Traditionally, storytelling has tended to follow certain conventions. Aristotle told us a plot must be whole, with a beginning, middle and an end. Richard Linklater, Director of the Oscar-front-running film Boyhood, offered some suggestions on how to shake things up in a recent article on FastCo.CREATE.
Linklater’s approach is admirable and courageous, precisely because new forms of narrative have always been part of his thought process. For example, he continually asks himself, “Could you ever tell a story this way? Why wouldn’t that work?”
He took an ambitious gamble on Boyhood, which was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast. It paid off, recently winning three awards including Best Film at the Golden Globes and nominated for six Academy Awards.
Linklater’s keys to great storytelling are suitably bold.
First, just because you’re dancing to the beat of your own drum doesn’t mean structure isn’t important. Linklater says “find your form first.” The shape of a film’s narrative is a key decision. Get rhythm.
Second, storytelling is problem solving. Linklater had a problem – he wanted to express thoughts and experiences that were scattered throughout his childhood, which is hard to do in a movie. Boyhood was the solution – sure, one that seemed completely impractical at the time – but solved his problem nonetheless.
Third, trust your audience. Linklater says if the story has integrity, motivated viewers will work a little harder to follow the narrative. “I’m never trying to confuse anybody… If you establish rules and play by them, the audience will buy in… Once people are invested, it won’t be an issue.”
Fourth, sometimes you have to wait for technology to catch up with your ideas. New technology can provide a new way to tell a story. That was the case for Linklater’s Waking Life, which was something of a hybrid between real and animated film. He sat on that idea for 20 years until the right technology made it possible.
Five, art demands structure. Linklater says, “A film isn’t just a narrative; it’s a framework in which to create.”