I have loved watching movie shorts since I was little but making one myself was harder than I expected. I quickly realized that I needed a grasp of basic storytelling, scriptwriting, filming, and editing in order to produce even a short, three-minute-long movie.
My first video short was made using an iPhone, LEGO minifigures, and my little sister, Josie. The movie was a spoof on the Disney films “Sleeping Beauty” and “Maleficent” which we called “Sleeping Booty”. The result was quite unremarkable, but one thing survived: our villain, Malefeces, and her son/henchman, Charming. Since then, we’ve gone on to make several shorts solely about these two colorful characters. In these next few posts, I aim to give you an inside view of my process of making a video short.
I wish that coming up with a good story was as easy as a lightbulb clicking on over my head, but I find that my initial concept for a story is often drastically different from the finished product. Like LEGOs, ideas build on each other. Playing with an idea, although it may not end up in the finished product, helps to strengthen the characters in my mind or even inspire better ideas. Mixing and matching ideas helps me see the scope of possibilities and which idea combinations I like best. With each new idea, the story gets a little clearer and more detailed.
A story with a distinct beginning, middle and end is especially important in creating a video short. There is little time to waste, so the whole storyline needs to be simple and compact. I begin by presenting my characters, their flaws and the conflict, which is the kernel of the story. In the middle portion, the characters acknowledge the conflict, and decide to do something about it. The conclusion comes when the characters, having solved the conflict, come out of the story changed. Conflict is the light that exposes their flaws and urges them to overcome them, ultimately refining their character, just like in real life.
I find it helpful to ask someone else’s opinion about my initial story concept. Inviting them to “role play” helps me get a feel for how the audience will react to the finished movie. When developing the story, I consider the limitations of my resources and abilities. For instance, knowing that my story will be acted out with LEGO minifigures and imagination, I aim to keep the character’s physical actions within the parameters of what I can realistically achieve. I try to work out the technical considerations early in the story process, and sometimes I end up changing the story to accommodate these limitations. Ultimately, though, I am trying to tell a cute story, not make a flawlessly staged film.
When considering the consequences of each character’s action, I ask questions like: “Is this something that my character would do or even care about?” “Is this a message I want my characters to communicate?” “Is this consistent with my character’s personality and history?” Though an unexpected action could support the character’s arc, I want to keep the characters true to their personalities throughout the course of the story. A relatable, convincing character is what will ultimately appeal to my audience.
I want my stories and characters to impact my audience in a positive way. I was inspired by a Christian LEGO stop-motion-film youtuber who always had a constructive message woven into his movies. If someone is taking time to watch my creation, I want to give them something wholesome to think about after the film is over. No story is morally neutral. An author’s worldview is always communicated through what he or she writes. As Christian writers we are redeemed sinners with pens in our hands, or in my case, an iPhone and LEGO minifigures!
Here’s one of the shorts that Josie and I made last year. In the comments below, I’d love to hear your feedback on what you think “the moral of the story” is!
Hadassah Murdock is a seventeen-year-old home school teen who lives and works on her family’s farm in South Carolina. She loves playing with her four siblings and making movies for her YouTube channel, which you can check out here. When she’s not helping with the animals or working in the fields, she enjoys talking to friends, brainstorming new stories, and baking muffins. She credits attending Write2Ignite conferences for learning aspects of storytelling and characterization. She hopes to expand her knowledge of screenwriting and film producing.
Congratulations to Lois Bartholomew who won Good Night Manger and to Trine Grillo who won Good Night Ark on last week’s blog. We’ll have 2 more giveaways on March 15 when Laura Sassi shares more of what you can expect to learn during her Picture Book Master Class in April.