Breaking down the storytelling of “The Evolution Of Michael Phelps”

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I saw a short 15 minute documentary video on the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps just now. One of my Facebook friends had shared it on his timeline. And because I loved the way the film was made, I thought of breaking down the storytelling bit (my newest obsession – every time I see a good story, whether it be a documentary – short or otherwise, or a Hollywood movie).

1. Protagonist

  • From whose point of view is the story being told (or in other words, who is the protagonist)? Michael Phelps – he is the protagonist. He knows what he wants, it’s not easy for him to get what he wants, and he never totally gives up.
  • What does the protagonist want? To figure out his ultimate purpose in life.
  • Protagonist’s motivation? We all want to figure this out, right? This is a basic human nature.

2. Empathy

So why does the audience care about what the protagonist wants?

If the record holder of the highest number of Olympic medals is not sure what the purpose of his life is and is fucked up in any way, we all want to know why! It’s difficult not to care about his journey to see if he can figure things out (which he most likely will, we kind of know that), but more importantly, how exactly does he figure things out? Did someone help him in this journey? Did he bump into something (by accident or choice) that opened his eyes? ‘Tell us all’, the audience screams.

3. The challenge & what’s at stake?

What makes it difficult for Michael to figure out what he truly wants from his life is what makes it difficult for any of us – there is no well defined way of finding this out really! We also get to know about his estranged relationship with his father, which was not easy to sort out.

At stake was a) his reputation as a celebrity Olympic champ and b) his life. Two pretty high stakes really!

4. Visual-flow

Unfortunately, this story lacks a visual flow. There is no connecting start and end. Do I think having a visual flow would have elevated the story? Yes, absolutely.

5. Insights gained?

Following, methinks, are main ones:

  • Even Olympic champions can get suicidal – and not because they have stopped doing well professionally but for reasons as relate-able as unresolved personal relationships.
  • Life is not about how low you get – it’s about how you bounce back.
  • We all need that helping hand in our lives, in times of despair and self-doubt. And if we hang on, things eventually do get better.

6. The end and summary

  • What happens in the end? In the end, Phelps’ life is more or less sorted (and the viewers know how it happened). With help from those who cared about him, he came out of his depression, sorted issues with his dad, got married, became a father and is now ready to compete again – in this year’s Olympics!
  • Summary of the story in one or two sentences – this was the story of how one of the biggest Olympic champions of all times, dealt with his depression and came out of it successfully.

Whether you are writing a story (doesn’t really matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction) or making a film, do make sure you story answers these questions! Because every good watchable story, generally does! You can read more about the importance of each of these questions in another detailed blog here.

Feature image source.

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