Storytelling for Dummies

June 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Earlier this year, while knee deep in my last documentary project, I stumbled across this video by graphic artist David Shiyang Liu. It’s a segment from a 2009 interview with radio legend Ira Glass on storytelling and taste.

At the time I saw this it was exactly what I needed to hear (as corny as that sounds). I had all of this beautiful raw footage that I had collected for months. I knew what I wanted my film to be and what it could be…but there was so much I felt was lost in translation between my gut and Final Cut Pro. And I think it is an act of translation. Storytelling in any medium is a lot like learning a language within a language. You have those moments when you feel completely inept. Like you know what you want to say but when you open your mouth to say it a pile of nonsense just falls out of your mouth and onto the floor where it just kind of…lays there. It can be hard to remind yourself “I am not an idiot” when all evidence seems to be pointing to a different conclusion.

I remember standing in a grocery store in France in 2009 about six weeks after I moved there, visibly upset because I couldn’t find the birthday candles. I had translated my grocery list, but I had written down some seventeenth century word for candle that no one ever uses anymore. So when I couldn’t find them and tried to ask I got a lot of blank stares and shrugs. When I finally found one man who realized the mistake I had made he laughed until he saw my eyes welling up with tears. I felt stupid. I felt helpless. Like I was drowning in a sea of things I wanted to say but didn’t know how.

The nice man smiled at me and told me that it was all right, that I just had to be patient because it was going to take time, and then he pointed me in the right direction. And it did take some time, and practice, and letting go of fears of sounding like an idiot while mispronouncing words or using improper grammar. There were times when I accidentally ordered “poison” instead of “fish” and just had to laugh it off with the waiter and make note of it for next time, because that’s the only thing you can do, short of giving up all together.

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