Category Archives: Storytelling

Sound more important than video? Say it ain’t so…

Recently, Brian Storm of was a guest at my school and my class had the opportunity to receive a lecture from him. The guy prides himself on telling stories, which is a quality I admire.

While we discussed enough topics to type up a plethora of posts, he said one thing that particularly stuck with me:

In multimedia, sound is just as – if not more – important than the visuals. Great sound can take a decent project and make it amazing. Without it, you may as well be playing static.

A visual can be striking, haunting or empowering, but sound is what stirs emotions and creates tension.

In horror films, as the protagonist tip-toes down the creepy hallway to see if her companions are still alive, good sound design can make that ten second scene seem like ten minutes.

A good soundbite in a documentary can connect viewers to the subject. But when a mother is speaking about the death of her child, the long pauses in between words and phrases as she attempts to maintain her composure illustrate the pain of loss better than her explanation could.

So it’s not just about having sound; it’s also about knowing how to use it.

The benefit of sound versus sight in multimedia is how it’s interpreted by our bodies. Sound is projected and absorbed by the viewer (listener?), where even a simple stereo set-up of left-and-right channels adds a layer of depth that video can’t provide.

Unfortunately, video is confined to the restraints of the screen, which also is confined to the direction our eyes are pointing in. Sometimes we have to choose between objects or actions to focus on.

Sound also benefits from the space provided by two our more sources, being able to pan from one side to the other, rising and lowering in volume. It can immerse a viewer into a video as he watches a sports car whip by, with the roar of the engine softly getting louder and louder from the left side until it finally passes. The car booms, but only for a moment, and the sound starts to fade from the right side while the vehicle drifts further and further away. This is a simple yet engrossing use of sound.

Many of my projects from film school remain unfinished to this day simply for the reason that the sound isn’t good enough. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my films, which also means I end up doing most of the work myself. And sound design is a difficult thing to do on your own.

Films require recording natural sound, dubbing the dialogue in post-production, adding foley (sound effects such as footsteps, explosions, doors shutting, etc.) and either music and/or an originally composed score. Then everything has to be mixed together, individually set at particular values, so as sounds don’t blend and the flow of the film doesn’t become jarred.

It’s a difficult task, which is why the curriculum at Scottsdale Community College required completion of a sound design class. One of our projects had us create a short story told only through sounds. We weren’t allowed to use spoken dialogue, and the use of music was strongly discouraged. Our teacher wanted us to be able to convey a message without it being directly stated.

The project was difficult, but it tested my abilities and my thought process as a storyteller. Up until that point, I’d always thought visually and verbally. Telling and showing were my two specialties. But this challenged me to learn these new techniques that I now apply in many of my creative endeavors.

Final project from my SCC sound design class, created Oct. 2007. No video, just sound.

My instructor enjoyed my work, despite my use of music. In my defense, the music is only supplemental to the story and it makes sense in the context of it all. Plus I wanted to reference the end of the Sopranos, so, shut up, classmates who nitpicked.

I’m sorry. Let’s move on.

Take a listen to the project, aptly titled “Garage Story,” and let me know what you think about sound and storytelling in the comments.

Related Links:

  • A professional sound designer’s blog, including tips for recording sound and examples of his work.
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    Filed under Audio, Film, Sound, Storytelling

    Despite Super Bowl loss, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin still a champion

    The best parts of professional sports are the stories that take place, on or off the field/court/what have you. It’s the inherent conflict, the struggle for greatness and the sacrifices athletes, coaches and managers make in order to be the best that keeps us watching.

    Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers/NFL.

    Going into the past weekend’s big game, Super Bowl XLV, there were only two teams that existed to the sports networks’ continuous coverage: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. But between the 90-plus players between the two squad’s rosters, the coaching staff and the ownership, there were enough story lines on Sunday to fill its own anthology.

    There was the redemption of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback with two Super Bowl rings already, who after a tumultuous off season saw his already tarnished reputation come under fire due to an incident with a young woman in Georgia.

    There was the rise of Aaron Rodgers, a man once thought doomed to linger in the shadow of Brett Favre.

    There was the battle of two NFL dynasties in their own right, as the Steelers attempted to reaffirm Black and Yellow as the dominant colors of the new era in the National Football League, while the Packers’ return to the Super Bowl saw their attempt to bring the Lombardi trophy back home.

    There was the journey of Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native who battled his favorite team as a child on the biggest stage of his career, who sat with a fairly decent but not amazing coaching record before this year’s playoffs (44-32).

    There were many stories that played out in Dallas, Texas, on Sunday, but in my opinion none were as interesting as the path traveled by Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, the youngest head coach in the NFL. Mike Tomlin, the third head coach in the last four decades of the Steelers’ history. Mike Tomlin, the third black man to coach in Super Bowl history, and the second to win it. Mike Tomlin, who has been a head coach for four years, and been to the Championship game twice. Mike Tomlin, the man who has coached in the League for less than 10 years.

    Despite coming up short on Sunday, the man’s story is so amazing that it warrants a closer look.

    Mike Tomlin played football as a wide receiver at William & Mary, graduating in 1995. While most players with some semblance of skill attempt to join the NFL through the Draft, Tomlin went a different route. He joined the staff at the Virginia Military Institute for a short time as the wide receivers coach, helping players in a position he was familiar with.

    But when Tomlin’s career continued and he found himself as a graduate assistant for the University of Memphis, his job duties transformed. Tomlin, an offensive player in college, was coaching defensive backs and special teams. When he joined the Arkansas State University coaching staff, he returned to coaching wide receivers for one season before going back to defense, in which he honed his craft.

    Tomlin stayed in Arkansas for two years before joining the University of Cincinnati’s club as the defensive backs coach in 1999. There, he took a mediocre secondary and propelled the squad to be one of the nation’s best, moving them from being ranked 111th before he took over to 61st overall in just one season.

    After two years in Cincinnati, Tomlin made the jump to the Pros and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the defensive backs coach in 2001.

    In less than six years, Mike Tomlin graduated as a wide receiver, learned to coach defenses and became a coach in the National Football League — not exactly the easiest path, but certainly one of the quickest.

    Tomlin stayed in Tampa Bay until 2005, a tenure in which two of those years the Buccaneers claimed the title of being the League’s best defense, allowing the fewest yards per game. The Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2003, giving Tomlin his first taste of life as a world champion.

    In 2006, Tomlin was named the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings — not just the defensive backs coach, but the DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR. Tomlin, essentially, had been catapulted into the upper echelons of professional coaching, and the man had barely reached the age of 35.

    After just one season in Minnesota, in which the Vikings claimed the 8th best defense in the NFL, Mike Tomlin was selected as the successor to Bill Cowher and became the sixteenth head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    People were unsure of the move, because at this point Tomlin was still relatively unknown. A few of the players on the squad were older than Tomlin, and analysts wondered whether the young and inexperienced coach would be able to control the locker room.

    Two years later, with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, those doubts all but subsided. Four years later, with another appearance in the championship game, in a season where the Steelers were without a few of their star players for at least six games, those doubters have completely disappeared.

    It’s an unheard of journey to the top, and in the history of the National Football League it is almost incomparable. Mike Tomlin has found success and he found it quickly.

    Only one team can win the Super Bowl every year, and only one team can lose it.

    Despite the defeat, Mike Tomlin is on a stage that not many can share with him. At age 38 he is a champion, and his list of accomplishments can only grow from here.

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    Filed under Football, Sports, Storytelling, Whatever

    Sundance innovators make you the star of movie

    This was not the Sundance experience I’m accustomed to.

    I had a ticket stub in my pocket with a time of 3:15 p.m.; my phone rang at 3:14.

    “Without saying anything, without bringing any attention to yourself, go inside the miners hospital. Go down into the basement and walk out the set of double-doors at the back of the building, and go into the parking lot. Stand by the dumpster, and wait for my instructions.”

    Photo Credit: Blast Theory

    Everything happened so quickly. I looked at my girlfriend — I wasn’t sure if it would be for the last time — and followed the caller’s instructions the best I could. Her phone rang right after mine, but I couldn’t wait to see what exactly she was up to.

    After all, I had a bank to rob.

    The Sundance Film Festival is an annual challenge for filmmakers to push boundaries in front of and behind the camera. For ten days in January, Robert Redford’s festival takes over Park City, Utah, and allows ambitious new films to capture the attentions of festival attendees and movie producers looking for the next big thing.

    Aside from spawning such critical and commercial favorites such as “Precious” and “Waiting for Superman,” Sundance allows budding storytellers to take risky and innovative approaches to their projects in the New Frontier category. Billed as a convergence of film, art and new media technologies, the New Frontier installations are quirky and fun.

    Taking place at the historic Miners Hospital in Park City (as well as at the Salt Lake Art Center down in the city), the New Frontier hosts many different projects. Most notable is this year’s Academy Award nominee for Best Actor James Franco’s installation, “Three’s Company: The Drama.”

    However, the project that immersed me into another world, as if I were the star of a film, was UK-based Blast Theory’s project called “A Machine to See With.”

    “A Machine to See With” inserts the “movie-goer” into a story where the major plot-points are put into place by an unknown voice at the other end of your cell-phone, and your own imagination fills in the rest. Playing off of cliches typically found in thriller and heist films, you find yourself following instructions and playing the role of a bank robber. You’re forced to make difficult decisions up until the point where you actually come to rob the bank — and then things go horribly wrong.

    As I was guided by the automated voice, I found myself questioning everything. Could I trust the voice? And the person who just walked by who was on his cellphone, is he in on this? And, most importantly, could I really go through with it?

    The installation ended just as abruptly as it began, with my character’s own storyline wrapping up with a moment of introspection as I wondered what the hell I just took part of. The voice beckoned me to be open to the world in front of me and to understand that hard choices are a part of it. And then it said goodbye, forever.

    “A Machine to See With” was not a typical Sundance experience, in that it wasn’t an indie film with a heart-warming or difficult-to-swallow message. However, in that it was an exciting, adventurous and innovative exercise in storytelling, it was one of my more memorable moments spent at the festival this year.

    And though each year I usually find a film or documentary or discussion that makes my time spent at the festival worthwhile, this time it was a phone call.

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    Filed under Film, Storytelling, Sundance

    To tell a story, and do it well

    That’s all I want — all I’ve ever wanted. But it is a lot to ask, trust me. The act of telling a story is more than an art or a craft. It’s a fine delicacy, one which can quickly designate a work to be either menial and boring or beautiful and exotic. Storytelling is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all means of entertainment.

    With movies, television, music, the internet and video games at the forefront of media and pop culture, the way that people process their information is becoming much more rapid and even more diverse. Technology is adapting and advancing in ways that the average consumer is left overwhelmed with possibilities. And though the means to tell these stories is constantly evolving, there are common themes and conventions that hold true no matter what.

    This blog was created to explore those conventions throughout the many different mediums of where a story can be told. Nowadays, the limits are only as defined as the medium you’re using, and whether you’re writing a song or a screenplay the storyteller has many different tools to employ to achieve the intended result.

    In the future, I’ll be looking at many different means of storytelling, cross-examining them and pointing out the similarities, the differences and what value can found in these various mediums. So we might look at the cinematography and dialogue in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as a technique to immerse moviegoers into the dustbowl era of the United States. Or we might examine the progression of meter in Rilo Kiley’s “Does He Love You?” and how Jenny Lewis’ increasingly desperate and scratchy vocals add another layer to a story about two old friends giving each other the skinny on their own romantic endeavors.

    I don’t know, these are just things I’ve randomly thought of. What we actually speak about, we’ll see in time.

    Just know there will never be nothing to talk about.

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    Filed under Storytelling, Whatever