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The Importance of Story

At this very moment, there are an almost inconceivable amount of technological breakthroughs that are changing the face of cinema and digital production forever. These innovations range from new cameras to post software, camera hacks, stabilization tools and much more. But while these new technologies are extremely exciting and are pushing the limits of what is possible on indie sized budgets, they can in some ways be detrimental to new film makers, distracting them from what is really important – the story.

With all of the new camera releases and software breakthroughs of the past few years, have we seen an abundance of great content getting created and released? Nope. Far from it. If anything, I would argue the general quality level of indie productions has gone down in many respects over recent years. And this is largely due to the fact that more attention is being paid on equipment than storytelling.

Like many other film makers, in the past I have been guilty of falling into the trap of getting wrapped in gear and technology. And let’s face it, It’s hard not to when there are so many cool toys coming out. If you’re like me you might have those moments where you wonder… What’s the next best camera? The best piece of software to edit with? The fastest lens I can find on eBay? The best rig for my new camera? etc.

But then you step back and ask… Does it really matter? Is any of this going to make my film better? Not necessarily. And certainly not if you don’t have a good story to begin with. These tools should be used to enhance a great idea and a well crafted screenplay, not to take away focus that should be given to the story, the heart of any cinematic project. Film, like anything is all about balance. When all is said and done, I’ll take a poorly shot film with lots of heart and a strong identity over an eye candy piece with no substance any day. Look what Danny Boyle did with a Canon XL1 on 28 Days later. Nobody cares that was shot on Mini DV tapes. It’s a cool story and well directed film. It’s timeless.

As much as I appreciate the digital format and what it can do for us indie film makers, I often find myself wishing we still lived in the days of film. There is something about knowing you only have a few more feet of film left that creates a sense of urgency, a sense that you have to get it right. You have to tell the right story, the right way. No deleting files if you didn’t like that last take – just focusing on a strong idea and committing to it.

Before writing this post, I had considered blogging about the new firmware hack for the Canon 5D MK III. A very exciting achievement, and for those of you that don’t know – Magic Lantern has unlocked the potential to shoot raw video (to some extent) on the 5D. Very cool and very impressive. But at the same time… I found myself not caring as much as I normally would. It seems like almost every day a new breakthrough occurs in this industry. Whether it’s a crazy new camera from Blackmagic, or a firmware hack or new software. This should be a good thing. And in many ways it is a VERY good thing. But I look around and have to wonder… Where is the work? With all the technology right at our finger tips, what are people doing with it? In many cases… Nothing. More often than not I see aspiring film makers (with loads of potential and talent) spending most of their time pixel peeping and trying to squeeze an extra couple of lines of resolution out of their camera, when they should be focusing on the lines on their screenplay. I myself have been guilty of this in the past and will be the first to admit it. But after all, no matter how good you think your camera is today – tomorrow it will be second best. And next year it will be worthless. But a good story will stand the test of time.

The importance of a good story doesn’t only apply if your goal is to direct a feature film or even a short. It is of course, important across the board. It transcends all forms of the medium. Your commercials will be more impactful, documentaries more satisfying and narratives more touching. It seems so simple… But it’s not. Like anything, the more you learn about it, the more you realize you don’t know.

After several years of studying the complex art of screenwriting, the one thing I’ve learned is that I’ll never stop learning. There are an infinite amount of films you can watch, books you can read, screenplays to dissect and lectures to attend. And there are just as many sects within the art form that are paramount in getting your story told well: structure, pacing, dialogue, subtext, format, etc. The point is, being the best film maker you can be is all about having a strong skill set in many areas. Not just perfecting your knowledge you have of your camera today, but your insight into story telling as a whole. Because after all, that’s why we’re in this business. To tell stories. This applies not only to Directors but also Cinematographers, Editors, Producers and anyone else involved in the process. Fundamental understanding of story can only enhance your ability to create powerful art.

Look at “Upstream Color” as an example. This feature film was shot on a GH2 and distributed world wide theatrically. And this by a director who could have easily afforded to shoot on any number of different formats. I can’t count how many films shot on RED/Alexa never see the light of day, but at the end of the day it is the story and the message that will get your film seen. Not the gear. If you can have both, go for it. But always choose story first.

Learning cinematography, editing and gear is essential to being a successful film maker. There are no two ways about it. But my point is that these skills are there to support your idea. Not the other way around. If you’re new to film making or screen writing, start with the basics. Read some books and do some homework. A personal favorite of mine and an all time cornerstone for many is “Story” by Robert McKee.

I’ll leave you with a trailer from one of the films referenced in this blog; Upstream Color

For you gear heads out there, if that trailer inspired you to take a second look at using DSLR for video, be sure to check out my recent list of my top 5 DSLRs for video.

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

13 Comments

  • […] Noam Kroll: Film Resource Community Noam Kroll is an award winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and founder of the boutique production company Creative Rebellion. http://noamkroll.com/the-importance-of-story/ […]

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  • […] Noam Kroll. (2013). The Importance of Story | Noam Kroll. Retrieved from http://noamkroll.com/the-importance-of-story/ […]

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  • David
    February 5, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Great article, thank you. I teach screenwriting and the critical importance of strong story over technical gadgetry is the foundation of my courses. That said, I learned a hard lesson when making my own feature. I set out to make a film that had almost no production values — sort of a statement against all of the high-tech films with bad stories that I have seen lately. My experiment was to make a feature shot in 24 hours with nothing but a good screenplay and talented actors. Granted, it is a disturbing, downbeat story but I think that the main reason it didn’t connected was because the production might have been too lo-fi.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 9, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks for sharing this David! I’ve learned some lessons the hard way too (most of them in fact) and that’s always the best way to grow as an artist, even if it’s tough at the time. Appreciate the note, and best of luck with your future projects!

      Reply
  • Arul Moorthy
    June 11, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Technology is like make up and the story is the soul. If there is no soul, it’s as good as putting make up to a dead body. It would become a demo reel of some one if the story is weak/missing, and you can not immerse in to it.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      Very well put, and I love the analogy. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • […] REPLYWell said Noam. I’m kind of a victim of this same disease, and once you get off the tech bus for a while and think straight, it all comes to the story. No doubt about it. That last sentence of your post sums up everything I’ve been thinking for the last couple of weeks. Thanks […]

    Reply
  • […] Noam Kroll: Film Resource Community Noam Kroll is an award winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and founder of the boutique production company Creative Rebellion. http://noamkroll.com/the-importance-of-story/ […]

    Reply
  • Mick
    March 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    A good and timely story for me to come across. I appreciate your honesty as I too have succumbed to the addiction of pixel peeping and gear envy, instead of the participating in the joy of what I do best…… being creative and and image making. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 22, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks Mick, I think we can all fall into that trap from time to time, but it’s nice to have a reminder of what it is that really matters at the core of this craft we work in.

      Reply
  • […] is making you feel all geared out, take a read from one of my recent non-gear related posts – The Importance Of Story Please share and help support the […]

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  • Top 5 DSLRs For Video | Noam Kroll
    June 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    […] in the end, it’s about what you do with it. More on that in my previous article – The Importance Of Story Please share and help support the […]

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  • Top 5 DSLR’s For Video | Noam Kroll
    June 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    […] in the end, it’s about what you do with it. More on that in my previous article – The Importance Of Story Please share and help support the […]

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  • Flaaandeeers
    May 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Well said Noam.
    I’m kind of a victim of this same disease, and once you get off the tech bus for a while and think straight, it all comes to the story. No doubt about it.
    That last sentence of your post sums up everything I’ve been thinking for the last couple of weeks.
    Thanks 😉

    Reply
    • Noam
      May 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Many thanks Flaaandeers. I think we can all fall victim to this from time to time. Myself included. But taking a step back and realizing that the camera is only one piece of the much bigger puzzle, always helps to put things in perspective.

      Thanks for visiting!

      Reply
  • Xiong
    May 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    I’d have to agree, its strange that with advancing technology, it seems that quality is slipping, or perhaps great quality films are buried by mediocrity of abundant content that’s being put out there. Most content that people put out there usually involves shooting people with no core purpose of the act, or even so, a really thin purpose. But thats the age of youtube, younger filmmakers are inspired by the like of FreddieW or Corridor Digital. Im not saying their visual effects arent great, but its just a quick visually stimulant that appeals to our more primal nature.

    People say you dont need to go to film school, its not the lessons the teachers teach but its discipline of doing, and then studying, that makes us better. That appreciation of putting every effort (like you mention about film) into every shot. Now its become so easy we’ve forgotten about the hardship that came before, instead of planning out our story we simply shoot.

    Especially the Hollywood of today, its become about the experience of the cineplex: 3D, D-Box, etc. Its less about the expression of a story, now kids are inspired by the explosions. Its become a roller-coaster ride experience now really. With the availability of these DSLRs, the film makers trying to tell fantastic stories are overshadowed by the ones with more explosions and action. But its the age of youtube, and with that brings a host of people who dont have the patience to watch an interesting story, instead they go for the junk food.

    Reply
    • Noam
      May 19, 2013 at 2:06 am

      Absolutely – as mentioned in my post, I really see a trend with emerging film makers to focus on the gear over story. I don’t mean to say that the gear isn’t important, if anything it is almost as important as the story as it helps to ensure you can create a final product people actually want to see and that will be marketable. But the real key to being a good film maker is diversity. Having a diverse skill set in story telling, camera, post production, etc. will only make your work better. There’s nothing wrong with obsessing over cameras if you’re also obsessing over your story and editing and so on.

      I should note though, that although the DSLR “revolution” surely has caused an influx of poorly made films, there is also the flipside to it. There are some really talented film makers using these tools to their full potential and creating beautiful films that would have otherwise never seen the light of day. Films like “Sound of my Voice” or “Upstream Color” – both shot on DSLR’s and both distributed theatrically, could have never been made if it weren’t for utilizing DSLR’s. But the very reason they did as well as they did, was because there was substance behind the idea. Not because of the camera they shot on. There are many more examples where those came from.

      So once again, it is really all about finding the right balance. Because no one wants to end up having a great camera with nothing to shoot.

      Reply
      • Xiong
        May 25, 2013 at 4:55 am

        I completely agree.

        Reply
    • Jonathan White
      September 12, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Noam,

      Thanks for the great article and the plug. I work with Mr. McKee and we’re going to send out a link to this article in our next eblast to our attendees. Great points well said and we couldn’t agree more (though I must admit I’m still trying to wrap my head around Upstream Color).

      All my best,
      Jonathan

      Reply
      • Noam
        September 27, 2013 at 12:49 am

        Hi Jonathan,

        Thank you kindly for the feedback. I greatly appreciate you sharing this article with your attendees, and hope it will help to provide some inspiration in any way, shape or form.

        I’ve seen Mr. McKee speak several times and he will continue to be one of the most influential artists that inspires my work and career.

        Reply

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