What’s the secret to good cinematic storytelling?

Tim Greene

“I liken it to driving a bus…”

Tim Greene is a South African screenwriter and director. His first feature film ‘Boy Called Twist’ - the story of a Cape Town street kid, based on Dickens' classic Oliver Twist - screened at the Cannes Film Festival and earned him a reputation as 'the guy who got 1000 people to each invest R1000 in his movie', making him a pioneer of crowd-source funding, many years before the term even existed. His second feature film, ‘Skeem’, won the Audience Award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

So Tim, what’s the secret to good cinematic storytelling?

The ubiquitous DIY screenwriting guides are never short of pithy directives: show don’t tell, keep it simple, from one point of view, take the audience on a journey…. the list goes on.

But for me it’s got something to do with how the meaning emerges from narrative. How the thematic arises from the plot.

It’s about the interplay between the things that happen on screen: the events and actions that comprise the story… and the ideas that that story raises in the audience’s minds: the moods it evokes, the emotions and issues it raises.

Getting that balance right is the key to telling a good story through film.

If you focus too heavily on plot, you risk creating ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’. Conversely, if you focus on the meaning at the expense of the story, you risk not being able to communicate those ideas and ultimately losing your audience.

I liken it to a bus, driving through a landscape. Your audience is on the ride. The plot is the vehicle itself. What they see out the window is the theme, the ideas, the meaning. You have to be sure to create a fascinating landscape to travel through, but it’s equally important to make sure your bus has power and speed and stamina.

Of course that’s the theory. But it’s an art, not a science and achieving it is quite another thing. That’s where talent comes in. And hard work. And luck. Lots and lots of luck.

Tim Greene, movie poster, A Curate's Egg
Tim Greene, A Curate's Egg

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