I’ve got a question for you. What’s the most important quality a good story needs? The most obvious answer is, well, a good story. Right? Well, actually, not so much. Funnily enough, what actually happens is probably the LEAST important aspect of storytelling. We’ve watched a thousand movies about WWII*, walked past a thousand vampire-werewolf-beautiful but misunderstood girl teenage supernatural romances, and, actors, isn’t every second scene you do in class a break-up scene? There are only seven stories in the world, when you get down to the bare bones, and if content alone mattered, there would only be seven stories out there now** and we’d all be reading them in ancient Greek.
Everything’s been said before, then? Yes, thousands of times, but you haven’t said it yet, and that’s what matters.
As an creative professional (or amateur really, but isn’t it nice to get paid for it?), as a storyteller, the one thing that we need above anything else is a point of view. Everything else is just technique. If you don’t have an opinion about what you’re creating, then why are you doing it? Why should anyone else care, if you don’t?
What is happening is not nearly so important as why it is happening. The most unbearable movie is made watchable by the actor who understands exactly what his character thinks and feels about what is happening, and therefore knows exactly what to do about it.
What we are selling, as writers, performers, directors, as storytellers, is our point of view. What distinguishes, say, me from any other twenty-six year old red-headed actress with directorial ambitions, and believe me, by that criteria, there’re a lot of me’s blundering around out there, is the way I see the world. If you go into an audition worrying about how to ’give the casting directors what they want’ I promise you that you will not get the part, because what they want is to see how you make the part different from everyone else. (This is true of any creative job interview, really.) What do you have to say? What has your life, good bits and icky bits and boring bits and all the bits and pieces that make up the collage of you, taught you about the world? It’s so important for all of us to find our voice and learn to use it, because it’s only once we know what we’re trying to say that we can hope to create (ha) the kind of career that we want for ourselves, make a mark on the world, however big or small our ultimate ambition (and the world needs all sizes, from the Academy award winner to the community theatre devotee), and tell the story we want to tell.
Of course, this opens up the door to a whole lot of suddenly very personal criticism. This is perhaps not the easiest thing in the world to deal with, especially for us sensitive, artistic types, and I say this with no sarcasm whatsoever. Stay tuned for some thoughts on how to say “f%ck it” and do it anyway.
*or the USSR. It was a sad day for Hollywood when the Berlin wall fell. The commies made such convenient villains….
**and their cinematic adaptations, remakes and straight to DVD embarrassing cartoon releases.
***For example, there’s some really solid acting in The Hunger Games, which in every other respect is one of the worst movies of the year (and it’s where I first fell in love with my current girl crush, Jennifer Lawrence, who, since I think the books are adequate at best and since I did not care for the over-enthusiastic post-Twilight hype-fest^ of the Hunger Games trilogy, I was prepared to hate.)
^three hyphens in a row, and a footnote within a footnote! Sorry, all my English teachers.