The Power of Storytelling

First I want to wish you all a Creative, Constructive and Collaborative New Year. And as we enter this New Year is seems to be a good time to stop and reflect – not just on what we have done or our resolutions for the future. But this a good time to reflect on who we are, in this moment.

I know that a great many of you are writers, director, actors and filmmakers. But we are all more than those titles. We are storytellers. Because quite simply, that is what we do. That is our chosen profession. We tell stories, we ‘spin yarns’, we dazzle and delight with our fiction, our imagination and with our mastery of sharing the events of our own lives, our own experiences, hopes and dreams.

And it is through our stories that we connect with others on the most profound level. Try to get through a day without telling or hearing a story. I tried it once and found it virtually impossible.

Every person is a storyteller. Every human being relies on story and relates with and through story. But those of us who have chosen this as our profession, those of us who ‘spin our yarns’ through the media of film, television, theatre, novels, short stories, poetry, etc. have to consider the power of storytelling. We have to recognize that we have enormous opportunities, obligations and responsibilities.

In the iconic “It’s A Wonderful Life” by Frank Capra, Clarence, the guardian angel says: “Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.” Well, in a similar way every time a story is told there is a transformation. In fact, there are at least two transformations. The listener is transformed by the energy of a new experience. And the storyteller is transformed because he has allowed the story to ripple through himself one more time. A gift was given and a gift was received. Transformation.

So, as we embark upon a lifetime journey of sharing our stories, whether fact or fiction, we must be cognizant of the power of the fact that our stories have power and we must treat each opportunity with respect and humility.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens  can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

–       Margaret Mead

In the thirty or more years that I have been working in the film industry I am constantly impressed with the amazing Contract of Trust that exists between filmmaker and viewer. Consider this: You decide to go to a movie. You walk up to the kiosk, pay some money and receive a ticket that allows you inside. You have already paid your money and you don’t know what you are going to see. Then you go in to a room with dozens of strangers and you sit there in the dark facing a large screen at one end of the room. And for the next two hours you all give yourself over, you relinquish all control with one simple thought, ‘entertain me’. It’s a moment of sheer vulnerability and trust as you allow yourself to be moved by images and sounds, story and character. What a great contract! I know that as I am sitting in the audience I am thinking, ‘you can scare me, thrill me, make me laugh, make me cry, make me angry or sad, make me proud or ashamed – whatever you like. Just don’t bore me!’ We give ourselves over to the power of the story for two hours and allow the magic to work. It’s glorious!

But now think about the potential power of that film. The audience is open and vulnerable and allows the images, sounds, story and characters to impact them deeply. In fact, that’s what they want. That’s what they expect. That’s what they paid for.

It is common knowledge that when we read a script or a story or even a newspaper article we project ourselves into every situation, every character, and we live vicariously through the experience of the story. Our projection makes every story, every character more personal. As we project ourselves into the lives of each character on the screen we laugh with them, cry with them, feel pain and joy with them. And these characters become a part of us, the live within us long after the film is over. Depending on the story and our ability to identify with the characters – they can become a significant part of our lives.

Now think about your opportunities, responsibilities and obligations as a storyteller. Consider this simple question: “After an audience has viewed your film, after they have left the theater and re-entered their normal lives, what do you want them to be thinking about, talking about, worried about, dreaming about?” Your audience has just spent two hours in the company of your story and they have experienced a transformation. Remember, the power of your film is not just in the two hours of viewing. Your film can resonate and ripple through the viewers for days, weeks, months, years. You can alter perspectives, change points of view, offer new insights, and challenge old beliefs.

We filmmakers are indeed a ‘small group of thoughtful, committed citizens’ and we can change the world. We can change the world, one story at a time.

Here’s wishing you all a joyous, thoughtful, productive and serene New Year.


9 responses to “The Power of Storytelling”

  1. Rebekah

    I love being part of your audience. Thanks, Mark.

  2. Cherry Davis

    What an inspiring article. I’m such a fan, Mark. Thank you so much for your generous spirit. You are the best. Cherry

  3. Cherry Davis

    What an inspiring article. I’m such a fan, Mark. Thank you so much for your generous spirit. Cherry Davis


    It seems we all were drawn to this profession because we experienced through words, or image an indelible and cellular knowing. Yes, this evanescent moment held a deep truth! In that moment when we became the observed time ceased to be and we were eternal. I remember that moment and i am sure my colleagues do as well. Thank you for the New Years gift and reminder of why we create.

  5. Narishvin

    A very thought provocative article on storytelling. Thanks for enlightening me on the subject. This article has ask me this question. How do we find and tell a story that resonate with us the presenters and present it to the audience. The journey of finding one’s true identity and sharing in the world. And discovering why to tell the story as each story will create an impact with your audience. Thanks Mark.

  6. Charlie Bury

    Really interesting stuff Mark. We take the power of film for granted and sometimes we need to reflect like you have done here. The story of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ continues to ripple through me – that film can indefinitely change a life.

    Look forward to reading more.

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