Gyaan videos

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

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.

family.friends movies Review

Goa, Brooklyn, New York and St. Louis

Last night, I forgot to carry the house keys when I went out with biwi to a restaurant to catch up with a couple friend.

I realized it the moment I closed the door and I was like fuck, fuck, fuck.

But it was too late to do anything about it. So I didn’t think much and we all enjoyed our food and wine and conversations. While we were at it, I did check with my landlord over Whatsapp if he had spare keys to the house by any chance. He didn’t. Eventually we called up another couple friend who live in Goa (very close to our own house), and then we went over to their place and I had a Tuborg there and biwi had some Baileys and then we had some more conversations, followed by a good night’s sleep in their spare bedroom. The next morning, they also shared with us a phone number of a guy who opened locks. That guy soon came over to our place and he took 800 bucks and after 15 minute of effort, opened the door for us. Biwi and I did nothing much during the day but in the evening we watched this movie called Brooklyn, on our home projector. I loved the way the movie was written and shot and put together as a film. Below is a trailer for those who haven’t seen the film and though the movie is not for everyone, lovers of fine subtle cinema would get what I have to say about this movie.

From a ‘story’ perspective, the movie managed to remain just above that threshold that’s required to keep any story moving forward without making you fall asleep. The story could have slipped off very easily, had the makers tried to be any more “arty” with it. I appreciate the way the makers managed to get the movie just enough dramatic – like that supposedly spicy food that has just enough spice for it to be called spicy – anything less and it would be labelled bland – anything more, and it would be called playing safe.

In a typical commercial movie, it’s very clear what the protagonist wants and there are serious obstacles in her journey of trying to get what she wants – especially if she ventures into a new territory.

In Brooklyn however, the leading lady Eilis, in spite of venturing into a new territory (moving from Ireland to US) – wants very little from life and there is not much of an obstacle in her journey anyway. This typically makes for a boring story but this movie has just enough going on for you as an audience to care about watching Eilis doing the things that she does and meeting people whom she meets. The story gets powerful (and thus safer) as the film progresses and ends almost perfectly well.

I also loved everyone’s acting. And the colour tone of the film. And the costumes. And the details given to how everyone looked – the makeup, the hair and all of that. And the way most scenes were designed to take place in locations that avoided the need for tremendous amount of money to be spent on visual effects and grand sets to create a world from 1950s. I have been trying to write a short story where biwi can play the lead protagonist and I can shoot for zero budget, and so I know how hard it is to write anything worthwhile when you have constraints. I like it every time I see a nicely written movie. Brooklyn was a nicely written movie.

I might end up going to Brooklyn for a day or two in September.

New York I mean. Just like that. No, not because I watched the movie. LOL, no. Not like that. I’ve just been having this feeling (since last few days) to go visit Sweety, my sister, who lives in St. Louis. To reach St. Louis from India, you either fly to New York or to Chicago (and then take a connecting flight). And so I have been thinking about spending few days in New York before I fly to meet her. There is nothing much to do in St. Louis anyway. By the way, call it a freaky coincidence if you will, but I was reading this book by Mark Twain called Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (have been reading it since last year actually – had picked up a cheap paperback copy from Jasidih Railway station) and the hero of the book, while on his river adventure, crosses St. Louis – of all the places in this world!

It might not sound like a big deal but till like few days ago, if you asked me where St. Louis was, I would have probably told you ‘in Italy’.

Yes, even when my own sister lives there – I didn’t know about the city. The thing is, she has been living there for only about a year I guess (she was in some other city in US before that), and though I am sure she told me where she was moving to, when she moved to St. Louis, who the fuck remembers a name like that? I didn’t. And so when I felt like visiting her and therefore asked her few days ago where she lived and she told me it was ‘St. Louis’ and then a day or two after that, I was reading this story by Twain and then Huckleberry Finn starts crossing St. Louis and I was like WTF man – is this happening for real?

On the lines of my WTF emotions, there is something else I’d like to share. A few days ago I was on my way from Goa to Bhopal to shoot a wedding. It was not a direct flight. I had few hours of waiting time at Mumbai airport. I decided to have few bottles of Tuborg and felt pretty good about it. I even published a Facebook status saying how drinking during transit was so cool and all that. And then I mostly slept in the Mumbai Bhopal flight. And then worked hard in Bhopal for the next two days. On my way back to Goa, I had a similar waiting time in Mumbai. But this time, while waiting at the airport, I had coffee and muffins and wrote emails. The Mumbai Goa Jet flight was surprisingly full of people in spite of the departure time being so odd (0230 AM – early morning). I took my seat. A nice window seat. And I thought I would have a nice sleep and all that, given that I was so tired from working all day. But sleep didn’t happen. No, not because of the coffee. The guy who came and sat next to me was fucking high on alcohol and kept chatting very loudly with three of his friends, all seated in the row behind me. He was the only one from that group, seated in my row – occupying the middle seat. And he fucked up my sleep. I wasn’t sure any more if I still liked the idea of having alcohol while waiting at airports during flight changes. Definitely not for everyone. Do it only if you are going to sleep after boarding. Like me. I still remember the last (and only) time I was in New York. I had just one night to spend in the city (had arrived from Boston and had a morning flight to catch for LA). I spent most of that night, drinking with a friend who was attending her school reunion party and had decided to take me along with her (this was the first time we were meeting in person). So anyway, I drank, drank and drank. And then I puked some and then as the sun was about to rise, I somehow managed to reach the airport and caught my flight to LA. And yes, you guessed it right, slept all through those six hours. And puked some more after reaching LA. I mean not at the airport or anything like that. But puke I did. And I think, I will end this post on that note. However pukish that note might be. Bye.


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