IRA GLASS ON STORYTELLING
Ira Glass produces a radio show with millions of listeners. In this series of four video clips, he takes us through the building blocks of creating a great story and the honest lessons he learned while becoming successful. While he talks to an audience of videographers and broadcasters, what he shares goes for all creative work, and particularly applies to photo stories and essays.
PART I: ON THE BASICS
A good story flips back and forth between anecdotes and moments of reflection. An anecdote is an action or a sequence of actions that builds momentum, raises questions, and leads the viewer on a journey. Starting your story with an anecdote grabs your audience but ultimately there has to be a point to the story. You have to answer some questions along the way but also there has to be a bigger “something” you are trying to emphasize. This reminds me of Matt Brandon’s tips. In a photo essay, these basics translate to starting with a ‘hook’ shot that baits the viewer. It raises questions that compel a person to look what’s next. Along the way, make sure to provide several establishing shots that provide some answers. And add closure – this doesn’t necessarily have to be the final image I think, but it does reference the ‘pointe’.
PART II: ON FINDING A GOOD STORY
Around 30 to 50% of their stories are killed before they are finished. Often it is harder to find a story than to produce it. Basically it comes down to two things:
– Do your research.
– Don’t aim for mediocre.
Put yourself on a schedule. Every week, every month, create the deadline. And then be the most ruthless editor you can be. Get to the parts that are getting to your heart.
PART III: ON GOOD TASTE
Churn through the work and create something. Make as much crap as you can. Even if your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is crappy, don’t quit. Keep creating. You do this because there’s something you love. As Ernest Hemingway once eloquently put: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
PART IV: TWO COMMON PITFALLS
Ira offers some great advice on how to avoid common beginner mistakes:
– Create, don’t imitate.
– Make connections.
Of course we want to sound and act like the people we are inspired by. But everything will be more compelling, the more you are yourself. There already was a Henri Cartier-Bresson; the world doesn’t need another one. Though it’s a good challenge to question yourself: “How would X shoot this?” also try to think of how you could do it differently. Reflect on why you want to shoot it and what attracted YOU to this story. Your impressions and your worldview are unique. A great story has different viewpoints. It’s your interaction with the world; it has to have something of you in there. This reminded me of David Labelle’s advice: don’t be distant. Spend time with people. You will get a better sense of pictures that communicate with others if you can empathize with others, imagine yourself in their skin, ask them what they care about.
I especially love when Ira points his finger and says: “You can tell it’s still sort of crappy”, then urges us not to quit. To those that don’t feel you progress fast enough, because you’re too much of a perfectionist: don’t quit. To those that are afraid of failure: know it is a big part of success. Part of growing is falling, having all the kids point and laugh, dusting yourself off and trying again.
No-one is asking us to be perfect right off the bat–just to be us.
Ilse, or Jilske as she is known, follows us on Twitter and mentioned these videos by Ira Glass, which we had also seen. We asked her to give her impressions of what Ira Glass had to say and to take it one step further. In the not too distant future, we hope to see Jilske showcase a story on Rear Curtain using what she’s learned through these videos and other resources we’ve provided. If you would like to contribute a post or would like to work through your ideas for a story, please contact us. ~ Ray Ketcham