I attended Stillmotion’s‘Storytelling with Heart’ one-day workshop in Sydney recently and received an in-depth baptism into the MUSE storytelling process. It was almost eight hours very well spent and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in getting to grips with powerful, emotive storytelling.
The MUSE process itself has been developed over many years and thousands of hours worth of intensive, passion-driven moviemaking by the Stillmotion studio team.
The testimony to Stillmotion’s success and the pivotal role played by their process in producing short and long documentaries, other short films, creative products and spin-offs since co-founders Amina and Patrick Moreau joined up to make wedding videos when at college is in the awards they have won and the increasingly lucrative commissions they receive.
Stillmotion’s founders began their moviemaking adventure in Canada then took it south, basing themselves in Portland, Oregon, from where they travel the world working on commissioned and private projects and teaching workshops and in intensive, hands-on training like the EVO Experience where participants learn the MUSE process by creating movies for non-profit organizations in need.
Storytelling With Heart was held at The Glue Society’s new studios in Alexandria, a rapidly redeveloping inner-city suburb south of Sydney’s CBD. The Glue Society is an art, creative, film and television company working from bases in Sydney and London for clients all around the world. All photographs made with Panasonic LumixGH4 and Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens then processed with DxO OpticsPro, DxO FilmPack and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.
Two members of the Stillmotion team greet an attendee at the registration desk. The Glue Society studio is a fully-fledged production studio converted from one of the many large warehouses in Alexandria and surrounding suburbs. While the workshop was on, Glue Society people continued to work away downstairs and upstairs in the editing suite.
MUSE is the backbone of the Storytelling with Heart workshop and the EVO Experience as well as the driving force behind all of Stillmotion’s moviemaking and conceptualization work. MUSE is also an online-based training program currently in pilot mode and soon to be revamped and offered publicly.
Why are we creatives? I can tell you why I am one – to explore the world, to tell stories and to touch the hearts of others as well as to find my own place within it. In the process, I have found it necessary a couple of times to help change the world for the better through storytelling and by helping create new media products with which to do that.
I was never lucky enough to attend film school – there is a long, unpleasant story behind that. But I have heard tales from those who have about how some film schools at least over-focus on gear and gear-using skills at the expense of why we actually do what we do. I did attend an art school of sorts and something similar occurred there – a deep understanding of how and why was sacrificed to formulas to be applied without questioning them. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) has become a contemporary obsession, excusable to some degree given the rapid pace of development nowadays and the uncertainty that accompanies that.
Story can and does change the world and our view of it. Storytelling has helped me to change certain aspects of Australian culture in the past and I am learning how to apply story via independent moviemaking now. Story has been the way that humans communicate, influence and inspire each other for millennia. At the same time, I have found, story as such has been largely misunderstood and poorly applied at many of the publishers and creative agencies where I have worked here. Stillmotion’s MUSE training in story creation can play a crucial role in the work of many creatives and creative organizations, I believe.
‘Stand with Me’ is Stillmotion’s first feature-length documentary movie, centered on a 9-year old girl in the US who decided to make a stand against slavery. Stillmotion was already a multiple Emmy Award-winning production company before making this movie that is, in many respects, the embodiment of their MUSE process.
Vivienne, depicted onscreen, is the central character of ‘Stand with Me’ who helped raise funds via a lemonade stand that grew into a fully-fledged socially-conscious business. ‘Stand with Me’ is inspirational and demonstrates that movies about dark, disturbing matters do not, themselves, need to be dark in their look, their feel and their message.
On the face of it, the goals of Storytelling with Heart seem simple enough – to learn MUSE and to learn how to apply MUSE to your workflow. In reality the day was almost 8 heavily-packed hours that are just the tip of the iceberg of what Stillmotion has to teach moviemakers in particular and creatives in general. I recommend the MUSE online training to deepen your understand of Stillmotion's storytelling process.
MUSE is a multi-step development process and much of the day was concerned with exploring those steps in detail. For more information about MUSE, I recommend visiting the StillMotion website – currently being revamped – and reading up on MUSE as well as visiting their Vimeo channel. Step 7: Build Your Plot is a refinement and modernization of traditional moviemaking plot paradigms – simpler, more elegant and easier to apply to non-narrative movie projects.
This poster is a blueprint of the whole MUSE concept and process. Every creative and creative agency needs one of these posters on their wall. It is a component of the MUSE training toolkit along with a number of other learning aids, I understand. The gentleman at right is a workshop attendee.
Patrick Moreau and Joyce Tsang speak with EVO Experience participants during a break in Storytelling with Heart. Joyce is a cinematographer and former engineer who “stumbled into the filmmaking world about 6 years ago with no film experience, and is not only one of the lead creatives at Stillmotion, but also DPed their first feature-length documentary called #standwithme”. Patrick came to moviemaking from studying psychology while shooting weddings on the side with his wife Amina. Stillmotion grew from there into a multi-person moviemaking studio based in the United States.
Some of the marketing and media departments guys from Røde. Røde sponsored the Storytelling with Heart tour and provided a RØDELink Filmmaker Kit giveaway as well as equipment for the EVO Experience.
“The experience you create will do more than any piece of gear ever could.” Never truer words spoken about moviemaking or stills photography. I grew up in a place where your ability to earn a living in either was predicated on how much big, flashy gear you owned and how huge your drive-in studio was, not in the quality of your work. If you came from the wrong background then you had little choice but to move interstate or overseas to build a career. Working as a magazine editorial portrait photographer then jumping the fence to commission photographers and directors taught me that the key to creating great stories was in building the right experiences for your subjects rather than in owning the correct equipment.
‘Old Skool Cafe’ is the tale of a supper club in one of the toughest neighborhoods of San Francisco, founded by a white woman and run by young people of various challenging backgrounds. The movie is one of Stillmotion’s annual pro bono projects and was developed via the MUSE storytelling process.
One of the most common questions asked of successful moviemakers is “what gear do you use?” One of the last slides of the day was about exactly that, the Ninja Filmmaking Kit used by the Stillmotion multi-ninja team. If following their advice you may also want to invest in a sizeable van to carry all this gear. Access to enough appropriate equipment allowed Joyce Tsang to light ‘Stand with Me’ beautifully and in keeping with the keywords developed for the movie during the MUSE process. Solo ninjas like me who need to cary all their gear on their back and in a roll-along case at most may wish to seek smaller, more affordable alternatives.
Storytelling With Heart is a one-day classroom style workshop for up to 100 attendees. It will show you how to unlock the magic of story through an 8-step patent pending process, MUSE.
The EVO Experience is a 3 day, around the clock, filmmaking intensive where 12 filmmakers will produce, direct, shoot, edit, and deliver films for 2 local non-profits during the course of the experience. You'll be one of six filmmakers on a team with a Stillmotion team member (Patrick & Joyce). EVO registration includes a seat in Storytelling With Heart to get a proper foundation before the experience.
Karin is a documentary moviemaker, journalist, photographer and teacher who conceived and cofounded an influential, globally-read, Australian magazine of contemporary art, culture and photography. While based in Europe, contributing to the magazine and working in advertising, she visualised a future telling the same sorts of stories with a movie camera and audio recorder. Now back in her home base in Sydney, Karin is pursuing her goal of becoming an independent, one-person, backpack multimedia journalist and documentary moviemaker. Mentorless and un-filmschooled, she is constantly learning and sharpening up her skill set.