What silent films reveal about great storytelling

story telling

A recent trip to the Castro Theater during the Silent Film Festival immersed me in a surreal experience. It was simple, delightful and innocent. It was back to the basics of storytelling. We watched movies made by the Amazing Charlie Bowers, a comedian that used animation and invention themes to tell his stories.

The single most powerful way great stories are told is allowing the audience to fill in the blanks. Michel Hazanavicius, the French director of the award winning film The Artist, which took home 5 Oscars including best film and director in 2012 said it best in an interview with The Atlantic “The less you do, the more the audience does”. He recounts a film by Fritz Lang called M, where the killer in the movie grabs a girl with a balloon and the camera follows the balloon. There is no violence, just the balloon. What happened? What did he do to the girl? The audience just fills in the blanks themselves.

In silent films, all you see is black and white, the audience has to fill in the color. They have to recreate the sounds depicted on screen. The characters and story are all that matter. No crazy CGI, no flashy explosions and no fancy special effects.

Storytelling is as much omitting as it is telling. Trust your audience to interpret and figure it out, and they will thank you for it.

Other resources on storytelling

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