How to Let Your Story Tell Itself

Filmmaker Magazine shares an interview with DP Sean McElwee. He recently screened his The Incredible Jessica James at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Netflix will air the film later this year.

Filmmaker asked McElwee: How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?

DP Sean McElwee
DP Sean McElwee

McElwee: When you’re presented with a script as good as the Jessica James‘ script, sometimes (and this may sound strange) the job as the DP is to sort of get out of the way, not overcomplicate things, and sort of let the story tell itself. Sometimes a really cool shot at the wrong moment can actually diminish the quality of a film – and we always wanted to preserve the nature of the script by approaching the aesthetic as simply and efficiently as possible.

Once again, advice from the filmmaking community translates to fiction writing. At times the author has to get out of the way. Don’t overcomplicate things. Let the story tell itself.

Characters need to move freely. Circulate through the story. Find their own way. Go easy on the plotting, and let the characters grope their way through the story. Their story. It’s okay if they’re walking blind for a while. They’ll find the light. If your writing is any good, it will offer paths for your characters.

A cinematographer works from a script. Enhances the storytelling. The fiction writer creates the story. A strong writer will let the characters create the story.

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