Last month, I took the Story Design for Non-fiction online course, taught by Adam Westbrook and produced by Marc Thomas. Story design is not a subject traditionally explored by ethnographic researchers – after all, our job is to witness and record events, not create narratives, right? Wrong, as Adam successfully proves in this curriculum (and the rest of his practice), arguing that the same rules apply to successful Channel4 documentaries and Hollywood dramas. When applied correctly, this rules help grab the audiences attention, take them on an exciting journey and insure they arrive with you at the designated destination and walk away with a valuable lesson learned. Documentaries and fiction may consist of very different ingredients, but the preparation process is very similar, if not the same.
The four-week course delivered daily lessons straight into my inbox every morning (an educational routine I haven’t practiced since school days, not that school ever was that informative, inspiring or fun), containing a mix of theory, exercise and a range of examples from all media. The daily pdf’s very easy to read, annotate and store on all electronic devices, which allowed me to master story design on a train, in a cafe, in bed, in a bath (probably not the smartest idea) and even during a work trip to Paris – flexibility that no other course I have taken ever offered!
I have been following Adam’s work for several years now (and interviewed him for BAMM blog earlier this year). He is among the most forward-thinking creatives working in Europe today, always asking questions and digging for answers. What’s more, he never presents his discoveries as a universal truth for you to accept and live by, instead asking for your opinion, almost hoping you will disagree and challenge him to investigate further. His work is constantly developing, improving on past mistakes; watching this open process is both encouraging and instructive.
The same principles applied to the Story Design for Non-Fiction is what makes the course so effective and successful. Unlike many educational programmes that suck you in and spit you out the other end with nothing more than a piece of paper confirming you survived the experience. This course may leave you with more questions than answers, but it gives you the tools to keep seeking. The curriculum is constantly developing, as Adam adds new ideas and considers alternative approaches. He is very diligent in sending these course updates to past students, but the improvements don’t devaluate the original course. On the contrary, seeing that there is no universal truth about storytelling makes you more involved in the process of discovering the multiple directions it can take. Choosing to share the process, not just results, Adam abandons the traditional teacher-student relationship model, becoming your fellow learner instead.
Adam ends the four week with the following farewell to his students: “Keep learning, keep watching and reading good stories, and studying their secrets. This isn’t the end of a journey, but the beginning of one“.