I teach technology. Specifically, how to understand and use the latest tools our industry provides to tell stories with media. However, from time to time I wonder whether this deep focus on tech is the best use of my time and whether I should be doing something different.
It is in the midst of these periodic musings that this blog was written.
I was wandering in a bookshop the other day when, amidst a pile of old books, I discovered an especially thick one with a photo of a gorgeous house on the cover. Removing it from the pile and opening the book, I saw it contained the blueprints to build the house shown on the cover. All the plans I needed to build the perfect house were contained in that book.
Except the instructions alone were not enough, because I didn’t have the technical understanding of how to read those blueprints and apply the tools to create that house.
This set me to thinking. It is axiomatic in our industry that story is paramount. But, a story without the craft knowledge to support it is like a blueprint without a builder – an unrealizable dream.
Listening to Alan Edward Bell (editor: “Water For Elephants” and “The Amazing Spider-man”) speak at a recent user group meeting drove this home. He talked about how he and his team spent time “shaping the story” from the materials that were shot on set. Yet, in almost the same breath he spoke about how his knowledge of his editing system and his ability to use it to create effects allowed him to test ideas and craft the story until everyone was happy with it.
I like that phrase “craft the story.” It implies a marriage between technical skills and story-telling skills. As I was reflecting on this further I realized that it takes three elements to create a film: story, craft, and resources.
Story is the creative compelling idea – expressed in characters, situation, or plot – that underlies the entire production. It is exactly like the blueprint of a house.
Craft are all the technical skills that are necessary to tell that story in an effective manner. In the example of our blueprint, to construct the house we need the technical skills of carpentry, plumbing, wiring, painting… all the myriad crafts that go into building a house.
Sometimes, the person writing the story has all those skills; sometimes, but rarely. In most cases, you need to assemble a team. Which brings me to the third point.
Resources are what you need to attract and maintain the team necessary to create the story. Traditionally, we think of resources as money. But resources are far more than that. They could also be donated time. Donated equipment. Time off from work. Access to specialized equipment, personnel, or facilities.
Resources create the bridge between a great story and the craft skills necessary to bring it to life. Many young filmmakers create teams of talented people who donate their time in return for the fun and challenge of working on a project. This donated time and enthusiasm is just as important a resource as a financial backer writing a check.
Finding the right story is the start. But the hard part is taking that blueprint and turning it into a finished production. A three-legged stool requires all legs to be equal. Valuing one leg more than the other two makes the stool useless.
Story – Craft – Resources. You need all three — either contained in a single talented individual, or created out of collaboration. Equally necessary – equally valuable.
As always, let me know what you think.
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