Dale Carnegie was a self-improvement guru before such people were called gurus. His speciality was training ordinary people how to communicate effectively. Among his memorable sayings was: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”
For clarity, that’s still good advice. But if you’re interested in making a movie with an emotional impact, you might want to practice surprising your audience. Marie-Stéphane Cattaneo deftly shows how in her short film “Ojalá” (“Hopefully”) —an entry in the Mobile Film Festival 2017.
To achieve surprise, Cattaneo uses a classic structural device: starting in the middle of things. An alternative would have been to start her movie earlier in Enrique’s day, perhaps showing him telling a friend what he is planning to do. While that would have been clearer, it would have removed the surprise. Instead, by starting in the barber shop, she makes her audience wonder what’s up. Is the protagonist preparing for a job interview or a first date? By puzzling viewers, the filmmaker engages them. When the truth is revealed, it likely will have greater impact.
This teasing strategy works in all sorts of movies. For example, supposed you’re making an instructional film about fixing a leaky faucet. You could fade in on a plumber facing the camera and telling what the video is about. But if you want to build intrigue, you could open with a close-up of someone in bed, listening to a dripping faucet.
Or perhaps you’re making a heist film. Instead of showing the thieves on the way to the bank, you could begin the movie later, showing the customers and bankers going about their business. The surprise might be that some of the average-looking customers are the robbers.
If you’ve made a short mobile film that surprises audiences—or know of such a film—let us know. You can reach us at email@example.com