Storytelling is an important part of all cultures. From early on humanity has been interested in documenting different aspects of life, using pictures, words, and in more recent history; photos, videos, and sound. We tell stories to share with others, to express a feeling, and sometimes just for pure entertainment. We enjoy traveling with a character through their experience, and we all tend to resonate with the character battling conflict, whether that conflict is a monster or the character’s own mind. Following a story in a narrative structure allows us to interpret and easily follow what we’re seeing.

To craft your own narrative film, you first must decide what story you want to tell. One thing to keep in mind while writing, is to write within the parameters and capabilities you will have for your film (e.g. your budget). You can write a scene about a monster attacking the city and destroying buildings, but perhaps you’ll want to consider how that is going to translate into visuals. While it can be fun to dream up extravagant action shots, sometimes it’s best to focus on a simpler story. A common structure to try that many writers use can be boiled down into a few points:

  • We meet the main character in their regular life.

  • The main character experiences a crisis.

  • The main character confronts the conflict (this is the climax of the story).

  • The main character finds a way to overcome/escape the conflict.

  • The main character returns to their regular life changed by the newfound experience/knowledge (resolution of the story).

Once the story is complete it’s time to transform that story into images. The most common approach to doing this is creating a storyboard. You can plan out the different shots using pictures that will correspond to the dialogue and action in your script/story. When you are planning your shots remember whatever the camera is seeing is what the audience will be focusing on. By framing different people and items you can tell the audience what is important in your shot. As an example: if your characters are discussing an object, you may want to show a close up of that object instead of just watching the characters talk about it, with video you have the ability to show and tell. As you become more aware of your story and framing your shots, you can find ways to enhance your story through subtle visual elements.

After the story is mapped out, and corresponding images are decided upon, you can get into the more specific elements. The lighting, coloring, and sound/music can all change the mood and feeling of your film. When something is happy, we usually have bright lighting, and when something is sad or scary we tend to go towards dark and shadowy lighting. The lighting can help indicate what the main character is feeling and give the audience insight.

Color can be subjective, but today we see blue and orange as common choices in filmmaking. The two colors are on opposite ends of the color wheel and each tends to represent opposite feelings; orange is bright and inviting, and blue creates a more desaturated look giving it a more bleak feel. These aren’t the only choices of course, the next time you watch a movie pay attention to what colors you see and how that matches the mood of what’s happening. Color theory is a topic that can be covered in great detail, choose your own palette to change the tone and mood of your film.

Sound and music can change the mood and tone as well. With various sounds you can create the feeling people are somewhere you didn’t really film - you could film in front of some trees and then add in rainforest sound effects to build an environment, for example. And most people are already very aware of soundtracks and scores in films; by adding music that conveys a certain emotion you can enhance what the characters are feeling and how that affects the audience’s emotions. Anything can seem sad with the right string instruments playing behind it

There are many other elements you can consider while composing your shots, and the more detailed you get the better your story can be understood. At its most basic, a narrative only needs to follow someone or something from beginning to end, but really exploring how we can use other visual and audial elements can make narrative filmmaking more effective. While there are many guidelines and templates out there, don’t be afraid to take your own approach. Telling stories is a tradition that existed long ago, and will continue long into the future. Stories can open our eyes to alternate perspectives, and allow us to discover more about the world and more about ourselves. So, start filming and share your story too.

AuthorJen Jacobs