Our ponderings

Storytelling - It's in my blood!

My Grandfather's Legacy of Storytelling

As a child, I was scared of my Grandfather. It wasn’t anything he ever did to me. I was scared of his illness. He suffered terribly from emphysema, contracted by inhaling carpet fibres. They didn’t know in those days that it wasn’t a great idea to have the sales office up where the stray microfibres floated above the carpet manufacturing line!

His illness meant that he would regularly suffer breathless attacks so he always had to-hand this huge, dark brown face-mask nebuliser that he’d desperately reach for the second he felt shortness of breath. It was terrible watching the fear in his eyes each time he had an attack and the fight he had to go through just to get his breath back.

For some reason, as a young child, I found the face-mask nebuliser rather terrifying as it always seemed to be involved in those attacks. To me, it looked like the nebuliser was the cause of the problem, sucking the breath out of my Grandfather, rather than helping him get it back.

On top of that, its appearance from its plain brown cardboard box always seemed to make all the other adults in the room go into a panic! 

His illness also prevented him from joining in with any active play; he couldn’t pick us up and throw us around as my other Grandad did. This meant we didn’t have that same physical closeness to him.

Despite this, he had a magic trick that made my brother, cousins and I love him like virtually no other adult in our lives at that time. It was a magic trick that provided some of my fondest childhood memories.

What was it? He had an amazing ability to transport us to another world! A world where a very naughty boy, Jimmy Green, and an equally naughty monkey, Jacko, lived. Whenever we visited my grandparents, come bedtime, we’d all sit around my “Poppa’s” feet and be totally mesmerised by the stories he’d weave of how Jimmy Green and Jacko got themselves into scrapes with the local Police Sergeant and yet always seemed to come out on top!  

In short, “Poppa” was an amazing storyteller. And we loved him for it!

My Father the BAFTA Award Winning Visual Storyteller

My father was also an amazing story-teller. In fact, he made a career out of it. His storytelling skill was recognised with a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and TV Award).

Unfortunately for me, as a child, it was this same storytelling skill that meant he was a bit of an elusive figure in my life. Why? Because he was a documentary film editor so worked incredibly long hours. His business partner was an immensely brave and talented documentary film director, Adrian Cowell, and it was a film they produced together, “The Tribe that Hides from Man”, that won the BAFTA for Factual Production in 1971.

My father’s dedication to his craft meant that he not only worked long hours, but he also came home shattered each weeknight. One of the over-riding memories of my dad is of him walking into the house, on the evenings he made it home before my bedtime, and being greeted by my mother who would present him with his dinner on a tray so that he could “relax” and eat it in front of the TV. I’d be excited to see him and then be quickly pushed off by my mum to go and finish cleaning my teeth and getting ready for bed. Nine times out of ten, when I’d go to say goodnight a few minutes later, he’d already have dozed off with a half-eaten dinner sitting precariously on the wobbling tray!

The weekends weren’t much better as he’d need regular long naps and would often spend hours and hours listening to BBC library music LPs (“Vinyls” to you Millennials), trying to find the ideal track for his next edit. To be honest, having to lift the record player stylus up and down and listen to at least the first ten seconds of hundreds of dull library music tracks is enough to make anyone want a long nap! In fact, living through the music searches on so many weekends might explain my life-long aversion to selecting music for the videos I’ve produced since!

His storytelling needs did lead to some fun family-bonding moments though. My brother and I were occasionally called upon to help him capture sound effects for the foley side of his work. When I was about five, I remember holding a boom mic attached to a large reel-to-reel tape deck and being told to point it at the path in our garden. On the path was a broom and my job was to record the footsteps of my dad walking down the path and then tripping over the broom. I never found out if the sound effect we captured was actually usable as there would have only been milliseconds between the “trip” and the sound of my brother and I roaring with laughter at the sight of my dad deliberately falling flat on his face!

On reflection, I’m also now a little concerned about my father’s dedication to his craft over the well-being of his own children! Is it good parenting to get your kids to shake the front gate of a nearby neighbour just so their rabid, horse-sized German Shepherd dog can be recorded for a sound effect as it goes into a mad, barking, gnashing-teeth frenzy whilst leaping at the gate in an attempt to escape and eat your children? Just wondering…?

My Daughter's World of Storytelling

Even at the age of five years, my daughter was already an amazing storyteller. In fact, her world of storytelling was so great that she spent half her life as her main character – her alter-ego “Super Marley, the Wonder Dog”.

She would regularly tell me the stories about what she, as Super Marley, would get up to with her extended dog family and dog friends.

She was a genuius at character development. On one count, the list of developed characters in Super Marley’s world was up to about thirty, each with their own unique made-up name, relationship to Super Marley and distinctive character traits and back-stories.

But here’s the thing. Yes, storytelling is very much in my family’s genes. But it’s in the genes of all of us.

In fact, storytelling is one of the unique abilities we have as Homo Sapiens! It may even be the reason that we Sapiens are the dominant species.

Storytelling is More Than Language

It’s been found that many animals have “language” through which they communicate.

Researchers studying a troupe of monkeys have discovered that monkeys have different calls to warn each other about what’s going on around them such as “eagle above”, or “tiger below”!

Another supposedly unique human trait is our ability to lie but again the observers noted how one monkey spotted another nearby discovering a juicy clump of fruit. The observing monkey then yelled the “eagle” warning, causing the troupe to look up and scatter. By frightening the fruit discoverer away the fibbing monkey was then able to calmly wander over to feast on the newly revealed and untouched fruit!

But no other species has yet been observed doing the following:

You’ll never believe what happened to me this morning! I was down at the water hole, minding my own business and the hairs on the back of my neck suddenly shot up!

I was certain something was stalking me! So I dived into the water, swam to the other side of the water hole, climbed up the steep cliff and, as I looked back, I saw that I was right! I saw a lion come out of the bushes, sniff the air, and then take a drink.

I could tell he was disappointed that he hadn’t caught me for his breakfast!!!”

Yes, storytelling – it does appear that this is a uniquely Sapien ability – and something buried deep in our DNA. Something we’ve been doing long before we had the written word and something that still transports most of us to another place, outside of our lived experience, virtually every day.

The Science of Storytelling

In the corporate world, “Storytelling” has been a buzzword for a few years now and one that’s also regularly used by video production companies. 

And, as a producer/director, I’ve spent my career telling my client’s stories. However, although I’ve always felt that I had a natural ability in this area, it wasn’t until I started diving into the science behind story that I realised how little I knew – and how powerful a good, science-based storytelling process could be. 

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a storytelling course for filmmakers that provides a method for telling deep, impactful stories that really connect with an audience. A method, based on scientific research, that has been tried and tested and leads to a more efficient and effective production process and more powerful, emotional stories being told.

It’s called the Muse Storytelling Processdeveloped by an Emmy Award-winning US production company Muse. Taking their courses and being involved with a community of like-minded filmmakers around the world has helped me finesse my storytelling skills. The process provides the justifications, frameworks, processes and tools for storytelling that is so much more powerful and impactful than anything I’d produced prior. Having used the process for a few years now, I’ve it to be an amazing tool for not just identifying great stories but also for helping businesses better determine their purpose on a project. And with a clearer purpose, you end up with a better outcome. 

So, to my current and future clients, this is to let you know that I’m on a quest to help you discover and polish the rich stories that reside within your company’s heritage. Prepare for a transformative journey!

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