Gestalt of Story

Kevin Richardson is a motion picture development, games and story professional with feature films, TV series and games to his credit. You can follow him on Twitter @K_Richardson.


Practice Areas: Innovation, Knowledge Management

You gripped your seat through the entire movie. You left feeling like every situation was buttoned up in a satisfying and surprising manner. You were involved, and yet nothing ever felt too simple or complex. Every element pushed the story toward its exciting conclusion. The movie was great. How’d they do that?

While you were putting the puzzle of the story together in real time, your mind was sorting, grouping and foreshadowing. You were finishing the sentences of the actors. You vicariously knew how the characters felt. Relationships were being constructed and simplified in order to understand the film as a whole.

Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that believes all objects and scenes can be observed in their simplest forms. Sometimes referred to as the “Law of Simplicity,” the theory proposes that the whole of an object or scene is more important than the sum of its parts. So why not movies, too? Right?

Though there are many differences between movies and graphics, when we discuss gestalt theory, the main difference with filmic media in particular (though games come to mind, too) is that we are adding a timeline. For filmmakers, gestalt theory would be concerned with each scene, piece of dialogue, camera angle, bit of music, lighting, art direction—essentially everything—in a timeline, and how each part …

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"There is not one wise man in 20 that will praise himself."

- William Shakespeare

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