Week 2 – Storified and Non Storified Content (part deux)

For this week’s go at identifying storified and non storified content, I took a look at a site I’ve watched evolve over the past three years, Window Farming.  One upon a time the site, as I recall, was single page with embedded video clips and links to schematics on how to construct a window farm.  Today, the structure of the website is comprised of multiple text modules sub-stories that follow the top menu, from left to right.  Starting from the left, the site provides the “what” the “who” and then the “how” through a series of sub stories.  Though there is no sound here, there is an emphasis on simple, animated figures to augment the text that goes in to explaining what the technology actually is (and how it works) as well as what can be grown.  The site I remembered followed more of a storyline, emphasizing the background and how two women in the middle of NYC were just thinking of way to bring more veggies into their lives.  The intent of the story at the time was to get more people interested, build the community, and crowdsource new additions to the idea.  This story isn’t gone, but it is condensed into the top-right module in the “about” page. Today, more focus is on selling, each sub-story linked from the first drop down menu, leads to  an invitation to get started.  At the same time, as one moves to the right along the main menu bar, additional substories that provide access to the community but also instructions on how to build a farm yourself.  There multiple stories and substories that this site provides (descriptive, historical, instructional).  What stands out most to me is that it now includes a very prominent “how to buy” path that parallels the original Do-it-Yourself (DIY) path.

I’ve included the image below to illustrate the parallel paths.

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Week 2 – Commercials as Short Films

Title:  “Best Commercial EVER!”

The commercial tracks closely to the viral experience architecture discussed in this week’s reading.  I starts off with a teenager entering a dark alley in the middle of the night layered with mysterious music accented by an repeating ominous tone, as if something no-good or bad is happening or about to happen.  The music continues throughout the commercial.  No words are spoken, so the story is told by the seemingly mischievous actions of what appears to be vandalism, as the teenager jumps around the alley, spray paining different walls.  The curiosity and mystery mix as the audience cannot see what is actually being spray painted.  As the teenager arrives home, the mother looks at her watch with a disappointed look and an awkward exchange of eye contact between the two, leading the audience to think “the boy has been out to no good, and the mother is disappointed. Typical story of troubled youth.”  Then, the scene shifts and the music tempo and composition changes as the teenager enters a room with a young girl hooked up to medical equipment, what appears to be  respirator.  The storyline starts to unfold and the audience is led to wonder the significance of this scene and why the teenager is carrying flowers from the kitchen to the room.  As the music picks up, and the windows are opened, the girl looks out the window, the mother enters the room, and the they Mystery around the late night spray painting connects to the Surprising Revelation that he was actually out painting a picture of flowers for his sick sister.  Wonder, Admiration, and Awe soon follow as the music takes over and the screen shifts to Pfizer’s brand and catch phrase “Sometimes it takes more than medicine.”

Below is the structure and analysis of the story broken down in 5 second increments.  Story spine demarcations in [brackets].

  • (0:00 – 0:05) – Teenager enters dark alley way with ominous music playing [The Beginning]
  • (0:05 – 0:10) – The teenager looks around, almost targeting, and pulls out a spray can and the viewer is led to suspect that he’s going to vandalize the alleyway walls
  • (0:10 – 0:15) – The teenager starts to spray paint walls, confirming the suspicion that  this teenager is indeed vandalizing the alleyway [The Event]
  • (0:15 – 0:20) – Continued vandalism up and down stairwells.  This demonstrates the magnitude of the teenager’s actions.
  • (0:20 – 0:25) – Continued vandalism jumping from building to building.  Additional magnitude and gravity of the action.
  • (0:25 – 0:30) – The teenager finishes, looks over his work, and the climax of the event and the heads home.
  • (0:30 – 0:35) – Stairwell scene as the teenager transitions to the home.  It provides the path between two different settings, reigniting the audience’s curiosity. [The Middle]
  • (0:35 – 0:40) – The mother sees her son coming in late and carries a look of disappointment.  This exchange between mother and son stirs empathy as the story of a “son out late and up to no good” is a not uncommon and part of “raising a teen.”
  • (0:40 – 0:45) – A quick, partial shot of some machinery and the the teenager reaching for a pot of flowers, peeks more curiosity, as the audience inquires to the signfiicance.
  • (0:45 – 0:50) – The teenager enters a room with a medical bed and all of sudden the storyline expands and tells us that he has a sick sibling.
  • (0:50 – 0:55) – The audience sees the girl, hooked up with tubes and hears the beeping of the medical machinery
  • (0:55 – 1:00) – The teenager opens the window and the girl awakes.
  • (1:00 – 1:05) – The teenager sits down next to the girl and they look outside the window
  • (1:05 – 1:10) – The mother enters the room and looks outside the window.  The audience’s curiosity is peaked, “What’s outside the window?”  The mother’s face is in the screen, positioned next to the sick girl’s IV stand
  • (1:10 – 1:15) – A look of amazement fall upon the mother’s face, she looks in the teenager’s direction and mouths the words “Thank you.”  The scene shifts to the girl and the teenager with the girl showing a smile as she looks outside the window.
  • (1:15 – 1:20) – The camera view shifts to the window and the audience sees that the spraypainting was not vandalism, but the teenager’s attempt to support his sick sister.  The Mystery circles around to the Surprising Revelation since the sequence of events, coupled with the audience’s presumptions, led one to believe that he was vandalizing the alleyway. [The Climax]
  • (1:20 – 1:25) – “Sometimes it takes more than Medication” shows on the screen, which ties the sequence of events to a core notion, that there could be something more then than we might have otherwise allowed ourselves to realize.

The Original Video:

Week 2 – Learning by Listening to Radio Shows

 

Comments and reflections on This American Life: Episode 503 “I Was Just Trying To Help”

Prologue:  Sharon was a clerk for circuit court judge in Missouri. While she was at work, a man and a woman approached her looking for some paperwork so they could help out their brother, who was in prison for rape. The prisoner claimed he was innocent of the crime and had decided to file a motion for a DNA test. Sharon decided to help the man with the paperwork, which didn’t please her employer.

How was the story told?

The story of Sharon Snyder was told in the form of an interview that shifted back and forth between the interview dialogue and a monologue where the interviewer, Ira Glass, would pull the listener aside to either connect the dots with what Sharon just shared or fast forward along the story with a detail sequence of events and outcomes.  Every time Ira transitions to the monologue, a layer of music chimes in the background that carry a tone of slight suspense, allowing the listener to visualize a narrator stepping outside of the story to give the audience additional insight.  Towards the end of the interview, the producer introduces a layer of music to relays a feeling of resignation and closure as Sharon goes on to say how she’s accepted the outcomes of her “just trying to help.”

I’ve listen to variety of radio shows, usually NPR clips form my iPhone app in the morning while I’m prepping for the work day.  Many of the clips follow a similar story telling, real-world account of a subject matter expert, witness, or victim of an event.  Scrolling through my morning’s selection, I noticed that the layer of music towards the end of the Fresh Air segment on Noah.  It demarcates the closing credits of the show.

As I continued to wrap my head around the idea of using pauses and layers, I recalled an old 90s show called “Paker Lews Can’t Lose.”  The opening scene of the first episode is a perfect example of using layers of dialogue, music, and pauses to tell a story.  In this case, it’s the first episode, so a number of characters are being introduced and background story relayed to the audience in snippets.  It’s not a radio show, but if you listen to the audio only, you’ll appreciate the layers, music tone, and pause.

 

Week 01 – Storified and Non Storified Content (Attempt #1)

 Look for things that do not seem to be explained well, or that do not kind much interest for you to become engaged with it.  Write a blog post summarizing what you found that might or might not work. Explain why you chose it. You do not need to have a perfect example, but show that you are seeking something to work with.

In my first attempt at identifying a site that does not kind much interest for me to engage with, I looked at a website I found in an attempt to learn how to share my internet connection.  I chose this site because, at the time of this post, I was multitasking and trying to figoure out a way to share my mifi dongle connection.  Admittedly, the WHY question is already answered because I had a clear intent and buy-in when I visited the site, however, in the context of the Touchcast video on Storytelling and Design, the WHAT and the HOW is pretty clear and straight forward.

UPDATE:

After further review and execution of the steps on this site, I find myself in the same situation as one of the commentators…left hanging with a half-baked explanation and no ability to share my internet connection.  It seems this site fails at even providing the HOW, falling short of fulfilling the “promise” it uses to draw its audience into the story.

Your Starting Perspective on What is Story (Part II)

Then, expand on what it might mean to introduce the word “digital”? What changes, is different, or is the same? What do you see or think of when we say “digital storytelling”  Finally, add the ideas you got from listening to this week’s videos by Ira Glass and Andrew Stanton- what, if any, might influence your thoughts on the implication of storytelling for the types of communication you do.

Introducing the word “digital” to my previous description of “storytelling” assigns the act to a specific medium.  Adapting digital to my campfire example would be difficult since I used it to describe the core act of story telling.  Digital storytelling further defines the act by assigning a criterion that the act should occur through a particular medium or method.  Related to the Glass and Stanton’s ideas, digital storytelling offers a number  of tools that allows the writer to engage the audience on different levels where as the campfire example might be limited to intonation, pause, and a single voice.  Digital medium and content allows the write to present Glass’ anecdotes and Stanton’s promises that keeps the audience guessing, wondering about what comes next.

In the world of consulting, Glass and Stanton’s concepts are very present, though tend to be packaged in a series of slides (or in some cases a slide) and with significant constraints and focus, depending on the context.  For example, pitching a new idea, requires that you make sure the audience knows you’re not wasting their time, while at the same time using a value proposition to stir anticipation of the final recommendation slide.  Though there can be significant flexibility than the story telling Glass and Stone refer to, the general structure and approach holds true.

Week 1 – Your Starting Perspective on What is Story

What do you associate with the word storytelling? What is the visual that comes to mind? What experiences or memories does it conjure? Does it have any place in your life now?

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My concept of storytelling is that it is an exchange rooted in the foundation of our humanity and how we relate to those around us.  I think of a scenario set in a time/space absent the information technologies we take for granted (internet, TV, radio, written text, etc.)…a group of strangers around a campfire on a back-country camping trip.  Aside from our awareness of ourselves and physical proximity to others in a shared space and experience, storytelling is what allows us to connect to each others experiences, without actually being there, exchanging verbal and non-verbal information.  As strangers on this trip, you’re forming a story through shared experience and observation, but at the same time, using storytelling, you tell more than where you’ve been or what you’ve done.  In your the delivery, phrasing, intonation, timing, and gesture, you demonstrate different dimensions of your “self” that serve to complement the your companions’ observations.

Storytelling involves a process of framing and packaging that provides insight and/or mystery to perceived tangibles that might otherwise go unnoticed or be at the mercy of an individual’s existing knowledge.  I liken it to a scene used earlier in this week’s DS106 assignment, where you have a collection random items, but put together in a certain way, those items can serve a purpose specific to the circumstance or purpose.  

Storytelling has a place in my person and professional life.  When I reconnect with old friends or make new ones, I form stories out of essentially the same material experiences, but in a way that is relevant to the audience and nature of the interaction.  

 

Week 1 – Exploring the Shape of Stories

Kurt Vonnegut explains an approach to portraying the shape of stories along the G-I (good fortune/ill-fortune) and B-E (beginning – end) axis.  During the clip he provides examples of generic, sinusoidal (cosine or sine, depending on the character’s starting point) stories that dip into (or out of) good and ill fortune.

Vonnegut provides a more complex story, using Cinderella as an example.  Interestingly enough, it’s a combination of step-wise functions and exponential functions as opposed to the simple, sinusoidal examples he started with.  I believe the dramatic changes, and the perceived “flatness” of the step-wise function is more in line with reality, or at least the stories that engage us and keep us guessing.

A story that pops out of my head is the movie Rudy.  Now, admittedly, we know movies very often end on a more or less positive note, or on the ‘G’ side of Vonnegut’s axis model.  That said, the story’s ‘E’ is almost predetermined.  The story starts at the origin (0,0 for those who recall their geometry/trig days) and dips as the story highlights Rudy’s current situation and seemingly low position in society.  Then, through as series of story developments, he is given signs of hope in the form of admission to Notre Dame, finding a job on campus, making the practice squad, etc.  All of this leads up to a high point that is defined by the posting of the active football roster, each time resulting in Rudy plummeting from the ‘G’ to the ‘I’ on Vonnegut’s scale.  The last part of the movie, aligns with Vonnegut’s Cinderella story, which is a rapid rise from the depths of ‘I’ (where Rudy gets added to the active roster, only to ride the bench till the last minute of the game) to ‘G’ where Rudy gets the final sack of the game and gets carried off the field.

The rule I chose from Pixar’s list for creating appealing stories was #1, “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes”

I created an infographic that speaks to the total climb being greater than zero.  Rudy’s climb figure would be something HUGE because he tried repeatedly and worked against all odds and setbacks.  His success was relatively small (one sack and 19 seconds of playing time in a 4 year college career), but it was his effort that we appreciate.

Rudy's Story along Vonnegut's G-I/B-E axis

Rudy’s Story along Vonnegut’s G-I/B-E axis

Story spine for the movie Rudy

Story spine for the movie Rudy