Storytelling for film making

Account of a creative learning resource for, devised by Mark Aitken, supported by TaLIC Goldsmiths Teaching Fellowship, awarded 2014-15.


This is a creative learning resource for producing original storytelling for film making. The model is used on the BA Screen Fiction UG courses in Media & Communications and the Goldsmiths’ Short Course, Storytelling for film making.  It is hoped that staff and students alike will make use of this resource for film making, although it may also easily be adapted for other creative endeavours.



Fiction films need scripts. Some scripts are original and some are adapted from books or plays. However, good scripts take time to write and require much skill, practice and patience. It can be notoriously difficult to complete the elusive final draft.

Scriptwriting in a learning environment has its own specifics. Students on production courses seldom have the tools or experience and time to write accomplished scripts. Courses can end before a script is complete. The struggle is at best precarious or even worse, both the student and teacher feel dissatisfied and sense failure.

We all need to feel productive and build confidence.  Of course, making mistakes is the cornerstone of learning but if we are to fail better there are other ways to approach the challenges of developing ideas for film making.  We need to facilitate a foundation to work from that offers a sense of security for both students and teachers.    Ideas, stories and scripts can be derived and developed from studying other films.  Critical analysis of a film can break a story down to its components. These story elements can then be transferred to develop a new idea, story and script.  This transference combines analysis with creative practice. Critical analysis can be viewed as a kind of storytelling. In this context, it is storytelling for film making.


Starting with a full page

The work process consists of introducing completed films to students that may then be remade for their own productions. Producing original work by remaking a film is paradoxically rich with invention and possibility. We are focused on assessment of work (the film) so as to produce more work (student films), i.e: assessment for learning.

The primary outcomes of this practice are as follows:

  • To gain positive critical awareness of how and why a film works.    
  • To introduce an appreciation of universal archetypes in scriptwriting and film making.
  • To gain confidence through the production of coherent work.
  • To appreciate film practice as being inter-related to a much larger ongoing canon of work.


Making a template for creative practice

The arc of the learning model is acknowledged in stages and discussed with students week by week as the course progresses:

  • Selection of film to be remade.
  • Critical analysis of film to be remade.
  • Identification of key elements in the film.
  • Constructing a template of key storytelling elements.

The key elements are everything from characters, location, period, genre, narrative tension – all the ingredients of the film that account for the storytelling. The primary key element being what the film is actually about. What affected you?  The core theme of the film. This should ideally be honed down to one single word.


For the purpose of this account we are going to cite one example of a graduation film made in 2015/16 on the BA Screen Fiction module over two terms. The students viewed a short film called, Adeline for Leaves by Jessica Sarah Rinland. Then they created a new storytelling template derived from critical analysis. For example, Adeline for Leaves features an old man and a girl, a knowledge of history, a theme of time passing. These key elements were transferred to the new work. This transference offered a secure circular mechanism for developing ideas for the new film. The security lying in the opportunity to return to Adeline for Leaves for reference and in turn, gain a greater appreciation of how and why the film works.

The process follows:

  • Initial transference of key storytelling elements.
  • Adding or subtracting of elements.
  • Ownership of new work.
  • Reflection on the creative process.

Student Writer/Director Ella Brolly utilised Adeline for Leaves to derive key elements for her film Automaton. An automaton being a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

Here is a sample of Ella’s transference of storytelling elements:

Adeline for Leaves                                      Automaton

Theme of life/death Theme of life/death
Adeline (child) Eva (woman)
The old man Eva’s Father
Horticulture         Automata
The circle of life/rebirth in plants and humans The human & machine – capacity to love and connect


Narrative centres around a personal quest The narrative is based upon a relationship


Man’s recordings are addressed to Adeline Father’s recordings are a personal venture

As you can see, changes were made. Over the development period before production, the consequences of these changes sometimes caused difficulty. Ella then returned to Adeline as her reference point so as to learn by example.


Automaton can be viewed here:

PW: goldie


The origin of this research came from a student who was overwhelmed with the task of producing an original screenplay while studying on the film production course. He was offered opportunity to remake an existing film.  Now this model for learning is being used by the course as a whole. The outcome has been extremely positive and productive. Rather than students depending on tutors for answers and solutions, they are empowered to learn via their own critical analysis of films. This analysis and transference of ideas is to all intents and purposes a dialogue with other film makers and offers a sense of inclusivity and a meaningful connection to creative practice beyond the institution.

The process has also assisted reflection on my own teaching practice – we are all learning within a culture of ideas. Critical analysis is of most value when it informs practice. Theory and practice are interdependent and the relationship is circular rather than hierarchical.


Here is a short clip of Writer/Director Ella Brolly reflecting on her creative practice: Ella Brolly interview

Password: Automaton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s