Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Tag: documentary

Passionate visual storytellers

Have you seen the Storyhunter website? Check it out. Storyhunters are “award-winning video professionals ready to go on assignment for you. They are passionate visual storytellers. They are filmmakers. They are editors, creative directors, video journalists, producers, sound recorders, animators. They tell authentic stories. They are on the ground and they never back down from a challenge.”

passionate visual storytellers

Storyhunter recently posted a conversation with three documentary filmmakers on their shooting styles. Here’s an excerpt:

S: Do you have any advice you’d give to young filmmakers still trying to figure out their style?

Nehemiah Stark: Putting yourself out there to work with other filmmakers that inspire you is huge because we can only learn so much from the work we do alone. I learned the most working in a collective. It’s great to have people to look up to, to get feedback from. Mentors can be people you’ve never met. You can study the style of filmmakers and emulate them. Imitating them is huge and it takes a more discerning eye to see what’s being done technically.

Allison Otto: Don’t limit yourself to learning from the work of cinematographers. Check out the work of still photographers and photojournalists. Don’t feel like you have to travel far and wide to tell meaningful stories. Powerful stories can be found in your own community, and with your knowledge of your community and its rhythms, you’re the best one to share them.

Property – Trailer from Allison Otto, Thought/Process Films on Vimeo.

Storyhunter describes its mission: “We make it simple to create high quality original video.  Whether you need event coverage, mini-docs, aerial drone footage, branded content series, or just to supplement your in-house production team, our platform connects you instantly with the best specialists on the planet. We also help you seamlessly manage your projects, contracts, and payments in one place.”

In a state of play

“You have to be in a state of play to design.” So says renowned graphic designer Paula Scher in Netflix’s series Abstract.

So many writers bemoan the pain of writing. Fight the resistance. Cut open a vein. Bleed onto the page.

Street Art: The Trojan Women

Street Art: The Trojan Women

No question writing is hard. But Paula Scher lays down a fundamental creative truth. Be in a state of play. She does not imply design is easy. She simply says, start in a state of play. Relax. Enjoy. Writers can face the proverbial blank page by first creating a cast of characters. A community of people rising out of the writers’ sense of play.

Play with the characters. Move them around. Let them find the story. Of course it’s not easy, but it starts with play.

Author Neil Gaiman urges us to make art. The writer asks, what can I make next?

Storytelling Tools

Fast Company magazine features an article on the recent film Cameraperson, a documentary self-portrait on the 25-year career of cinematographer Kirsten Johnson.

Cameraperson is “an aptly visual memoir of a cinematographer, who invites us to join her behind the camera and watch as she sets up shots and listen as she interviews people and interacts with fellow crew members.”

“While we see that Johnson is a skilled practitioner when it comes to framing a shot and working with whatever light she has, this documentary is really about using cinematography as a storytelling tool and as a way to connect with people, and what’s most interesting about Cameraperson is seeing how Johnson, while not always vocalizing it, is constantly making on the spot judgments on a variety of matters for which there are no easy answers.”

Cinematography as a Storytelling Tool

More on storytelling tools. Check out a video from No Film School on how composition and framing can help you tell great stories with your cinematography. “If you know the basics of composition and framing, telling great visual stories becomes significantly more attainable.”


storytelling through cinematography is essentially the art of visually depicting change

Article author Robert Hardy says, “One of the key pieces of information that was only briefly touched upon in this video, however, is that storytelling through cinematography is essentially the art of visually depicting change. If your characters go through a major change during the script, let the your cinematographic choices reflect that change. Let’s say that a character starts out timid, shy, terrified of the world around him. You could start with framings that minimize character size while emphasizing and enlarging the environment around him. Wide angle lenses are fantastic for this purpose. Then, as the story progresses and the character becomes more confident, your framings and lens choice begin to mimic that change. Instead of wide angles, you choose longer focal lengths that isolate your character from his foreground and background, and frame him so that he is larger or equal in the frame than the other characters around him.”

Advice for Writers

Think about what Hardy says in his example above. Start with framings that minimize character size. As the character grows and changes, choose longer focal lengths that isolate your character from his foreground and background. How would you do this on the printed page? Minimize your character, then mimic growth by moving away from wide angles. Great technique for “framing” a character’s growth.

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