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Storytelling the Stillmotion Way: Part 1

Riley Hooper
April 17, 2013 by Riley Hooper PRO

Good morning class! Settle down, take your seats.

Today I’d like to introduce a very special guest professor. Our friends from Stillmotion will be taking the reins for the next few weeks, using their experience as Emmy award-winning filmmakers to teach you a very special skill — the art of storytelling.

As filmmakers, storytelling is at the core of what we do. Whether you’re making a narrative, a documentary, or a commercial, short or long form, you are telling a story to your audience.

As a storyteller you have the opportunity to connect with your audience on a very deep level, to make people feel, think, and act — but only if you do it right! Storytelling may seem simple, and in a way it is. Some very basic principles are at the basis of it all. It’s remembering these principles and making every decision, from pre- to post-production, based on them, that is the key to great storytelling.

Without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Patrick and his team, who are going to walk you through what they have learned about storytelling from seven years of hands on experience in the business:

OK, let’s recap!

As Patrick said, before his team takes on a project, they make sure they have a firm understanding of what they call the Four P’s: People, Place, Plot, and Purpose.

1. People: Who is in the story?

Characters are what make us emotionally invested in a story. You’ll want your audience to root for your protagonists and against your antagonists. Also, keep in mind:

-Your character could be an object and not just a person: For example, in this wedding video, the couple’s 1970s Winnebago is portrayed as a strong third character.
-Sometimes your characters are not the obvious ones: such as in this profile on pro golfer Phil Mickelson where his caddy of 18 years, Bones, is presented as a key character.

2. Place: Where does the story take place?

Location can add depth and intrigue to your characters and story, and can visually communicate a great amount of information in a short period of time. When choosing a location, Stillmotion keeps the following in mind:

-Relevance: Does it relate to your character or overall story?
-Comfort: Will the characters feel at ease and act naturally?
-Production friendly: Is the space, lighting, and noise level conducive to a good shoot?
-For example, in their film I’m Fine Thanks, the team documented a woman in her 150 square-foot tiny home. While they faced physical challenges shooting in such tight quarters, they preferred this to shooting outside with uncontrollable light and audio. Plus, the loft was extremely relevant to the story and message of the interview.
-As with characters, Stillmotion encourages us to think creatively with location as well, and to go beyond the first or most obvious location presented to you.

3. Plot: What is the conflict and the journey?

Stillmotion believes that every piece, even a commercial, needs a conflict to drive the narrative. That doesn’t mean every story needs a villain. Conflict and tension can come in many varieties.

-For example, in Stu & Dana’s wedding film, they used the tension of Stu’s struggle to memorize his wedding vows to draw the viewer in to empathize with and root for their character.
-As Patrick explains, conflict is important because it allows the audience to ask questions. Once your viewers have no unanswered questions, they’ll lose interest.

4. Purpose: Why should anyone care about this?

The Stillmotion mantra here is “know what you need to say before you speak.” Throughout the production process it’s important to always be going back to this essential purpose, reminding yourself why you’re telling this story and why others will care about it.

-For example, in I’m Fine Thanks, the team’s purpose was to make a film that challenged people to reclaim their dreams. They explored stories of people who had confronted complacency in their own lives, always with this central purpose in mind.
-Even if you are working on a commercial piece for a client, it’s still important to approach the piece the same way, with a clear purpose. If you approach it with the same passion that you have for personal projects, you’ll end up with a stronger piece, which is exactly what happened with PULSE, the piece Stillmotion did for a company called BioBeats.
-Before you pick up a camera, you should be able to state your purpose in one clear, succinct sentence.

Congratulations! You made it through part one. Remember, we’ve still got three more parts to go. The closer you pay attention and follow along now, the more prepared you’ll be for the storytelling contest we’ll be launching at the end of this online workshop!

So if you’re competitive and like winning prizes (that’s right I said prizes), or you’re just looking to brush up on your skills, I suggest you stick around! Next up, we’ll explore Stillmotion’s process of researching keywords to guide the rest of your production.

  1. 1.
    Use the power of storytelling to win terrific prizes in our latest Challenge!
  2. Learn about the art of storytelling from the folks at Stillmotion, starting with the four P's of storytelling: People, Place, Plot, and Purpose.
  3. 3.
    Learn how to use research to develop keywords to guide the pre-production process in part two of our storytelling workshop series with Stillmotion.
  4. 4.
    Walk through the last steps in pre-production by creating a storyboard and call sheet and choosing gear, and finally learn some tips for the shoot day in part three of our storytelling series with Sti
  5. 5.
    In the last installment of our series on storytelling with Stillmotion we challenge you to apply what you've learned to tell a story of somebody doing what they love.


Logan Bockrath

Love it. I'm sure you guys have read it, but I highly recommend A Story Is A Promise ( to anyone interested in further food for thought.
Excited to see the rest.


Great and inpiring!!! I will definitely want to see more of the series.

Dave Dugdale

Fun series! I look forward to the next one!

Sam Scherf

I liked the list of considerations that need to be taken care of before shooting any video. Not only will the suggestions save time, any future videos that I do will be more 'watchable'. Tnx!

Robert B. Plus

Finally a great tutorial on the most important part of film making that many bloggers ignore - the storytelling. Thanks!

Lauren teller

This was great....clarity before action and a wonderful structure to support creation. Where is the next one..excited to see it!

Pasha Motorin

ребята переигрывают слеганца


I teach scriptwriting in Sao Paulo, Brazil and I will sure tell my students to watch and follow this series of videos, thanks, good job!

stillmotion PRO

That's great to hear. With about 50 minutes over 4 episodes it's a super thorough series


Darrin Estep Plus

Super helpful! Thanks for putting this together. Look forward to the next in the series.

Andi Thompson Plus

Thanks for this, was really helpful. Can't wait for the next one! :)

Tortoise Films

Thanks for sharing this with us. Great inspiring video which keeps things clear and simple, and there's a prize at the end of it wahoo!

C PhotoGraphic Visuals PRO

great stuff. have been looking around for some inspiration to take my films beyond just pretty pictures. thanks.

stillmotion PRO

That's always the tough, but key transition, going from strong visual images, to relevant images, and ones that means something to you and others. I hope we can be a part of that growth


Chip Simons

This was excellent. Ready for the next one!

Raphael Sacle

Hi is there any way I can get an alert when the nex class is online?

Chris Cruz

I'm really excited about this! I've been approaching video's by capturing as much as I could then trying to make a story out of my clips. I'm always faced with, if only...., I wish I woulda....., why didn't I.....

I'm really interested in seeing how you plan shots and story board with clients.

Markus Ziegler Plus

Now I work in this business for so long and still learn something today. Thank you very much and I am looking forward for all the segments to come.

Sasha-Shae W

Excellent series!! Thanks for sharing. I am going to implement these for my blog which caters to hair-care and such, but definitely these are good principles. :)

Mike Lafata

Is "I’m Fine, Thanks" finished and online somewhere or is it still in post?

Cre8ive Beast Plus

Unbelievable! Thank you very much! Have been looking for exactly this type of help, figuring out how to tell my story, how to put those random images in our brain that we think that look great into coherent understandable steps. Awesome!

MakmendeMedia PRO

Exploring the 4P's is basically all about good preparation. It is the same as asking yourself these basic questions before starting any project: people (who), places (where & when), plot (what & how), and purpose (why)

Gary Groves Plus

Great idea. Too bad I missed it. Since I'm just starting to do this, what kind of shooting ratio would you expect with this type of project? Or how much raw footage to get to 2 minutes?

deepan acharya

This was something I was really really really looking forward to and very keen on learning. I just can't believe it's out there! A big thanks for all the fellas out there in stillmotion. Keep up the good work :)


thanks vimeo

i have learned so much from u

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