František “Frank” Daniel’s quotes about STORYTELLING IN FILMS

recorded at the American Film Institute | minor amendments by dfk*films.
Source: The American Film Institute, Seminar with Frank Daniel, December 15, 1971 T-94


“What should be the characteristics of a good story?
An interesting character in an interesting situation. The situation has to be solved by interesting action. There have to be interesting scenes, and it must take place in an interesting locale. The story must express an interesting theme and be told in an interesting way. It must have an interesting style, form, and structure. We have to understand how things that we see attract our interest. How do some things have the ability to differ from other things and thus attract our attention? The goal of a storyteller is to find those things which appeal to the largest possible audience or the largest possible reader’s community. Interesting is ethnologically connected with the word “interest”. It must be something that is related to the deepest, most essential interests of human beings. There are those basic, essential interests which deal with such things as: survival, the question of life and death, love, economic situations, and economic existence. These things become interesting in stories when they are unique, special, and personal. They have a concreteness.”


“What makes the storyteller interested in telling stories? Why do people listen or watch their stories? What is it that it gives you?
That is something that I think everybody should ask themselves. You should find out the reason. […][the] feeling of inner capability, to live different types of lives is the basic reason why we listen and watch other people’s stories. For the man who tells the story there are usually two basic urges, two basic needs. One is the necessity to express this experience which seems to be unique. This seems to be something to her/him that nobody else could ever experience. It is a deep personal experience for that particular storyteller. Then there is the opposite urge, the curiosity and eagerness to wonder what other people feel, how they live their lives. This curiosity leads the writer to explore and investigate and ask and learn as much as she/he can about the other people. Then, she/he will express what she/he had learned. By doing that, she/he helps other people to understand themselves. At least it gives these people some explanation and some direction of how they can see their own life experience. This second thing is most important for a real storyteller and almost a necessity for a dramatist. The first one relates mostly to poetry and to lyrics. Lancel, the French historian, said that a poet must have a grain of stupidity which persuades a person that whatever happens to her/him, this is the most important to the whole.”


“Every human being is a potential novel. Again, we are getting back to the characters. Every human being is a potential drama, or a whole series of stories, or plots, or whatever. (…) The most important thing for a writer when she/he thinks about a character, is summed up in this recipe. It is a recipe which isn’t dangerous at all. It is to discover the dream of the person, the concrete dream. If you know what the person imagines, you will see the ultimate form of her/his own happiness. But you must imagine it concretely. (…) Who is the audience which applauds, when he finally reaches the highest summit of her/his life’s career. (…) If you know the dream you immediately know what were the reasons, what were the conditions, what were the relationships that shaped the person in this way, what are her/his complete relations to everything that happens in the world. The dream of his own happiness. That is where the story starts.”


“The second element necessary for the story is the situation. A situation is a state or outside and inner conditions in which a person appears to be. (…) A situation where these outside conditions and inner conditions are in an unsettled form. So, if you know the character and you know what is most vulnerable in this character, then usually the best situation is when this element gets attacked. Suddenly it is different from the usual, from the things as they have been in the daily lives. That is why it is interesting for you. That is why calumnies are what we are interested in. To know something about people, it really doesn’t fit the usual and habitual way of how people live …keeping really the pace which the audience needs to understand, enjoy, participate, foresee, be afraid, look forward to all or the elements of enjoyment or entertainment that are so important.”


“In the first stage, it is necessary to throw it out and put it on paper in whatever form. Get rid of it or capture it. Have it somehow. Have it in front of your eyes.
This is the second step. Then, you read it. Then, you change from a creator into a critic. You start analyzing it. You begin to understand what it actually was. For a real, effective true story, you need that feeling of no limits at all in that first period.”


“That is a very confused term. Most of the people think that the theme is the moral point of view, the moral told by the story. In some genre this is true. But actually the theme is the writer’s treatment, the writer’s approach, her/his attitude to the basic conflict, the basic life situation, and basic character in that situation. It is a form of passion. Why does she/he need to tell you this particular story? What is his personal urgent, vital interest in the event? The theme never exists in the form of a premise, a philosophical premise. (…) It is not just emotional because at the same time, it has elements of analysis, of appreciation, of some evaluation of those things. It is both. It is together. The feeling. The emotional thrust. It is the will to influence the audience. It is the thought, the idea which you want to convey. It is how you see that particular situation. In that form, the theme can be described as some general statement, in some sentence. But, it never really express the whole power and energy of the theme which the writer or the director put into it. (…) It does not exist outside of the body of the story. It is an abstraction which we are talking about. It is some help, some aid to you to be able to discover an essential characteristic of the art piece. But it exists just when you see it, when you are in the screening room and when you watch it. It is sort of a generalization or an abstraction. You never can express it entirely because you always lack certain very essential elements.”