How to Breakdown Your Story

The first thing I want to look at is the story. It is extremely important that you de-construct your story and determine how you are going to use time-lapses to help tell this story. If you are a new filmmaker, this is most important.

In this section, I will be looking at a few things you will need to consider when attempting to tell a visual story.

For the short I am going to produce with this tutorial, I want to tell the story of home and how, no matter how old you are, you are able connect to the idea of home.

There are many ways you can use a time-lapse to help tell your story. In order to understand how you can use it, it is important to first understand how to tell a story from a single image. When analyzing works of art, there are a few categories to consider – form, content & context. This includes all it’s encompassing elements.

FORM can be broken down into three sections:

  • The Primary Features (Colour, line, shape, size, — which are basically the elements that are used to construct the image).
  • The Secondary Features (Balance, composition, contrast, dominance, movement, rhythm, unity, — basically how the primary features were used).
  • The Tertiary Concerns, (How form interacts with the content and context).

As for CONTENT, this is essentially the message you are trying to rely. Ask yourself, what are the denotations and connotations which are essentially the literal, figurative, and metaphorical meanings. The content applies to the subject matter — and what the subjects represent.

The last of the three is CONTEXT. Context encompasses a few elements and is probably the hardest of the three to decipher. The primary context is the artist’s intentions and the secondary context is the functions the work of art plays in currency at the time — including the religious, philosophical convictions, socio-political, economic structures and even climate and geography.

Now what does this all mean? In relation to the single image, what elements are you going to use to tell your story? What single image expresses the message you desire? What elements as a cinematographer are you using the construct your image? Are you going to use a cluttered frame? How are you going to use negative space? If you are shooting a landscape, it is key to think of why and how you are going to do it. Is it a visual exploration of space and time or more? The more part is what you should aim for.

In relation to the idea of home, there are many options. The literal image could be an actual image of this space. You could also choose to have a shot of something that symbolizes home — such as a turkey coming out of the oven, a smile, or anything you are able to connect to personally — however ambiguous it is. For the short, I am going to use the shot of the turkey coming out of the oven as one of the shots at the end to reinforce the concept.


Once you have understood how a single image can tell a story, you then need to think how to juxtapose images to help tell a story as well. — similar to how collections of artwork together. Each piece of art tells a unique story of it’s own but when combined in a collection of work, tells a totally new story.

When producing a film of any kind, it is important to think of how a film is constructed. I am not going to go in depth about this now as I will be covering this more extensively when I launch a new education series I am doing on filmmaking. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Films are constructed in three acts. The first is exposition which is used to establish the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in. The first act establishes the inciting incident, or the catalyst. The second act is the rising action which typically depicts the protagonist’s attempt to resolve the problem initiated by the first turning point. The second turning point is in most cases the climax. Lastly, The third act features the resolution of the story.

For the short film on ‘home’, the exposition / rising action is the decision to finally go back home since the sale of the childhood home that the lead character grew up in. The lead character has not seen his parent’s new home since they moved. The rising action is the struggle to deal with the end of this chapter in his life. The climax is when the character finally accepts the new chapter in both his parents life as well as his own.

The last section I want to talk about in regards to the story is the importance of writing about what you know. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new filmmaker is taking a concept you cannot relate to and write about it. The emotion that you hope to convey in the piece will not be genuine.  Does this mean you shouldn’t write about subjects you are not familiar with? Definitely not. Research is imperative in these situations.

For me, my parents still live in my childhood home but my grandmother has moved out of her house. I have yet to visit her since she has moved and I know the experience will be different. I also interviewed the entire family before she moved and hope to cut some of this content into the final film — as well as some interviews from family members that have already experienced the transition.

When I approach a film, I first think of words and phrases that relate to the message. I try filter out the main concepts and think of ways to express these ideas on screen. These images can be developed from literal, figurative or metaphorical ideas.

For this film, what differentiates the place you happen to live and a place you think of as home? Is it a history? Is it the people? What is the relationship between home and family? Is home defined by an internal feeling or by external conditions?

I highly recommend considering the information above before you start shooting.