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The Power of Storytelling in Film

By Nick Canner, Creative Director, The Edge

For a film to be successful, there must be a behavioural goal.  How do we want our audience to change the way they think, feel or act about a subject? We need to capture their attention.  Get them engaged.  Get them to care about the subject.

And there’s one tool in our armoury that does that more effectively than any other.



We humans have been telling stories since we developed a spoken language.  This was the way the tribe came together.  Shared tales of expeditions taught the next generation how to hunt and created a unique, cooperative culture.  It’s why we’re the most successful species on the planet.

No doubt embellished by the tribal elder as the campfire flickered on the cave walls, stories of bravery, danger and fortitude would captivate and unite.

Throughout our history we’ve continued to pass on information through tales of war, morality, myths and legends.  From the Epic of Gilgamesh, to Aesop’s Fables through Shakespearian plays to the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm.

And today, thousands of generations after the first stories were told, we’re still doing the same.

Stories are woven into our DNA because the human brain likes to arrange things in a simple fashion, in order to make facts easy to recall.  Just try saying the alphabet in a random order and keep track of which letters you’ve spoken.  It’s almost impossible.  Yet we can all recite our A to Z without even thinking.

A story has a straightforward, memorable structure – a beginning, middle and end – which we can all relate to.  The creation of a sequence of events means we can access information from a particular point in the narrative much easier than having to wade through everything all at once.

But of course, there are good and bad stories.  So what makes one successful?  And what should you be thinking about when it comes to your brand?


What’s The Hook?

How do you grab the attention of the audience right from the start?  The best films draw you in and keep you there.  Part of this is not spoon feeding them.  If you tell them everything they need to know from the beginning, they don’t have any work to do.  The brain switches off.  Better to drip feed and tease them.  Intrigue them and allow them to fill in the gaps.  It’s a much more rewarding experience for the viewer, as they feel a sense of achievement when they join the dots in the story.

In our film Companies Like Yours for Deloitte, we used the device of a mysterious commentator.  Who is he?  What’s his agenda?  As the film develops, we find out he isn’t necessarily one of the good guys…


Deloitte – Companies Like Yours



Clarity is often an undervalued quality.  But unless your storytelling is crystal clear, your audience won’t understand what’s going on.  And when that happens, they begin to lose interest and become disengaged.  It can be hard to achieve because you know your subject inside out and can easily make assumptions about your audience’s understanding.   Try to avoid that trap by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.  And test your story on willing volunteers with no prior knowledge.  Ask them if the story makes sense, what they take out from it, and how they would improve it.

This film for Wipro Digital presents a clear narrative in an understated but elegant animated style:


We Are WiPro



Your story must lead to something.  It sounds obvious but often, a film’s failing is a lack of cohesive direction.  This is usually down to the urge to cram as much information in as possible.  Do try to resist the temptation to wedge in other narratives.  Your film will be much more effective if you stick to a single point and drive that through to the end.  Leave your audience with something valuable and tangible – knowledge gained or a lesson learned.

In this film for Neyber, David and Fiona tell their simple story of the need for a new car.  By using a real example, we’ve shown what a Neyber loan can be used for


Neyber – David & Fiona


And finally, make it Entertaining.

Your audience’s time is valuable, so give them something they’ll enjoy watching.  We’re competing against advertising, music promos, Facebook, YouTube, movies and some of the best television ever produced.   Don’t assume your audience is as interested as you are in your subject.  You need to engage them throughout either through what you say, or how you represent it on screen (or preferably both).  Use great imagery, drama, comedy, music, suspense or even zombies if they’re the right answer.  Don’t limit your imagination or be too slavish to being literal.  Told well, your audience will understand what you’re communicating.

For me, this film for Movistar does it all.  Beautifully told, with great performances and choice of music, it keeps you engaged throughout with a powerful ending (I won’t spoil it – you’ll have to watch for yourselves).


Movistar – Love Story


So there you have it.  Draw them in, keep them interested and leave them feeling it was all worthwhile.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But then, as Ernest Hemingway said:

There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”.



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