The third piece I’m going to cover is the idea of oscillation.
And what is it oscillating between? The impossible and the possible. Like an emotional roller coaster, great stories don’t just have some uncertainty, they go from the lows of uncertainty and impossibility to the highs of certainty and possibility multiple times.
Element #2: Theme
Let me try to explain a bit more of what I mean here.
Think about movies like Iron Man. How many times does he seem to be in such a bind that there appears to be no way out? That’s uncertainty. Yet, time and time again he finds a way out only to be in another bind a minute later. The next time you notice some character get out of an impossible bind, time how long it takes for him/her to get in another. I think you’ll be shocked by how quickly it happens.
That’s why “romantic comedies” always have a falling out or misunderstanding. Because we can relate to these up and downs, it’s the oscillation in part that helps keep us connected to the narrative.
So, let’s look at the Russia movie again. Again, with no uncertainty it’s a pretty level ride throughout.
There’s a great opportunity to go from high to low with the crash and hospital bit (especially if you’ve heard the full story), but it happens off camera and is only briefly shown before quickly moving to a plaid-wearing man walking among dilapidated homes.
To me, that was the story they could have used to frame the whole video. Instead, it was lost in a random sequence of cameras tipping over, x-rays, and a nasty looking leg.
The Dubai piece benefits from starting on the level of uncertainty with the opening shots of sand in a ski vid.
Notice how they go back and forth from sand to snow a couple times right at the beginning. That’s some basic oscillation for the impossible to possible. It happens a few more times in less obvious forms. They set it up as a novelty for poser tourists (impossible), then highlight a guy who skis more than anyone on the planet (possible).
But it’s all indoors with paintings of mountains? That’s must be awful skiing (impossible). But then the narrator says he forgets where he is for just a second (possible).
Another example. Imagine being stranded on a desert island (uncertainty). Then, in the distance, you see a boat (certainty) only to have the captain not see you waving (uncertainty). The only way to get off the island is to get out of that uncertainty, which keeps viewers guessing.
Steve Jobs was a master of this with his keynote presentations. He’d start by making what he is about to announce seem impossible. Over and over again he’ll stack the odds against them only to reveal a product that beats those odds. Just watch the first two and a half minutes of this and you’ll see what I mean.
Watch Salomon Freeski TV’s “Lemonade” (or even just the first minute) for another, awesome example. Go from uncertainty to certainty a few times and see what it does for your story.
Speaking of story, tomorrow I’ll take a stab at combining these elements to try to tell a story of my own. See you then.
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