Communication is an important part of the uniqueness of humankind. The human drive to communicate through a variety of forms, formats and media is remarkable. In the garden of Eden, God tasked Adam with naming all the animals. That desire to name, to create, and to communicate is still one of the most essential human traits, lasting from infancy through adulthood.
Christians and Jews have long been known as people of “The Book.” Since the Bible is full of stories and Christians are called by Jesus to communicate the Good news, which He did through Parables, Christians are a storytelling people. In faithful obedience to this call, they tell the Good news through every conceivable medium and genre. Thus, the church invented modern drama with the Mediaeval Mystery Plays. And, since the beginning of the motion picture industry, Christians have used movies to communicate the gospel because movies and television programs are the most powerful, audio–visual storytelling media.
Story, image and effect
There are three elements of a movie or television program that help capture the attention of the audience: story, image and effect.
When I was the Director of the TV Center at City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn College, one of the professors, Jim Day, had been a founder of Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) that produced Sesame Street. CTW would test every program. In one segment, they wanted to show the difference between an internal skeleton and an external skeleton. The animation showed an ant while a voice over said that the ant had an external skeleton so it could not grow as big as an elephant, which had an internal skeleton. As the narrator spoke, the animated illustration showed the ant growing as big as an elephant and then exploding. When CTW tested the segment and asked the audience whether an ant could grow as big as an elephant, 90 percent of the audience said “yes, an ant can grow as big as an elephant,” because they had just seen it in the animated sequence, and the visual was much more powerful than the audio.
CTW also tested the extent to which each Sesame Street program would capture and hold the attention of the audience. CTW would show a program segment and have a distracter machine next to the TV set. (The distracter machine was merely some blinking lights.) Observers would watch the eyes of the audience to see when they looked away from the TV program and at the distracter machine. At that point, CTW would put in another effect, such as a cut, dissolves, pan, wipe, or animated sequence, that would hold the audience’s attention.
To be continued…