Telling the Story

My husband is a big fan of the Discovery Channel’s show MythBusters.  We don’t have cable, but he recently discovered he can watch some episodes instantly through Netflix.  So he’s been watching MythBusters.  And on occasion, I watch along with him.

I, too, like the show, though not quite as much as he does.  If you’ve never watched it, allow me to bring you up to speed.  MythBusters sets out to either bust or confirm various myths or urban legends.  According to the website: “Hosted by Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage — and co-hosted by Tory Belleci, Kari Byron and Grant Imahara — the MYTHBUSTERS mix scientific method with gleeful curiosity and plain old-fashioned ingenuity to create their own signature style of explosive experimentation.”  I like the show because they investigate some pretty interesting topics, but even more than that, they tell a great story.  Each episode starts with an explanation of the myth or myths that will be explored and ends with a summary of what conclusions can be drawn from their experimentation.  Often, as they are investigating a myth, they will get sidetracked, and on rare occasions, someone will fully investigate the tangent, leaving the rest of the team to explore the original myth.

I came across an interview with the two main MythBusters, Adam and Jamie, this morning, and I was surprised when they referred to telling a good story.  After all, these guys are just trying to prove or disprove some urban legends, right?  Here’s the excerpt:

Sometimes, it seems like what you wind up investigating isn’t the same thing you were originally testing. For instance, testing skunk-smell removal methods wound up being as much about trying to get skunks to spray you in the first place as it was about how to rid yourself of skunk smells. How much do you veer off onto different paths when they come up?

Adam: Well, you’ve honed in on what I think is the single most favorite part, for both me and Jamie, about doing the show. Which is that the narrative really is guided by what we’re interested in determining. And that is also informed by our desire to answer the original question we set out to answer, but if there are other things along the road that help to illuminate something for us, we’ll absolutely make sure that gets into the episode. And that’s fantastic, because it’s not like you’re leaving a bunch of stuff along the wayside that you’d like to be tackling; we’re tackling all of that.

Jamie: It does, however, cause a bit of a conflict here from time to time. In particular, I’m notorious among the staff here for being much more interested in the little side trips that we run across than the central story, and we have to be able to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and is relevant. So production’s not about to let us just get halfway through something and then do something else.

So it does highlight the fact that that is, really, often the most interesting part of what we’re doing, is the little tangents on the side.

Both of them say that they’re telling a story in each episode and with each investigation.  In case you missed it, Adam says, “the narrative really is guided by what we’re interested in determining,” and Jamie adds, “we have to be able to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”  Jamie goes on to say that “production’s not about to let us just get halfway through something and then do something else.”

I think it’s great that they are aware of the story they are telling.  And they allow themselves to get off track without venturing too far.  Or rather, they trust their production team to keep them on track, telling the story they started to tell.  That’s what a good production team does: it lets you tell your own story by helping you figure out what story you want to tell and then making sure you don’t start telling a different one.

Those MythBusters guys are so funny!

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