By Tracey Friesen, Author:
As a former executive producer at the National Film Board of Canada, I became more and more interested in identifying that sweet spot among storytellers, funders and social innovators. Story Money Impact: Funding Media for Social Change is structured around stories from the frontlines of media and social change and describes what I see as best practices in the fields of progressive financing sources and five impact strategies. The Fledgling Fund and Sheila Leddy are featured in a later chapter: “Impact Outcome 5 – Policy Reform”. Here is a brief excerpt from an earlier section.
“Story Ingredient 3 – Emotion”
Tracey Friesen – “How would you talk to an emerging filmmaker about the importance of emotion and character development?”
John Battsek (Passion Pictures, UK) – “If one is not able to engage an audience’s emotions, then your film is failing and your audience will be leaving. I am sentimental. I like sentiment. I veer probably to the wrong side of wanting films to be as emotional as possible. It happens less and less with cinema that one sits in the theater and wants to cry or feels properly moved. I think more and more documentaries, telling real true stories, have a better shot at doing that for an audience.”
I love that John describes himself as ‘sentimental’. He admits it almost sheepishly, like it’s unbefitting a man of his professional stature. ‘I want my films to be as emotional as possible…’ he confesses. Is this a personal preference or a business strategy? Or both? His track record of producing wildly successful feature documentaries, like Searching for Sugar Man, Project Nim and Sergio, suggest his instincts are spot on. Even when impact goals are not front and center, intimate storytelling lingers in the heart. Bring on the emotion!
What do you describe to others when you recount a powerful piece of art? Fact or feeling? While those can be intertwined, cultural products that touch us at our core are more memorable. The very primal act of crying, or laughing, or gasping out loud is evidence that we’ve been moved. The scene that brought us that emotion will be remembered, even viscerally. While names, dates and data fade from our brain, sentiment is integrated at a deeper level.
People are naturally empathetic, in differing degrees, toward different subjects of affection. We have compassion for fellow humans, often more so for those who are vulnerable, like children, or elderly or marginalized people. Storytelling allows us a more intimate understanding of each other. Authenticity itself is stirring. It’s a privilege to simply bear witness to a character opening him or herself up with honesty, whether in triumph or despair.
Animals and nature, especially when under threat, can capture our hearts. Think of the lengths activists will go to protect wildlife and the environment. They may be reacting in part to facts or science, but likely their instincts are driven by an emotional attachment. A compelling story or image can rub us raw, and motivate action.
To build emotion into your media project, consider these four words, in the acronym PACT.
- Personal – is the storytelling intimate?
- Authentic – is it honest?
- Courageous – is it brave?
- Transformative – is it transcendent?
Make a PACT with your subjects to build a level of trust together, so they may reveal their true nature. We feel emotion when we witness emotion. As a filmmaker seeking impact with your work, take the time needed to go deep with the people generous enough to give you their stories. And make a PACT with your audience. Be sure those watching can feel with certainty that you’re sharing these stories in a context of caring and respect for those who told them. EMOTION is memorable, an essential ingredient to create impactful storytelling.