Monday, June 02, 2014


We are surrounded by visual stories these days.

And, true to the adage, familiarity breeds contempt.

Armchair experts pontificate about how easy it is to create a screen story. These would-be auteurs walk out of films, preaching about the flaws and proclaiming they could have done better. They can shoot films on their phone, after all. How hard could it be?


Rather than argue the merits of their CV, however, a more useful exercise is to lift the curtain on some film craft. It might help you appreciate your films a bit more too.

And I say 'your' films deliberately. You may not realise it, but you are an active participant in every film and TV show you watch.

Yes, you.

Your brain is so sophisticated, that it makes films and screen stories work. Without the power of that grey mushy lump behind your eyes, the one you diminish with alcohol and poor decisions, screen stories would be an incoherent mass of images.

Your brain, you see, is a powerful information processor, which works outside of the constructs of time and space. You can recall something that happened twenty years ago, imagine something that never happened, and perceive and respond to an event occurring directly in front of you.

Such is the power of your brain, it is omnipresent. And we filmmakers use that power, most notably with editing.

But how?

Every film you have ever seen, jumps forward, backwards and sideways in time and space, both inner and outer. This temporal shifting is a necessity to tell a complex story in a short time frame. Imagine if instead you had to follow the hero home, watch him eat, patiently wait while he sleeps and then re-engage when he arises the next morning, ready to fight the arch-nemesis. The film would be three weeks long.

Instead, the hero arrives home, the lights turn off in his house, which we are watching from the outside, and the screen fades to black. We rejoin him already driving to the epic confrontation, loading his weapon in his lap.

Lame scenario, but you get the point.

And the only reason this editing technique works, is because of you. Because your brain, when given clues and a context, will join the dots to allow comprehension. All we have to do as filmmakers, is know which clues to leave, in which order, at a certain pace and in a certain tone, and the astronomical capability of your mind will do the rest.

It's the same phenomenon that leads people to hear satanic lyrics in Led Zeppelin songs. The power of suggestion, coupled with your brain's incredible capacity, and in fact compulsion, to connect seemingly disparate information into a whole, summed up in this hilarious live version of the experiment.

So, there you have it. A piece of bona fide film and screen storytelling craft, for you to share. Impress your friends. Astound your loved ones.

Or at the very least, when you have the opportunity, put the armchair expert in their place.

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