It’s How a Story is Told

BrianThe 2004 movie Troy is Hollywood’s version of the Trojan War. A student chose it for her film paper and brought her draft to me to discuss. In it, a big chunk gave a plot recap of what started the war, and it read like a flavorless encyclopedia version—where personality is forbidden but information is accurate, even if lukewarm. She hadn’t copied from anything; she was simply giving the background.

The problem was this: the medium was missing. In this case the medium includes Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger, along with costuming, drama, and music. Films take a story and amplify it through all the senses, which is why the Oscars award so many avenues of communication.

Cover of "Troy - The Director's Cut [Blu-...

The student had experienced all this without becoming a medium herself for telling how the film tells the story. Almost everything got lost in translation. The progression ideally runs like this:

  1. the bare story
  2. how the film tells the story
  3. how the student analyzes how the film tells it.

This could sound unfair. How can someone replicate in writing what a film is able to do? The film has its own magic with its actors, including Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger in this case, along with its script, and the way Hollywood heightens action with drama, realistic sets, and music to charge the mood of each scene.

watching the movie

Watching the movie

However, a film’s magic can penetrate the psyche of a viewer, igniting it with enough impact on the senses to translate the experience into imaginative writing. By this, the reader connects both with the film and the person writing about it. The film is vastly different from what writing can capture, but that is not the point.

The point is a new medium—the writer—who takes from the film and creates new images and sounds in the reader’s imagination, keeping the story alive by means of descriptive writing about the film.

It’s a process: the film projects upon the viewer; then the viewer projects in writing upon the reader, creating a new text that is a combination of the film and the viewer. This is the most pleasurable part of reading film papers, getting to see the film though the medium of the student.

2011: What I Saw

2011: What I Saw

This is far greater than the encyclopedic facts of the story. It is the challenge of the film to become an expansive and powerful text of the story, which in turn challenges the writer to become the same in writing.

Getting the student to see this role is energizing and clarifies plot recap versus discerning how a medium works in communicating a story.


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