One of the hardest things for visual storytellers to take on board is that the most powerful stories are the ones in which visual brilliance does not distract. This is particularly tricky for photographers making the leap to videography because they’ve previously learned that value lies in the ability to have aesthetic screaming at you off the page.
The pursuit of visual perfection in constructing a film, unless checked, can come at the cost of audience engagement. The same can be said of visual imperfections or bad sound. Once the audiences mind starts to focus in on individual elements you have lost a part of them.
I’m writing this because of two films and an interview I read today.
The interview is by Kenneth Jarecke talking with photographer turned film-maker Vincent Laforet:
Kenneth - This wonderful film you’ve just shared with all of us. The Nike spot. I wanted to talk to you about it because one can always tell when the director started as a still photographer. There are these great moments which are essentially the best of a still image with motion added
Vincent - It’s a very careful, fine balance when you move into motion, because you grow up as a still photographer in this world where the only thing important to you, besides obviously as a journalist telling a story, is to focus on the visual. Both in terms of the geometry, the color, the lighting, the moment, as you move into motion you realize that if you were to put a string of the single best shots in succession and try to call that a film. Even though the photography might be absolutely perfect, you might not actually get something that works … I’ve always thought that if you have nothing but perfect shots you’re almost impeding yourself as a filmmaker.
It’s well worth taking your time to read the full interview here.
I think Laforet is spot on and I think the film they are talking about is actually a great example of bling riding roughshod over storytelling (or emotion). The Nike Spot is visually amazing. So much so that when the guy with dreads is running up the stairs I actually thought I was looking at CGI; the kind of CGI you’ll see in a computer game. Whilst CGI is becoming more life-like, actual footage is starting to look more like CGI. All in a visual treat but as empty and forgettable as you want it to be.
A few hours later I came across a film by Weather Films about Typhoon Haiyan. Without any visual trickery this film packs one hell of a punch. The powerful interview at the beginning is the sort of moment that you’ll probably never get if you feel the need to set up three cameras, a motorised slider, and light the scene.
Whatever story you’re telling, let it breath.