New Ways of Telling Stories

It’s fun to think about all the ways we can tell stories: from cave paintings and campfire ghost stories, to mime, stage plays, and movies. Last weekend, I attended a workshop in which the speaker, Chris Pack, discussed how movies are being adapted to virtual reality, changing the story-telling game even more. The above video is an interactive virtual reality horror film called Speak of the Devil.

Every time something new comes out, there are hold-outs who insist that “the old ways” are superior. I usually do not agree. I’m excited by change and evolution. I appreciate all the different story-telling modalities. I like watching movies at home, even on my phone, for example, just as much as I like watching movies in the theater. This depends on the genre, of course, and my mood. But the convenience of sitting in the comfort of home, with all my favorite snacks around me, and my own bathroom nearby, is pretty damn cool. There’s something about putting on my headphones and immersing myself, alone, in a movie, which is special and distinct from sharing the experience with a room full of strangers.

At the same time, reading is and always will be my first love. There’s nothing that can replace my own imagination, which gets to enjoy the most freedom when I’m reading a great book. There’s something self-caring and self-loving about giving myself the time and space to enjoy a good book.

But I’m a fan of new technology, so I am excited about virtual reality and all the other future technology that will help us tell stories. What’s most important is our own interaction with the story. There are different considerations that come with each medium. There are ethical considerations that arise with virtual reality that don’t come up in the same way with books or movies.

If your character-point-of-view in the virtual reality movie is a murderer, for example, and you are given his perspective, could this pose psychological problems? Could it cause permanent trauma? What about explosions, accidents, and sex scenes? Watching something happen, versus participating in it from a first-person perspective, is a different experience. We already have this with games, but game plots are usually pretty limited. The power of a good plot, combined with a first-person “reality” perspective could be quite powerful and influential in both good and bad ways.

So, the future is coming, whether we embrace it or reject it. In order to take our place as storytellers of the future, we have to think about how the technology affects the way the story is told and the impact it could have on the viewer. It’s all very exciting.

Happy storytelling and have a great weekend!

Raven

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A Bad Ending: You Get Me

{This is a discussion of the film You Get Me (2017). Director: Brent Bonacorso; Writer: Ben Epstein}

In real life, endings are almost always sad (except the end of a work day).

In movies, however, endings tend to be happy. We know that, in real life, good people die, couples break up, failure happens, and life is not always fair.

But in the movies and on television, we don’t want to see that. We get enough of real life in real life, so we usually want to feel good at the end of a film or show.

However, what happens when a happy ending is, nevertheless, BAD? By bad, I mean, unsatisfying, trite, or too easy.

I watched a teen thriller the other day called You Get Me. I wasn’t expecting much. It was a teen version of Fatal Attraction, basically. But it was better than I thought it was going to be. At first. The cinematography was enthralling, the music was good, and the acting (for the most part) was good.

What sucked was the ending. I wasn’t expecting any surprises, and by gum, I got none! But I started wondering why I was still unsatisfied, even though it ended as expected.

I think I was unsatisfied because I got no final thrust. Given the nature of the story, I wanted to feel a little beaten up by the end. I can live with a trite ending, but please mess with me a little bit first! Make me sweat for it. Make the trite, happy ending feel well-deserved. Don’t make me feel like I received dessert without eating my vegetables. I want to feel so relieved at the end, that, trite or not, I need a break from the tension.

But there was no tension. It’s like, at the end, they scooped mashed potatoes onto a white plate and followed it up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Please, smash some gravy onto those mashed potatoes! Slop some melted chocolate all over that ice cream!

If someone is going to get kidnapped, or if you’re going to kill off some expendable character, for example, stick it right in my face. Show it to me! Make me suffer with the victim for a little while. Don’t turn away, shy. If you’re going to rip off Fatal Attraction, then rip it the fuck off! Give me the creeps, make me feel bad for the villain a little bit, make me want to jump into the screen and get revenge.

Sadly, You Get Me was pretty good until the end. They set everything up nicely then got cold feet. They raised up my expectations a little bit, then kicked me square in the booty. Thanks for playing. Next.

However…if you want to look at pretty people living in Malibu, and you have an hour and a half to spare, You Get Me is not a complete waste of time.

Have a great weekend!

Raven

The Godfather: Storytelling is Manipulation

I watched The Godfather again the other day. I believe it was only my second time all the way through, though I’ve seen bits and pieces of it over the years.

It is one of my favorite movies (duh!), but I started wondering why. The characters are racists, sexists, adulterers, murderers, drug pushers, back-stabbers, liars, and overall criminals. In general, if a movie offends my morality too deeply I’ll stop watching it, regardless of how many awards it has won. So, why do I love these characters, even though, especially in real life, they would not like me?

I like the characters, and the story, because they are spoon fed to me gently. The movie opens with the sad wailing of horns, a refrain that will play over and over throughout the movie. Even if you hadn’t seen the movie, you would get the impression that you were going to see a sad story. You feel ready to empathize.

The Godfather title comes on the screen. It has puppet strings over the “father” part. So, we subtly get the impression that someone is going to be manipulated, or feel out of control. ThisĀ  prepares us to feel sorry for that situation, to care. We’re not put in a judgmental mood, in other words. Again, we’re ready to empathize.

Next, we see a man with an accent talking to us, looking into the camera. His first words are “I believe in America.” Yes, he turns out to be just another person begging for a favor from Don Corleone, but we don’t know that yet. We’re ready to like this guy and embrace what he has to say.

Next, this guy tells us a story. It’s a riveting and emotional story of a good girl, his own daughter, getting abused. By now, we’re totally sucked in, wondering who’s going to right this terrible wrong. And who does it turn out to be? None other than the Don. We’re ready to approve of whatever punishment the Don metes out to this heartless abuser. The movie has prepped us to accept murder and violence as justified. Why? Family. Family is everything, right? Any one of us would kill for our families, especially our kids.

It’s genius. We don’t discover all their problems until later. By then, we don’t care as much. Michael is our guy, and he’s trying to do the right thing. He just wants to help his father. Plus, he’s sexy. And he’s the marrying kind. We don’t become scared of him until the end, but he has our loyalty by then. By the time people are killing for him and kissing his hand, we’re married to him too, just like Kay. What can we do at that point? (Watch The Godfather II, I guess, which I will do!)

Storytelling, at the end of the day, is manipulation. As storytellers, we have to know how we want our audience to feel, and then not let up until they feel that. In order to do this, however, we have to have empathy. We have to have a genuine understanding of how human beings think and feel. The more natural empathy you have (which is a gift that not everyone has), the better writer you are capable of becoming.

The fact that Coppola, Puzo, Brando, Pacino, Duvall, and the rest of the crew could make me, an arrow-straight, law-abiding, moralistic black female care deeply about a bunch of racist, sexist, murderous Italian men is no small feat. And it’s not just me. My mother saw this film in the theater when she was pregnant with me. She held her pee until the end because she couldn’t bear to miss any of it. Wow!

I hope one day I can write a story that’ll make a pregnant woman hold her pee.

Peace and love,

Raven