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Jim Krause | Classes | P351 Video Field & Post Production

Week 9


  • Review Midterm
  • Intro to Storytelling / story structure
  • Review scripts & treatments
  • Production tips

Announcements/Reality Check:

  • No Lab this week - So you can work on Art Videos
  • Lab next week (after Spring Break)
    • Watch Art Videos
    • Pitch Drama/Storytelling or ALT video projects - We're pitching story ideas next week in lab.

Review Midterm

Storytelling Projects (or ALT Video Projects)------------------------------


  • For those who want to work on a narrative, group project: Turn in a proposal and treatment (not a script) and pitch a story in lab next week. We'll share story ideas and vote on a few to produce in each lab.
  • Once stories and groups are determined, the group should refine the story/treatment as needed. and then create a shooting script (group grade).
  • Once stories are fine-tuned, groups should secure talent, locations and props.
  • Every group member is expected to turn in their own edit. However, you can make a case for a single edit is you tell me in advance your plan for how you will collaborate on a shared edit.

This is a perfect project to try our your cinematic creativity. Think creative lighting and camera.

The Black Hole - short film with 1 actor and no dialog. Karma comes into play.

Keep your storytelling projects simple, short & sweet! It's better to have 4 minutes of gold than 10 minutes of yuck. It's better to work with just a few actors than many.

What are the elements of a good story?

Classic storytelling themes have been re-told countless times:

  • Lovers who can't be together
  • A lost dog or person trying to get home
  • A boy battling a giant

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

  • Romes & Juliet - They were from feuding families, which prevented them from realizing their love.
  • Incredible Journey - 2 dogs and a cat are lost hundreds of miles from home. They face all kinds of dangers as they try to get home.
  • In Jack & the Beanstalk a small boy uses wit not strength to beat the giant.

Conflict by itself (unexplained) is pointless. Two people fighting without any idea as to their character or motivation is pointless and has meaningless violence.

A one-way vector up or down does NOT make a good story as there is no opposing force or conflict. Here are a few examples:

#1 - A person wins the lottery - Just having something good happen does not make a good story. But what if it happened to a Buddhist monk, who rid himself of all wordly possessions?

#2 - Slow decline to suicide - Say you have someone who is depressed because their boyfriend/girlfriend died. The slow decline down to being suicidal is also a bad story, as there is no opposing force (conflict) or a goal, just a draw to the darkness. However the introduction of an countering force (E.g. hungry puppy who shows up) might be enough to bring about a re-appreciation of the value of life.

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Generally speaking we are introduced to the character and to the essential conflict in the beginning. We build up to the key/final conflict, and then we have resolution (happy or sad). If you don't have an ending or resolve it in some way you are not telling a good story.

An interesting scenario is NOT a story. (a man wakes up in a rowboat, in the middle of a lake.....) Once you introduce the main character and his/her goal and conflict, you need to resolve it.

Stories don't have to revolve around a person or an animal. A former student wrote one about a pen. It started on a close-up of the pen hanging in the bookstore. A hand picked up the pen and purchased it. The pen was then passed around to different people and used to solve mathematical equations, create art, write papers, and pen love letters. In the end the pen was tossed into the trash. It was a bit sad, but there was another pen in there as well- and they ended up rolling up next to each other.

Werner Herzog narrated an interesting short story about a plastic bag.

Terrible ideas / things to avoid - The fewer characters the better. The less dialog the better. Find people who can really act (not your friends). There is time to line up talent, but you need to start now. FYI Recurring themes that have been explored countless times include pointless violence, students waking up late for a test, or someone experiencing the worst day ever.

A good goal is to make the viewer wonder, "What's going to happen next?"

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.


Characteristics of a film/video treatment:

  • Each & every scene has a number and possibly a name. E.g. "Scene #3 - Kristi Falls in Love"
  • Each scene has a specific purpose (develops either the story or the character)
  • The content will be present tense in a narrative manner and describe the flow of action & dialog. Include only what can be seen or heard. (Describing back-story or thoughts is challenging- you have to figure out how to SHOW it)
    • Scenes are the building blocks of film and video. They can be thought of as mini-stories in that they have a beginning, middle and end. Some writers like to put scenes on cards, which they can re-arrange. You can do this with paragraphs.

A treatment for a short story could be as short as three scenes.

[Look at examples]

  • Story & character - A story usually involves one or more person and the conflict they face. Characters should transform (have a character arc). If there is just a situation (I feel sad because my boyfriend died), that's not a story- that's a situation. Similarly just having people fight or make love is not storytelling. You need to make us care about the characters and the story. We need to know who basic motivation of our characters and why they are doing what they are doing. It's not what happens to us that defines us or our characters- it's how we deal with it.
    • Clearly draw your characters - There's a concept called "first action" that addresses the very first time the audience sees a character. The idea is that we find out something about the person that identifies who they are and that provides insight into their character. Maybe the first time we see "Joe" (the hero in our short story) he is coming out of a building and holds the door open for someone coming in. It takes 4 seconds to show this and establishes the fact that Joe is probably an alright guy. Maybe the first time we see "Pete" (the bad guy in our short story) he is honking at a homeless person slowly pushing her shopping cart across the street.

Stories & Story Structure Resources

Relevant web links:



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