Nice Guys Finish First (when they have dad’s car?)


I love cars-driving them, watching documentaries about them, reading about them, etc.  So of course, it was natural for me to seek out a car ad to dissect.  If I am going to watch something several times, I should enjoy it right?

I analyzed Audi’s 2013 commercial “Prom”:

I’ve noted elements of “story code” (described here) where I spotted them.  Here’s the rundown:

Opens with nervous looking teenage boy staring at his reflection in the mirror. (mystery- why is he nervous?)

Interrupted by his mom ,who pins a corsage on his lapel and tells him he is brave for going to prom by himself (empathy- poor guy!). He isn’t convinced.

As he gets ready to the house, his dad appears and throws him the keys to the car. (mystery: what kind of car will it be?)

Audi headlights turn on, engine growls to a start, kid behind wheel lets loose a bit of a smile. (surprise/revelation)

Pulls up to a limo full of prom goers yelling and screaming, mischievous look crosses teens face.

Peels away from limo at stoplight; next shot is kid pulling into principals parking space at school. Somewhere between home and school he has grown some courage.

Swaggers into school, into gym with a purpose. Face a mixture of nervous determination and devil-may-care. (mystery: What is he thinking? What’s his plan?)

Enters a crowded dance floor, walking through dancing crowds. Spots his “target”, beautiful prom queen in red dress, dancing with friends with her back to him.

Sensing someone is there, prom queen turns and before she can say anything, he…

…plants a kiss on her lips. Crowd who witnesses (surprise/admiration/astonishment- you go teenage boy!). Prom king is not impressed. Prom king begins to approach teen angrily.

Cuts to car being driven quickly over a bridge. Sense of movement. Growl of engine. Cut to interior shot of boy with huge grin and black eye (reveal- so that’s what the prom king did. Admiration, empathy).

He lets out whoop of excitement and accomplishment.
Flash back to love struck prom queen looking longingly after her departed suitor (awe, astonishment, admiration)

Shot follows boy as he drives away, cuts to Audi tail lights, then text on screen: “Bravery. It’s what defines us” (Awe-driving an Audi gives you courage and makes you a bada**)



2 Luftballoons…in one post: Sound in Radiolab’s “A Lucky Wind”


Red Balloon

The Radiolab Piece “A Lucky Wind”  alternates between narrative and reporting in four segments:
1. The story of the red balloon;
2. A piece on a UC Berkley professor who studies random acts;
3. An ASU piece who tells us that randomness really isn’t that random; and finally
4. leaving the listener to ponder it all over an example of people who have won the lottery twice.
The narrative forms a “sandwich” for the more reporting-heavy portion of the show. Similar to the other Radiolab piece on the papermaker in New Hampshire we listened to, the piece used editing, cutting between past, present, narrative and exposition, and layering (I counted up to four layers) and music to set the pace and tone.
Anticipation builds before we even hear what we are talking about: at :22 the opening is interspersed with a teenaged girl saying “ok, ok”—you know, that breathless, anticipatory phrase uttered by teenagers everywhere that clue you into the fact they are about to tell you something pretty awesome. The piece itself opens with telling the listener “it’s like a movie” (around 1:10) and then layers the “character” (Laura Buxton 1)introducing herself with very “movie-like” score music. (I feel very inarticulate describing this- it’s hard to write about sound!)
As the story proceeds, music helps divide the paragraphs or the “and then” moments to build tension, which rises throughout the piece, peaking at around 5:40. However, at 6:30, the music suddenly deflates as the other narrator cuts in to disagree with the lead narrator for the piece on the red balloon.
It’s only then do I realize that this is only the opener to a larger show about chance and coincidence—but no matter because I’m tuned in. They threw out the bait and I took it.

The two narrators take a moment to dissect the story themselves and pose the question to the listener- do we live in a world of chance, or is there something else?
At this point the style of music changes to what I think of as “NPR Jazz” to let me know we’re shifting gears and moving forward.
As the story moves forward, I counted three layers going on during the coin flip sequence- a mixture of narrator 1, narrator 2, students’ voices, ambient noise (coins flipping), and finally music. The effect is to lend life to what I imagine was probably in reality a pretty boring experience, actually—100 coin flips. The layers bring a sense of forward movement and tension to the scene such that the two teams—the real coin flippers and the “imaginary coin flip” team seem to be really competing against each other.
Music becomes strong again around 12:30, when they segue into the final portion of the piece. To coincide with the monologue “strange things do happen by chance…”, the music goes “wavy” and reverbs to produce a sense of the otherworldly or unexplainable.
As the professor from ASU talks about the double lottery winners, two effects add to the reporting: one, in a scene (around 15:20) where the professor talks about “zooming in” on an event (like winning the lottery), the music also “zooms in”. The sound is such that I imagined watching just what he was talking about on a TV- zooming way in on a blade of grass under a golf ball.
The double lottery-winner piece also made me laugh when the sounds of elated screaming were layered in to accompany a listing of instances of known winners- as if we were hearing each winner at the moment they hit the jackpot—again!!

PS- the photo that accompanied the Radio lab piece (above) reminded me of another magical story:

Let’s See…What did I learn this week? Week 1 Summary


As we wrap up the first week of EDIT 572, I learned a few things.  First, don’t things until the last minute!  Second blogging is more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I now I scrutinize every commercial  I see to determine if it has the needed elements for story.  That Bud Light commercial where they tape the guy who has the amazing night?  Definitely doesn’t pass the “but does it mean anything?” test Ira Glass talks about.

In terms of assignments, I did four main things this week (not including setting up the WordPress site):

  1. I set up my site and wrote a brief “about me” that doesn’t really tell you anything about who I am as a person and I just realized makes me sound like a complete Luddite.  But I’m a nice person, I swear!  I even have two iPhones.  Just don’t talk to me about the death of newspapers.  I’m even thinking of changing my blog title to “I don’t have a clue, but I’m learning…”
  2. I used Kurt Vonnegut’s story mapping, Pixar’s 22 rules, and the story spine concept to discuss David O. Russell’s movie “The Fighter”:  In essence, “The Fighter” is a great story that also happens to be true.  Doesn’t get much better than that.
  3. I reflected on the idea of storytelling, and then digital storytelling:  I started out writing that I don’t think digital storytelling could really measure up to “true” storytelling, and then by the end of the post had changed my mind and decided digital media can actually enhance parts of the storytelling experience.
  4. And last, I thought of some initial ideas of topics to “storify”.   Nothing I’m enamored with, but I’ll believe the professor and trust that it doesn’t have to be perfect now.

How did I do this week?  Putting the procrastination aside, I enjoyed this week and did my best to put sincere thought behind each of the posts.  They weren’t very whiz-bang, but I trust that I’ll get there–that’s why we are in class, right?

To Storify or Not Storify


When “recipe” is suggested, what comes to mind is Julia Child.  I like to cook, and I have Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I confess I’ve only made a few things from it because in general it’s just a really intimidating cookbook, even though I consider myself a fairly advanced, adventurous cook.  The recipes go on for pages and pages and the format seems to “hide” important elements—I’ll be going along, cooking happily and then get to a part of a recipe that says something like “now braise for four hours” or something similar.  I read through the whole recipe!  How did I miss this vital point?  It’s already 7pm?  We can’t eat dinner at midnight! It’s as if the recipe is hidden in all the text that is there for the purpose of trying to actually help you—although it doesn’t help this cook.

This could work in that the material is definitely there to work with and there is a discrete end point—hopefully a delicious dish.  What goes against it is in a way it’s been done as in the blog, book and movie “Julie and Julia”.  See a brief YouTube clip here.

Of course, Julia Child doesn’t own the market for complicated, scary recipes.  Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook is notorious for making the most confident home cooks question their cooking skills.  So there’s potential there.  I just don’t know if a recipe tells a “story” in a way that is emotionally gripping.

I’m trying to think of topics in the news that have never succeeded in capturing my attention…tort reform, for instance.  Or the keystone oil pipeline.  I live in Atlanta, GA, who gets almost all of its water from Lake Lanier, a man-made lake and reservoir that pulls water from the Tennessee River.   Every few years, fights and lawsuits flare up among Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida regarding Georgia’s water use and its fairness to neighboring states.  Surely an important issue, one I just never really understood why it became an issue in the first place.  One does not simply manufacture a huge lake under dark of night—surely our surrounding states knew about this, right?

So What Does Storytelling Mean Anyway?


Four settings come to mind when I think of “storytelling”

  1. Being read to as a child by my parents at night before bed.
  2. Library time at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna, VA.  The smell of books, of the cedar chips the house guinea pig had in his cage.
  3. Around the campfire at scouts- hearing ghost stories about the Scarly Yow (or the Snarly Yow) a terrifying black dog-like monster wandering the foothills of the blue ridge in Virginia and Maryland.
  4. Later in my mid-twenties, at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia of all places, listening to the tour guide tell the story of how the constitution was written in the punishing summer heat and how agreement was finally made among all the individual drafters.  Standing in the hall on that fall day, through the guide’s story, I could imagine the pressure these men were under, the airless feel that room must have had in pre-air conditioning days.

Storytelling is to me:

  • A live, person-to-person activity- with my parents, it meant time just for the two of us (I’m guessing the other parent was savoring the first moments alone all day while I was being read to by their spouse!) It wouldn’t be the same if it was over the phone, via Skype or Facetime, for example.  Story telling isn’t watching a movie either—you need to be able to look the person in the eyes and share the same space with them.
  • An opportunity to connect with someone.
  • To believe something maybe unbelievable—that through story you and the storyteller can suspend disbelief for just that moment when the story is being told and believe the tale at hand.
  • Stories bring the audience together emotionally.  After the story is over, we can talk about it: “wow, the ending to that movie was a real tear-jerker” or “I can’t believe she ended up with him! What a jerk”.

To describe storytelling to someone else: Storytelling is when one person recounts a tale-true or fiction-to another person or to a group of people.  It usually takes more than a few minutes—it’s not just telling an anecdote at the dinner table—but not too, too long.  The story may have actually happened to the person telling it, but in my mind, the tale being told is usually at least 2nd hand; a father telling his child about her grandfather, the story teller’s father, for instance.

The story teller is knowledgeable-they add their own flair or asides to the narrative.  Yet they keep a certain distance.   For example, they may not tell you if the story is true or not—they leave you guessing.   Or they may not tell you what happens after the story ends; you will want to know more than what they can tell you.

For digital storytelling to work, it has to keep that same sense of connection and intimacy as person-to-person storytelling.  If I add “digital” to the mix, I suppose the narrative stays the same, but the story teller disappears- or at least, isn’t a human sitting next to me.  The narrator is more detached and as a result, I think harder to trust.  The storyteller is much more likely to be a “stranger”.  “Digital” doesn’t conjure up the same warm, fuzzy feeling as sitting around the campfire, for instance.  That being said, digital storytelling can bring more to the table than “traditional” storytelling—it’s just different.

I originally read the New York Times piece  on the Avalanche at Tunnel Creek in print when it was first published.  It’s a fascinating, terrifying story.  The digital edition of the piece added so much more- the photos that make you feel like you are on the mountain, the audio/video pieces with the persons involved, the sidebars that explain an element of the story. In that respect, digital media made the story more real and more compelling and strengthened my connection with the story.  So I guess digital storytelling isn’t as cold and impersonal as maybe I’m thinking.  I’ve already disagreed with myself!

I had been told in the various public speaking classes at school and at work that you need to have a “hook” to grab the attention of your audience, but I have never given much thought to “elements” of a story.  In some way it sounds calculating to create a story that has “bait”, that makes the audience “work for its food”, but Finding Nemo and Toy Story are beloved worldwide because they draw you in and make you care for a toy cowboy and a clown fish.  So bait and making the audience “work” by coming to its own conclusions, which move the story along, aren’t so bad after all.

I liked Andrew Stanton talking about the spines of characters and the idea that it’s the absence of information that draws us in, which is similar to Ira Glass talking about “the bait” and the moment of reflection.  Characters need to have something that drives them, a value system that makes them operate the way they do.  If we can’t figure out why Michael Corleone acts the way he does—or we don’t feel the need to figure it out—then the Godfather is a movie about a bunch of bad guys who do bad things.

Three movies I loved this year—American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club and Saving Mr. Banks—were great in part because of the questions they raised and leave you to answer.  Was Amy Adams’ character really stringing along Bradley Cooper the entire time?  Why would a homophobe work so tirelessly to help AIDS patients get treatment like Matthew McConaughey’s character does?  And why was it really so hard for P.L. Travers to let go of her story so Walt Disney could make it into a movie?

The “negative space” in a story—the bits that go unsaid, whether for you to answer or to remain a mystery—are just as important as the known plot points.  I don’t know if digital media can specifically address this point, but to the extent that it can make a story richer and more compelling, it can absolutely enrich the experience of telling and listening/watching/experiencing stories.

Can you have a boxing movie without Dolf Lundgren? Yes!

Dolf Lundgren as Ivan Drago

This is one bad dude. “The Fighter”‘s villains are more subtle, however.

I’m not a fan of boxing as a sport—I don’t do violence—but one of my favorite movies is 2010’s the Fighter, which chronicles the rise of Micky “Irish” Ward to the World Welterweight title in the 1990’s.  The film (which also happens to be a true story) follows two brothers- Micky and Dicky.  Dicky, the charismatic older brother was once a fighter with promising potential, but has fallen from his career peak of fighting Sugar Ray Leonard now struggles with crack addiction.  The dream hasn’t died for Dicky though–he lives vicariously through his little brother Micky.  Micky, the quiet younger brother, spends his days working on a Public Works crew in their hometown of Lowell, MA, spreading asphalt as he boxes on the side in smaller matches on the weekends in Atlantic City or at the Foxwoods, a Connecticut Casino.

Dicky trains Micky but as with many drug addicts, can be somewhat unreliable and Micky. Micky has had a losing streak.  To add insult to injury his manager (who is also his mother—what a family!) books him for a fight in which he is outmatched and loses badly.

The bright spot of the night is an offer from a manager to come out to Las Vegas to train and receive a monthly paycheck.  The family convinces Micky against his better judgement to pass on the offer and stay with the award-winning family management team, however.

Things go further downhill when Micky hurts his hand in a fist fight defending Dicky, which takes him out of the ring and almost leads him to give up boxing for good.  His girlfriend Charlene however encourages him to not give up and to find a new manager.

Slowly but surely the victories begin to pile up under his new trainer and manager.

The rise continues: In a fight with Alfonso Sanchez, an undefeated fighter from Mexico, Micky pulls out the victory after eight brutal rounds and a near knockout of Micky by Sanchez.   With this victory Micky has now earned a shot at the world welterweight title in London.

In the title bout, Micky is up against undefeated fighter Shea Neary.  It is a rough match, and Micky is knocked to the ground in the 7th round.  After the 7th round, Dicky (now allowed back in the fold as a brother but not a trainer) gives him some motivational words to push him to knock Neary out.  A determined yet battered Micky downs Neary in the 8th round and wins by TKO.

the shape of "the Fighter"'s narrative (done the old fashioned way)

the shape of “the Fighter”‘s narrative (done the old fashioned way)

If “The Fighter” was a Pixar movie, it would probably follow one or more of the 22 rules Pixar uses to create appealing stories.  Numbers 4 and 16 stick out to me:

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

In the context of “the Fighter”, #4 then becomes:

#4: Once upon a time there were two brothers who were boxers. Every day, the little brother trained for the big fight with his brother as trainer and mother as manager. One day he screwed up the courage to step out from underneath his mother and brother and decide to achieve his dream of being a championship boxer.  Because of that, he got a new trainer, manager and started his boxing career from scratch. Because of that, he began to win. Until finally he goes to London to win the world Welterweight title and everyone knows him as Micky Ecklund, the fighter, not Micky Ecklund, Dicky Ecklund’s little brother.

And a possible answer to #16 would be:

We root for Micky because we know the fire is within him.  He loves his family, but he wants to be his own man and determine his own destiny.  Charlene believes in him and he doesn’t want to lose her.  Micky’s rise to boxing fame, his quiet affirmation of himself as a man in his own right, and his forgiveness towards his brother all make one root for him.

If Micky stays the same, he will live his life out under his mother and brother’s thumb; the status quo means cleaning up his brother’s messes at his own expense and his dream slowly fading away as he becomes too old to box. They want him to be a great boxer too, but for selfish reasons that aren’t good for Micky, as evidenced by the fights his mother booked for him and their putting the kibosh on the Las Vegas offer.  In addition, his mother and brother strain the relationship between Micky and his girlfriend, Charlene with whom he is becoming increasingly serious.

Using the story spine is like a more advanced version of Pixar’s 4th rule.  Mapping the story this way helped me to see the importance of “the event”- namely when Micky breaks his hand defending his brother and loses almost all hope:

The Story Spine



Once Upon a Time…


There were two brothers who were boxers.
Every Day… The little brother trained for the big fight with his brother as trainer and mother as manager.
But One Day…

The Event

After a string of losses and going-nowhere bouts, he breaks his hand in a fist fight defending his good-for-nothing older brother.
Because of That…

The Middle

With a broken hand and little hope of ever making it in boxing, he almost throws in the towel.
Because of That… Instead of giving up, he starts over.  With the support of his girlfriend, he assembles a new team—new trainer and new manager. 
Because of That… He begins to win small bouts, and then increasingly big bouts.
Until Finally…

The Climax

He goes to London to win the world Welterweight title.
And, ever since then…


Everyone knows him as Micky Ecklund, the fighter, not Micky Ecklund, Dicky Ecklund’s little brother.