Emotional Storytelling

At One Story Productions we ensure that the cornerstone of every film we produce, film and edit is the story. Our passion is giving a voice to organizations and individuals who otherwise wouldn’t be heard, and the key to communicating their story is conveying the real, relatable and raw emotion in a genuine and affecting way. Without a strong emotional dimension a call to action will go unheard - the film needs to powerfully trigger an insight that compels the audience to act for a specific cause. At the same time, it needs to feel authentic and sincere as a melodramatic approach can turn an audience off. So how do we strike the balance?

Contributor and Tone

In a previous blog post we discussed some common mistakes in filmmaking. One of the key errors we discussed was selecting the on-screen contributors to communicate your story to the audience. More often than not the subject matter for a non profit’s marketing campaign is delicate and in itself, emotional. Nonetheless, it is crucial that the spokesperson or contributor an organization chooses to appear on-screen is confident and natural, They should also be able to communicate their story in a powerful way, through their voice and facial expressions: it needs to be complementary combination of subject and delivery. A common misconception is that emotional context requires a pessimistic tone, and at One Story we believe that emotion can be woven into the fabric of a film, and it can still be rousing and encouraging. “The Stitch” by Speak Your Silence is a fantastic example of how a film about an objectively negative subject can be presented in an uplifting style and tone. The main contributor is the founder of the cause, and he delivers a confident emotive performance. In our film for The Little Yoga House, we handed the job of conveying the story to the recipients of the cause - the kids themselves. Rather than focus on adults talking about kids, we asked the little yogis to talk about their experience of the The Little Yoga House. Seating the audience in the kid’s perspective communicates the story of the organization better than anyone could. The way they feel about the organization is clear and it’s almost impossible to not be affected by their emotions and seeing how they benefit from this cause!


Whilst human contributors are undoubtedly the most important source of emotional context in telling an organization’s story, careful and conscious cinematographic skills are invaluable to enhancing what is already present. The “From One Second To The Next” PSA formed part of the “It Can Wait” campaign from AT&T and aimed to cut the amount of text related road accidents in the US. Directed by Werner Herzog, a world renowned documentary filmmaker, it is a perfect example for us to explore the power of cinematography in emotional storytelling.

Framing and Lighting

Where the camera is placed in relationship to the contributor can intensify the emotion conveyed from the contributor, and the subconscious connection to the audience.

guy wide guy_CU

In the first framing example, the subject is visible from the top of the head to the bottom of their torso; a classic mid shot. Whilst this is a traditional setup to establish the contributor, their position creates a negative space which results in a disconnected, almost uneasy feeling. The lighting is dark and bold: only the contributor is lit and the remainder of the shot is left in darkness, which only adds to this negative feeling. It is revealed through his speech that he caused an accident that resulted in the death of three people, and the framing changes to the close up of the subject’s face on the right. This sudden change in framing provokes a deeper, visceral emotional reaction - focusing on his face more clearly communicates his pain and guilt, and creates a shock device to further engage the audience. The lighting here, on the closer frame, is more forgiving and the way it highlights the contributors eyes allows the audience to see how he is affected by his actions. The lighting has a powerful subconscious effect as it shows the audience that he regrets his actions, through highlighting his facial expressions and emotions.

Camera Motion

The way the camera physically moves in relation to the subject is hugely influential in the way the audience relate to the subject. This clip of “From One Second To The Next” describes an exact moment an innocent pedestrian is struck by driver who was texting. The camera is handheld, and follows the contributor as he explains precisely the events and location of the accident. By travelling with the story in this way, the audience isare given a unique insight and taken into the story of the accident in a real and personal way. In this clip, later on in the film Herzog uses the device of slowly pushing in as the contributor is speaking. This effect draws the audience closer to the story, as it physically draws closer to the contributor. By layering an emotion-rich layer of motion onto a shot, emotion and content complement each other to enhance the sentiments of the film.


Music has such a powerful impact on the human mood - research shows that listening to music can affect the pace of the heart beat, which is key in telling the mind how we’re feeling. When we listen to a rhythm, our heart actually begins to synch with it. A slow heartbeat with a strong diastolic pressure tells our brain that something sad or depressing is occurring. Very fast beating is obviously related to excitement, whereas a dreamy rhythm with occasional upbeats can signify love or joy. Tones are equally important as rhythm. A “major key” music piece signifies cheerful communication to our brain, while “minor key” pieces closely mirror the sighs and soft keenings of lamentation. In his PSA, Herzog uses dissonant and discordant strings in the minor key to build the context of his film, to great effect. In contrast, we used a major, high energy guitar to drive home the excitable childlike energy of The Little Yoga House. Here is an awesome article from the BBC on the effects of sound design in effecting emotion!

There are so many more devices that contribute to communicating emotion in film, yet I feel we have explored the most powerful! Every story is different, and whilst emotion is the key to telling every story successfully it is crucial that a film is utterly tailor made to complement the style, purpose and story of the organization or individual. At One Story we work alongside organizations from pitch and treatment of a film through to delivery to ensure that your film conveys the story in an effective and emotive way, and that your voice is heard. Our team is dedicated to making sure that your story isn’t lost in the noise, and that it reaches and increases your intended audience. If you’re looking into starting video marketing for your business, or if you’re looking to refresh your content, contact us and get your voice heard.

View all blog posts