If you’re a film director struggling with story structure, you’re not alone.
As film & video directors we need to communicate our vision to key personal and that means we need to understand story structure.
If our story is in trouble we need to fix it and there’s a lot a director can do without messing with script content, but we better be sure we know how our change will effect the dramatic structure. A lot of us do not have formal film school training, so we rely on artistic instinct and hard work. But, beware these assets can only take us so far. It’s important to know what dramatic elements are needed to get us from here to there. We need a reliable, proven system that produces predictable results. We’ve go too much on-the-line to wing it and I know a lot of you are doing just that. I know because I’ve done it and I’ve been burnt.
I’m not looking for a paint by numbers formula, but if I want to make engaging films I need story-structure skills at my finger tips, familiar and immediately accessible.
I feel confident that I can direct actors and create mood evoking visuals, but I’m not as confident in my quick- draw drama fixing skills. So, I’m calling myself out here and saying there’s no excuse for this. Now, I’m far from oblivious in these matters, like you I can tell when the story just isn’t working, but when it comes to designing structure I’m barely above average.
I’m a film director and this means first a foremost I’m a storyteller and storytellers must have a command of dramatic structure.
If you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on this I’m going to ask you to chime in and leave a comment, please share how this knowledge has helped you. If you’re looking to learn more about this I invite you to make the upcoming reading as interactive as you can.
There’s a lot I don’t know, but we’ll start with an overview of the basics I think I do know:
- A good story has a beginning middle and an end
- A story can be told out of order when the subject matter lends itself to that style
- A traditional screenplay has three acts 1. Introduction & Conflict, 2.Struggle, Journey & Climax, 3. Resolution
- A story can be plot-driven or character-driven
- A story needs a through line.
- A story needs a POV
- Plot is an chronologic unfolding of major dramatic moments and these moments are responsible for moving the story forward.
- Everything in the screenplay must move the story forward
Why can’t I identify story-structure elements the way I do visual-structure elements?
I think easy access to inexpensive cameras and editing equipment has given me and possibly you a chance to enter filmmaking through cameras, microphones and video editing computers. This has made some of us good technicians, but directors are storytellers. A Director of Photography is responsible for creating the visuals. Actors are capable of creating all their own objectives and back story, sound technicians can take care of sound, but the buck stops with you and me as directors when it comes to telling the story.
If the Director of Photography didn’t understand f-stops and lighting we’d fire him, but some how we think we can get by not understanding the nuances of story structure.
Good instincts and hard work has helped me become an adequate director, but that’s not enough for me. I love this work, so I’m diving into the best books and uncovering the best resources I can find.
Here’s some of what I plan to learn more about:
- How to map character and plot driven stories
- Elements and structures common to specific genres
- How to manipulate story-time to create intrigue and flow
- How to uncover, challenge and reinforce a premise or theme
- How to analyze plot and story logic
- How to manipulate “Story Point of View” to increase engagement
I have no intention of abandoning the “artist instinct” in favor of becoming a “by the book director”, but I will work hard to understand and apply these principals more deeply. I will work hard to become as comfortable directing story structure as I am directing performance and camera. I’ll write more blog posts and I’ll share them here with you.
If this post got you thinking then jump over to Directors – Do you throttle the drama in your story? for a quick read and even more clarity!
Please chime in and tell us what your strongest skills are and what skills you want to improve next?
It’s time to grow, let’s learn together!
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If you liked this blog I’ve got few more that focus on understanding story form a directors POV. Check out these links.