Media Production Mentoring

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The Student Film Look: Thesis Not Story

A good story unfolds around you. It may be predictable and even a little cheesy, but it still invites you along for the ride. And you go along happily, completely disregarding the fact that you've seen this all before.

Hat Tip
Rebecca LuElla Miller

The great films that are also original are even more fun. Each scene reveals an exciting new aspect of the tale.

Not so with student films.

Student films are plagued by the filmmaker's ideas instead of their story. Each scene plays out like a script meeting and you can almost hear them discussing the plot points.

Writer: This whole movie is about not being able to see, and now, the one character that can see is plunged into darkness.
Director: Yeah! And the audience will experience this with her because we'll pan slowly into the darkness and then hear her stumbling around. It'll be great!

Ugh. (Incidentally, Blindness--from which the above was taken--inspired me to start this series.) Rather than being an important part of the story, this scene is part of the film's thesis. It actually does nothing to advance the plot whatsoever. It happens because the filmmaker wants to say something. The scene isn't out of place. We know exactly why it's there. And that's the problem. Rather than going along for the ride, we must wade (and wait) through the director's reiteration of what his movie is about.

Student films are "about something." Great films are well-crafted visual stories that blend the other arts into the experience.

Story, not thesis.

Come to think of it, this is probably one of the major problems with Christian films as well.

How do you grow out of thesis filmmaking? I don't have a great answer because many, many films--even those with big names and big money behind them--get it wrong. I think the first place to start, however, is focus on writing a great story. Don't start with a thesis. Start with a story. And if you need help finding stories to practice on, read a great book for inspiration.

Great stories will have a thesis, to be sure. But the story supports the thesis, not the other way around. Story needs to come first.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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