Story telling has always been a tool for people to make sense of life. It’s a way to boil reality down to a smaller and more manageable size. In a fast paced culture of constant communications film, TV and new media have gained a huge significance in our lives.
Yet these mediums, being based on story telling, are undergoing vast changes as a result of shifting attitudes, most notably in the teaching of the craft.
There has been a significant degradation in story telling through film and television over the last 20 years in Australia. I would like to explore this phenomenon from an academic P.O.V.… not academic in the “correct referencing system” sense of the word, rather a critical view of one of the more respected education institutions of Australia in the field of media and communications.
There has been a significant degradation in storytelling
through film and television over the last 20 years in Australia.
Contributing to this study are my personal experiences in this very institution a few years ago as a mature age student where I got my degree – UTS.
Firstly I would like to state that the technical aspects of digital filmmaking and television production at UTS are very well managed. The technical staff was very helpful and knowledgeable. In addition UTS has an incredible digital sound facility. This is a huge benefit to all students that attend the faculty of humanities and social sciences. The staff, facilities and equipment of the sound department far exceeded my expectations at the time of my attendance.
What I did find strange was that at no point during my time at the university did any of the lecturers outline to us the basic structure of a story. To that matter never was there even an attempt to allude to the craft of story telling. When I asked for more hands on demonstrations of production technicalities the common reply was “this is not a technical training facility but an education facility.”
Yet, there was very little educating in story telling as part of the media arts and production courses. This poses a huge contradiction, as story telling is the fundamental craft that all film and television productions are based on. This very contradiction in philosophies persisted throughout my entire degree.
The first assignment we were given was to produce a 5 min film interpreting the theme “Places”. Camcorders, edit suites and technical training were provided but no guidelines of how to produce the content.
Fortunately, from prior work experience I knew what production documents were needed and worked with them accordingly. I structured a plot, wrote a script, broke it down, sketched a storyboard and produced a shot list. Armed with my production folder full of goodies I created a schedule for production and booked in the crew… my lonesome self.
Eventually I had a single day of shooting left and found my self at the edit suites digitizing footage. On a tea break I talked with another student about his assignment. He asked how it was going for me and I replied “good, I am only 3 shots away from finishing all of my shotlist”. Mortified he replied “SHOTLIST!!!?” I said, “yes, of my script” and these words came out of his mouth “Script? I don’t believe in scripts”.
Script? I don’t believe in scripts.
Normally I could leave that to hang for a minute or 2 and even let that little anecdote end my argument. But I have more.
The shear audacity that some people have to downright ignore the last 2500 years worth of study into the craft of story telling is astounding. Not having the basics such as step outlines, treatments, scripts, breakdowns and shot lists required as part of all assignments in a Media Arts and Production degree reflects a severe lack of appreciation of story telling and structure in both academia and industry alike.
This laissez-faire attitude had filtered through from course structure to assessment. How are students meant to tell 5-minute stories with out being taught story telling? Most of the shorts produced for this assignment ended up being portraits of buildings, streets and random thoughts. What were the assessors assessing?
I found an equivalent form of short film making at one of Sydney’s highly respected fine art schools, COFA, part of the university of New South Wales. A friend of mine who studied there would invite me regularly to their class exhibitions. Many of his fellow students explored other mediums than drawing, print and sculpture.
Filmmaking goes short of the technicalities
of operating the camera and editing the footage.
One of the common additions to the traditional arts in their exhibitions was video installation. To the most part I found these installations both literal and tedious at best. But one did catch my attention.
It was a static shot, in the background was an ornate wallpaper – the faded maroon colour of the patterns gave evidence of its age. In the foreground, contradicting the background was a young pretty girl sitting in a chair who turned out to be the artist. She smiled and spoke to someone off camera. The audio levels were too low for her words to be audible. A fist bound with boxing bandages entered frame right and punched her in the face. The force of the impact was so strong as to be heard through the very low audio levels. More so it knocked her head back and forced her to take a second to recover. She gathered her thoughts and kept on talking, ignoring the fist. The fist came in again and punched her a second time this time she needed longer to recover. Before she had the chance to do so the fist returned a third time her head recoiled back from the force of the hit. She began to cry uncontrollably wiping away her tears as the fist came for another punch. This evoked an emotion in me as the viewing audience. I sympathized with another human in pain.
The clip alone had no story, though arguably she could be defined as the protagonist and the fist as the antagonist. Then her decision to brave on through the violence defying the perpetrator tells us much about her. But that would be a subjectively analytical view forcing this clip into a structure that I don’t think the artist had in mind. This was a spectacle for a spectacle’s sake provoking the viewer as any controversial artwork would.
How are students meant to tell 5-minute stories
without being taught story telling?
As filmmaking goes short of the technicalities of operating the camera and editing the footage, this was not a short film but video positioned as fine art. The artist argues for the validity of fine art to exist outside of its traditional mediums.
Nir Shelter is a writer/director whose work has featured at film, theater and writing festivals around the world. His projects have accumulated over 70 selections, nominations and awards, placing in some of the highest ranking industry festivals and contests: Final Draft’s Big Break, The Page Awards, The Nashville Film Festival, The Austin Film Festival, Screencraft, Shore Scripts, LA Web Fest, KWeb Fest and more.