Storytelling with Heart

An inside look at the MUSE 8-step storytelling process from Stillmotion.

What’s the shortest distance between two humans? A story.

Human fascination with storytelling is hardwired into our very being - we've been telling them in one form or another for thousands of years. But what makes for a good story? Why does one video demand your attention while the next loses it within seconds?

The Emmy Award-winning team at Stillmotion have put a lot of thought into this and have developed a detailed 8-step process for crafting powerful stories. This patent pending formula is called MUSE, and it has been tried and tested across filmmaking genres from weddings to comercial to documentaries.

“MUSE is built to help you take the big, ambiguous task of creating a story and breaking it down into much smaller steps.” - Stillmotion

I recently had the pleasure of attending the NZ leg of the ‘Storytelling with Heart’ seminar, lead by Stillmotion’s co-founder Patrick Moreau, who explained this process to a room full of filmmakers. 

Story first

Fundamental to this approach is how you, the filmmaker, see the ‘story’. Patrick points out that anyone can own film gear, but your perspective is the only thing you have that’s truly unique. To gain a good understanding of an issue, we need to listen, research and explore the topic and the people involved. With the internet and a telephone, this doesn't have to be hard or time consuming, but you need to avoid going with the obvious and be proactive in searching out and identifying a compelling story.

After listening for the story, you can make strong and relevant choices with respect to direction. These choices will help identify constraints that will drive the story in the right direction and help shape what MUSE calls the 4 pillars of story. Integral to the 8-step process, the 4 pillars of story will guide your storytelling with the audience in mind.

Take away: Creativity is born from constraints. Spend time building the story and developing your own unique perspective.

The emotional connection and the 4 pillars of story

Critical to a strong, engaging story is the ability to forge an emotional connection with the viewer. The most effective way to create that connection is through people, so identifying the right people for your video is paramount. MUSE provides tools to help find what they call the ‘heart’ of your story, by identifying key characteristics of your characters, such as uniqueness, desire and complexity, and finding ‘helpers’, who offer new perspectives to support the central story.

The other 3 pillars of story are placeplot and purpose. Patrick outlined the importance of using each of these elements to engage the viewer and help tell the story. ‘Place’ for example can tell the viewer a lot about the story through the use of environment, situation, object, and time, without actually ‘saying’ anything.

The MUSE process deconstructs the elements of what makes a great story, helping you to identify the role each pillar plays in telling yours. In the process you will gain clarity, and take specific actions that create a strong story that viewers will truly care about.

“Use the 4 Pillars of story to hook your audience, pull them in emotionally, and take them on a journey that brings them to your purpose - whether that’s selling a product or service, celebrating a brand, or rallying around a cause.” - Stillmotion

Take away: Speak to the heart to move the mind. Utilize all 4 pillars of story to hook your audience.

Empowering filmmakers with tools and process

Stillmotion have deconstructed storytelling into a skillfully crafted formula that provides tools to achieve success, no matter what the project. By creating a step-by-step process that can be used to guide and justify storytelling decisions, MUSE is a valuable resource for filmmakers.

I've only touched on a fraction of what was covered in Storytelling with Heart, so I encourage you to visit learnstory.org for more info and to sign-up for an early invite to the MUSE pilot program. In the coming weeks, we'll be featuring a guest blog from Patrick, further dissecting the 4 pillars of story, so stay tuned!

Who else was lucky enough to attend the Storytelling with Heart seminar during it’s world tour? If you did, or have your own thoughts about the importance of good storytelling, then please post them in the comments below.