Is it all about the story?

I can’t help noticing lately that many people in the online filmmaking community seem to be bigging up the art of collaborative story telling as the ultimate goal of the filmmaker. Whilst I agree that story telling is both a powerful and very satisfying part of filmmaking I also think that it’s important to remember that not all filmmakers aspire to follow that path.

There seems to be an assumption that anybody who uses digital video creatively should be ‘maturing’ into short film production and features. I disagree with that, I don’t believe there should be rules when it comes to expression and what inspires and fulfils us as creative individuals.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve witnessed the belittlement of the guys who film their pets or children playing, the guys who shoot everyday objects in slowmo or the ones that just point a camera at people walking around, set it to music and call it a test. I’m guilty of all of the above in the past and I can tell you that I definitely don’t see those videos as simple tests before moving on to real projects. They are artistic creations and personal discoveries in their own right, even if they don’t entertain anybody else.

Voodle #1: Windy Wednesday
Voodle #1: Windy Wednesday

We all need to move forward and develop our skills, we need to set ourselves new challenges and I wouldn’t find producing any of those videos particularly interesting today but the reality is that I still get a bigger buzz from seeing some of those pieces than I do from watching an average narrative short film. Okay so they might not be interesting or even pleasing for anybody else, but I created them for my own satisfaction, not for the enjoyment of others! Does that make any artform less valid?

Ultimately the bar is set very high for story telling formats, many of the productions we enjoy on TV, at the cinema or via the web are crafted by very talented script writers, directors crews and post production teams who know exactly how to draw you into a story and keep you there. This isn’t something that’s easy to do on your own, it’s rare for any one person to have all of the skills required.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to strive forward in the story telling and collaboration direction, narrative story telling is without doubt where the moving image can be used to the fullest. It’s not however the only way to express yourself as a filmmaker and we need to remember that not everybody wants to follow the beaten path.

A video camera is basically a stills camera that shoots multiple frames a second and I often enjoy using them in exactly that way. It can be liberating to let your captured images speak for themselves, they don’t have to be formed into pre-determined stories before they have a value, regardless of what others might tell you.


6 Responses

  1. Robin Schmidt says:

    This is one of the biggest reasons I stepped back from blogging and just didn’t get involved anymore. Story is a stick used by pros to beat amateurs and keep their rate intact. The style over substance debate is also played out so hard it hurts. Like you say, everything has an audience, however small and we should all respect that.

    On the flipside, and there always is one, there’s so much mediocre crap that gets put out and celebrated for its emotional content when those who champion it have no experience of what storytelling actually is.

    I have made tons of music videos and very few of those had any kind of story, they’re just cool. If we stopped worrying so much about the rules and just did shit that was honest and from the heart then it would all be a lot easier. But we don’t and there’s all this debate. It’s boring and pointless and, like you, I’ve totally had it with it.

  2. Pascal says:

    Thank you for these words Paul. I totally agree with you. I’m just moving into the world of motion pictures (coming from the still pictures/motion design side). I love to go out and try new things, make misstakes, learn and experiment. I don’t really care, if it has a story or not. I just try to gain experience. And, let’s be honest, the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Let’s take Paul Fredericks example of Tom Lowes “Timescapes”. I love it, because I love timelapses and I do al lot of that stuff myself, so I know and appreciate how much work goes into such a film. But my girlfriend hat enough after 5 minutes because it’s not her taste. I think there is nothing wrong with this.

  3. Stuart H says:

    Very well said, Paul.

  4. chris H says:

    A very good point and very well said.

  5. Steve M. says:

    I concur with this thought. It gets nauseating to constantly hear, story tell this, story tell that, which by all means is important, but it’s not everything. Sometimes the simplistic of videos tell a story, you just have to watch it closely and open your mind.

  6. Paul Frederick says:

    Amen Paul!! Could not agree with you more. Look at Tom Lowe and his recent release of TIMESCAPES. Its all non-narrative, and to me is as powerful as anything I have seen lately. I think the more creative a person is, the more they can bring to the table in watching a non-narrative film. Some need everything spoon fed to them, others can make their own “story” while watching amazing images. Check my website, ( I make plenty of both as well as lots of corporate and commercial videos. We don’t all have to be making short or long narrative “films” to be considered valid film makers!

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