Storytelling Through the Lens of Camera One
by Bill Bibo Views: 1025
An interview with Joseph Alberti: Part One
Joseph Alberti was the Tutor of SE Sever, the founder of Mash Stories. He lives in London and teaches Professional Film Practice at the London South Bank University, alongside working as a professional film producer.
When SE Sever asked if I would conduct an interview with Joseph Alberti, a man she described as her former teacher, then her boss, and now her mentor, I immediately wondered if she had made the right choice in asking me, but quickly agreed before she changed her mind. How could I pass up an opportunity like this?
But who was Joseph Alberti? I knew nothing about him. Some quick googling didn’t help. I discovered that Joseph has a very limited online presence. “I have nothing to sell so there’s no point in having one,” he told me later. That’s a fine philosophy but it didn’t help me much.
Fascinating. Let’s get to know him.
Bill Bibo, Jr: Joseph, welcome to Mash Stories. I’m told that you’ve recently done some interesting research at the London South Bank University concerning how our brains organize our life—all having to do with storytelling structure. Let’s start with a simple question to warm up.
What makes a story great?
Joseph Alberti: A good beginning, middle and end. It’s as simple as that.
Sometimes we forget the obvious; rather than go looking for complex structures, why not concentrate on the essentials? Isn’t this the template used by those that make a living writing stories, like the good folks here at Mash, as well as stories for therapy, business, marketing, public speaking, and teaching?
I believe there is a scientific reason for this.
Our brains use stories to understand and organize the world around us, creating a network we then use to give meaning to our experiences.
Kendall Haven calls this a “neural map”.
When we come upon groupings of words that are familiar our minds use a familiar story structure. The words trigger a story we already know. When the word groupings aren’t familiar our minds create new stories.
Once aroused, our minds will not leave blanks in the gap but will form a neural map, projecting information to complete the map. It doesn’t matter how precise the map is, as long as it fits a story structure—and there you go, it’s a story.
The best stories are told by those who master the most effective grouping of words for our brains to form a neural map so complete that it’s a story (beginning, middle and end, see?).
Bill: A beginning, a middle, and an end. It sounds easy but we’re not done there, obviously. Let’s make our story interesting. How do we make it come alive? Is it necessary to make it bleed?
Professional writers often have to accomplish both tasks and adopt various structures to try to anticipate the mind of the audience and weave the story process. We have seen that our brains use storytelling narrative to understand and organize the world around us but there is no doubt that to make a story come alive, something’s got to die. Whether it’s a feeling inside, something crawling, or a bloodbath, there must be a crisis, a conflict for the story to be steaming.
This might be due to the old Eros vs Thanatos antagony, the innate impulse to return to the state of total calm our minds long for. There is nothing calmer than death, so the death impulse is possibly the strongest in our psychology and might explain our minds’ fixation with the most painful, violent episodes we encounter.
We all remember being dumped more vividly than being in a happy love affair.
I think inserting a crisis within the chosen structure, at the right point in the timeline, is essential to make the story come alive.
With age came the knowledge that we all actually use storytelling techniques to give meaning to our experiences. Being involved in the broadcasting industry, although within the entertainment side of it, made me aware of how powerful words are and how the outcome can be manipulated by aiming the right words at the audience most likely to listen.
Once I started to teach, one of my goals became to make the students aware of the power of storytelling, the power of words, and to use it to motivate themselves and make things happen.
Bill: What if we don’t know how to make those things happen? What if we get stuck?
Joseph: When you think of goal setting as creating a story, it becomes easier.
There are a lot of thoughts constantly passing through our minds: we never stop thinking. Some are positive and some negative. It could be overwhelming for younger minds still developing their core personality, thus they must be guided to understand that thoughts have no substance, that they come and go like clouds in the sky, and not to attach importance and put a chain to them.
Think of this process as letting go; not an easy undertaking but well worth pursuing as it’ll help build a positive approach to life in the face of any adversity, and having positive, forward-looking thoughts about themselves helps the students achieve their goals. You can see that there would be no more failures, just feedback (again, read it as two halves: feed and back).
Feedback promotes a constant flow of review, evaluation and action points for the future that, through the structure of narrative storytelling, harnesses the power of words to trigger different beliefs.
Bill: That’s one of the fundamentals here at Mash Stories—that all stories submitted by Mash Club members get feedback from the judges. The feedback is what drew me here to begin with.
Joseph: Positive words build positive stories. Positive stories trigger the banks of knowledge within us that fill the gaps with success stories—our own success stories. Change the story, change the belief. How cool is that? Stories shape our beliefs and our values, and even our morals.
I would love to instill in my students the belief that anything is possible—as long as they tell themselves the right story.
As Haven puts it, “Language creates myth. That language and symbolism create a truth that isn’t there. The story you tell yourself creates your truth.”
Bill: I must admit I was slightly confused earlier by your teaching philosophy as stated in your self-introduction. “It is not practice that makes you perfect but it is perfect that makes you perfect.” Can you explain?
Joseph: It relates to commitment and technique, not perfection per se, as bad practice won’t necessarily make you any better. So starting something (writing, cycling, going to the gym, etc) is not enough in itself, but needs to be done following proper teachings and to the best of our ability to be able to achieve competence.
Bill: Then it looks like I’ve come to the right place.
Another one of Joseph’s talents is as a film producer, but as PT Barnum is often attributed as saying, “always leave them wanting more”, so we’ll end it here for now. In Part 2 we’ll discuss how his work in film has influenced his ideas about storytelling.
Till then, what about you, dear Masher? How do you tell a good story?
As always, thanks for reading me.
Bill lives with his wife in Madison, WI. Late at night he writes about intelligent mummies, incompetent zombies, and other things that scare him in the hope that someday they no longer will. He’d like to thank his wife and children and especially his grandsons, Nolan and Sonny, for keeping the child alive in his heart. It’s so deeply rooted now nothing could remove it. @bbibojr
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