Storytelling – Learn from the pros: Part 4

Convincing actors are one thing, but without directors to weave all the threads together, to give instructions and to set accents, no film could be produced. In companies too, it takes people to assume the director’s role and to keep an eye on the big picture. For our four-part blog series we journeyed in search of the secret of what makes good stories and talked with three professional storytellers. Part 4 with the Swiss director Tobias Fueter.

Meet the director

Tobias Fueter is a director, a founder of the Swiss film production company Stories AG, and a storyteller through and through. As a director at his company, he is in charge of visual films and digital content, such as the Migros gnome advertisement recently seen on Swiss television. Along with his team, he regularly wins national and international awards.

Thriller, science fiction, love story, drama or action?

If I have to choose: the love story. It is the most basic of all story formats. Actually, there is a bit of a love story in every story in whatever form that may be.

“The screenplay is the most important thing. If the story is right, then you really can’t do much wrong.”

Tobias FueterCo-Founder Stories AG

What ingredients go into a good story?

First: conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Number two: identification with a character who leads me through the story. That does not mean that the figure has to be similar to me. Pixar repeatedly proves that I can identify with a fish or a robot. And third: structure. A story must be precisely constructed and perfectly structured.

On your company website, you are presented as a storyteller. What does storytelling mean to you?

Storytelling is often misunderstood. It is not a matter of product explaining, but one of conveying emotions. Storytelling can help develop an identity, define a brand – it speaks to the heart. The story told need not necessarily be realistic, but it must be believ-able. Does the story match the company? Is it believed?

Can you give us an example?

One good example is Nike with their “Believe in more” campaign. Why would a sport-ing goods manufacturer run political advertising? What does that have to do with athletic footwear? Not much, but it is accepted from Nike, because the message and presen-tation harmonize with Nike’s decades-old brand core.

So Nike did everything right. Are there also negative examples?

You have to be careful to honestly talk about the brand core and to not jump on the bandwagon of trends too late, such as Gillette did with its “The best man can be” campaign. That set off a shit storm, because Gillette previously focused for 30 years on a very classic masculine image, and then suddenly: from mega-macho to #MeToo. Things just happened too fast in this case.

What tasks does the director take on in a film project?

As the director, you lead the viewer through the action, give clues, subtly manipulate them. Viewers must always have the feeling that they figure the most important things out for themselves, while at the same time, they want to be surprised. Without a conflict, there is no resolution at the end, no happy ending. The director must provide this.

How does the triad of director, screenwriter and actor work?

Film is a very visual medium. That means, regardless of how good a story is, it must be told in powerful images. A collaborative and creative collaboration between screenwriter and director is thus extremely important. The screenplay is the most important thing. If the story is right, then you really can’t do much wrong. The screenwriter establishes the conflict, lays the foundation. The director uses it to build the house, set the accents and is in charge of casting, editing, imagery and music, etc. Actors provide the identification.

Is the step from feature film to advertising film a big one?

It may seem a bit heretical when I say: The craft is very similar. Sure, a feature film is a marathon – and also the masters league, while advertising films are more of a sprint. But that doesn’t make it a cake walk. The art of advertising is to paint the picture of an entire world in 90 seconds.