Category Archives: Deep Sehgal

Story: The Basic Elements

Lecture with Deep Sehgal.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Wise Men’

Rudyard Kipling spoke of 6 ‘Wise men’ he would take with him on any story. They were:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?
    And occasionally ‘Whither’ and ‘Whence’, but less often…

When taking these ‘Wise Men’ on your story, it is good to understand a bit about them.

Who?

  • Who are the characters?
  • What is their back story?
  • How much do we already know about them?
  • How much do we need to know about them?
  • Who is telling the story? Whose perspective is it from?

Detail = Realism

What?

  • What is the plot?

PLOT is not STORY.

Plot is events, story has subtext, it goes deeper than just the actions.

Plot has archetypes, story does not.
The seven story archetypes can be easily summed up as:

  • Overcoming the monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

Although this idea is still quite controversial.

Plot is the EVENTS. Story is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Where?

  • Stories need context, the ‘where’ can help with this a LOT.
  • As with character, DETAIL = REALISM.
  • In this case, ‘REALISM’ includes fantasy worlds. It has to remain real to itself, within its own context.
  • Knowing the story world you have created is imperative. Help your audience experience that world, guide them through it, take them with you. Let them experience the world you have created for them.

When?

  • In fantasy, this is just as important as ‘Where?’
  • In documentary, (and occasionally in drama, depending on the subject) remember that you can enhance your film with archive footage and the like.
    Places to get archive footage include:
    – Creative Commons
    – Public doman forums
    – The ‘Fair Dealing’ law; if you are using it for criticism or review, you can use ANYONE’s work.
  • Restrictions can liberate you, in some cases.
  • You are allowed to STYLISE ‘period’ pieces (within reason. It still has to be true to the story world.)
  • Consider various sources of information and research tools:
    – Documents
    – Art
    – Music
    – Location
    – Design
    – Costume
    – News Reports
    – Court hearings (the good thing about court hearing is that, as long as you don’t change what was said, as long as the speech remains the same, you can dramatise them. If it is recorded, legally, it’s yours.)

Why?

  • Why are you making your film?
  • Films take time to make. You need to really care about your story.
  • A way to help you work out your story is to give it a logline:
    – Who is the character?
    – What do they want?
    – What will obstruct their progress?
    – What makes the story unique?

How?

  • How combines the who, what, when, where and why?
  • Whose perspective is it from?
  • Who is the narrator? Is there a voice of God?
  • Is it personal? Is it from the first person, or is it objective, from the third person?
  • Does it fit a genre?
  • What is your stylistic approach? (realistic, documentary, etc.)
  • Is it fantasy? Is it heightened reality?
  • Is it a satire?

SUBTLETY and OBSCURITY
are NOT THE SAME THING.

Executives will often try and demand ‘Signposting’. They want you to explain EVERYTHING to your audience, but they also don’t want you to SPOON FEED them… Yep…

Do NOT underestimate your audience’s intelligence. If you’re making a programme for you (which you should be) you should expect your audience to be on the same page, mentally, as you. This is NOT to say, let them work out everything for themselves. You have to give them SOMETHING to work from.

Intrigue = Good
Confusion = Bad

RULES TO MAKE FILMS BY:

  • Be coherent
  • Be coherent
  • Be imaginative
  • Tell your story visually
  • Be coherent
  • Be truthful, even in fiction
  • Love what you do
  • Do not try and copy ‘successful’ formats. By all means, draw inspiration from what you love, but don’t just rip off something in order to make a quick quid.
  • Use sound and music to your advantage.
  • Be coherent

What makes a good project?

  • Your films should be personal! (at least to some extent. Every filmmaker has to care about the film that they are making.)
  • You are allowed to indulge your passions! You can always find (or invent) the story.
  • You need a good starting idea.
  • It helps if its meaningful, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • Style and content are key.
  • You’ve got to understand the narrative.
  • It must be well researched (particularly if it’s factual).
  • Acknowledge your influences.
  • Pay attention to aesthetics.
  • You are allowed to rip people off a bit.
  • Make sure you know what you’re doing during the creative process.
  • Think about your audience.
  • Think of yourself as your audience, what do you like? (indulge your passions)
  • Audiences are not homogenous, they are diverse! 
  • Films are about delivering an emotional experience:
    EXPRESS THOSE EMOTIONS (through the story you are telling)
  • How do you attract an audience?
    – Engage your Global audience
    – Ensure that the audience knows who the protagonist is and what he wants.
    – Ensure the protagonist has changed in some way by the conclusion of the film.
  • End with an understandable emotional outcome.

STORY IS STRUCTURE

  • Ensure the audience is quickly hooked (within the first 10% of the film at least)
  • STRONG CHARACTERS = STRONGER STORY
  • Reveal your story on a ‘need to know’ basis.
  • Avoid too much exposition, but avoid confusion.
  • It can help to have a log line, especially if you need some focus.
  • Achieving a good film is a process, it takes time, be patient.
  • The log line should impart three pieces of information:
    Who? (is it about?)
    What? (happens to them?)
    How? (do they achieve it?)

WHAT HELPS?

  • A good title
  • Good beginnings
  • Strong story
  • Strong characters
  • Appropriate tone
  • Strong climaxes
  • A good poster and good trailers
  • Consider: Does your film give the audience the ‘How does this turn out?’ feeling early on?

WRITE. REWRITE. TEST.

If you have a good story but it isn’t working, how do you fix it?
Try telling it with a different voice, perhaps? Try telling it from someone else’s perspective?

  • Consider your audience at ALL stages.
  • Write and test your ideas.
  • Invoke an emotional response through telling.
  • Avoid too much/too little exposition
  • Be prepared to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and re…etc.