Sponsored films repeatedly seem to want to tell a story. This four-part series sheds light on the most important impulses and bases for decision-making behind this ruling.
Part 1 explained why storytelling must always be mandatory. Part 2 outlines the most important storytelling aspects, while part 3 summarises keywords in a checklist. Part 4 shows examples as to how the sponsored film can be inspired by the feature film as a conclusion of the series.
What should be observed for successful storytelling?
Once the decision to tell a “real” story has been made, the creative struggle starts when working on the script. Although the responsibility for the dramaturgical toolbox and the codes as a consequence of the genre are primarily in the producer’s hands, the client should still possess a limited amount of knowledge for control purposes. This contribution names the 10 most important items for successful storytelling in a sponsored film. They both help to improve the narrative quality and to support the evaluation of the appropriate film agency.
The content to be communicated must be appropriate for a story. This is the case if development can occur within the course of a story (beforehand/afterwards) and hurdles are overcome to this end. Situations are not a synonym for a story. More on this topic here. Content appropriate for storytelling can often be recognised because it permits parallel action and (also known and proved in literature) motives.
2. Target audience
The basic pattern of the story should incorporate a link to the target audience’s living environment. As a result, the effect of a story weaves its way into the subconscious, further maturing the knowledge of the film and the story.
The genre is the classification of a story according to the form of presentation. All genres have their peculiarities. The public normally only allocates a story to a genre subconsciously. However, they clearly feel if the limits of a genre are overstepped. Genres exist both in feature films (westerns, adventure films, etc.) and commissioned films (reports, documentaries, etc.). The so-called genre mix is a special challenge within all film disciplines. Many films fail due to the unwitting mixture of different genres.
If a story were a person, the structure would form the skeleton and the dramaturgy the equivalent of the muscles. The structure and story result from the selected genre on the one hand and from our culture on the other hand. The experienced author is always aware that a skeleton can be decorated highly diversely. Whether as a human, four-legged friend, centipede or even a fish, there are countless means of translating energy into structured movement and just as many legitimate means of structuring a story.
Coordinated to what it is desired to express and to the target audience within the course of a narrative, successful storytelling applies more than merely dramaturgical means. Just as the selection of the structure, the application of dramaturgical means also requires a combination of skilled craftsmanship, talent and experience from the author.
The sound film was invented in 1927. Nonetheless there are still numerous sponsored film works which relinquish speaking actors and therefore dialogue. A narrative voice (voice-over) is normally chosen as a replacement. Although this simplifies the production of language versions for different target markets, the omission of dialogue also means abstraction and therefore abandonment of authenticity and emotions.
7. Film length
A story takes the audience by the hand and on a journey. Journeys take time. Budget permitting, the film length will therefore normally be five minutes or longer. If the time allowed is insufficient for an external journey due to the distribution channels (keyword media budget), there is always the option of providing an impulse for an internal journey. For the creative team and scriptwriter, this means the greatest possible challenge. The shorter the time window, the more unorthodox and effective the compelling idea must be from the audience’s viewpoint so that it triggers an echo large enough to still resound in the audience’s heads a long time after the film has ended.
Allegedly, Alfred Hitchcock was of the opinion that there is no difference between an actor and decor. If you aren’t Hitchcock, you should contemplate the following: films transport emotions and information. Emotions arise from identification. It is far easier for the audience to identify themselves with another person than with an item. Therefore, a film needs credible faces. There may well be masterly amateur actors (behind whom there is normally a masterly casting agent or a masterly director). If you prefer not to take risks, go for collaboration with professionals.
Composition and sound design for the ears are equivalent to the camera for the eyes. Film music does not mean highlighting moving images with music, but fortifying the story with music. A good composer understands as much of dramaturgy, structure and genre as of his musical craftsmanship. Just like the camera man, he thinks sequentially. And, just as the camera man handles the camera, easy access to clever digital technology can also not substitute the required talent for music composition.
A budget exists at the beginning and the end of every film story. If you rely on experience and talent for a film story, you will initially have to pay a higher price than if you sign up beginners. However, because film (and all forms of communication) not only relies on what is said but also, and even more importantly, on how it comes (to the audience), an adequate budget for the task in question already pays off fast.
A perfect example of what perfect storytelling can be shows the excellently made TV-Series Mr Robot.