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All Places > The Communication COMMunity > Blog > 2017 > March
2017

I am fascinated by storytelling. I am a Moth podcast junkie and am a regular at story slams around Boston. Something about hearing other people’s stories helps me place my own experiences within a meaningful context. They have the power to help me empathize with other people’s perspectives. They can inspire and teach me.

 

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why storytelling holds such power. In a three-part series on Fast Company, Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Mariner Books, 2013), talks about the ubiquitous, powerful nature of stories and their influence on us and our culture. He begins by illustrating how storytelling infiltrates many aspects of our human experience:  

 

"Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning."

 

Storytelling isn’t new. As a social and cultural activity, storytelling predates writing and began as an oral tradition. It is a distinctly human endeavor that serves to share and interpret experiences, teach, and entertain. We are drawn to stories for a good reason. Turns out, we are wired for it. “Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them,” Gottschall writes. You see our desire to tell and consume stories in our love of television, movies, and books as well as our fascination with social media. Telling stories shapes how we interact with others not to mention well-constructed narratives are often behind compelling initiatives in advertising, business, and journalism.

 

Storytelling is woven throughout all aspects of our media and culture and is evolving as we do. With the digital era, we are also seeing our increased ability to participate in and have an effect on the stories being told.  Though the exact extent to how much media can change our society and vice versa is still unknown, storytelling's capacity for creating empathy and shifting cultural attitudes is an interesting phenomenon to look at. While trying to convince somebody to change a belief is largely ineffective, telling them a story with characters they can empathize with can be more persuasive. For example, Gottschall argues that social scientists believe that storytelling might have had an impact on shifting American attitudes on homosexuality over the past 15 years with television shows such as Will & Grace, Glee, and Modern Family. That's some powerful stuff!

 

With storytelling being such a huge part of the way we consume media, teach, and learn, I suspect we will continue to talk and hear a lot about storytelling in the coming years. Want to learn more? Gottschall’s interesting three-part series on storytelling is available to read here:

 

The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else

Infecting an Audience: Why Great Stories Spread

Story 2.0: The Surprising Thing About the Next Wave of Narrative

 

How has storytelling impacted your life? Have you changed a perspective on something because of a well-told story? How do you think storytelling will evolve in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

A while ago, I wrote a bit on COMMblog about the idea of "one perfect shot" that encapsulates a movie perfectly (or just looks really, really nice). That's been on my mind again as I finish up helping the authors of The Film Experience with the visual program for our new fifth edition of the book, which is coming out this fall. Editing lots of different types of books is fun, but I can say confidently that the visual side of editorial work is most fun with film books. The authors and I are constantly looking for examples to illustrate technical concepts (related to editing, cinematography, and, trickiest of all, sound!) as well as broader categories (like genre or narrative).

 

We want some examples that students will know immediately -- often this involves looking at a list of the highest-grossing movies of the last year or two, and then trying to figure out which of those are most likely appeal to a wide-ranging "college student" demographic that can include teenagers, adult learners, and plenty of people in between (it helps if they're good movies, too). But we also want examples that come from classic movies, or obscure titles that students may not know right away, but should. We've heard from film instructors that they have similar struggles in the classroom: Trying to teach concepts through instantly recognizable movies but also trying to expand students' horizons and include movies from -- get this -- before they were born! 


Here's a little preview of just a few of the images we're going to include in the fifth edition:

 

Ghostbusters wasn't a huge hit last summer, but it's a good go-to example because it includes comedy (including good examples of comic framing, as in the frame below), special effects, four excellent female leads, and "intellectual property" from the past that so many studios are desperate to mine.

 

 

Of course, there are always superhero movies. No matter how you feel about them, at least a couple images from them will make their way into an intro to film book these days. The first frame below is from X-Men: Apocalypse, which I admit wasn't the biggest hit in terms of recent superhero movies, but on the other hand, has this really cool shade of purple in this scene. Contrast with Captain America: Civil War, a very entertaining movie that, as you can see, has far less purple. I may sound flip, but that's also part of our consideration: How these images will look and catch students' eye on the page, be it in print or on an ebook reader.

 

 

 

Not everything has to be super-current, either. In the Cinematography chapter, the authors use a series of images from Carrie (1976) to show different points of view within the same sequence. This overhead shot is one of my favorites.

 

A box in the book's final chapter on writing about film discusses the creation of a video essay on Touch of Evil, which has similarly striking images to choose from. A lot of students supposedly don't watch black-and-white movies so it's especially important to choose memorable images to get them interested in the form.

 

 

Finally, sometimes when a movie is being used for an example that's not 100% shot-specific, you can suggest particular shots that you just love. These images from God Help the Girl (2014) and It Follows (2015) perfectly convey aspects of their genres (musical and horror, respectively); it doesn't hurt that they're two of my favorite recent films.

 

 

Don't you want to see those movies now, if you haven't?!

The Film Experience will be out in the fall with literally dozens more new shots like this. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from any film or media instructors who have favorite frames or other visual cues they use for teaching!

Recent reports from Common Sense Media revealed that American teens spend an average of nine hours per day using media, excluding time during school or for homework. If you think that's a lot, additional reports state that parents, too, spend about the same time. When generations young and old are spending more than one-third of their day using media, it's no wonder that Steve Barrett, Editor-in-Chief of trade magazine PR Week, called media literacy "the social issue of our time."  In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election and the controversy surrounding "fake news," media literacy has become a buzzword for educators and journalists alike, who now see the need for media consumers to be able to understand not only what "fake news" is, but also the importance of knowing where they're getting their news, what biases are possible in the news they're consuming, and what message this piece of news is trying to send.

 

So, in case you missed it, here are a few places where we can see media literacy gaining traction around the country:

 

 

Are any media literacy initiatives occurring at your school, in your state, or in other communities? Leave a comment below!