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.

Thoughts on Filmmaking

Several thoughts on filmmaking from cinematographer David Libertella.

On Script Review

David Libertella
David Libertella

Libertella’s initial preparation for a film project begins with the script.

“I read the script once through, reading aloud and paced so as to get a feel for the rhythm of the script.” He says, “I don’t begin consciously thinking about what shots or what lighting to employ until after I have read through it once and come to understand the story, the arc.”

Notetaking follows the first read-through. “I read it again and as I go through it I make notes, either in the margins or on a separate paper, about possible shots, color palettes, foreseeable problems to be solved.”

On Color Correction

“I like to do all my correction on set,” Libertella says. “I do not feel it takes time away from the day and believe it just adds more time in post. I feel the most effective relationship between a cinematographer and a colorist is to give the colorist the least amount of work to do. I do not like spending time in the suite and prefer only very small tweaks to be done there.”  (More on color correction.)

See Libertella’s reel on Vimeo. And read a full interview at The Filmmaker Lifestyle.