Storytelling has become a buzzword, ignore it

Okay, a slightly clickbait headline. That said, if you’re working with any marketing agency at the moment it seems everyone is talking about ‘storytelling’, and there’s a reasonable chance the idea of storytelling is getting lost in the melee that is content marketing.

But it doesn’t have to be, at its heart, storytelling is very simple, it is not a yarn, spun to make you sales; it is not something you painstakingly construct because a marketer tells you that you ‘need a story’, rather it is a series of questions to ask yourself about your brand, organisation or project that will then inform how you talk about it to others, if done correctly the answers to these questions seamlessly connect to give you The Story.

Let’s build your Story

1. Who are you (in real storytelling terms, the Protagonist)

A protagonist is the main character - this is you, your brand or your company. There can only be one protagonist.

So, who are you? What do you stand for, what do you stand against, what are your values and principles and how does this influence how you conduct business or treat your staff or present yourself at meetings?

2. What do you do (in real storytelling terms, the Set Up)

The Set Up, the context in which the Protagonist is operating.

So, what’s the situation? What problem does your organisation seek to solve? For example, if you’re a travelling cinema (like, the Screen Machine) you’re trying to solve the problem of the lack of cinema in rural communities.

3. Why do you do it (in real storytelling terms, the Antagonist)

The Antagonist is the thing or the person who is going to get in your way, who is hell-bent on scuppering the ambitions of the Protagonist.

So this, is your challenge, or your conflict. We’ve established who you are, what you want to do, and now we need to identify the reason/s why you do it.

Take the Screen Machine, arguably, their Antagonist is; the vast geographical landscape of Scotland, perhaps also it is lack of funding, a small team at the helm or ability to keep up with demand.

4. How do you do it (in real storytelling terms, the Conflict)

The most important piece of conflict is always the conflict between the main character's (you) success versus the failure of achieving their ultimate goal.

So, how are you overcoming said conflict? What are the benefits of your organisation (or project) and how will they ultimately lead to your triumph (aka your business/project aims?

Continuing with Screen Machine as a hypothetical, they invested in an 80-seat air conditioned, digital mobile cinema knowing they needed a vehicle fit for purpose, they devised a 12 week tour to reach 40 rural communities, they committed to spending c.four days in each community in order to develop a reputation and relationships with their core audience,

5. Prove it (in real storytelling terms, the Resolution)

The Resolution, the end. The conflict is complete, character arc complete, all issues resolved, and the audience sees the new status quo.

Or, in our example, the Screen Machine has completed its tour of 40 communities, it has seen some 3,000 admissions to a range of specially programmed films, it has brought cinema to areas that never would have previously accessed it, it has delighted its audiences and secured funding for another year, despite adverse weather, snow drifts and floods, a generator failure and a glitch when screening a popular film*, the Screen Machine has triumphed. The only question that remains is, what is next?

* all hypothetical

Screen Machine at Lochmaddy © Screen Machine

Screen Machine at Lochmaddy © Screen Machine

Let’s put it all together

In the Highlands of Scotland, communities were rich and varied, but at times they were isolated and could feel disconnected from popular culture, rarely were friends and communities able to connect over a cinematic experience. Despite local film clubs, it was difficult to experience some of the more specialist independent cinema on a regular basis. And so there was a vacuum.

Screen Machine believe that everyone should be able to access cinema, be the new cinema releases which are attracting national and international media attention, new Scottish films (or films with significant Scottish involvement, e.g. director, writer, or location) or specialist titles: independent and world cinema, films which explore particular themes or issues, and classic and archive films.

But it wasn’t easy for Screen Machine, how is it possible to adequately provide quality cinema for so many communities across such a vast landscape in a way that respected the communities and was consistent, and even more pertinently how is it possible to do so on minimal public funding?

To achieve their aims, the Screen Machine had to overcome the conflict presented to them, raising funds for an innovative, mobile digital cinema to tour the Highlands, working closely with local communities to develop relationships and presenting a carefully programmed series of films that not only entertained but also enlightened audiences.

And so, that’s exactly what they did. It wasn’t easy, but eventually the Screen Machine was born, and audiences loved it, so much in fact that not only did audiences consume cinema, they started to connect with the Screen Machine on a whole other level, and what was a touring cinema became a community hub, a place to connect with others, to meet new people and share experiences with friends. And then, something extraordinary happened, over time the communities serviced by the Screen Machine opened their heart and minds to the potential of the Screen Machine and so, alongside traditional cinema, audiences across the Highlands can also enjoy short films and artists’ films; ‘photography on screen’ and other ways of presenting the arts on screen; community filmmaking; expanded cinema: with guest speakers, discussions, live music, etc; event cinema: on screen presentations of live theatre, music, etc.

The Screen Machine has connected communities across a vast geographical landscape with just one mobile cinema, but imagine what they could do with two, three or four touring cinemas? Perhaps the future of The Screen Machine is plural.

With thanks to the Screen Machine who had nothing to do with this article at all, but whom we admire greatly!