SAM@Home 2020 came and went on Saturday, October 24th. Without any expectations, just going in with an open mind and a love for storytelling, I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised. Every panel (that I watched) had tons of useful information, whether you want to learn tips on storytelling because you’re an artist or just like to hear the creatives speak about the process.
After watching half of the SAM@Home panels, my impression is that every single one of the panelists has a firm grasp on what it takes to create a gripping story. And what made it even more intriguing is how, from comics to books to television to games to movies, they all start from a similar foundation in how to tell a story and create fascinating characters that have agency, and add to the narrative but also are results of the events of the story. How each media executes the process is very different.
Storytelling in Comic Books
During the Spotlight on Jim Lee panel, Lee spoke about how in comic books, the panels flow from left to right on the page. Even the angle of the onomatopoeia directs the reader where to go. And how within the panel, the direction of the action also flows from left to right. Lee indicates how the Flash is running from left to right on the bottom right panel, which naturally leads the reader to the next page. All of these elements contribute to the story. If the Flash was running from right to left, the flow would be off (of course in the case of manga it’s the opposite because of how the Japanese language works). Lee also mentions the size of the panel, and the size of them concerning each other also helps tell a story.
In Storytelling Through Comics, multi-award-winning artist Agnes Garbowska (DC and IDW) and fellow award-winning writer Brandon Easton (Marvel & IDW) spoke about choosing your characters’ personality. They both agreed that a compelling character should serve the purpose of the story. Too many times certain characters are used in order to check the diversity box. All three panelists, including Jeffrey Veregge (Marvel), have a strong sense of what makes a strong story and compelling characters. Brandon especially has in-depth knowledge of storytelling across all media. Agnes, I believe, has a movie playing inside her head at all times. She spoke about her fascination with social mannerisms and facial expressions. This got her in trouble at past jobs for staring at people. Thankfully, her obsession with facial characteristics eventually lead to her artistic career.
Film Editing is Telling a Story
In film editing, a story determines how the film is edited. No duh! What does that mean exactly? According to film editor Tatiana S. Riegel (I, Tonya, Lars, and The Real Girl), editing is “trying to figure what you’re trying to tell, story-wise, emotionally, pacing, and tonally.” Paul Machliss (Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) believes that a good editor is a good storyteller. He says, “Reading the text in a book allows you to get immersed in a story and to visualize the images. Editorially we do exactly the same thing. We have the advantage of showing you pictures as well as give you the dialogue.”
And how that material is cut together is vital in telling a good story. While I have your attention, I’m currently reading a book by Paul Hirsch called “A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away: My Fifty-Years Editing Hollywood Hits“. If you want to know how film editing works, go read that book.
How do Authors Hook a Reader?
The Author Storytelling panel started by asking each panelist what is it about storytelling that grips you. Astrophysicist/author Dr. Katie Mack spoke about the end of the universe as the type of hook that would grab her. What would come after the end of everything? Which is also the title of one of her books. Rebecca Roanhorse (Star Wars: Resistance Reborn) loves dialogue and says that much of the time when she reads, the conversation is all that she is reading (I’m the same way). Bethany Morrow says contemporary fantasy, in particular, “allows black storytellers to not have to make up a world but to stay in reality and illuminate what is real to people who are unfamiliar with it.” This panel seemed a little glitchy, but it wasn’t overly distracting.
Story Without Words
When you think of storytelling, most of the time we think of writers or orators. Storytelling Behind the Camera with Creatives gave an incredibly unique perspective on storytelling. This panel consisted of a composer, a creative director, a hairstylist, a costume designer, a CEO of a visual effects company, a cinematographer, and a director. This panel stood out to me because it really drove home how collaborative the storytelling process is. When an actor has a particular hairstyle or is wearing a costume, it helps transport them deeper into their role. An excellent score and the way a film is shot can equally transport the audience into a world of make-believe. There’s so much great stuff here, I urge you to watch the panel yourself:
An Audible Story
The final panel I watched for SAM@Home was the Storytelling with Music and Sound for TV. Another fantastic panel that piqued my interest, being a huge fan of movie soundtracks. Composer Sherri Chung (Riverdale, Batwoman) spoke about the differences between working on a movie and television. In contrast, with tv, “it’s not only about the music but the logistics of getting the project completed.” By the way, there is an excellent documentary I highly recommend called Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound available on Amazon Prime Video. It covers the history of sound in film dating back to the first talkie in 1927.
Overall Impressions of SAM@Home 2020
I must admit I never heard of SAM@Home until this year, but I thought the panels were all really well done, and I definitely plan on finishing the ones I haven’t watched yet. If you love good stories and learn how they’re told, I suggest you watch the panels I mentioned – all are available on Comic-Con YouTube Channel – linked below. Like SDCC@Home, SAM@Home was pre-recorded, so there wasn’t a way to interact with the discussions. Pausing them is a plus, but that would’ve been possible regardless. Some of the panels (each panel ran about 35-55 minutes) only had one speaker on the screen at a time which is okay, I understand scheduling everyone for the same time was probably not always feasible. But I have to say the ones that had multiple screens were more enjoyable to watch. All I know is, I have some movies to watch and my reading list just grew!