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Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Let me tell you what I wished I’d known
when I was young and dream of glory
“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”
Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

One (of the many) remarkable things about the storytelling of Hamilton is how the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, compressed the story down to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Personally, the story flies by. And it is that compression that makes the story stand up to repeated viewing.

Plus, the more I listen to the soundtrack while driving the more layers I find. In the song “Stay Alive” there are these lines:

Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces.’ I shoot back, we have resorted to eating our horses.
Local Merchants deny use equipment, assistance, they only take the British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

Miranda compresses into 35 words what could be told in a 10 part miniseries. The is the struggle General George Washington and his army face during the American Revolution.

Whether it’s a brief mention of the “Battle of Monmouth” or a passing remark by Aaron Burr about his grandfather being “a fire and brimstone preacher” are each places you could pause Hamilton and spend hours doing research on the internet.

In a later post, I will write about Burr’s grandfather and the spiritually saturated storytelling used throughout Hamilton.  I doubt that one in 100,000 viewers of Hamilton could name Burr’s grandfather —Jonathan Edwards— and far fewer ever read Edwards’ most famous sermon.  The layers are so deep in Hamilton. 

I’m sure part of that is due to Miranda compressing Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton into a musical, but it takes a creative genius to make history entertaining, informative, educational, dramatic—and singable all at the same time. Here are two songs, sung near the end of act 1, that are examples of contrast in storytelling.

Another thing that worked for me on the storytelling front is how Miranda contrasted the big events of the American Revolution with the small events such as Hamilton and Eliza meeting, and the birth of their son Phillip.

There is much spectacle throughout Hamilton, and gigantic events that helped shape the United States of America. But at the end of the day, it is the smaller moments with Alexander, Eliza and Phillip that pack the big emotional punch at the end.

In that I am reminded of producer Lindsay Doran’s TED Talk, “Saving the World vs. Kissing the Girl,”where she said of movie characters, “Positive relationships trump positive accomplishments.”

My guess is that rings true in movies because it rings true in life. But we forget that sometimes and need art to remind us.

P.S. Over my lifetime I have watched plenty of men and women reach the top of the mountain only to be left with an “empire of dust” at the end of their lives. If you’ve never seen the Johnny Cash version of Trent Reznor’s song Hurtit’s one you should watch at least once a year to give you a perspective on life.

Related post:
It’s the Relationships, Stupid!

Scott W. Smith 

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Author Neil Gaiman was once on his blog was once asked what words or quote would he inscribe “on the wall of a public library children’s area” and this is the core of his answer from his essay Just Four Words (found in his book Stories: All-New Tales) mixed with his Masterclass on storytelling:

I’m not sure I’d put a quote up, if it was me, and I had a library wall to deface. I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear. The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned: 

‘. . .and then what happened?’

The four words that children ask when you pause telling them a story. The four words that you hear at the end of a chapter. The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, as a storyteller, that people care. And then what happened? And those words, I think,  are the most important words there are for a storyteller.”
Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Good Omen)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t make it interesting.”
Audio journalist Alex Blumberg

Alex Blumberg is a rock star. At least a rock star in finding authentic emotions.

Between Thursday and Sunday night I caught chunks of Blumberg’s live (and then rebroadcast) CreativeLive seminar Power Your Podcast with Storytelling and was enthralled with what he pulled off with the help of his class.

Don’t get caught up in the podcast part of his title if that’s not your thing, but focus on the storytelling aspect. While Blumberg’s background includes producing for NPR’s This American Life and most recently the podcast StartUp, his ability to talk storytelling was not only informative but moving.

In my last post, I covered some of the nuts and blots I took away from the sections of the talks I heard. Today I’ll fill in a little bit why I think it was one of the top creative seminars I’ve ever seen. (It was no surprise when I later found out that it is the same material that Blumberg presents when he teaches at Columbia University.)

While my last post mentioned the pre-interview process Blumberg did (with San Francisco-based artist Ann Rea), over the weekend I caught the full interview 90 minute he did with Rea and it was 100% engaging.

If you can, buy the $99 class just to salute Blumberg’s and Rea’s gamble and boldness. (A heck of a lot cheaper than taking it at Columbia.) I’ll try here to synopsize what made it special. Though this was meant to be a NPR-like radio program, I swear you could at least write a Lifetime movie script as you listen to Rea’s life story unfold.

What made it such a powerful tag team effort was the framework of questions that Blumberg asked and Rea’s honest answers. You could say the structure broke down into four acts. (I’m flying from my notes so some of the actual details may be a little off.)

1) The desire for Rea to paint at a young age, and the early support she got from her artistic talent. She won a scholarship to art school where she was an Industrial Design major. After graduating she moved to Dayton, Ohio and expectations for an artistic career fell away with the reality that student loans needed paid. (Downbeat)

2) But while in Dayton she met a man who would change her life. She met him the day she moved into her apartment and thought, “He’s my neighbor? Nice.” They got married and eventually dreamed about a life beyond the Midwest and agreed on trying the California dream. He landed a job in San Francisco and they took their goldfish and drove west. Life was full of positive expectations. (Upbeat)

3) The San Fran dream faded when his job was actually in Sacramento and they eventually settled in the suburb of Elk Grove where she spent years working various cubicle jobs with no satisfaction or artistic expression. Financial and marital problems followed until she decided for her own physical safety it was time to leave her marriage. She’d be starting over as their savings were depleted. (Double Downbeat)

4)  She started to paint again and as she talked about that process it reminded me of that line in Jerry Maguire where he’s writing his mission statement and says, “Suddenly, I was my father’s son again.” Rea wrote a business plan because she didn’t want to just paint—she wanted to make a living painting. In her first year as a full time painter she made more than she’d ever made before, and continues to grow her business. And now she helps others turn their artistic efforts into profit. (Double Upbeat)

What you don’t get from my overview is the authentic emotions that were tapped into—in real time over the course of the interview. The laughter and joy of their trip west, the pain of finding out her husband was a closet alcoholic, and the tears of rediscovering her artistic talents—of finding new life.

As a bonus at the end of the second day of the workshop, Blumberg played some edited clips from the interview thereby completing the whole creative process of showing pre-production, production, and post-production.

There were many valuable takeaways for any storyteller. Perhaps none more valuable than asking a question and shutting up. Just letting the person you’re interviewing give raw and honest answers as they tell their story. That’s how you capture the magic—how you find authentic emotions.

You can listen to the edited interview here.

And you can follow Blumberg on Twitter @alexblumberg.

P.S. I promise you I don’t make a penny from talking about CreativeLive (or Lynda.com or KelbyOne training) but it turns out Ann Rea has a class on CreativeLive called Make Money Making Art. I have not seen that, but based on her interview with Blumberg it’s worth at least checking out.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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pbchoppersdsc_6185

Every once in a while on a shoot I get to meet some cool people. Even in Iowa.

Such was the case yesterday in Moravia, Iowa (pop. 713)  when I walked into a 110 year-old barn where Jim & Shaun (pictured) Wubben make custom choppers. PB Choppers manufactures motorcycles from the frame to the finished product and in 2006 they won the “Biker Build-off” at Sturgis (the western version of Daytona’s bike week in South Dakota).

By their own account their shop is a mixture of Easy Rider & Field of Dreams. A couple additional movie references came up when we were talking about Mickey Rouke and The Wreslter. That’s when I learned that if you want to work at PB Choppers one requirement is you “pretty much have to love Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man ” (which starred Rouke and Don Johnson in a script written by Don Michael Paul).

Movies & motorcycles are often a good combination such as Easy RiderElectra Glide in Blue, Fastest Indian, and The Wild One. Even today The Wild One movie poster with Marlon Brando sitting on his motorcycle is a popular seller.  And sometimes motorcycles help define a character like Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman.

And perhaps the single best motorcycle scene is Steve McQueen in The Great Escape though Angelina Jolie’s ride in Lara Croft: Tomb Raiders beat it in one poll. Matrix Reloaded and Terminator also are favoritesAnd I’m sure some would argue for the newcomer, Batman’s two wheeler in The Dark Knight. 

Even Batman wants to be a bad boy.

All this reminds me of  a quote from a Harley-Davidson exec: 

“What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.”

Whether we’re talking about Harley’s, lifestyles or movies, it’s all storytelling. And as Robert McKee reminds us, “no story is innocent. All coherent tales express an idea inside an emotional spell.” 

 

Scott W.  Smith

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