Storytelling and Evoking Emotion in Film

Storytelling, like any type of communication, should have a purpose. The main purpose? Evoking emotion.

Film is one of today's strongest forms of communication. Simply put, film combines both imagery, writing, and music to tell a story. Whether you’re trying to tell a story to your family over dinner or to an audience that wants to hear more about a given brand, understanding the elements that make an emotional impact and knowing how to utilize them in a variety of different ways is the key in making a story memorable.

If you’re an internal communicator, videographer or someone looking to invest in video production, it’s best to understand the high level elements that can make your film emotional. Some of the common components are:

1. Message

When producing a video, the first question we always ask is, "What is your message and who is it for?" It’s in this question that we learn what type of emotional note we will try to hit. These answers will provide the theme for your story, whether inspirational, whimsical, innovative, enthusiastic, exciting, frightening, daunting or any other desired emotion. There are hundreds of motifs that your message can convey, and it’s up to you to find which plays best with your target audience and brand identity.

2. Cinematography

After understanding your message and your target, a concept is developed. A filmmaker can explore camera angles and lighting to elicit different emotions. Like any prose or any painting, each word and brush stroke is deliberate. Every camera angle and every placement of the subject within different shades of light should have a purpose. Hand held camera movements add a sense of realism to the shot. High key lighting can make someone look optimistic and happy while hard shadows may make a subject look villainous. Framing a subject from below can make them look heroic while framing them from above can make them look weak. For interviews, you can have your subject break the 4th wall, which can feel genuine and authentic, or hokey and tongue in cheek. Every decision with the camera alters and influences the message. The questions I ask before I begin rolling are: Will my equipment and technical know-how allow me to create this shot successfully and will this shot and the lighting support the story and the emotion I am trying to cultivate?

3. Music

You probably weren’t around when music and film first came together. When this happened it was groundbreaking, not just as a technical aspect but as a storytelling technique. Film in its own sense is an orchestrated piece of music for your eyes. Every moving part supports and compliments the other with tonal ranges in mind. That’s music. Combining actual symphonies with film double downed on its emotional impact. Music can drive suspense, excitement, laughter, and more. Think of every scary movie you’ve seen and you’ll realize that it wasn’t just the scenes that were eerie but the music was too. They were both powerful on their own, but much stronger together. Notice commercials that are uplifting and inspirational and you’ll hear a sound track behind it that builds in energy and pitch. One good rule of thumb when determining the music you’d like to use for your brand or corporate video is: Would this song ever be played during a Super Bowl ad or in a Hollywood film? This should immediately deter most stock corporate anthems and force you to peruse tools like and/or custom song producers.

4. The Notable Mentions

The heavy hitters within a video are the three components above, but there are other factors that cultivate emotion. Graphics, animation, special effects, sound effects and types of videos all have a big impact on the way a story is told and the emotion elicited. Different types of videos also have different reaches and purposes. Interview videos can convey professionalism and structure. Brand films have more of a cinematic approach. There are endless combinations and techniques that have amazing storytelling power, and it’s important to take the message, target audience and budget into account when developing your concept.

Just because you can do video doesn’t necessarily mean you should do video. Even though the numbers prove that video typically has a great ROI, if not done right it could hurt your brand. Make sure your components and style decisions are deliberate and purposeful. High quality and impactful video takes industry insight and technical know-how.

This blog post was written by Christian Ramirez, Co-owner of Two Gents Digital, an official partner.

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