Guest post by Josh Sikora
The challenge for storytellers is to understand the essential characteristics of cinema and use them effectively. Otherwise, it’s a bit like a poet setting out to write a song without understanding music; the lyrics will be beautiful, but the music itself will inevitably be flawed. Of course, poets have heard enough music and storytellers have seen enough films that there is already some intuitive understanding of these mediums, but certainly not the kind of mastery that allows you to leverage that medium fully and effectively.
Without this understanding, it’s likely that the cinematic work may even conflict with the story that you’re trying to tell. This happens even in Hollywood classics, like The Wizard of Oz. It’s a delightful film of course, but consider how it ends up contradicting itself. In the script, the narrative arc is easily summed up in Dorothy’s conclusion that “There’s no place like home.” That’s the driving force for the whole story. Yet cinematically, one obvious choice undercuts that whole notion. Dorothy’s home in Kansas is presented in drab black-and-white, while the land of Oz is captured in glorious technicolor. Everyone remembers that amazing shot where Dorothy opens the door of her monochromatic home to reveal that bright, saturated, beautiful new world—it’s a powerful cinematic moment—yet this one visual choice totally subverts the film’s narrative.
To compound matters, the most memorable song in the movie is of course “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”–it has probably permeated our culture even more than the film itself. Like Frozen‘s “Let It Go,” this song actually represents the antithesis of the film’s narrative. When the lights come up, the storytellers wanted you to be thinking “There’s no place like home,” but because this wasn’t echoed across all of the artistic layers, you leave humming and dreaming instead about that beautiful land “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
You’ve no doubt seen this artistic discordance elsewhere—video games where the story wants to drive you one direction, but the actual gameplay stimulates a different kind of experience, or songs that say one thing with their lyrics, but something else entirely with the music. Of course, one doesn’t need every layer of a work of art to be saying the exact same thing sometimes it’s appropriate for the story to pull you in one direction and for another element of the work to push back against that. This just needs to be deliberate and the layers need to work in harmony with each other. That’s why when working in today’s multimedia world it’s so essential that we understand each individual medium—each instrument in our orchestra—and the tones and colors and qualities that they bring to the overall experience.
If you haven’t read it already, jump back to part 1 and learn more about “Using Film to Sculpt Time.”
Also, take a peek at some of New Renaissance’s films (Josh Sikora’s media company):
Joshua Sikora is the founder and director of the Cinema & New Media Arts program at Houston Baptist University. An award-winning filmmaker and new media entrepreneur, Sikora has written, produced, or directed more than a dozen productions including feature films, TV series, and documentaries. Committed to high-quality, low-budget filmmaking, he has a passion for the freedom and creativity that independent cinema offers. Before joining HBU, Sikora founded New Renaissance Pictures and WebSerials.com, partnering with Hulu and YouTube for a variety of popular web-based productions.