Telling a Story with Pictures

Most bad screenplays occur because the screenwriter focuses on the details while losing track of the overall story. If you can’t tell a good story, then the details don’t matter. That’s why adding more exciting car crash scenes or computer-generated explosions rarely turns a bad movie into a good one. Instead it just highlights the poor story structure underlying the film in the first place.

One interesting movie is “12 Monkeys,” which is about a world devastated by a plague so scientists send a man back to the past to look for clues as to how this plague started.
12 Monkeys” by itself isn’t as interesting as the short French film that i’s based on called “La Jetée,” which tells the entire story with still photos and a narrator. By watching this, you can see how to tell a story solely with key images.

So rather than construct a story slavishly trying to follow various screenwriting formulas, consider just looking on the Internet for different types of images and paste them in sequential order like a PowerPoint presentation to tell a story. In fact, use a presentation program like PowerPoint to outline your story with descriptive images and minimal text that explains what’s going on. If you can tell a complete story using just still pictures, you’ll probably have a strong foundation for creating a more elaborate story like
“12 Monkeys.”

By creating a slideshow to tell your story, you can get a much stronger visual feel for what your story could look like and what are the most important images that move your story along. For example, imagine plotting “Star Wars” using still images:

  • A ship being boarded as soldiers fight
  • A woman hiding a message in a robot
  • The robot escaping
  • The robot landing on a planet
  • The robot getting found by the hero
  • The robot accidentally shows a message to the hero
  • The robot escaping
  • The hero finding the robot and meeting a mentor
  • The hero goes home to find his home destroyed
  • The hero goes with he mentor to a seedy bar to look for a pilot
  • The hero and mentor blasting off with this pilot
  • The ship getting captured by the villain
  • The hero rescuing a woman from prison
  • The hero escaping from the villain
  • The villain approaching a base
  • The hero flying in a fighter to stop the villain
  • The villain shooting down all the fighters
  • The hero attacking the villain and stopping him
  • The hero is given a medal

When George Lucas was filming “Star Wars,” he ran out of money to complete the final battle scene. To show studio executives his idea, he showed them World War Two clips of American torpedo bombers trying to attack Japanese aircraft carriers and getting show down by Japanese Zero fighters. Although these film clips had nothing to do with science fiction, they did show the desperation of the hero’s forces futilely attacking the villain and failing again and again.

So think of your story in terms of key images. If you can successfully tell a story using images, chances are good you’ll have a solid foundation to tell a complete story using dialogue and scene descriptions as well.

To watch “La Jetée,” click here.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”Making-a-Scene-book”]


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