Study a Story: Steve Hartman

I am a very big fan of the storytelling genius of Steve Hartman of CBS. Unlike a lot of network tv, which is sometimes overproduced, Hartman keeps it simple. You can learn from him and use his techniques even if you happen to be a one-man-band in market 126.

Here is a recent  Steve Hartman Story  I really enjoyed. Check it out and then read below as I dissect it. Let’s figure out why it is good and how you can use what he does well in your next story.

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Look at the first 15 seconds of this story. Hartman sets it up by BRINGING you to a certain place “The Tenderloin District”….He doesn’t tell you about this place with flowery writing. He’s brief. You hear a police siren. You see a homeless man. You get the gist quickly.

Notice he’s using one static NAT sound track for audio while changing the pictures. This makes for a much smoother transition than using the actual NATs from each shot. Steal that technique. It’s useful from ballgames to crime scenes.

The first sound bite gets to the heart of the story quickly…You learn “This guy is different”…You don’t even hear the guy’s name until :38 in and you’re already very much into the character because of how he was introduced.

The heart of the story works well because it’s a mix of NAT bites and actual interview sound bites. “I don’t need the money, go give it to someone else”…You can do this too. Don’t ever think sound bites can only come from your structured interview. 

The bites he picked tell about different things. How many times do you see stories that have multiple bites saying the same basic thing? Waste of time. Hartman’s bites advance the story…

“Who would want to come and fix people’s dirty nasty clothes?” Hartman: That’s a good point. GREAT writing. Work to find bites that help you advance your stories.

The line also allows a nice transition into the “why” of the story. He allows NAT sound to ask a question for him. “What a beautiful sewing machine. Where did you pick this thing up?”

Yep, that’s lucky that he got that genuinely, but he was smart enough to use it. Know what you have and how to use it.

In classic Hartman style, he uses terms from the subject of story to write the story. “Less about letting  out pants and more about taking in stories.” Terms used in sewing! You can use this to make your writing more creative without venturing into a flowery or verbose script. This works well with more subtle terms. You don’t hear him comparing the man to a needle and thread. It’s “mending” and “taking in”. “Repairs the fabric of his community”- He’s literally talking about fabric, but the line holds more meaning.

I liked the simplicity of this story. A man and his sewing machine, told in a beautiful way through well placed NAT sound and good interviews. The biggest thing I take from any Hartman PKG is his ability to truly make you care about character/characters. He does that well in this one.

 

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