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Patrick's factory

Four Narratives

michael — 5 years ago

Three years ago, when I was thinking up the concept for Semisweet, I felt very strongly that I needed more than one perspective to tell the big universal story behind chocolate. The idea was that chocolate is so much more than just candy – for many, it’s really a way of life. So, I came up with four separate stories from four very different parts of the world. Although these stories never actually intersect, they all share the same deep connection with chocolate. And, together, they give a well-rounded view of the overall impact of chocolate.

But – three years later -- as I sit here in the edit suite with the editor Dan Hawkes, I’m reminded of how difficult it is to successfully put together a multi-narrative film. When your story is told by various characters, the last thing you want to create is a sort of Tower of Babel – a confusion of voices and ideas.

That’s not to say that making a film with only one main character is easy. It’s not. The single-character approach has many challenges: Is that person’s story and personality strong enough to carry a film? Will the subject bail on the project halfway through filming? (Both of these scenarios, by the way, I’ve had to deal with in past projects.)

Character Number 1

There are exceptions to everything, but the one thing that is easier with one-character films is focus. You at least know who should be mostly on camera – or whom the story should be revolving around.

Patricks Ape

In a multi-narrative structure, the emphasis on focus is replaced with the idea of balance.

In the first week of editing, we seemed preoccupied with making sure that all four stories ran for a similar amount of time. That was our idea of balance. But, as time went on, it became clear that actual “face-time” had nothing to do with balance. Stories didn’t all have to be the same length. What mattered was what they were saying – not how long they were saying it.

Characters Number 2

More importantly, it didn’t seem to matter how much time passed in between a character’s segments. We worried the viewer might forget someone if they hadn’t been on camera for an extended period of time (sometimes as much as 15 minutes). But that wasn’t at all the case. I think that’s because if all four stories are interesting enough, you get so drawn into each that you don’t have time to miss the others.

In terms of balance, another important thing that had to be considered in the planning of this film was the story “arcs”. Stories always have an arc – a beginning, a middle, and an end. Within that structure you have conflict, a climax, a resolution. That’s basic storytelling. These arcs can be of epic proportions -- spanning the history of humanity -- to a short moment in time.
Factory Shot

Character 3
It seemed pretty clear to me that with four stories competing for attention, the story arcs can’t be too complex in structure. Otherwise, the film would become too convoluted. That’s why I chose the particular stories in the film: none are really designed to carry a film by themselves. Instead, they are there to complement each other.

So, in the end, the entire structure of Semisweet was built with the idea that, as a film, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

documentary, FairTrade, MichaelBlog, RawChocolate, SemisweetLifeInChocolate

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