I was giving a lecture. The trouble with television news is we’ve been conditioned to believe its way of portraying events is the only way to understand the world.
One of the shortest most powerful stories in the world, recorded in the bible, says simply: Jesus wept.
In two words, a denouement. We may want to know how, or why, but we can’t shake off the image. Jesus is crying. Long trestle haired, bearded, perfectly symmetry face…
In story terms, we have a powerful character, revered the world over by his faithful, doing something unimaginable. Film scholar David Bodwell talks about our attraction to such semantic pairings. But there’s a catch. This story only works effectively for its desired affect if your memory can serve you associated images of Jesus, and largely not question anything other than what you’ve read, or been taught. His embodiment is universal.
In the 20th century, Hollywood, a burgeoning community of filmmakers recognised, how through experiments, they could sell stories. They would take what is personal, unseen and create a need for audiences to watch. Why would a lone parent, fighting against big companies polluting their local water be of interest to anyone else?
Hollywood cracked it, but not before the likes of Hugo Munsterberg proposed in his Photoplay circa 1916 that film works like the mind. Germaine Dulac went further. ‘Cinema is marvellously equipped to express these manifestation of our thinking’. It is the equivalent of conscious thinking, displaying our memories one of the foremost thinkers of cinema Henri Bergson would add. Practitioners rubbished this, but you get the gist. (See Daniel Frampton’s Filmosophy for more).
To get people interested in your story, you have to have a Bible in each hotel. Theirs was a cinema room in every town and the films were created to be universally absorbed. The referential and implicit worked its charm on our minds, more attuned in many circumstances to be irrational rather than rational.
Some stories defy cultural or technology boundaries and where the storyteller comes from. Their themes resonate. Epic stories of love and battles occur in Gilgamesh (approx 2500 BC), in Romeo and Juliet, threading to Gone with the Wind and Mother India.
Hollywood as the world’s most powerful memory transfusion machine, proves year on year the power of stories. Who would have thought after the army rolled in during the world wars, American hegemony relied on movies as much as military might. It served several purposes — new incomes streams and getting people to think like their creators. Hollywood, has taught us how to think, much as Euclid, the great Greek mathematician ruled how we should perceive space and perspective.
Then in the 1940s, we developed how to electronically tell stories stressing their realism, truthfulness and universality. There was only one way to make sense of the world. We called it news — a fitting acronym of four quadrants: North, East, West and South. We would interview people after an event, place them harmoniously on a screen (rule of thirds) and they would speak their words, as their body language said otherwise.
This would become our realism. We surrendered our critiques, began to trust everything news said. The camera never lied, we said. Forgetting there was someone pointing the camera and that person made choices. We imbued myriad technologies to shape our messages emboldened by philosophical mantras: the medium is the message.
Actually it’s a lot more.
Twitter has its impact, but it’s the messenger, audience, story and style of telling it that also count. Technologies’ ace was to aid the message’s swift flow. Finally they managed to put a bible in everyone’s hand — a mobile phone. And then we fell for soothing lullabies and became comatosed, intermittently awakening to check what just happened.
We tell stories for any number of reasons, but those reason enveloped in ones and zeros can hide deeper implicit rationales. Anyone can learn to shoot on a mobile phone in one hour, how you use the phone to frame, and the meaning that translates to the receiver requires deeper thought. At some stage at the ‘intimate saturation point’ you can’t get any more intimate to influence your subject matter via the phone. Try it and then tell your mobile phone teacher Robert Drew achieved a level of intimacy with Primary (1960).
At the University of Westminster, colleagues and I are looking into the wires and forms of stories with a convened LAB that investigates modern technology and storytelling, myths and memory, and the many ways evolving and developed how we get our stories across.
Our work has taken across several territories, such as the borders of Syria, China and across Europe and the US to understand and disseminate the hidden forms in news, docs, image-based production, text and audio.
And sometimes, as this year’s television journalist of the year Matt Frei notes you need external interventions to whip up interest.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has been a journalist/storyteller for almost 30 years working for some of the biggest brands in journalism e.g. Newsnight, Channel 4 News. He is the recipient of a number of international awards including the (US) Knight Batten for Innovation in Journalism. He currently leads the Digital Interactive Story LAB at the University of Westminster — a course currently recruiting for 2017/2018. He is a juror for the Royal Television Society Awards. You can contact David for the realdisLAB details via @realdisLAB or @viewmagazine at David@viewmagazine.tv or through his site www.viewmagazine.tv