How To Tell A Story In 15 Seconds Or Less: The Role of Short Form Soundtracks

Photo Courtesy of John Fontana.

Photo Courtesy of John Fontana.

Field Notes Interview #35: Jonathan Chapman, Filmmaker & Photographer

A lot can be said in 15 seconds. Complete stories with characters and evocative moods can be established within a short amount of time. Music can play a large role in establishing a compelling short film.

New avenues like Instagram have become a creative avenue and outlet for artists and creatives alike. Filmmaker, Jonathan Chapman has created a series of amazing short films in his series called #JCPBlink. By using the time limitations, he's creatively weaved imagery and music into short and serene mini-films that draw you in. We'll be showcasing his films on our Instagram this week.

We chatted with Chapman about his process and how he uses music as a driving force to tell his stories through short form vignettes.


M: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

JC: With a background as a still photographer with roots on the documentary side, my entry into filmmaking grew out of a love of storytelling through visual capture. Filmmaking came secondary. I began grabbing 3-5 second clips of scenes while I was shooting stills - wides, medium, tights. Editors were recommended by creatives I was close to. Their (editors) feedback was what set the wheels in motion, so to speak. I received compliments on my way of composing, lighting, and overall capture. I was encouraged to continue, that my way of seeing as a still photographer was more of an asset than a hinderance to filmmaking.

M: What do you think defines a filmmakers' voice?

JC: Their ability to explore a subject or scene in a way that is different from others. A filmmaker's voice should evoke a feeling, much like a musician's.

M: How is film important?

JC: Film is an emotional vehicle to transport and engage a broad and diverse audience. Its importance lies in its ability to influence and inform, regardless of the subject matter.

M: What's a day in the life of a working artist/filmmaker look like?

JC: It's never the same day. That's what keeps it interesting, engaging, frustrating, and challenging. Locations, people, and story. It's a Viewmaster of sorts, everyday a different slice of life.

M: What's your favorite part of the filmmaking process?

JC: Creative collaboration is the most intriguing element. In the realm of filmmaking, there's a broad array of talented people all working together, all adding a thumbprint; working out a story, embracing ideas collectively. I can't imagine doing what I do without the support of everyone who plays a part. I am always asking those around me, "how might we elevate this story or shine light on a unique aspect?" My Studio Manager of 7 years, John Fontana would agree that it's a true collection of everyone's efforts, regardless of title or position.

M: How is film important?

JC: Film is an emotional vehicle to transport and engage a broad and diverse audience. Its importance lies in its ability to influence and inform, regardless of the subject matter.

M: What's a day in the life of a working artist/filmmaker look like?

JC: It's never the same day. That's what keeps it interesting, engaging, frustrating, and challenging. Locations, people, and story. It's a Viewmaster of sorts, everyday a different slice of life.

M: What's your favorite part of the filmmaking process?

JC: Creative collaboration is the most intriguing element. In the realm of filmmaking, there's a broad array of talented people all working together, all adding a thumbprint; working out a story, embracing ideas collectively. I can't imagine doing what I do without the support of everyone who plays a part. I am always asking those around me, "how might we elevate this story or shine light on a unique aspect?" My Studio Manager of 7 years, John Fontana would agree that it's a true collection of everyone's efforts, regardless of title or position.

M; What makes a good story? What are the key elements?

JC: A good story has an arch that builds and releases, oftentimes more than once throughout the piece. The way the story is captured and edited ideally captivates and hooks the viewer, both through narrative as well as visuals and music; explaining, expanding, and complimenting the idea.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Savage.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Savage.

M: What's your Instagram series all about? How do you feel short form stories have an impact on filmmaking?

JC: Our idea around the Instagram series is driven by the "teaser" type platform of sharing, whether a single image or a 15 second video. It's a pretty sweet and contemporary vehicle to showcase engaging visuals from a variety of genres and projects. The 15 second short can be a challenge to edit, but when they come together it's pretty inspiring. The personal, non-client nature of this series is also something we are intrigued by. Clients see clips of their projects and it's a bit of an homage or nod to what they hired you for. As far as an impact on filmmaking, it's more about embracing what our culture is drawn to at this period of time. I would argue it refines an editor's chops, gives them a target to get in and out of quickly.

M: What role does music play in filmmaking?

JC: Music is ultimately what drives the edit, it's the backbone that sets the pace and forms the arch of a story. We recently asked an artist if they prefer to compose or score to visuals after an edit is in place or compose around an idea or genre of music (drums, strings, etc). We didn't come to a consensus, but it sparked an interesting conversation about the importance of finding the right feeling. I have a hard time describing what I love or want out of a track. Our main editor Joseph McMahon does a great job of pulling multiple options. It's really quite interesting hearing varied tracks, sometimes things get a little too dramatic or overly optimistic. Stock houses like Marmoset do a great job of categorizing music, describing by feeling or mood as well as genre.

M: How do you feel music is misused in filmmaking?

JC: Music can become overbearing and do more than it should to support visuals or a story. We are really into nat / foley sound adding texture to a story. If a track is too overpowering it becomes too jumbled, especially if you have interviews, VO, and foley sound mixed in. Some of the best films have just a hint of a music supporting them. It's amazing when you realize this and a bit jarring when it's the opposite. Movie trailers are a good example. It's like they're trying to smack you around, wake you up to something that likely isn't all that great.

M: What's coming up?

JC: I often think of our business as a stove-top, various smaller / larger projects all being tended to at one time. We always seem to have a healthy mix of personal as well as client based at various stages of pre or post-production. We just shot a short-film personal project, presently titled "Disconnected," which is a look at a mother and teen daughter's relationship, being together yet distracted by the "noise" of their devices. On the client side we just released lifestyle film "McDonald's : Europe" highlighting time in shooting in Germany, Spain, and the UK. We are currently in talks for a couple of projects in New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, and possibly Austin. We'll see, it's always interesting and certainly never dull; just like a good film...


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If you were given 15 seconds to tell a story, what would it be? Share your short films with us at sharing@marmosetmusic.com and we'll post our favorites on our Instagram and feature them on the journal next week. People who submit will receive a Marmoset shirt and Field Notes notebook.