I got attacked here here and here for using the phrase "filmic storyteller". January 23, 2002 2:48 PM   Subscribe

What is the appropriate balance between mentioning one's occupation as a way of explaining your perspective, and coming off as a pretentious jerk blowing his own horn? For using the phrase "filmic storyteller" to describe my complicated and amorphous job as a privately employed screenwriter, story editor, and consultant, I got attacked here here and here .
posted by bingo to Etiquette/Policy at 2:48 PM (66 comments total)

Sorry if you have to go searching for the relevant comments on those threads. I don't know how to make the link go right to a specific comment made by someone else.
posted by bingo at 2:51 PM on January 23, 2002

Bingo--link to the time stamp for the exact comment like this.
posted by thc at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2002

bingo, to be quite honest, it's a silly turn of phrase that seemed to catch a lot of peoples' eyes. The first time you used it, it sounded a bit absurd and came off a bit pretentious, and I think people are ribbing you for using it whenever they disagree with you on anything else. I would just say let it go and move on.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:01 PM on January 23, 2002

I know it seems silly, but according to Google, there's only one filmic storyteller and... It's not you! ;}
posted by shinybeast at 3:01 PM on January 23, 2002

hey bingo, filmic storyteller doesn't piss me off, but if you're ever down to network...

heh. i'm only half joking.
posted by sugarfish at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2002

"Screenwriter, story editor, and consultant" is not really that complicated, but "filmic storyteller" is ambiguous and could mean any number of things... as a writer, I don't know why you'd purposely choose to be unclear in your description, but clearly the answer is to go crying to MetaTalk. Sheesh.
posted by David Dark at 3:15 PM on January 23, 2002

I had already refered to myself as a "screenwriter" in a couple of other threads, and while I can claim the title with more honesty than most, my name has not yet appeared on a marquee. I have a master's degree in screenwriting, I spend most of my time screenwriting, and I get paid for it, but I won't really feel good about calling myself a screenwriter until I'm produced. I thought that next time I would say something more accurate and less pretentious. I guess it came off the wrong way.
posted by bingo at 3:15 PM on January 23, 2002

like it or not, "filmic storyteller" positively reeks of pretension. i'm not sure whether it's the "filmic" or "storyteller" that makes it more so, but the combination stinks.
posted by jimw at 3:16 PM on January 23, 2002

David, because "screenwriter, story editor, and consultant," to me, has a drawn-out, pretentious feel that screams "look at me, I have more authority than you do to comment on this topic." I just wanted something that would indicate where I was coming from in general. And I took it to MetaTalk because I didn't think it was appropriate to respond on three different threads that were all supposed to be about something else.
posted by bingo at 3:18 PM on January 23, 2002

David, because "screenwriter, story editor, and consultant," to me, has a drawn-out, pretentious feel that screams "look at me, I have more authority than you do to comment on this topic."

True, "filmic storyteller" isn't drawn-out.
posted by waxpancake at 3:25 PM on January 23, 2002

If that's what you're qualified to do, and that's what you do, and that's what you get paid to do, then that's what you are - a screenwriter. If you had studied acting, had a couple of bit parts, got paid for them but found that the scenes didn't make the final cut, how would you describe yourself then? 'Obfuscated thespian'?

'Filmic storyteller' sounds like something George Lucas would pull out of his flannelled ass to describe the process of stealing other people's scripts and casting them with Muppets.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:31 PM on January 23, 2002

Bingo: you're not, by any chance, Portuguese are you? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2002

I'm not Portugese...

I guess this bothered me so much because, truthfully, I'm quite insecure about my career, and it annoys me when people on threads get snooty about their qualifications to comment on something, or link to their resumes or schools. I'm such an academic that "filmic storyteller" is actually the sort of thing that would come out of my mouth, and if you knew me it might sound funny but hopefully not conceited. Upon reflection I see that it's one of those phrases where the wordiness and technicality of it comes across more than the meaning.

I am definitely going to start referring to some of my actor friends as "obfuscated thespians," however. That's just to good not to be used.
posted by bingo at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2002

that would be "too good not to be used."
posted by David Dark at 3:56 PM on January 23, 2002

Shit! My own typo in a conversation about my writing! Agh! I'm in hell!
posted by bingo at 4:02 PM on January 23, 2002

bingo, one does not need qualifications nor credentials to post here; just a desire to contribute, a sense of humor, and a little thicker skin. Shine it on and it will go away.
posted by Mack Twain at 4:13 PM on January 23, 2002

Unless you had anything to do with the Planet of the Apes remake. Then we have to kill you.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:26 PM on January 23, 2002

Actually, I know exactly how you feel. I gave up trying to describe my job some time ago when I read that if you can't describe it in one word ('doctor', 'receptionist', 'banker', 'programmer'), then you don't have a real job.

These days, I'm an 'analyst' for the 'government' and I spend all day 'writing reports'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:38 PM on January 23, 2002

i usually take the route of a humorously self-humiliating title like "graphics slave" or "advertising stuff", which might seem like i'm being modest as an "director of visual design" at a small agency. but really, i mean it.

perhaps a suitably cool slang term would get your expertise across in non-mockable laymans terms.

"screenwriter" "struggling screenwriter" "non-produced film-maker"

something to give the idea that you are working on it, have some expertise, but aren't ready to do favors like casting boy-band members as extras just yet.

posted by th3ph17 at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2002

Any time I have to fill out one of those forms that gives me one tiny box to describe what I do, I just write "magician" Hey, prove, I'm not!
posted by jessamyn at 5:03 PM on January 23, 2002

Call yourself a screenwriter consultant. The consultant part frees you up from any expectation of tangible "success" like, say, regular employment or a noble job title. That's what IT people do.
posted by dness2 at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2002

i'm a filmic sex consultant.
posted by quonsar at 5:22 PM on January 23, 2002

how bout 'I work in film'
posted by Mick at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2002

If your responses are well thought out, clear and original people will catch-on that you know what you are talking about. I believe in our Mefi world, people respect what you say before they respect what's on your resume.
posted by sexymofo at 5:42 PM on January 23, 2002

Does this mean I get to be a "database dominatrix?"

posted by NsJen at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2002

As a world renowned brain surgeon and professional surfer, I feel it's perfectly acceptable to use ones occupation as a means of backing ones argument.
posted by Doug at 6:02 PM on January 23, 2002

I used to build SUVs for a living.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:13 PM on January 23, 2002

I'm not a doctor, but I played one on TV.
posted by rebeccablood at 6:25 PM on January 23, 2002

MetaFilter: Frees you from any expectation of tangible success.
posted by moss at 7:04 PM on January 23, 2002

"I used to build SUVs for a living."

Would that have made you a "Jeepic constructor"?

But seriously, why make up a new phrase to describe what you do for a living, when you can just go to the Job Title Generator and let them do all the work for you?


"Internet Specialist"


"Ebusiness Diva"

posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:52 PM on January 23, 2002

rebeccablood: i watched every episode, and it rocked.
posted by bingo at 11:47 PM on January 23, 2002

I think moss got the tee-shirt thing worked out.
posted by dong_resin at 1:15 AM on January 24, 2002

Late to the party here, Bingo, but just out of curiousity what gives you any more "right" (and I use the term loosely) to call yourself a filmic storyteller than a screenwriter, etc.? If one, then the other, I'd think, and if not one then, well, not the other.
posted by Sinner at 6:57 AM on January 24, 2002

bingo: I was one of the residents in the background.
posted by rebeccablood at 10:57 AM on January 24, 2002

Sinner: A screenwriter is a filmic storyteller, but not necessarily the other way around. Directors, and editors (film and story) are also filmic storytellers, and so are some producers and execs in cases (like, probably, Black Hawk Down, since it's a Bruckheimer movie and he's such a person) who like to bully other people into writing/directing the movie they want, and they just keep firing writers, and sometimes directors, until the movie is somewhat in line with the way they imagined it, but ultimately has no soul because in truth there is no human being with an actual artistic investment in the movie.

There actually is another difference. The physical act of screenwriting, i.e. the actual laying out of words on a page in the proper format and in a way that doesn't intimidate the typical illiterate Hollywood reader, describing the scenes succinctly yet clearly, using language in general in such a way that really makes the format "work"...that is an art in itself. Writers like Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon 1&2) are masters at that kind of writing...their scripts are fluid, satisfying reads independent of whether or not a movie is made from them.

Then there is screenwriting in another sense: the arranging of the story in such a way that it will work as a movie. 99% of Hollywood films, and the majority of films in general, use an "Aristotelian" three-act structure. In my observation, most of the time when someone has an "idea for a movie," the main obstacle between that person and writing a script is the often surprisingly difficult task of making that story fit into the three-act structure, not because it *has* to, but so that after you flesh your idea out to have a beginning, middle, and end, it still "feels" like a movie. There are many schools of thought about how to best do this, about how to most smoothly intertwine characer "arc" and plot, about how to work in subplots that don't become boring tangents, about how to best alter/filter/reconcieve a real event, or a novel, or some other story that is not "naturally" ready-made to be a movie, so that it can be told as a movie that "works" according to whomever's standard. There are a lot of books on this subject, there are a lot of debates about it. Honestly, there are many people I've met who are decent "writers" in terms of their use of language and their ear for dialog, who are baffled/frustrated/intimidated/irritated by the idea of figuring out how to create the best structure for the story they want to tell as a movie. A lot of these people are actors, stunt men/women, or other industry professionals who have the time and money to develop their ideas, and the access to the right people to show their scripts, but not the patience or aptitude to figure out how screenplays "work." Sometimes, such people hire people like me, who did a whole graduate degree that (for me anyway) was mostly about understanding filmic storytelling structure. Depending on your involvement in the development of the actual movie, you could use these skills and still not write a word. Much of what I have been paid to do so far involves sitting down with people who have ideas and time, and helping them structure their stories. Sometimes it's about the two (or more) of us writing them together, and sometimes it's just about me giving advice and a new perspective, and the other person writing the story. And, sometimes there are development executives who essentially do what I do, from a position of more power: they understand how filmic stories "work" better than the writer (or they think they do), so they essentially pre-direct the movie by mandating a certain way for the story to unfold.

To give credit where it's due, I think that Walker and Black are both also quite good at structure. But not everyone is. I didn't used to be; I went to film school to begin with because I had plenty of good ideas but I was having trouble shaping them into the proper filmic storytelling structure...and my problem had very little to do with creativity or use of language. I became obsessed with structure, perhaps to an unhealthy degree. My own career as a "screenwriter" in terms of conceiving, developing, structuring, and writing a script on my own has not really developed (though I've only been out of film school a year). But fortunately, my obsession with structure and the way I talk about it has motivated some people to pay me to help them straighten out their ideas. While I was writing this, I got a call from a guy whose script I read and critiqued (he's a successful stand-up comic); he wants me to help him make it better, and he will probably pay, but I doubt that he wants me to actually sit down in front of a computer and write out the dialog, scene headings, etc. Such people, who are increasingly my bread and butter, are not so much interested in hiring a screenwriter as they are in hiring a filmic storyteller.

Often, I feel that a movie is flawed because it's not a well-told story in filmic terms; as someone whose background was originally in literature, it seems wrong to me to criticize the "writing," which in a literal sense of language use might be quite good.

However, as I have admitted earlier in this thread, I understand that from an outside perspective, the use of the phrase in near-zero context, writing to mainly non-Hollywood people, comes off as a pretentious way of either saying that I'm a screenwriter or that I wish I was one (which to an extent is true, in that I'm not really a screenwriting professional), or that I simply have so little clue that I don't know the more widely-used terminology. Since in the main I don't get paid to "write," and my comments on the revelant thread didn't really have to do with the "writing" of Black Hawk Down, I wanted to briefly describe my "professional" perspective while keeping it honest. Clearly I picked the wrong way to do this. There is a lot of pretension around me in real life, and I try to avoid getting sucked into it; the fact that my effort to avoid it was immediately perceived as pretentious in itself got me on the defensive in a major way as you can see. I appreciate the patience of the people on this thread in talking to me about it...I really like Metafilter and I want to be a working part of it, not an asshole, and I want to respond to assholes the right way to make the whole thing run smoothly, so this is how I decided to do it. Maybe it wasn't necessary, but I wanted to have an open discussion about this without messing up the threads involved...after all, my job is mainly about preventing irrelevant tangents from interfering with a positive flow of information and pathos. If this thread has turned out to be yet another example of same, I apologize.
posted by bingo at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2002

Maybe you should put a lot of that musing on your bio page. I still think it sounds pretentious in an arthouse kind of way, but your kind of arthouse sounds like an arthouse I could deal with.
posted by dness2 at 12:32 PM on January 24, 2002


Okay, folks. That's a wrap. See you at the premiere.
posted by ColdChef at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2002

this presentation of Metafilians Theatre brought to you by Bisquick, makers of fine pancake mix for over 70 years.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:01 PM on January 24, 2002

The catering on this thread sucked. And next time I want a bigger trailer and an assistant.
posted by bingo at 1:01 PM on January 24, 2002

Oops. Maybe I should have called an Abby Singer.
posted by ColdChef at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2002

i, for one, am fed up with filmically philistine meFites.
posted by danOstuporStar at 1:37 PM on January 24, 2002

It was a pretty good thread, but the ending didn't make sense. It sort of derailed in the third act.
posted by D at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2002

My objection to the phrase "filmic storyteller" is simpler: I just think the word "filmic" looks goofy.
posted by kindall at 2:23 PM on January 24, 2002

"The Thread of the Filmic Storyteller", directed by Alan Smithee
posted by liam at 3:29 PM on January 24, 2002

bingo: You've explained yourself enough for now. So, if your mileage varies, send me a postcard from Mayberry. Whatever the heck that meant.
posted by raysmj at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2002

Please, someone else explain it to him. I feel like this is one of those "tough love" cases where I've done all I can.
posted by bingo at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2002

Oh, sure, everyone on here knows Linux/Unix jargon. Also, you're the only person showing up in Google to have ever used the specific reference, which must be connected to postcardware, if you're making the other computer reference. But I don't live in Mayberry, unless you count a place with a population of 125,000 or more as Mayberry. Sure there's lots of super-hip filmic guys who make references to Mayberry, but I'm not up-to-date, even if I'm putting Linux on an old machine this weekend.

Green Acres references are cooler in my book, anyhow. I must drop them at a cocktail party sometime, speak authoritatively, try to start a trend.
posted by raysmj at 8:31 PM on January 24, 2002

Actually, I know nothing at all about Linux/Unix jargon, and I've never heard of postcardware. Sometimes you just have to let those hard-to-reach chips go, I guess.
posted by bingo at 2:36 AM on January 25, 2002

But you're just too hip and obscure, no matter what, Mr. "I didn't think personal attacks were allowed."

posted by raysmj at 4:18 AM on January 25, 2002

Where was the personal attack?
posted by bingo at 5:20 AM on January 25, 2002

Sometimes you just have to let those hard-to-reach chips go, I guess.
posted by raysmj at 5:25 AM on January 25, 2002

If you think that was a personal attack, it's completely in your mind, man. I can be diplomatic, but I can't fight paranoia.
posted by bingo at 5:58 AM on January 25, 2002

I'm way late to the party too, but what the heck? It wasn't the invocation of your vocation that made people roll their eyes, it was the particular title you used. (Hey, watch this ma--) I'm a screenwriter, too, and I rolled my eyes. Sure, we can call ourselves filmic storytellers, sometimes when I'm feeling puckish, I call myself a professional liar (because I am- I get paid to tell stories that aren't true,) but if you're trying to make a point, the point is better made using words which won't distract from it. Nobody bounced on my head in the "Porn or Legitimate Movie" thread for saying I was a screenwriter, and nobody bounced on your head for saying the same when you disagreed with me in the thread. It's all in the presentation.
posted by headspace at 6:54 AM on January 25, 2002

I think it's interesting to note that bingo, you never defended "filmic storyteller" in the original thread.

I mean, I *did* ask and never got an answer. Had to slog all the way over here to find out and man are my arms tired.

Vice President of Document Reproduction
posted by Dagobert at 7:28 AM on January 25, 2002

That's because I felt that it was already snowballing into jeers from other people. I knew that if I said anything in my defense, it was going to turn into something like what's above, so I decided to bring the fight to a place where at least I wouldn't be attacked for having the fight.

Headspace, yes, I've admitted that I should have just stuck with "screenwriter," even though "filmic storyteller" was accurate.
posted by bingo at 12:57 PM on January 25, 2002

That's because I felt that it was already snowballing into jeers from other people.

No one here can fight paranoia, although they can be diplomatic.
posted by raysmj at 1:21 PM on January 25, 2002

Well, no, scratch that. Refuse to be as nasty as you've been. But just to point out the obvious irony (irony so thick you'd have to have a Mack truck to break through it) of your own statements . . .
posted by raysmj at 1:45 PM on January 25, 2002

PLEASE! You can't call yourself a filmic storyteller and not expect to be made fun of. That's like wearing a pocket protector in junior high.

We would all like to be living the academic dream. I could call myself a "mathematician" or a "computer scientist", but i would be laughed out of any office i attempted to step in. Sure, I think that my education provided me with some special skills, but to be frank i'm just sitting here programming in a cube.

Do you actually tell stories for a living (which, in my mind means, "TELLS stories") that are of a 'filmic' variety. If no then, you are just like the rest of us. You are a schlep who hasn't had anything produced but is trying. Like the rest of us, you should refer to yourself, humbly, as someone who has worked intermittently in the film industry, whatever your degree might say.
posted by goneill at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2002

Not that the rest of us have ever worked in the film industry or anything, i myself was once in a school play...
posted by goneill at 2:13 PM on January 25, 2002

Do you actually tell stories for a living (which, in my mind means, "TELLS stories") that are of a 'filmic' variety.

Yes, I really do (explained above).

I'm finding myself less repentant about this. The description I gave is more accurate, literal, honest, and more relevant to the discussion than "screenwriter" would have been.

I wonder if my strange job description would have irked so many people if I had been mentioning a position in some other industry than film. Just an idea.

raysmj: Your responses seem to be increasingly unrelated to what I've said. I really don't know what you're talking about anymore.
posted by bingo at 7:28 PM on January 25, 2002

The description I gave is...more relevant to the discussion than "screenwriter" would have been.

So, depending on the discussion, you're a screenwriter, or a hack, or a filmic storyteller?

For a screenwriter, hack, or filmic storyteller you've got awfully thin skin.
posted by KLAX at 7:47 PM on January 25, 2002

KLAX: Thanks for your helpful comment. The answer to your question is in the chunk you took out of my sentence when you quoted it.

I think I'd have to make more money, and have even less creative control, and get paid to do a lot more actual writing, to be considered a hack, but as it's obviously my goal, thanks for your encouragement.

It's true that hacks usually do have thick skin; screenwriters, in my experience, don't (unless they're hacks); as for filmic storytellers: apparently I'm the only one, so I guess I set the standard.
posted by bingo at 1:52 AM on January 26, 2002

Okay, I'll admit I picked up on it right away because it did scream pretension to me in the context. And your rather concise, blunt assessment of the film (especially for one who apparently loves to write) in that BHD thread left me assuming your earlier 'filmic storyteller' self-reference was total bunk. I see you didn't mean it the self-important way most of us took it, and that's fine, but this is an awfully long thread by which to try to prove your point. However, I giggled quite a bit throughout, so I'll stop complaining. You must realize, however, that from now on you're going to have to get used to people referring to you as "The Filmic Storyteller". Could be worse, man.

As an amateur playwright myself in my salad days (early works included "Rodney the Ugly Monkey") I've learned how harsh Hollywood can be. Then again, a play dedicated to the antics of a comically deformed stuffed primate and his pre-teen human cohorts wasn't what the masses demanded back in the heady days of 1985, so I took the hint and capped my scented marker. It's a cruel, cruel business. I don't envy you one bit. But at least you get to practice your trade a bit herein.
posted by evixir at 1:17 AM on January 27, 2002

[goneill:] Do you actually tell stories for a living (which, in my mind means, "TELLS stories") that are of a 'filmic' variety.

[bingo:] Yes, I really do (explained above).

no, bingo. no, you don't.

you write stuff down. or maybe talk about it with people. a real storyteller is one of the most important members of any society with a significant oral tradition. s/he is extraordinarily talented and rigorously trained (far more rigorously trained than any number of years in a u.s. university could possibly leave one), and is essential to the survival of said society.

no sane community members would ever heap scorn or derision upon the storyteller, for fear of ostracism; on the false storyteller, however, it is always 'open season'.
posted by mlang at 8:43 AM on January 30, 2002

mlang: I think you know I'm not claiming to be the sort of oral storyteller who sits with a circle of people on the grass and tells folktales. It seems that by your definition of "storyteller" you're also excluding novelists, poets, and performance artists who tell stories (like Lori Anderson). But then, I think you're also just trolling, so it's hard for me to take your argument very seriously.
posted by bingo at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2002

It's Laurie Anderson. Not to be confused with Loni.
posted by Dean King at 8:52 AM on February 20, 2002

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