Story, Study, Practice, Craft

Story, Study, Practice, Craft

At TWC, we’re forever expanding the definition of the concept of “writing”. Composing words into works goes beyond prose and poetry, especially in the digital world where we can all tell our stories in so many different ways. But the keyword is always “story” – how to tell it in the best way that it can possibly be told, as one of our newest TWC instructors, Cynthia Granville, shares in her guest blog, “Story, Study, Practice, Craft”. – Judith

In the current issue of Filmmaker Magazine, when the Chair of Columbia University’s film department, Ira Deutchman, discusses what sets his program apart, he cites its concentration on storytelling. “You’re a storyteller when you’re a director, writer or producer. No matter what we teach, it’s always about concentrating on telling a story.”

This focus on storytelling is something I have made a priority in my own work as a filmmaker, and even in my approach to roles as an actress.

Much has been written about the democratization of filmmaking due to the availability of professional quality equipment at a much cheaper price point than ever before. What can set our work apart in the growing number of films being made as a result? Attention to telling a good story. It’s a strong story that touches a nerve or a heart.

Later in this same article, Cressandra Thibodeaux, a Columbia graduate, is also quoted. While having some positive things to say about her educational experience, she advises aspiring filmmakers who are going into film production NOT to attend film school. “…you should just be doing it…. With production, you just kind of need to do [the thing itself].”

For me, this points out the challenge that faces those of us whose disciplines, like writing and filmmaking, are also called “crafts”. (Merriam Webster: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill). As craftspeople, we must practice. We need to write; we need to make films. We can’t improve unless we do. And if we continue, we will create better work and be better at our craft.

A writer needs a pen and paper, perhaps a laptop, a word processing program. Years ago, a filmmaker had to hope to get into a film school where equipment was made available, or apprentice at a studio. Today we can start with that very same piece of paper and pen to create the story we want to tell; then we can use that very same laptop and its included camera to start practicing how to tell that story on film or video. Or we can work with a cell phone, or the point and shoot camera we got as a birthday present. When we are one day able to access better equipment, we’ll know exactly what we want to do with it to tell our story. How exciting that we don’t need deep pockets these days to make a film that can last forever!

As a young actor, I was inspired by Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar acceptance speech, when he talked about all the out-of-work, broke actors who “practice accents while you’re driving a taxi cab.” He called them “that artistic family that strives for excellence.” As we continue to strive, we seek those stories that we simply have to tell; and we study, so that we have the knowledge we need to tell them. Then we practice, so that we can tell them the best way we know how.

Cynthia GranvilleCynthia Granville is an actress, director and filmmaker who works in theatre, film, and television. She teaches VIDEO OVERLOAD: Making Stories for the Small Screen to middle and high school students at The Writers Circle.

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