Understanding the Medium of Motion Picture

Before you press record

Before setting off to take videos of everything in the world around you, it is important to understand the reason why one would choose Motion Picture. The filmmaker’s goal could be the same or difference to the goal of a photographer when given the same subject to photograph. Photography is a great way to freeze emotions and thoughts in time and preserve them for years to come, often with the audience wondering what it was that the author might have thought or what impression he or she would have wanted to create. Film on the other hand as a medium allows you more flexibility in my opinion by allowing the audience to experience far more fulfillment from the medium. In Film the audience is able to use their sense of sight, as they would when viewing a photo, but can also use their sense of hearing to make a meaningful connection with the subject. This incorporation of sound into the moving picture medium of video is where it really becomes interesting and the altering effect that sound and music and play in delivering the driving emotion or thought through this chose medium is where many beginner filmmakers have much room for improvement.



50% video, 50% sound

I often argue that video is only 50% of the the film and the other 50% is made up by the sounds that music that are incorporated. Many filmmakers will disagree and argue that although sound is important for video, in certain cases it could be removed and the message would still be understood, therefore making its importance lesser than that of the video content. In reality is that the absence of sound is just as important as its presence and if you are to choose to use two mediums at once (Video and Sound/Music), then shouldn’t you use them to their full potential? Often this is misunderstood as an allocation of equal time in post-processing of videos as you would for choosing and adding sound effects and music. This need not be the case and often music and sound will not take you as long to add to your timeline during an edit as it would to cut up and edit the video itself. But needless to say, the sound and music in your film needs to taken seriously.


Understanding your narrative

Choosing  a narrative to video is often easier than it looks but you can also miss the most important aspects of your narrative by getting easily distracted by similar or parallel. If you are not familiar with the word “narrative” the narrative is just another way of saying the “story” of your film. I am a firm believer that you should always be ask yourself while you are filming what is the primary narrative here? And what could be potential secondary or complementary narratives that I could film as well. I once heard that interesting people tell interesting stories. So if you are looking something interesting to film write down interesting ideas and if you can visit places that you find interesting and film them.


Create interest in your videos by creating interesting content (Interesting Content = Interesting Video)

Interesting content is content that evokes a reaction in the audience. It is content that allows the viewer to experience an interesting moment in time through the filmmaker’s vision and discover something new that they didn’t know before watching. The audience must grow emotionally or intellectually by viewing your video. By creating content that is both compelling and informative you appreciate your videos greater than you would if you were to create content purely for entertainment purposes. With that being said, there is always a need to entertain the audience and deliver a message that conveys your ideas with the correct level of enthusiasm and style.


Choosing the tone and diction for your narrative.

The tone of of the your narrative will depend largely on the subject matter and the filmmaker’s voice. An easy way to understand Narrative Tone is to think about reading story books to children. If you were to tell them a scary story the children would automatically expect you to indicate this my choosing a tone of voice that is associated with dark, scary stories, the diction used by the storyteller is equally important to the listener and likewise a good choice of words can help emphasize points of interest. Both tone and diction also act as a great tool to create suspense in the story or surprise the audience.


The basic principals of storytelling

There are many difference opinions about how to tell a great story, be it fictitious or real, and so it would be wrong of me to tell you to choose a certain style or to ask you to limit your story telling abilities by putting the different styles into boxes and categorizing them. The real answer is that there is no right or wrong way of storytelling. My suggestion to you would be to simply tell the story that you tell is the most important to you. If you really appreciate the subject then the chances are others will feel the same way when they watch your film.

There are three simple ways to look at storytelling

  • The audience knows as much as the storyteller/Characters
  • The audience knows less than the storyteller/Characters
  • The audience knows more than the storyteller/Characters

This very simplistic view of portraying your message to the a great place to start when thinking about how you would like to write your screenplay be it fiction or non-fiction. In many genres we accept that we either know the same, less or more than the filmmaker/characters and we continue watching to find out if our snap-judgments were accurate. This quick judgement is usually based on the limited amount of information that the audience receives during the setup. This is where Setup because extremely important in Storytelling. All films use these three ways of telling the story but it would not be advantageous normally be advantageous for non-fiction filmmakers to have an audience that knows more about the story than they do, but it does happen and can if done correctly be used in the same way it is so commonly used in fiction films.



Setup is key in storytelling and it is vital that you know where you are leading your audience in order to be able to get them there, with the exception or documentary film making. This is where documentary filmmakers have an easier time, although most of them would probably argue the opposite. The lack of direction during the making or many documentary films can be daunting to many filmmakers and for some paralyzing. In film we can create narratives that hook the audience early on in the film, allowing us to keep their attention for longer while they wait to find out more.


Finding the right story for you

The idea that you have to just go out and film something and make a story about it later is extraordinarily challenging and this is why many documentaries never get made or are quit halfway by their creators. So if it is a documentary film that you re setting out to film, pick something easily accessible if it is your first time making a documentary. We often overlook the things we know the most about because we consider documentary film making an exploration activity and although that is true, the audience’s adventure is in my opinion more important than your personal fulfillment by making the film. That isn’t to say that you should pick a subject that you find boring over a more interesting subject, just because you think it would be better received. By all means, do explore your preferred narratives but always remember to make the final product, the film, just as interesting or even more interesting that the film making process. In a nutshell, find something you are highly passionate about and tap into it. Go through all the possible layers and levels, not just what might catch your attention at first glimpse. Allow yourself time to reflect and reassess the possible relevance of the subject matter and go at it with all force. Aim high and try your hardest, but don’t beat yourself up about it if your film doesn’t come out as well as you might have envisioned it.

The essence of film making

Film making is a journey of discovery and it important to not let failure effect you in a negative way. Failure is always good because as a film maker each time you fail you will appreciate more good qualities about yourself that you might have missed before. Just because a film is unsuccessful doesn’t make you as a filmmaker unsuccessful. If you can come away better informed and more knowledgeable after a film then the film was a success, regardless where or not it ever even makes it to the audience or if it is received poorly or well. A good photographer is not a photographer that takes perfect photos every time and the same applies for filmmakers. Not every film or video you make will you enjoy but you will become a stronger, more competent filmmaker regardless. Think of every film as a step in forward direction to becoming a truly great film maker, and when you don’t succeed its not a step backwards, just a challenge to overcome,  an obstacle to prove to yourself that you are better than your adversities. No matter how overwhelming it may seem at the time, you will overcome it an become a better filmmaker because of it.


All content © Robert Wedderburn 2017