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The Five Major Elements of Storytelling

We can all agree that storytelling is very important in cinema. Without a compelling or exciting story, you have nothing. No matter how complex or simple the movie is, you can always break the movie down to five essential elements. What are they? Let's dig into this a little bit. Keep in mind that these aren't in any specific order.


Obviously, it's where the story takes place. This determines what the entire theme of the movie and the characters are and how they interact with each other. Let's say for instance you're making a movie that takes place in the middle of the ocean. You can easily make at least 10 different movies based off that setting. You have the survival element since you would more than likely be far away from any civilization. You can also make something like an underwater research lab and things go terribly wrong. Of course, you could always go with the myth and legend angle and make a movie about the infamous megalodon or an evil blue whale. You might be thinking to your self, "This guy is describing movies already made" and you would be right, but which movie am I talking about? There are multiple movies out there with the same storyline but different view points. That's where you imagination comes in and it's what will separate you from the other filmmakers. The other main difference between your movie and the others is the next element of storytelling.


Who the story is about is where the direction of your movie starts to become clear. You could go with the typical superhero movie or a sci-fi thriller. The characters are important because they are the one's that the audience with identify with or love to hate. You can even go as simple as a guy driving his car on a highway who is being chased by a crazy semi truck driver. Yes, that is a real movie and there is not one word that is spoken throughout the entire movie, but it will keep you on your seat. Setting and character(s) are vital to your success, but this is only part of the puzzle, we still need 3 more elements


This is where you put your characters in action. What your characters do in the film make is what will bring the audience to the theater. Could you imagine being in the room when Iron Man was being developed and someone said, "Hey, what if we just make this the starting point and turn this into one giant universe of stories like they did in the comic books?" I would have been excited to even hear the idea when it was spoken out loud, but you can imagine there were some people who were very skeptical because no one had every combined films on that level. If you'll notice, Marvel has an amazing creative team that knows how to utilize every aspect of storytelling. The character development throughout the past 10 years is amazing. The reason most of us was as invested in these movies as we are is because they didn't give us everything in one movie. They utilized the next element of storytelling in the most brilliant way possible.


The structure of the movie is important because it allows you decide when the plot happens and to what characters. Going back to the Marvel example, when Iron Man was created, there were tons of characters that hadn't been introduced at that time, including the rest of the Avengers. What was the solution? Make multiple movies and slowly introduce the characters over time. The same can be said for any movie out there. Wether it's in one movie or multiple movies, where you decide to introduce or advance the plot is very important. You don't want to introduce it too soon unless it's action based because you'll risk confusing the audience. This leads me to the last major element of storytelling


I touched on this subject in the first element, but we're going to dig deeper in that. You need show why your story matters and the lesson the story teaches. If we're talking about The Terminator movie, the action is pretty much non-stop. If we're talking about Titanic, the story that develops between Jack and Rose is what will make people want to watch even though we already know what happens to the ship. The lesson with The Terminator franchise is that no matter what you do, Judgement Day is enevitable. The lesson from Titanic is that even love can survive the biggest tragedy. If you swap those lessons, you'll have two movies that would have never been as successful as they were. Can you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, "I'll never let go" or "If you jump, I jump"? It would be very awkward and out of place. Remember, stick with your theme and everything will fall in place.

How do they exist with each other?

Have you ever seen Who's Line Is It Anyways? Each comedian has the ability to stand on their own and create a great skit. When you get all of them together in the same skit, they have the ability to play off each other and create something even better. That's what these elements do, they are important aspects and strong elements on their own, but when combined together, they make the film even better.

These elements are the five key things you need in your film to make it successful. Utilize each element to the fullest and yo may just be the next great director that this world needs.


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