Four Tips On Directing Point of View

– Posted in: Directing Story

Understanding and managing the different types when directing point of view has been a struggle for me. I’ve heard more then once that it’s best to think of as Russian dolls nesting into themselves. But this made it even more confusing at first.

There seem to be no absolutes. Nothing mutually exclusive.

This is why I’m writing this post. I’m not seeking to define, but to explore Controlling Point of View. I hope through my exploration that I will, at the very least, inspire you to dive deeper into this so you can know it for yourself.

Numerous, well-respected directors have said that getting clear on point of view might be the most important thing a storyteller can do to improve his film. So I feel the subject deserves my deep attention.

To be better filmmakers, we need to be better storytellers, so let’s dive in. 

If we think of point of view like Russian dolls, each one nesting into the other, it looks something like this.

– The audience’s POV contains

– the film’s POV which contains

– the characters POV which embraces

– each subsidiary characters POV

When the film is working well, each POV mirrors the other and reinforces the overall controlling idea.

A film’s controlling POV is usually rooted in the consciousness of the main character or within that of multiple characters. How many characters this represents depends upon how the director ultimately decides to tell the story.

I like to think of this in terms of a story being retold by three people in a circle of a group of friends. The story is a recounting of events that involve all all three and has had a major effect on what will become the story’s main character.

This story could be told many ways, and one of those is: each of the three people could in a random manner, share the part of the story that involved them. This approach might be lively, but it would likely leave us confused and uninterested, because this approach lacks structure or a “controlling point of view.”

Another, and I think a better way, to take control of the story’s angle is to establish a storyteller, who sets the listeners up with a minimum amount of backstory and then narrates the linear progression of the story. This would be a more objective approach. He could introduce the other characters in time for them to tell their part of the story. Each of these would infuse the story  with a more subjective point of view and hand it back to the narrator to keep the story moving. The main character could go first followed by one of the subsidiary characters, or vise versa. It really doesn’t matter as long as their telling falls inline with the controlling point of view.

Who spoke first or who speaks most would depend on how it most usefully augmented the audience’s point of view.

This story could be told by the narrator and the subsidiary characters, while the main character might say nothing at all. He might just smile or look embarrassed at the appropriate times. If the audience knows the main character well, his silence could speak volumes.

Each frame will reinforce or dilute the controlling idea. It’s our job to make sure it reinforces it.

Here are four questions we can ask ourselves as we work to uncover and make visible our film’s controlling point of view.

1. Whose mind is interpreting what the audience sees?

2. How is their seeing unique?

3. How is their world different and unique?

4. How does the function of a particular moment, personal revelation or transformation reflect on the story as a whole?

This is an active process. It begins during script writing and script analysis, it’s acted upon during the directing process, and it’s structured during editing process.

The important thing I’ve come to understand is, the story stays the same, but how it’s told changes everything.

We all struggle, it’s part of learning. What aspects of filmmaking do you struggle with? Let’s learn together!

Got A Film Idea?

If you liked this blog I’ve got few more that focus on understanding story form a directors POV. Check out these links.

Are you a Director Struggling with Story Structure?

Your Film Stinks, Get Real

What Does Your Audience Want from Your Film?

Directors – Do you throttle the drama in your story?

How I Stopped Making Soulless Films