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Report vs. Story

Posted By: ryan On:


Photo by Pascal

Recently I mentioned the book Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. One of the most useful tips was the idea of learning to distinguish between a report and a story. A report provides information, a story shares an experience. I thought this was a powerful way to consider the idea I’ve previously discussed of scoring what is happening in the story, not just what’s happening on screen.

As the great composer and educator Alain Mayrand says, “Don’t score the man running, score why he runs.”

In writing (the words kind, not the music kind), a report provides facts. This is what happened and when, this is who was there, etc. A story tells the actual experience that the people involved went through. It’s more relatable, and connects us with the information in a deeper way.

Information is not necessarily a bad thing, even in the context of scoring. Information can include clues about setting such as a regional instrument or flavor to establish the location, or it could be a musical hit that says “pay attention, this is important”. But only so much information is needed before it becomes redundant. If we see the White House and the American flag, maybe playing the Star Spangled Banner isn’t really necessary for establishing the location. Unless it’s a parody, this kind of “too much information” can be insulting to your audience’s intelligence.

Story, on the other hand, is not something that can be merely seen from a still shot, a single frame. OK so our hero is at the White House, but what does it mean? Is this a celebration or an ominous threat? The Star Spangled Banner is information, while ominous tense music is story.

I know I’ve brought this point up a few times already, but it really is fundamental to your development as a film composer.


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