How to tell an already good story with video, and then dear oh dear this.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah
5 min readJun 3, 2023

By now you’re one of millions around the world hailing the success of Musa, a lovely likeable young man with an inviting smile and an attitude that serves as example to others.

Long story short, and if you haven’t watched it and you want to be wowed, stop reading now and watch this. It will be worth every minute you can’t reclaim.

Musa is an amputee. His left leg lost to cancer ruining a potential football career. There are much better social observers to do Musa’s story than I could. Except yes he is a phenomenon. He danced his heart out and got what he deserved an all judges golden buzzer.

But this post isn’t really about the brilliant Musa, but about the filmmaking. If you’ve studied the filming, the chances are you might be in awe.

I’m a video and cinema journalist/ academic. I study cinema/ video in its way to create compelling stories. I also produce, have done for thirty years, and then revealed the cognitive science and art through a doctoral programme. As such I present to networks and clients how they might use video to brilliant effect. In the breakdown that follows, first a masterclass in storytelling from ITV, and then how not to do it, if you’re the British government.

In 2009, when one Susan Boyle took to the stage, I wrote about how the filmmakers amplified her story. It was a seminal piece of theatre which I wrote up as “48 million views, because it’s a multi layered story well told”.

Well, ITV have done it again. It’s not by accident. Don’t get me wrong. Musa and Boyle were every bit deserving, but there’s an alchemy going on that elevates this film to something than the performance given.

It’s a huge skill. Watching a film, it can often go unnoticed because the best storytelling end editing gets you into such an immersive state that you lose yourself, and then as pointed out in Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd, the audience help create the magic.

Anyone can critique a film, with some idea why it works or doesn’t, but given the ingredients first hand it’s something else to create that added magic.

Musa exemplifies a saying in storytelling that there’s cinema in nature. That is some things are just awe inspiring. You could stand at the edge of Victoria or Niagara Falls and have your breadth taken away. And even in the unfolding of events, some scenes carry such potency in their cinemacity, we feel compelled to watch.

I often use cinemacity to describe an event that, like Art, has a deep pull on the visual senses. Think about it. TikTok exists because we can merely hold a camera up to an event, a cinema moment, and it’ll rack up views.

Remember this Charlie Bit me, oozing with cutness. It became so popular almost ten years ago, advertisers and branders took note.

Here’s a question then, what if you had a mobile phone on Musa. Sure you’d likely pull in tons of viewers, but what ITV brought was that special sauce.

To start with, of course the setting, the studio, and the audience. Britain’s Got Talent has become a must watch for some. Oddly enough I don’t watch it. No reason, I’m not a TV person, but my sisters who were around were dialled in.

This was a multiple camera shoot and effect, with cameras trained on the audience, judges, presenters, and a multiple shoot in progress. On some shots as Musa turns there’s cuts (invisible) from mid to close up (empathy shot) to a wide to show his skill twirling on his crutches. That is it’s important to catch him dancing using the wide, and then a reaction shot, the face.

Slow motion is used to accentuate his actions. And then there’s the cuts to the audience and judges whose gestures heighten the drama. These are intentional which range from the quizzical look ie :what’s this young man going to do”, to full on egging him on. Notice too also the fast intercuts, as it becomes excitable.

About 100 years ago the filmmaker Abel Gance demonstrated how by fast cuts he could raise the level of the audience’s anxiety or excitement. Watching Mus dance won’t bring this, this is what the video director adds.

Film scholar Kirsten Thompson speaks about Gance here (00.38) and (3.22) as one of the presumed first filmmaker to use accelerated/ decelerated rhythmic editing to portray extreme states of mind. Note on the 3.22 shot, that train isn’t moving any faster, it’s the editing that’s creating that illusion.

Film directing of this nature is no accident; it’s a medium that can trully manipulate the sense. I am not a part of the production crew but my experience in television and study of it hints to what might have taken place.

Musa’s name and what he does is presented in pre-production. He’s likeable and what he does will wow everyone. He’s going last. He will see the programme out. That’s important. Psychologist call it the peak end rule. The last thing you see stays with you.

Note the show had already ran out of golden buzzers, but there’s a hand the production crew would have discussed. It’s akin to WWF wrestling, which is also theatre at its best. OK watch and gauge the audience. Insist there are no buzzers. Resist at first (some comments are made to that end). If it builds to a climax, go for it. Hence even though we don’t have any more buzzers, like magic, we’ll programme for golden confetti to come tumbling down.

The music is important, the post production too. In spite of the fact the viewer is made to think they’re watching a live show, it’s filmed “as live”, but even then, you can see in the film a few scenes that question, how “as live” was it? Here’s the reverse shot into the audience, as two judges are animated talking to each other.

Mind you when I went to watch my son dance on the BBC 2 Young Dancers Final, they achieved similars shot for their one-take

But there’s a huge difference between BGT that creates a story around the performance and BBC Young Dancers that focuses entirely on the performance

So yes enjoy Musa. He will go far way beyond BGT, and share a nod for the programme makers too. In the next post, I deconstruct this

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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah

Creative Technologist & Associate Professor. International Award Winner Cinema journalist. Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled Top Writer,