Hey friends, Tommy Cheely here, Everhouse Filmmaker and visual media brain. I’m about to embark on a grand adventure of discovery! I will be writing weekly about my pursuit to learn new storytelling and filmmaking techniques.
I just started a Muse Storytelling course by StillMotion. It’s a program that distills all the aspects of visual storytelling into a simple and easy-to-understand format. I watched the first video in their course introduction, “The Story Is Built on Four Pillars.” They state stories are the most effective means of communication, because they speak to the heart to move the mind. I agree!
Muse’s concept is this: stories are built on the four pillars, which are:
The idea is that people are the most important part of the story, because people are what your typical viewer can relate to, since, after all, your viewer is mostly likely a person!
Once you establish your people, you communicate something about those people by situating them in interesting places. The places inform the viewer about the nature of the people.
Then, you need to establish your purpose, which is basically the message of the story. You interlace this message throughout the people and places as you hook your viewer with the plot. The people follow the plot through the places to deliver the purpose. And BOOM! You’ve got your story!
I think Muse has laid out some very solid ground rules. I’ve seen these rules play out in movies I watch and videos I make. If you break these rules, expect there to be consequences. For example, Muse’s first rule is to always lead with people. Have you ever watched a movie that didn’t lead with people? It usually doesn’t work.
I recently re-watched the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Those movies do not put people first. Can you tell me who the story is about in Episode 1? If you can, let me know, because I don’t think a main character exists. There’s no relatable central characters in that movie for a viewer to connect to, so the movie falls flat. The movie makes the mistake of prioritizing plot over people. If you’ve seen the movie, you can probably remember that it focuses way too much on the inner workings of the galactic politics that have minimal effect on the main characters in the story. Because the plot is more important than the people, the viewers watching can’t connect, and therefore don’t care.
This kind of mis-prioritization of the pillars of story doesn’t just affect mainstream Hollywood movies. It affects videos of all kinds, even short promotional videos.
Right now at Everhouse, we’re working on a promotional video for a high school. Oftentimes, these videos end up feeling generic because most high schools out there want to communicate the same message: “Our school is great. Join us.” And to communicate their message they often make the mistake of over-prioritizing their purpose. It’s an easy mistake to make, but if you lead with purpose, the viewer feels like they’re being bombarded with facts, stats and messages before they have been given time to connect and care.
So we decided to do something different at Everhouse. We chose to lead the video with the people: the students. We focused on what the students themselves had to say about their own experiences. We let the viewer get to know the people, which gave them a chance to care, and then we communicated the message about the school through the people they cared about. I think it really made an impactful difference. The client loved it. I loved it. It connected. So, as it turns out, people matter, in videos, and in life!