I’ve been spending more time lately working on a few stories of my own. It seems like every day I’m learning the difference between picking apart and analyzing someone else’s story and the much harder task of writing something of your own.
When we critique someone else’s work, we usually forget the long process that went into bringing that narrative to life. All we see are the flaws and the mistakes and we overlook the fact that even a bad movie is still a finished movie. A poorly executed story that managed to actually get finished is still superior than a great idea that only exists in your head.
Everyone has an opinion on what makes a great story, but very few people have what it takes to create a compelling story of their own. Why is that?
Could it be that storytelling is actually much harder than we all assume?
Today we are talking about where stories come from, specifically how they emerge out of our personal experiences and unique authorial perspective. We’ll talk about the inspiration behind The Hunger Games, Spielberg’s aliens, and the critically panned Cars 2.
When I say that stories come from people, I mean that stories are also inseparable from their creators. In many ways, they must communicate the specific life experiences of their authors.
Oakland-based filmmaker Alrik Bursell just released his new short film Brother at the Oakland International Film Festival. It’s about a lying cheating boyfriend who gets in trouble when his girlfriend’s brother comes to visit.
Time: 10 minutes
Parental Guide: Rated “R” for language, sexual images, and gore
Undoubtedly one of Brother‘s key strengths is its excellent cast. Each of the three lead actors bring a strong sense of character and personality to their role. David O’Donnell’s Australian loser boyfriend carries the right amount of sleaze and smug egotism. Dezi Soley plays a believable and seemingly innocent woman who thinks she’s found true love. And last but not least, Capone Lee is captivating as Lou, the overly protective brother who harbors dark impulses underneath his rapidly shrinking composure.
In one scene O’Donnell lounges on the couch playing video games on an impossibly large TV mounted on the wall. The television fills the center of the frame and remains there, glowing in the background even as things, well, escalate. It’s a simple visual reminder that yes, this character is a lazy moron more interested in playing games who doesn’t see how deeply undeserving he is of his woman.
Horror is a punitive genre. We know from the outset that the loser boyfriend can be no match for Lou’s intimidating physical presence. The eventual scene of punishment is brutal and surprising, transporting us from the realm of realism straight over the edge into the stuff of nightmares. Oh yeah, and the special effects aren’t half bad either.
The opening shot (which appears to be filmed at the always beautiful Lake Merritt) helps establish this as a distinctly Oakland-based story. This is reinforced by the interiors which convey the unique charm of the East Bay’s cosy older buildings. There is something powerful about watching a film shot in your backyard rather than a generic LA stand in. I’m reminded of the show Parenthood, which takes place in Berkeley yet features huge spacious houses and evokes none of the feel of the actual Bay Area. It’s great to see places you know and recognize up on screen.
Congratulations to Alrik and his collaborators for creating another spooky little gem. From all appearances, he’s quite ready to make his feature debut with The Alternate. I can’t wait.
Creativity is something we all hope for and aspire to. No one wants to recycle secondhand ideas or fall back on tired rote stories. We long to make something fresh and exciting to share with the world. Something original. Something personal.
In today’s episode we’re talking about creativity, where it comes from, and how to live a life conducive to creative ideas. Hopefully you’ll be encouraged wherever you’re at and be reminded that you have something to offer creatively.
Today on Story Punch we’re talking about true stories.
What is the responsibility of the storyteller when it comes to adapting real events into an exciting, dramatic, and audience-friendly narrative? What liberties are you allowed to take and what is simply too far?
We’ll look at several popular movies based on true stories and see how well they hold up.
Today is a special one because I’m the guest on one of my favorite podcasts in the world: Making Movies Is HARD.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with indie filmmakers Alrik Bursell and Timothy Plain about what makes a good story. We discussed our favorite storytelling principles, delved into some of the nuts and bolts of how stories function, and examined Andrew Stanton’s excellent TED talk.
The whole reason I started the Story Punch podcast was to try and figure out how to tell compelling stories. It’s incredible to sit down with a couple of filmmakers who really know their stuff and swap ideas with them. I hope you’ll give it a listen and check out their podcast!