Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning from Hollywood: story telling

Story telling is simply the ability to engage with an audience and draw them into a world of your own creation. It was a central topic of discussion at a recent conference I attended.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center Leadership Forum was at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 16 and 17. As a writer, I’m obviously a huge believer in the power of story. What did I learn at the conference on the topic? Or, perhaps to be more precise, what was the message on weaving an effective story?

1. Engage your audience.

2. Make them think differently.

3. Customize or personalize.

4. Touch emotions; no overkill.

5. Keep the characters authentic and believable. None of us is perfect; humanize our characters’ flaws and bless them with some. Certain types of people will dress, think and speak in a predictable way. Portraying them otherwise is false at best, preachy at worst.

6. Context. Always.

7. Respect your audience. Don’t pander or talk down to them.

8. Immerse them in a new world that you create.

9. “Good artists borrow: great artists steal”. Draw story lines from mythology or other common narratives that have crossed history and generations (the Bible, Shakespeare, coming of age...). “A myth is news that’s still news”.

10. Trust the audience’s ability to take on something (a willful suspension of disbelief). Let them decide what they want to take in of what you provide.

11. Artistry and technology work hand in hand.

12. “Good stories are familiar with the content of our unconscious. Bad stories are too turbulent, violent or emotional”.

13. Create a predicament for our character and then provide a solution.

The above draws heavily from a panel of super producers: Don Hahn, Doug Wick and Marcy Carsey.

While a list can’t tell a story a conference is a dense flow of information and hard to summarize in a blog posting. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

But to sum, I view a story based on its outline or structure…then how does that narrative flow? The above rules provide the meat that then sits on those bones and grabs (or doesn’t grab) an audience. I’ll be reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim, recommended by Doug Wick.

I also wrote a related posting on my investment banking blog that covers a broader range of topics from the conference.

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