Optimising storytelling with the CSI-Formula

3 simple questions

Optimising Storytelling with the CSI-Formula
An Impact Check with Three Simple Questions: Optimising Storytelling with the CSI-Formula

What is the most important common ground between a feature film and a video produced on commission for customers? Impact! The viewer’s emotions and state of knowledge should be different at the end of the film than before “consuming” it.

Whether noble escapism as the sole purpose of entertainment (feature films), the passing on of knowledge (documentaries) or whether the driving force – as in an advertising or image film – lies in the intent to influence the purchasing, image, sympathy or awareness of a brand, a film ought to change and effect.

Storytelling is supposed to ensure highly effective sponsored films as desired by many customers. The integration of key messages in a film script can be checked by the client. But what is a good story? I have used three simple questions inspired by Dancyger/Rush for over a decade as a response.

The CSI-formula

No, here we’re not talking about the American TV format “Crime Scene Investigation”, also known as CSI. However, the series may help us to memorise the initials which stand for three key terms of the CSI-formula and optimising storytelling: Credibility, Stimulation and Involvement.


Is the story authentic in the audience’s opinion?

A wonderful and proven producer’s wisdom says: a poor story is illogical and predictable. A good story is unpredictable but always logical.


Is the audience not only touched by the story (refer to “audience involvement” below), but also stimulated to think ahead?

A good story releases an echo from the audience.

The film experience echoes in terms of contents and time far beyond the actual story. A good story stimulates the audience to think and contemplate.


Stimulation is only possible if the story is able to touch emotionally. A story which leaves the audience cold because it cannot recognise any points of contact with its real life and feelings merely triggers something: namely boredom.

The most important factor for audience involvement is identification.

CSI-Check to improve the Quality of Storytelling / Videothink
CSI-Check for better storytelling | (c) Condor Films

For healthy people, identification is easiest to realise if the story has to do with people. Identification creates emotions. And emotions are followed by involvement and, in turn, stimulation.


You can easily fill entire libraries with guidebooks for correct scriptwriting. However, most of the books are more or less exclusively addressed to the scriptwriters of fiction feature films.  Although the rules for a 90 minute film may apply to a shorter work, it is not imperative that they do. Marketing managers and communication managers without a degree in Film Studies can apply the question of credibility, the extent of stimulation as well as the scope of audience involvement or in-brief the CSI formula to assess and discuss the potential of stories for commissioned films.

Should the declination of the CSI formula cause the exposé or the story outline for your film to implode or if the creative director, author or producer protest because you insist on answers, please comfort yourself by learning from the TV series of the same name: if you ask the right questions you win.

Please do not hesitate to leave a reply if you have any questions or remarks.

Über Kristian Widmer 27 Artikel

Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

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