How To Tell Really Good Stories

22 06 2008

[Title is intentionally cynical]

Fellini with Giuletta MassinaA piece in today’s New York Times “Low Cost Film With Friends in High Places,” talks about the first film from Cecilia Miniucchi. The film, which played at Sundance this year, is called EXPIRED and starts Samantha Morton, Jason Patric, and Teri Garr. It’s not her first film, though it is her fist narrative feature.

The article talks about how she used her connections, in particular with Lina Wertmüller, the Italian director (whose film SEVEN BEAUTIES is, in my opinion a must-see for anyone who wants to see what films are capable of) to help to cast and get her film above the radar in the development world. She had also worked with Fred Roos, whose long-term relationship with Francis Coppola has put him on the map as a producer. He agreed to work with Miniucchi as a producer on her film.

My favorite quote in the article comes from Wertmüller:

For Ms. Wertmüller being a storyteller is what’s important. “Fellini said, ‘When you are trying to direct, they will tell you there are a lot of rules,’ ” she said. “ ‘Of course these rules are important, but in reality the way to tell a story is the way you would tell it to your friends in a cafe. And if you have a talent as a narrator, you will tell this story well. Otherwise all the technique in the world will never help you.’ ”

Of course, many many many people can’t tell an entertaining story to their friends in a cafe.  I cringe whenever someone haltingly starts to tell a joke to me. You know they’re going to crash and burn.  I would rephrase Fellini’s point a bit, because the moral there is, to me “If you can tell a good story to someone in a cafe, then you can figure out how to tell one in a film.”

There is an endless discussion about whether visual effects have killed stories in film. I’m still, for instance, trying to figure out what the hell the story was in the latest Indiana Jones film.  Something about a search for an object, and a ton of chases. But, that’s like the guy in the cafe who keeps telling the same story over and over again. You begin to wonder what the point is. Technique (and that film was very well done) doesn’t outweigh good storytelling.

So, for those of you who don’t quite know yet how to tell a story (even if you think you do), study it at cafes and at school and in the movie theaters (and, plug plug plug, get ready to buy my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT when it comes out in December). Then, go back and study it again.  Maybe even from Fellini.

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