Filmmakers are often faced with the challenge of telling stories in the most effective way possible. One question that comes up frequently is whether it is better to tell complex stories in simple ways or to tell simple stories in complex ways. In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of each approach and examine some examples of films that have successfully used one or the other.
Telling Complex Stories in Simple Ways
When filmmakers choose to tell complex stories in simple ways, they often aim to make their films more accessible to a wider audience. By breaking down complicated themes and ideas into more digestible pieces, filmmakers can create a more emotionally resonant experience for their viewers. This approach also allows filmmakers to focus on character development and relationships, which can help audiences connect more deeply with the story.
Simple ways of telling a story can include using a limited cast, limited locations or even developing a premise for the otherwise complex themes of the film using an everyday, casual or otherwise uneventful scenario.
One film that exemplifies this approach is the 2016 science-fiction drama Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film’s complex storyline, which centers around linguistics and the nature of time, is presented in a way that is easy for audiences to follow. Villeneuve achieves this by using a nonlinear narrative structure and employing a clear visual language that helps viewers understand the various story threads. The film also places a strong emphasis on character development, particularly that of its lead protagonist, linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams.
Essentially, telling a complex story in a simple way makes it accessible to a wider audience but you also stand the risk of presenting a film that some of your audience might find to be lacking intellectual depth. You also might end up oversimplify complex themes and ideas and watering them down to a point that they do not impress your audience.
When it comes to budgeting and funding, telling complex stories in simple ways can be advantageous.
This approach often appeals to a wider audience, which can increase the chances of the film being financially successful. Additionally, by emphasizing character development and relationships, filmmakers can create a more emotionally resonant experience, which can help the film stand out and attract funding.
One example of a film that successfully employed this approach with a limited budget is the 2006 independent drama Half Nelson, directed by Ryan Fleck. The film tells the story of a middle school teacher who is struggling with addiction and forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students. Despite its limited budget, Half Nelson was a critical success and helped launch the careers of its lead actors, Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps.
Telling Simple Stories in Complex Ways
On the other hand, when filmmakers choose to tell simple stories in complex ways, they often aim to challenge their viewers and make them think critically about the themes and ideas presented in the film. This approach can create a more intellectually stimulating experience and can be particularly effective in films that tackle difficult or controversial subject matter.
As simple story might appear less expensive to make. After all it could be off a premise that is very familiar or pertaining to everyday life interactions. The attempt to make it complex might involve setting up a larger world, choosing multiple perspectives and or maybe introducing themes that might not be easily understood on the surface. The idea is to turn something basic into something advanced and otherwise daring or even outrageous.
One film that demonstrates this approach is the 2014 drama Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater. The film tells the story of a young boy named Mason over the course of twelve years, from childhood to adolescence. While the story itself is relatively simple, Linklater’s decision to film the movie over a twelve-year period and to use the same actors throughout gives the film a sense of authenticity and realism that would not have been possible with traditional filmmaking techniques. The film also touches on a variety of themes, including the nature of time, family dynamics, and the challenges of growing up.
Films made in complex ways generally may be difficult for some viewers to follow let alone understand and fully appreciate. Choosing that approach could also present your audience with a film that they might find either too self-indulgent or pretentious.
On the other hand, telling simple stories in complex ways can be advantageous as well budgetary wise.
By challenging viewers and presenting difficult subject matter in a unique way, filmmakers can create a film that stands out and attracts funding from investors who are looking for something different. Additionally, the innovative use of cinematic techniques can create a visually stunning film that attracts attention and buzz.
One example of a film that successfully employed this approach with a relatively low budget is the 2009 indie horror film, The House of the Devil, directed by Ti West. The film tells the story of a college student who takes a babysitting job at a remote mansion and discovers that she is not alone. The House of the Devil employs a slow-burn approach to horror and makes effective use of atmosphere and tension to create a truly terrifying experience. Despite its relatively low budget, the film was well-received by critics and has since become a cult classic.
Either of the two approaches can be challenging in their own ways for any filmmaker. In the end, the decision to tell complex stories in simple ways versus telling simple stories in complex ways depends on the filmmaker’s goals and the nature of the story being told.
Both approaches have their pros and cons, and filmmakers should choose the approach that best serves their vision for the film taking into account budgetary limitations and accessibility.
When it comes to budgeting and funding, both approaches have their advantages. Telling complex stories in simple ways can appeal to a wider audience, increasing the chances of financial success. Meanwhile, telling simple stories in complex ways can attract funding from investors who are looking for something unique and innovative.
Nonetheless, filmmakers may choose to combine elements of both approaches, creating a film that is intellectually stimulating while also being emotionally resonant and accessible to a wider audience. Ultimately, what matters most is that the filmmaker is true to their vision, tells the story that they want to tell and creates a film that is engaging, thought-provoking, and meaningful. And such a film can easily attract both funding and critical acclaim.