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Conflating "story" or "storytelling" with filmmaking


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#1 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 01:02 PM

Lately I noticed filmmakers of all sorts constantly use the word "story" as a seemingly all-encompasing word in filmmaking. Eg. "Cinematography should serve the story" and not "Cinematography should serve the film". I don't understand why use the term "story" which is only one part of a movie, instead of "film" which is everything, including story, unless by "story" they actually mean "film" in which case why not just use the latter word and avid confusion.

 

Films are much more than just story.

 

 


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#2 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 01:30 PM

Lately I noticed filmmakers of all sorts constantly use the word "story" as a seemingly all-encompasing word in filmmaking. Eg. "Cinematography should serve the story" and not "Cinematography should serve the film". I don't understand why use the term "story" which is only one part of a movie, instead of "film" which is everything, including story, unless by "story" they actually mean "film" in which case why not just use the latter word and avid confusion.
 
Films are much more than just story.


Because - like it or not - in narrative film-making, everything begins and ends with the written word. It may change as it goes through varies stages, but the story, script or whatever you choose to call it, still remains the center that any good film-maker focuses the project on. Yes, film-making is much more than just story, but every other element (cinematography, direction, acting, production design, etc.) is built around it.

Of course, once you move in to genres like the avant-garde or experimental ones, these rules change...
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#3 Freya Black

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 02:43 PM

ma

Of course, once you move in to genres like the avant-garde or experimental ones, these rules change...

 

 

Also not true for some Disney stuff, Mad max etc...


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#4 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 03:14 PM

Because - like it or not - in narrative film-making, everything begins and ends with the written word. It may change as it goes through varies stages, but the story, script or whatever you choose to call it, still remains the center that any good film-maker focuses the project on. Yes, film-making is much more than just story, but every other element (cinematography, direction, acting, production design, etc.) is built around it.

Of course, once you move in to genres like the avant-garde or experimental ones, these rules change...

But even in narrative film-making there is so much more to film than just a story. I mean, you can have 2 films with the same story, both being very good and both being very different. There isn't just one right approach to film a certain story, you can express a certain narative in many different ways, all successfully communicating the story. You can give a certain story to 10 great directors and they will all give you 10 different great films, all uniquely influenced by their filmmaking philosophy. So as a narrative filmmaker, you should think about the film in general, story being just one of the necessary components. The goal should be the best film possible according to your taste, and to get the best film possible, all the components should serve it. Cinematography should serve your film, acting should serve your film, story should serve your film, etc.

 

We can agree that story is a necessary ingredient for a narrative film, but it is just a subset of the *whole movie*. There are also other necessary components, all being employed to create as good narrative film as possible.


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#5 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 03:20 PM

There's also how you tell the strory. The director (often with producer input) will cast their film and each decision will have an impact on the how the story will come across. The cinematographer is just one in a group of people.


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#6 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 03:37 PM

To continue rambling: you can have a bad story, or a cliche story, and you can still create a good narrative film if you know what you are doing (eg. via good acting, via good dialogue (dialogue is not necessarilly a device to further the story (example: hamburger scene in Pulp Fiction which doesn't serve the story, but serves the film, it serves the vision of a director)). A very basic comedic/action/drama narrative framework can be used to create an excellent and very original movie. In such cases it doesn't make sense to talk about other filmmaking ingredients "serving the story" as there is not much to serve, but they should definitely serve the film, the final vision, which is everything mixed together.


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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 03:50 PM

I think we're getting far too hung up on definitions of words-- at the end of the day-- the turn of phrase used depends on the overall context of the conversation.

That said, metaphorically speaking, I personally equate "story," which is not just what happens when, but how, to whom, and why etc etc with the "skeleton" of a full "person" being the "film" as an "individual work." Meaning, that though the same components, for the most part constitute a film, it is their quantities, qualities, and arrangement which make each film unique to a certain extent. And, as all films generally start in the world of the who what when where and how-- the "story" or perhaps better put "plot on paper," it makes sense that subsequent choices building towards the "film" spring from the written page.

 

However, in common speech, I think many of us would often use the word story and film interchangeably-- for example "we set out to tell a good story," or "we set out to tell a good film," "we made a great story," "we made a great film" etc etc. Contextually in the overall conversation and flow of thought and way in which the person speaks or writes, one would hope you figure out specifically what part of the film process they're referring to.


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#8 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:12 PM

The problem for me is that "telling a story" is ambigious when it is commonly used as another way of saying "making a film." To refer to your example: "We set out to tell a good story." can mean "We set out to make a good film in general" or it might actually refer just to the story part, meaning that we were inspired by a particularly good story and wanted to tell it via the film medium. Good narrative film doesn't necessarily need a good story, and "telling a good story" doesn't necessarilly result in a good film, so when you use "story" instead of "film" and "telling a story" instead of "filmmaking" you run into all sort of absurdities when you include atributes such as "good".

 

It makes sense to be precise and talk about "film" when you are meaning whole thing, and "story" when you are meaning just the story part of the film.


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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:15 PM

Language is never really precise; though. It's flexible, especially in common speech and conversation, but that's perhaps a much larger discussion than is really applicable to film-makers talking about their projects. There are many things I think, we all should and could be in what we make, but to be honest, we all fall drastically short most of the time.


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#10 John E Clark

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:18 PM

 

 

Also not true for some Disney stuff, Mad max etc...

 

Hum.... I don't think of Disney as any kind of avant garde, except in a certain technical sense. In fact, I use the term Disneyfication to mean, taking perhaps something that has 'prickly parts', and reducing them to almost no questioning of accepted values.

 

For the longest time Disney didn't make a more 'adult' rated movie than G... in order to compete it did create a couple of 'divisions', like Touchstone, that weren't particularly promoted as 'disney' entities, to put out more 'racy' material...

 

Well that was until the Marvel acquisition... but in any case, even with Marvel... I suspect PG-13 is the usual that will be coming out.

 

I do have a internal definition about avant garde that precludes certain types of technical advancements... and Disney has produced a number of the latter.

 

Perhaps Disney should hire Tim Burton to do a Andy Warhol biopic...

 

Speaking of which an artist, Andrew Tarusov,  has created some 'What if Burton remade the standard Disney Canon'...

 

here-s-what-disney-movies-would-look-lik


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#11 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:21 PM

Language is never really precise; though. It's flexible, especially in common speech and conversation, but that's perhaps a much larger discussion than is really applicable to film-makers talking about their projects. There are many things I think, we all should and could be in what we make, but to be honest, we all fall drastically short most of the time.

Yeah, sure, it's not a big deal of course, and most of the time we all know what is meant. It's just the current overuse that rubs me the wrong way, like on every film site I look it's just "story this", "story that", it has really become a buzzword these days, and given that I find it suboptimal and imprecise, I wanted to express that and see what other people think about it.


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#12 John E Clark

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:35 PM

Lately I noticed filmmakers of all sorts constantly use the word "story" as a seemingly all-encompasing word in filmmaking. Eg. "Cinematography should serve the story" and not "Cinematography should serve the film". I don't understand why use the term "story" which is only one part of a movie, instead of "film" which is everything, including story, unless by "story" they actually mean "film" in which case why not just use the latter word and avid confusion.

 

Films are much more than just story.

 

 

 

 

In film, many things are done For Story. Actors are selected because of how they support the story, often on actual personality, or behavior, either 'in real life', or demonstrated in other films, independent of the specific character/roll for 'this film'.

 

Of course some of this leads to another Hollywood complaint 'type casting', but it happens often enough to the point where it is expected.

 

Recently there's some notice that there will be an Indy V... hopefully Kamanski will not be the cinematographer... The 'story' of IV was not helped by the Kaminski 'style' in my opinion... the story was outrageous... but the cinematography was like for a 'different' movie... like "Schindler's List"(1993) where there is a certain sort of 'nostalgia'... the case of the Indy films the 'nostalgia' is for the 30's adventure serials and I don't think his style works for that.


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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:53 PM

Well, then let's make an attempt to be as precise as possible in our definitions. What exactly do you feel are the core components of cinema, excluding 'story'?

Plot, character, dialogue, leitmotif, mise-en-scene, montage, photography, sound design, music. What else?
The problem I see is that these can all be characterized as elements of story.

The only thing I can think of that might be a core component to cinema is exhibition to a captive audience in a sensory dampened environment. Can a film still be cinema when it is exhibited on a brick wall in a noisy bar with the sound off? I would submit that at that point, you've turned the film into something else. An art installation maybe? It's not cinema though.
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#14 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 04:54 PM

 

 

In film, many things are done For Story. Actors are selected because of how they support the story, often on actual personality, or behavior, either 'in real life', or demonstrated in other films, independent of the specific character/roll for 'this film'.

I would say that actors are selected because of how they support the intended general result (ie. film), because as said, you can interpret a story in many different ways. For example, two directors are given the same horror story (A girl goes to woods where scary stuff happens to her). One decides to cast a conventionally beautiful actress which doesn't act particularly well, but good enough for what the director wants, grades film so that it looks "cold", relies on certain acting cliches at certain parts of the story, uses cliche CGI, etc. All these elements are not there to support the story. All these elements, including the story, are there to support the film. They are there because the director wants to create a particular type of narrative horror film. A second director might do everything (except for the story) completely differently, becaue his vision of narrative horror film is different. Oftentimes It doesn't make sense to talk about the filmmaking elements (actors, cinematography, grading, production design etc.) being right for the story, because there is no one correct interpretation of the story (except in obvious cases, like computers not being right for the medieval story). It makes sense to talk whether this or that serves a particular film, a particular vision.


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#15 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 05:10 PM

Well, then let's make an attempt to be as precise as possible in our definitions. What exactly do you feel are the core components of cinema, excluding 'story'?

Plot, character, dialogue, leitmotif, mise-en-scene, montage, photography, sound design, music. What else?
The problem I see is that these can all be characterized as elements of story.

The only thing I can think of that might be a core component to cinema is exhibition to a captive audience in a sensory dampened environment. Can a film still be cinema when it is exhibited on a brick wall in a noisy bar with the sound off? I would submit that at that point, you've turned the film into something else. An art installation maybe? It's not cinema though.

I think plot, character, dialogue can be part of the "story", but not necessarilly, depending how you define the story. There is some dialogue that doesn't really further the story (plot, character development, etc.), and  is there just for laughs or because it is interesting. There are action sequences which are there just because they are spectacular. There are parts which are there just because "they are cool". Lot's of stuff in narative films is there for an audio-visual effect, not for the story (lots of times it goes against the story, actually). And even if it goes against the story, it can make a movie good, because movie is not just a story. People go to cinema to laugh, to enjoy spectacular visual effects, to listen to cool dialogue, etc. There are musical bits in some of the Disney films that aren't there to support the story. The story is there to support the musical bits. The story is there in action movies to support the actiion. The story is there in comedy films to support the laughs. I don't see the sound design, music, production design as part of the story, but they need to compliment it (and vice versa) for the best end result (and there is not just one way that these things can compliment each other, there are countless of right ways, depending on what you want to achieve).

 

The only way you can be precise in my opinion is to say that everything should support the movie. Everything should support the intended end result. "Story" when meaning "Film" and "storytelling" when meaning "filmmaking" is just clearly suboptimal use of language, IMO.


Edited by Peter Bitic, 17 March 2016 - 05:19 PM.

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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 05:32 PM

Ok, can you cite some specific examples?

I disagree with you that sound design, music, and production design (mise-en-scene) cannot be integral parts of the story in a film. There are some films where without these elements, the film simply does not work.

What about a film like 'The Conversation'? The sound design is used specifically to not only drive the plot, but also to define the character of Harry Caul and fill out his backstory and emotional state, beat by beat. It recreates for us the inner life of a very quiet private character, in a film that is basically a character study. Without the sound design in 'The Conversation', you don't have a film.

Similarly, what about 'Star Wars'? Can you imagine what that film would have been like without the score and the sound design? You wouldn't have an iconic film known anywhere in the world. You'd have 'Flash Gordon.'

What about a film like 'The Conformist' which is almost entirely told through production design and cinematography? You can probably replace the actors without changing the film too much, but change the locations, the sets and costumes, the lighting, the framing, and what do you have left?
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#17 JB Earl

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 05:50 PM

can you make a film without a story?  


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#18 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 06:17 PM

Ok, can you cite some specific examples?

Examples of say action films where story is used to support the action? I think lots of them start with the intention to create a cinematic, action movie and then devise some crude story to support that. Since I can't know for sure which movies are devised this way, I can't offer you specific examples, and I might be wrong after all. However, I am pretty sure I am not. I don't think all these "car movies", for example, start with the story idea. IMO they start with the intention to create a movie with cool car chases, cool dialogues, muscular guys and beautiful girls and then slap some story on top of that. It would be pretty sad if they were a result of some guy "wanting to tell a story" the same way it would be pretty sad if porn movies were a result of a desire for storytelling. Lots of so-called mainstream narrative cinema has such poor narratives that if they work, they do so because of other elements.

 

Btw, this might be relevant: I remember a quote from Brian DePalma that he doesn't start with a story, but with a visual idea (or something like that).

 

I disagree with you that sound design, music, and production design (mise-en-scene) cannot be integral parts of the story in a film. There are some films where without these elements, the film simply does not work.

 

I would agree with you that some films won't work without those parts, but I wouldn't call the usage of those elements "story-telling". I would call them "film-making".

 

What about a film like 'The Conversation'? The sound design is used specifically to not only drive the plot, but also to define the character of Harry Caul and fill out his backstory and emotional state, beat by beat. It recreates for us the inner life of a very quiet private character, in a film that is basically a character study. Without the sound design in 'The Conversation', you don't have a film.

 

I watched Conversation a long time ago, so I don't recall the use of a sound design. I think sound design can compliment the story, and it is often also needed to convey certain parts of the stories successfully, but there are also uses of sound design that are not necessary for the story, but rather for the general effect a film or a scene wants to accomplish. Hence, sound design is always in service to an overall film, but not always to the story. Example of 2 different sound designs that do nothing for the story, but have different effect on the scene: 1.) cop moves through disco, while energetic song plays 2.) cop moves through disco while a slow love song plays. In both cases he only moves through the disco for 10 seconds while he is chasing a bad guy and the disco scene has no story purpose (the chase has been established before that and it doesn't need to involve discotheque to function) and as such neither does sound design. The sound design here serves film in general, maybe the energetic option works better as an audio-visual experience and the director wants this film to have kind of kinetic quality to it that this sound design support. Maybe this scene is needed just to liven things up a bit at this point. But this has nothing to do with story the way I see it. Story can support infinite legitimate choices.

 

 

Similarly, what about 'Star Wars'? Can you imagine what that film would have been like without the score and the sound design? You wouldn't have an iconic film known anywhere in the world. You'd have 'Flash Gordon.'

Sure, that's exactly my point. Without this score you would have a different movie. You wouldn't have a different story.

 

 

What about a film like 'The Conformist' which is almost entirely told through production design and cinematography? You can probably replace the actors without changing the film too much, but change the locations, the sets and costumes, the lighting, the framing, and what do you have left?

A different movie for sure, potentially also a different story (depending how extreme you are in changing the locations, sets and costumes).


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#19 Carl Looper

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 06:18 PM

can you make a film without a story?  

 

The issue is not whether you can (because you can), but why any other aspect of film making is any less part of the process of making a film. The story is only one aspect. If it were the only aspect, why make a film at all? One could just write a novel and leave it as that.

 

C


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#20 Peter Bitic

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 06:21 PM

can you make a film without a story?  

I don't think you can make a narrative film without story, no. It needs at least a very basic story. That however doesn't mean that film-making = story-telling. You also can't make a film without a camera, but that doesn't mean film-making = camera work. Film-making is everything that is needed to create a film. Story is just one part.

 

If we mean films in general, then that depends on how you define a story (is filmming a tree for 90 minutes a story?).


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