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Effective Storytelling with Dr Myriam Francois

Effective Storytelling with Dr Myriam Francois

In the fourth workshop of Urban Muslimz’ #LevelUp programme, we were joined by presenter, author and documentary filmmaker Dr Myriam Francois who shared what skills are required in being a journalist and filmmaker, and how to engage in effective storytelling.

In this article, I summarise some of the gems I took away from it.


At the outset, Myriam emphasized the importance of being resilient in a competitive media industry especially as 90% of pitches get rejected. If a film or written piece which has been created gets rejected by a publication or commissioner, feedback must be sought to find areas for improvement. Do your research on various outlets and find which one is closest in line with your values. All publications have different needs and stances with differing audiences. Therefore, if a particular piece isn’t successful with one publication, it may be successful with another but tailor your pitch accordingly. Remember to collate all your ideas including rejected pieces in one area therefore they can be revisited at another time to be tweaked and improved.

5 questions you must ask yourself prior to pitching

1 Who is your audience?
2 Will this piece engage people?
3 What issues are you elevating?
4 Why you?
5 Why now?

The target audience must be established first. This could be a particular community, wider society or the majority. Knowing the target audience will allow you to tailor your piece accordingly in order to increase engagement and pitch more effectively. Your piece must not be written universally but through using your own voice, opinion and reasoning.

Believing in the pitch you are presenting to a commissioning editor is fundamental in order to convince them to believe in it as well. Staying true to who you are and where you come from is vital in maintaining your values and brand. This will allow you to consider how to carefully integrate into the media industry. Never settle for being a gap filler or being used. The ability to persuade the commissioning editor is vital by selling your piece using your authentic perspective. You are a unique person with unique skills therefore you do have something to offer.

Providing clarity on the issues you are elevating, whether its environmental, social or political will enable you to convince the commissioning editor why this piece has to be viewed by the public. By understanding the issues, the key touchpoints will appear on how to engage the viewer. Your pitch should be delivered in such a structured manner.

Article writing

Thorough research must be conducted prior to writing any piece in order to gain plentiful knowledge on the particular topic. This can be done through reading books and articles relating to your topic, including authors you disagree with. This will help generate ideas on what specific topic to write about, then a log line can be created. A log line is two or three sentences long capturing the essence of the article. It is important to have a strong log line in order to be able to tell other people what your article is about.

An article should be 900 words long so create a first draft, read it over then improve it. Listen to your favourite critics in order to find areas of improvement, but do not listen to (or try to please) everybody. Ensure there is clarity in your structure of writing. Find the main purpose of your work with evidence to back it up with. Not all sources of evidence are equal therefore conduct research to find trustworthy sources. Find a theme, which is woven throughout the piece to provide flow using the vocabulary in line with the message of the piece.

An emotional connection to the reader can be created through complex arguments and having the perspective/s laid out. Integrate an anti-thesis into your writing by presenting a counter argument with a summary of all the arguments made.

Documentary filmmaking

Access to technology has made the first stages of filmmaking easier. You can start filming with a phone with a good quality camera, then you can invest in a camera to film. Filmmaking is a collaborative process as you work with directors, producers and camera people. However, be in control of the environment. Through making the film yourself, you gain a multitude of skills. You must know how to tell your story cohesively by precise planning and execution. Have a vision for your film and ask the same 5 questions as before.

As a filmmaker, you have the privilege of accessing individuals and a particular location and settings to facilitate your film. Contact the people who are happy to come on camera to appear in your film beforehand. Assess which style of interviewing your selected guests fit the nature of the film. Is it fast-paced or slow-paced? Always conduct prior research on where you have seen your topic, change your pitch and have a clear appeal.

Analyse carefully what your character or interviewee is trying to achieve. Take the viewers on your character’s journey and show what challenges they overcame in order to reach the end goal. The end section should show the outcome for the character, which can be replicated within the viewers. Conflict always makes a good story, including personal or internal conflict.

Short films or trailers are easier on a limited budget, which can be published on platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube to start a visual portfolio to build your identity. Show originality in how you approach filmmaking and storytelling to engage the viewer, while directing them to watch the longer version. Planning is key: shoot for the edit and know what the story is. Take certain shots of the location, close-up shots in order to connect the audience visually.

Plan a teaser to get your viewers intrigued to find out more. Your film should have a theme, a title, a problem or conflict situation, finalized with a resolution. Conflict is the heart of the narrative, which generates emotion in showing how to overcome the obstacles. The viewers should be learning, changing and growing with the character as the film progresses.

That’s all to effective storytelling!

Sign up for the next #LevelUp workshop, I’m Not Racist But…”: Countering Hate Speech here.

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