense and detracts from the story. The protagonist is the main character in a story. This person can come in conflict with an antagonist, though this character is not always necessary. For example, in the "lost in the wilderness and have to find a way back home" story idea, the distance, terrain, and natural obstacles fill the role as the antagonist.

First action - There is a concept in filmmaking called first action. The first time we see a character we get an impression. This is shaped by the character's first action.

Drama Suggestions

  • Clarify the story structure. What's the goal? What's the conflict?
  • Simplify
  • Be able to articulate the purpose for each scene. These are the building blocks of your treatment.
  • Scenes have a beginning middle and end. Think about how you'll establish each and how you'll transition to the next.
  • Scout locations in advance. How will you light them? How will you capture audio?
  • Make a production schedule. Come up with alternate dates in the event of bad weather.
  • Make sure there is reasonable time to set lights, audio, and camera.
  • Think about wardrobe
  • Plan on feeding your crew and talent

On how to be cinematic:

  • More thought as to composition and design within the frame (this is what cinematography is all about)
  • Consider the mise-en-scène. Everything that appears within the frame should be there for a reason. Costumes, props, blocking, lighting and everything else within the frame all contribute to the viewer's perception. Guilermo del Toro is a master of this.
  • Placement of camera / motion of camera
  • Attention to lighting
  • More close-ups
  • Shallow depth of field & Rack focus shots
  • Avoid zooms (draws attention to the fact that someone is operating the camera)
  • Attention to sound design
  • Attention to color correction / finshing

Watch: Cart - a film by Jesse Rosten


  • Who is the protagonist?
  • What is the goal?
  • How do musical motifs strengthen the story & characters?
  • How much dialog is used?
  • How did they anthropormorphize the CART?

Vocabulary (Know and be able to define these terms)

  • First Action
  • Hitchcock's rule
  • Mise-en-scène
  • Protagonist
  • Storytelling Perspective
  • Visual narrative


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