This article was originally published in Swedish by Beaconomist.

Rolf van den Brink / 21 February, 2018


Our insatiable thirst for entertaining storytelling and the hard work behind building emotional stories was highlighted this week, when Mårten Lindsjö, Director & Creative at Edisen, was featured as Storyteller of the Week in Beaconomist.

– Successful storytelling all comes down to the narrative itself. You simply can’t tell a good story if the underlying idea isn’t engaging. The key is to prioritize the part of the story that needs to be told, and what is unnecessary, says Mårten.

According to Mårten, different formats crave different kinds of storytelling.

– I’m usually working on stories destined for TV or digital channels, and for this, time is literally money. There is no sympathy for wasted seconds. It’s condensed storytelling at its highest level.

So what is most important?

– You could say that the script is the most important element, but to me, the script and the underlying story are two different things. The story often goes much deeper, and it’s what the viewers will remember, either on an informative or emotional level. My job is to make the viewer feel something. It’s the story alone and the way it’s told that will create this effect.

What can be achieved with a story and how do you get there?

– You can find storytelling everywhere. It’s found in its purest form in literature, film and journalism, but it exists also in music, art and politics. We are all driven by narratives. It comes from a natural drive to be entertained, touched and informed. I think that’s where my passion comes from. I’m not a film nerd who obsesses over cameras and lights, I’m more interested in the emotional reaction I can draw out of my audience with moving images. If the storyteller succeeds and creates something that resonates emotionally with their audience, there are no limitations to what she or he can achieve, according to Mårten.

– The tricky part is that there are no easy answers on how to get there. From a commercial perspective, this is very important – a lot of brands have seen the potential in creating an emotional bond with the consumer through video. Volvo is a prime example. As a filmmaker, I love this development.

What is especially effective with storytelling in moving images?

– Mainly, the benefit is that you can build your brand and what it stands for on so many levels. Not only the feel of the video, the colors, imagery and tempo, but also in the choice of music, cast and the tonality in general, says Mårten, continuing: – I would say that, whether it’s intended or not, all videos made with a commercial goal constitute as branding on some level. You create a tonality and a voice for the company, regardless of whether you are talking about specific products or an overall brand.

He thinks that the genre of the sell as many products as possible commercial is dying.

– Most people want to be entertained. You will gladly buy into the commercial message at the end of a video of the trip to get there was fun. Brands such as ICA figured this out a long time ago.

Mårten short answer to what characterizes storytelling in moving images is “control”.

– What distinguishes storytelling from moving images is that the medium is the combination of so many different components. You have the visual part, which can be similar to art in the way it creates different emotions and moods on its own. Add in dialogue and ambiance, and these often tell the story on their own. Then music is added, as a spice, which when used correctly, accentuates and amplifies the other components. The storyteller directs the experience into what she or he wants.

“This is good and bad”, says Mårten.

– Video is often the art form that leaves the least to the imagination. You get a table set with images and audio, presented to you exactly the way the director imagined it. But all these tools also give you huge possibilities to tell your story without leaving anything behind.

How do you learn how to be a storyteller in moving images?

– I think that we all are storytellers. It’s something that we all have inside us. We love to share our thoughts and experiences and we love when people tell us theirs. We do this every day when we communicate with the people around us and we do it in our images and social media posts. Today, we all have cameras that come with us everywhere, our phones, and they empower us to share our own narrative in our own way. Some say that you need top-end tech to tell stories, that’s bullshit. The tech itself gives you nothing, from a storytelling perspective. I see great storytellers on Instagram daily, and a lot of lousy ones. It comes down to common sense and perhaps a bit of talent. But talent can be built through hard work. Common sense is a little harder to teach, but it comes down to understanding if the story you’re telling is of any value and relevance to the people around you. So, it doesn’t have to do so much with learning how to become a storyteller, what you do is to cultivate what you already know. How do you get the most laughs if you tell a funny story? Whether it’s on your vlog, Instagram account or IRL. Video is just an extension of all of this.

Could you describe how you create a story?

– My job as a director is often not about creating stories, it’s more about finding a way of telling someone else’s in the most optimal way. It’s about finding the most important aspects to highlight. What does the viewer need to know and why? And how do I deliver that information in the smartest way possible?

Mårten explains:

– When you’re writing a treatment for a pitch, you need to really take a look at your own thoughts and the motivations behind the choices you make through the entire production process. It’s extremely instructive, not just for the output itself, but for your own growth. It’s the way you’re telling the story that sells, because it’s the story that’s the engine of the video. All the choices you make along the way need to benefit the story. To gain this insight was, to me, pretty important. When I was at the beginning of my career I gave way too much thought into minor details, like whether the main character’s shirt should be blue or red. What difference does it make for the viewer? Even if blue looks way better than red, most of the time.

How do you adapt your story to different formats?

– The different formats that are arising thanks to technology are a game-changer for us filmmakers, and they bring both limitations and possibilities. We need to find new ways to express ourselves, which I think is developing us.

Mårten also mentions social media as an example of formats where the viewer needs to actively turn the sound on to hear the audio on most videos, which has lead to a change in storytelling – they now have to work without sound as well as with.

– That often leads to the use of text, but is that the most interesting solution? The square format is popular from a media buying perspective since it gives you more space for your money, and for us it means limitations. You have to work under preconditions, such as tighter framing and less information per image. At the same time, that means that we can direct the viewer’s attention towards a more concentrated area. Even vertical videos are becoming more and more popular for the same reason. That’s kind of exciting since it means working with height instead of the usual 16:9. Good development is that media buyers are starting to learn that simply cropping in from the traditional 16:9 rarely looks good. They now order 1:1 or vertical productions from the beginning. Other concepts, like YouTube’s TrueView, mean that you have to adapt the storytelling and reverse the dramaturgy to gain the effect you want. Of course, this influences the way you work and tell the story.

Tell us how you work with the dramaturgy in your storytelling.

– It completely depends on what the message is, and who is receiving it, format and length also matter. I love the challenge of telling short, powerful stories with a maximum length of thirty seconds. It’s difficult, but that’s also what makes it thrilling. Commercial directors don’t always have the luxury of build environments or character through unnecessary disposition. The story decides the dramaturgy, but playing with it can bring interesting effects. To do this is far less circumstantial than doing the same thing as with, let’s say a feature film script, where the sequences are way longer. I often start with what’s most likely and then adjust after my liking. And if the truth is told, a lot of things can happen while editing the video. Most of the time you have time to play around a bit.

According to Mårten, the storyteller should never say that a certain feeling gains more traction than another.

– There are more pure feelings and then there are those that are more complex. Happiness and sadness are easy, but it’s way harder to get someone to cry of happiness or give the viewer a bad feeling in the pit of their stomach. It boils down to feelings and reactions. Will the viewer feel anything? Then you are on the right path. As a commercial director, I often have a very short time span to get the viewer from the place they’re at emotionally right now, to where I want them. But again, this is the challenge. I think Ikeas “Where life happens” series is a great example of awesome storytelling that works with more complex feelings and recognition without becoming cliché.

How will storytelling develop?

– They say that there are only seven basic stories and everything that’s made really is just versions of them. Regardless, you can still leave a cinema with a heart that beats hard in your chest or read the last lines of a novel with tears running down your face. Why? Because it’s about so much more than the story itself. There are so many nuances in storytelling. For me, how you tell the story is just as important, and how you tell it is affected by the tools you have at your disposal. The Blair Witch Project was groundbreaking back in the day, without a minuscule budget the broke conventions and created something completely new from a storytelling perspective. New technology will develop storytelling, and not just through hardware. All kids have high-performing editing programs on their computers – give it a few years and we will see a brand new wave of young storytellers. It will influence the art form in a major way. I mean, there is a reason that Brazil is better than Sweden at soccer.

Which business opportunities does storytelling bring?

– Everyone needs video. The demand is huge, but at the same time the budget for every production is decreased. You simply have to fill more space with more content than ever before and video is – and always has been – prioritized, if you want to build awareness. Before, a commercial was an expensive luxury that only some could afford. Now, it’s mandatory. The challenge is to keep quality high. The consumers and the audience have a ridiculously short attention span and we, the industry, have to deal with that. If we don’t create content that engages the audience, we have failed. Easy as that. Has anyone ever made a video that nobody watched? Companies need to build emotional bonds between their customers and their brand and, for that purpose, video is essentially unbeatable.

Which story is your favorite?

– In the Early ’90s, my mother bought me Miss Saigon on tape, while on holiday in London. I played that tape to bits and had a perfectly clear image of how every scene was played out. Many years later I watched the play in the West End and it was a huge disappointment. My picture of the play was so much different from the actual musical. Still an extremely good and moving story, though.

Mårten Lindsjö’s five short tips for a good story

  1. The story itself. The better story you tell, the smaller the risk of it failing when you tell it.
  2. Question everything. What do I want to say with this story and to who?
  3. Think freely. Look at all components closely, is this really the best way of telling the story?
  4. Try not to repeat yourself, challenge yourself all the time with new ideas.
  5. Have fun. For real, work that you have fun with always turns out better.