Rediscovering Cinematic Storytelling: My Filmmaking Journey

cinematic cinematic storytelling documentary filmmaking storytelling Feb 06, 2024
Jonny von Wallstrom

The Essence of Storytelling in Filmmaking

Cinematic filmmaking is easy to get caught up in. People focus on the visual spectacle and technical wizardry. Put slow motion b-roll and cinemascope and call it done. But, pitching to commissioning editors and executive producers has taught me one thing. Nobody cares about how your film looks. Once again, it's all about the story. Don't miss my live stream where I talk more about this.

First, you need to master storytelling. And I realized this when I applied to film school. I had to make a one-minute personal portrait. At the time, I was creating films that looked polished. But it was through documentary photography that I discovered intimate, raw storytelling. This shift in focus from spectacle to story was transformative.

"The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. But through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time." Steven Spielberg

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The Heart of My Filmmaking: Story Over Spectacle

A deeply personal film shifted this for me. The film was about a pivotal moment in my life: the birth of my brother, who was born not breathing. I crafted this short film. I explored the emotional depth and impact of personal storytelling. This experience underscored that cinematic artistry isn't found in image pop. It isn't found in the sophistication of equipment. Instead, it's in the story's ability to connect with us deeply. It's a lesson in the timeless power of storytelling in filmmaking. It reminds us to prioritize narrative over technical achievements.

This showed me that simple an essential cinematic tool to immerse audiences. It helps you to build narratives that people can easily understand. Without loosing the impact of stunning authenticity. I want other filmmakers to embrace the simplicity and power of narrative innovation. I want to do this by sharing these insights. It's a call to look beyond the allure of technology. It's a call to rediscover the essence of cinematic storytelling.

"Facts do not convey truth. That's a mistake. Facts create norms, but truth creates illumination." Werner Herzog

Exploring Cinematic Quality Beyond High Budgets

Finding Impact in Unconventional Filmmaking

The concept of "cinematic" often brings to mind high-budget visuals and polished aesthetics. However, it's more than that. The most impactful cinematic storytelling is not the most pretty. It is the stuff that immerse you into the story world. This can be done even with minimal resources.

This understanding challenges the traditional view of cinematic quality. Especilly on YouTube, where it seems to be tied to Hollywood's glamour. But that's too simple. The new understanding pushes for a broader appreciation of film techniques. It also emphasizes storytelling prowess. Right now we are in a shift, where I think people are tired of the polished stories. We want more authentic expressions. We want slower edits. That usually happens when one thing gets popular. Soon after, the opposite will thrive.

Embracing the Raw Essence of Cinema Through Movements

Movements like Italian Dogme95 and French New Wave have greatly influenced my work. They show that innovation in film techniques can captivate audiences. And they did so by embracing limitations. They focused on authentic narratives. This is far more effective than lavish productions.

Sure there's a place for high end productions as well, but not if its at the cost of emotional impact. These movements underscore the importance of emotional resonance and narrative depth. My most impactful projects, such as "The Pearl of Africa," have embraces this. Despite modest budgets, these projects have resonated deeply with audiences. They have even caught the attention of major platforms like CNN, Netflix and many more.

Celebrating Low-Budget Films with High Impact

My experience has reinforced that cinematic brilliance often emerges from constraint and creativity. Films like "The Guitar Mongoloid" heavily influenced me. Documentaries by Stefan Jarl also influenced me. They demonstrate the power of storytelling that goes beyond traditional cinematic quality. Both have a documentary-like approach and deep narrative arcs. But they are also shot for a long period of time. Which I think is the best hack for any storyteller lacking technical skills. By just following a character for a long period of time you will discover an arc. Meaning there will be a character transformation. Because that is true for all character living on this planet earth. These projects showed me the limitless possibilities of storytelling within filmmaking. It holds true regardless of budget or if its a documentary or fictional film.

Cinematic quality is not technical perfection, it is storytelling. A world that sums up immersing your audience into your fake story world. Which is true for your documentary as well as your fiction film. The moment someone presses play, they actively look for a reason to distrust your story world. Cinema is diverse and it's an evolving art form. So different viewers will trust various cinematic storytelling techniques. Which you choose should be based in who you are trying to tell a story for?

The Core of Cinematic Storytelling: Perspective and Immersion

Unlocking Narrative Power Without High-End Gear

Truly captivating filmmaking doesn't need advanced technology. Instead, it's deeply rooted in simple storytelling techniques. Just look at influential films like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Tangerine". Their success does not come from technical execution. Instead, it's in their ability to immerse viewers into their narrative worlds. These films illustrate that genuine, compelling storytelling is key to engaging audiences. They prove that impactful cinema can emerge from simplicity.

"We shot on the iPhone for budgetary reasons. But I also wanted to make the movie feel street level and real, and the iPhone helped us capture that." Sean Baker on "Tangerine

Transforming Visuals Through Storytelling

My experiences have taught me that minimalistic filmmaking approaches make a lasting impression. Projects like "The Blair Witch Project" exemplify this. This film demonstrated the potential of viral storytelling before it became mainstream. It also emphasized that narrative immersion is more important than camera work quality.

Crafting Cinematic Experiences with Authenticity

Storytelling elevates a film's cinematic experience by creating and conveying a unique perspective. Filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Morgan Spurlock don’t rely on high-quality cinematography. Yet, they excel in drawing audiences into their world. Their work inspires a balance between aesthetic beauty and raw, authentic storytelling. Cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Rodrigo Prieto, and Christopher Doyle contribute to this balance. This balance challenges us to move beyond today's prevalent "copy-paste" look dominating filmmaking. It urges a reevaluation of how we approach cinematic storytelling. This fosters evolution and diversity in the craft.

It is not about how good Deakins, Prieto or Doyle makes a film look. Their cinematography is used to immerse audiences into story worlds. To do that they use their eye for human psychology and storytelling abilities. They try to develop a perspective for the look of the film with one single goal. To get the audience to live the story more deeply. That is not done by how good looking a light is. That's destructive for this fourth wall. We, as documentary filmmakers, are trying to take it apart.

"I think cinematography, like music, should be a seamless part of the film. You only really notice the cinematography when it's not in sync with the story." Roger Deakins

Leveraging Constraints for Creative Filmmaking

Harnessing Natural Light and Long Takes

In my journey, embracing limitations has often catalyzed creative breakthroughs. This is especially true in the realm of documentary filmmaking. I've found that using natural light enhances efficiency. It also adds authenticity to the narrative. This approach, along with strategic long takes, allows for a more dynamic storytelling method. It blends documentary realism with fictional narrative depth. This is done without the need for extensive technical setups.

Narrative Authenticity Through Minimalistic Approaches

My experience with "Maud & Leo" underscored the power of minimalistic filmmaking. The project melded fiction's narrative structure with the documentary's raw authenticity. Operating with limited resources compelled me to innovate. I adopted a documentary-style approach to fiction. This project was a testament to the idea that genuine cinematic experiences come from storytelling. Connecting with the audience is crucial. It proved that embracing constraints can lead to significant narrative and visual innovation.

Embracing Constraints for Creative Filmmaking Innovation

Finding Innovation in Limitations

My filmmaking journey has taught me that constraints are not barriers. They are springboards for creativity. Budget, technology, and resource limitations have pushed me to explore groundbreaking storytelling techniques. This aligns with the essence of the Dogme 95 movement. This minimalist approach has reinforced my belief in the power of narrative innovation. It has also reinforced my belief in storytelling authenticity. This is true even within the confines of low-budget filmmaking.

Authenticity Through Intimate Storytelling

A pivotal moment in my career was learning the importance of intimacy and connection with my subjects. This realization was a game-changer. Spending time with characters off-camera often leads to genuine, impactful footage. This approach has become a cornerstone of my work. It highlights that true narrative depth comes from understanding and portraying the authentic experiences of our subjects.

I've discovered unique avenues for storytelling by leveraging these constraints. These are valuable filmmaking tips. They help you create immersive, engaging cinematic experiences. You don't need extensive resources. This mindset not only enhances the emotional connection with the audience. It also proves that creativity flourishes within boundaries.

Redefining Cinematic in the Digital Age: A Personal Insight

Embracing the Digital Revolution in Filmmaking

The current landscape of cinema is undergoing a transformative shift. The democratization of filmmaking tools fuels this shift. The digital age has made storytelling accessible to everyone. This has allowed a more diverse range of narratives to flourish. The advent of smartphones and platforms like YouTube has sparked a creative explosion. It offers unprecedented opportunities for storytelling and audience engagement. This change promises to reshape not just how stories are told but also how they are consumed. It challenges traditional media and even giants like Netflix.

The Impact of Digital Storytelling on My Journey

I've been deeply involved in the digital space from the early days of YouTube. I've witnessed firsthand the evolution of content creation. My journey from watching VHS tapes to exploring digital platforms demonstrates a big change in how we tell and engage with stories. The ability to leverage new technologies has expanded the narrative possibilities. It has also allowed me to connect with audiences in innovative ways. This shift towards digital storytelling has been both challenging and rewarding. It has pushed the boundaries of traditional narrative structures. This has opened up a world of new storytelling possibilities.

Engaging in the Digital Storytelling Renaissance

Nurturing Audience Connections in the Digital Era

We should engage directly with audiences in the changing world of cinematic storytelling. We should use social media and digital platforms to share and discuss our narratives. The digital era offers unique opportunities for filmmakers. They can connect, share insights, and inspire one another. My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to master the art of storytelling with the resources at hand. Especially natural light. This will enhance your narrative's authenticity without overcomplicating the technical aspects.

Fostering a Global Community of Storytellers

Building a community around narrative innovation has profoundly impacted my understanding of what it means to be cinematic. Engaging with the work of filmmakers I admire, through their films and insights shared in interviews or commentaries, has been invaluable. This collaborative learning and sharing within a community of storytellers encourages us all to redefine cinematic storytelling, embracing a wider array of human experiences and ensuring that cinema remains a vibrant, inclusive art form.

P.S. Download my FREE make a any cheap camera cinematic cheat sheet if you want a quick guide to do just that...


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