5 tips to tell an amazing story (includes bonus).

Photo c/o Nuno Oliveira

Photo c/o Nuno Oliveira

What does it take to tell an amazing story?

No foreign question for any filmmaker—consider it an existential quandary, really: if there is tremendous power in a well-told story, the power to bring people together on very fundamental levels, then...well...how?

Again: it’s a question we all ask ourselves, especially when we approach our craft seriously—as the focus of our passion, time, and heart—in order to tell the stories that mean most to us in ways that we hope will help others connect with them just as seriously.

To learn what it takes to tell an amazing story, a storyteller must rely on experience as one’s best teacher.

In other words, the best way to figure out how to tell an amazing story would be to simply go out and tell one.

And if you have a community of filmmakers behind you, all going out to do the same, then the better you can learn from, collaborate with, and encourage one another—combining your knowledge and experience to help each other, simply, be better storytellers.

An amazing story can be magic. And magic happens when we work together.

Community encouraged us to make the most out of even the laziest of days. So on our days off we turned all of our senses on.

Community inspired us to look outside of ourselves: to embrace the creative processes of fellow artists in order to better understand our own processes—and not just our processes, but our whys: why do we create? What inspires us to keep creating?

These demonstrate something we have only learned over and over as each new filmmaker we encounter helps build Story & Heart with us:

Here are 5 tips for telling amazing stories…by remembering the magic of working together.

1. Listen.                

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While we’ve often talked about listening as a way to be more open to—and by extension better understand the constraints of—the circumstances and environment in which we’re filming, in this case we literally mean it: use your ears to listen to everyone else involved.

There’s no shame in having a specific vision and purpose for a story, but when you start to imprint your own needs and emotions on the story of another, you are driving a wedge between the story you’re telling and the story with which your audience will most connect.

That’s a weird way to say it, maybe.

An amazing story is an authentic one where the audience can connect to the characters genuinely, not because they feel like they're supposed to.

But, of course, telling an amazing story is more than just the result of creating a worthwhile experience for your talent, it’s also about building a team where each person has a distinct sense of ownership over the story told.

Listening, then, is a function of humility.

You will never know how to fill every role on any set, and you will never operate in a vacuum. Instead, an amazing story comes from the combined insight and skills of a diverse group of artists working toward one goal.

From a big spectacle to a tiny short, every storyteller benefits from hearing the voices of talented collaborators coming together to make one unified sound.

2. Know that there is always a story within reach.

Every filmmaker at some point feels like there are just no original ideas left—look at all the re-makes and sequels in our typical Summer blockbuster fare, after all.

Similarly, every storyteller at some point becomes acquainted with a very real fear: that there are just no stories left to tell that haven’t already been told—over and over and over again.

Which is the kind of fear that could swamp any person stuck on his or her own creative island (once again, mind our mixed metaphors)—the kind of fear that makes sense if you feel like the only stories worth telling are those which have never been told.

Sorry to break it to you, but: those stories don’t exist.

Instead, amazing stories are rarely about the what, and more about the how and why:

An amazing story will connect most with a viewer—and with all involved—not through what is told, but how: the distinct voice of the storyteller.

Stories of love found, love lost; stories of craft and creation; stories of conflict and resolution—these are and will always be the stories we tell. They are the basic building blocks of our human condition.

And the only way to develop your own distinct voice—to add one more important piece to the grand conversation of what it means to be human—is to understand, embrace, and appreciate how others, how your community, is telling the same kinds of stories.            

3. Embrace your natural inclination to explore.

Risk is a funny thing.

Risk is something that filmmakers rarely confront, because risk is rarely worth the trouble.

Risk is rarely affordable.

And when you are working on a budget, or within particularly specific restraints, then risk just—functionally—can’t be in the cards.

But what storytellers often forget is that risk makes for adventure, and adventure makes for stories worth telling—the kinds of amazing stories that celebrate the day-to-day wonder of being alive.

Aren’t those the kinds of stories we live to tell?

By working with others, we can better take the risks that will make for amazing stories. We can more confidently embrace our need to explore this world.

Through collaboration, the idea of risk is spread out, passing the very real concerns of income and time around. Through community we can more fruitfully invest in passion over profit, we can better understand that adventure is a right, and not a privilege.

And amazing stories are born from a storyteller exercising that right.

4. Never let your gear get in the way.

You’ve heard it here before: the most important piece of gear any filmmaker can have isn’t a lens, light, or expensive camera—it’s the beating heart behind all that.

Nominally, we’ve typically meant that a story is never dependent on the sophistication of a filmmaker’s gear, but instead on the passion of the filmmaker telling it.

Which: all true. But if we bring authenticity into the equation, then storytelling opens up, becomes much more about the experience of the telling as opposed to the end product.

Because if one seeks to tell an amazing story—an authentic story that connects authentically to the audience—then, contrarily, the audience will instantly recognize that something was amiss on set if you let your gear choice (frustrations) get in the way of capturing the story sincerely.

How can you you prevent such frustration?

This is why Ryan Booth is so adamant about the importance of building a team:

Collaboration breeds focus. When each person involved in telling a story has a specific role, then the whole experience is so much smoother.

By working together, everyone involved, from the director to the viewer, can become immersed in the story at hand—without stumbling over the seams of the storytelling process itself.

5. Have fun.           

Happiness is infectious.

And so is an amazing story.

Really, this may be the simplest and, yet, most important part of Tell Amazing Stories:

You will never tell an amazing story unless you love everything that telling an amazing story takes.

So, how does collaboration contribute to that?

When we’re inspired, we inspire others. And vice versa: when we inspire others, we’re inspired. Same goes for education: by teaching others, we learn just as much.

The list is endless: by motivating others, we’re motivated. By encouraging others, we’re encouraged.

By collaborating with others, we’re only moved to keep collaborating.

So what does it take to tell an amazing story?

It isn’t a step-by-step process, or 4 weeks of intense collaboration—though both can help.

Telling an amazing story takes a whole worldview, a whole lifestyle: one of openness, optimism, curiosity, passion, and unadulterated joy.

And there is no better way to feel all of this—to deeply live such a life—than with others.

The preceding quotes care of some of our incredible filmmaking friends we’ve taken directly from conversations with each, conversations we’ve curated and then compiled in a series of eBooks that go into great detail about the processes each filmmaker put into one of their recent films: gear, inspiration, team-building, conceptualization, etc.

From Ryan Booth’s VH1-premiered music video for Johnnyswim (which he made, from concept to client, in only one week) to Joe Simon’s viral sensation of an Oakley spot, each ebook investigates what it took for each filmmaker to tell their amazing story.

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