How Filmmakers Tell Their Stories: Three Insightful Video Essays Demystify the Craft of Editing, Composition & Color

Every­one knows that if you want to make a movie, you first have to write down its sto­ry. Many of us have tried our hands at writ­ing movie sto­ries our­selves — as treat­ments, screen­plays, or whichev­er oth­er forms the indus­try has come up with — and some have made careers out of it. But even if a film begins on the page, it does­n’t, of course, remain there; up on screen, the final prod­uct has to tell its sto­ry visu­al­ly as much as it does with words, and usu­al­ly even more so. Lewis Bond, the video essay­ist behind the cin­e­ma-ana­lyz­ing Youtube chan­nel Chan­nel Criswell, under­stands that bet­ter than most, hence his three essays ded­i­cat­ed to the three most impor­tant ele­ments of visu­al sto­ry­telling, the first chap­ter of which, “Colour in Sto­ry­telling,” we fea­tured a cou­ple months ago here on Open Cul­ture.

The sec­ond, “Com­po­si­tion in Sto­ry­telling,” explores the pos­si­bil­i­ties inher­ent in arrang­ing peo­ple, places, and things with­in a shot. “Decid­ing the place­ment of sub­jects through the viewfind­er of a cam­era isn’t mere­ly a tech­ni­cal deci­sion,” says Bond, “it’s an expres­sive one.”

Beyond show­ing the audi­ence what they need to see to under­stand the sto­ry, film­mak­ers have relied on “tried and test­ed for­mu­las to make an image pleas­ing to the eye” such as the rule of thirds, the gold­en ratio, and tri­an­gu­lar com­po­si­tion. But beyond those basics opens up the vast cre­ative space of com­pos­ing images in order to care­ful­ly guide the audi­ence’s atten­tion, craft sym­bols and sub­texts, and make the pow­er of a scene felt — all as depen­dent upon what gets left out of the pic­ture as what gets put in.

Final­ly, “Edit­ing in Sto­ry­telling” cov­ers the step of the film­mak­ing process wide­ly con­sid­ered one of the most impor­tant, even more so than writ­ing the sto­ry in the first place. “Beyond the basic func­tion of putting a film togeth­er,” says Bond, “the crafts­man­ship of edit­ing can be dealt with such sub­tle­ty that it can be the foun­da­tion of a film’s pace, its atmos­phere — it can even be the enrich­ing ingre­di­ent to strength­en all the film’s themes, and you may not even notice.” Though the edi­tor holds “total manip­u­la­tion over our emo­tions,” decid­ing what we see, when we see it, and how we see it, they also labor under the respon­si­bil­i­ty of know­ing the film will stand or fall on their skill. Watch Chan­nel Criswell’s entire visu­al sto­ry­telling essay tril­o­gy and you’ll notice all their tech­niques much more eas­i­ly while watch­ing movies — espe­cial­ly if you start watch­ing them, as you might well find your­self inspired to do, with the sound off.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Alche­my of Film Edit­ing, Explored in a New Video Essay That Breaks Down Han­nah and Her Sis­ters, The Empire Strikes Back & Oth­er Films

Alfred Hitchcock’s 7‑Minute Mas­ter Class on Film Edit­ing

How Film­mak­ers Like Kubrick, Jodor­owsky, Taran­ti­no, Cop­po­la & Miyaza­ki Use Col­or to Tell Their Sto­ries

“Bleu, Blanc, Rouge”: a Strik­ing Super­cut of the Vivid Col­ors in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s Films

Wes Ander­son Likes the Col­or Red (and Yel­low)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Obses­sion with the Col­or Red: A Super­cut

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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