Author Archives: Daniel Alegi

Visual storytelling: do you get it?

For the past 18 months we have been working on Scriptonite, a story development application. And we are getting great feedback on the public Beta.

Unlike most mobile apps, the purpose of Scriptonite is not to be used once and then forgotten. but to be a companion toolkit to be used often as needed.

People tell  stories, people are part of stories told. And stories have different intentions, obstacles and outcomes. A power point or a feature film, a weeding video or a video essay all have a lot in common. They are modern forms of literacy.

If you can’t communicate clearly and effectively using story, you have no identity.

Storytelling is engagement, relationship and connection. It drives contagiousness and enchantment, the keywords in our digital global village.

Visual storytelling is for everyone, but not by everyone. As a kid I say images of illiterate folk paying scribes on the street, to get a letter written. Italy during the second world war had over 30 percent ofd the population who could not wread and write.

In today’s cinematic storytelling, the grammar is cinematic. To be a visual storyteller means to understand and know the language of visuals in motion. Cuts, sound overlaps, duration, camera angles have become the language of tomorrow.

Are you story literate? Can you tell your personal story in cinematic form or do you need to ask / pay someone else to do it for you? Equipment is cheap, content is rare. If you can put both together in visual storytelling form, you get it.

Check out a video essay by Adam Westbrook, who has created a new paradigm for video essays, stories part personal and fly on-the-wall, part public and in-the-soup.

Lots more on story literacy to come.

danny alegi


Alumbramiento: an unpredictable story.

“Alumbramiento”: a family faces the last night of its eldest member, showing their different ways of dealing with a life’s ending. In a surprising manner, overcoming fear and taboo, one of them will guide the passing” (from website, Arrivano i corti film festival, Italy)

This is an accurate linear-narrative account of the plot elements of this unique award-winning short from Spain by Eduardo Chapero-Jackson.  I will suggest another: “Alumbramiento” is a powerful cinematic experience, simple yet narratively unpredictable. The surprise ending resolves not only the specific short narrative, but sheds light – as the title suggests – into the realm of big unanswered questions.

It all starts in a dark bedroom.  Pitch black with thick shadows, so impenetrable one is unsure when exactly “Lightborne” (as the title is translated in english) begins and the title sequence ends. Did a phone ring? Sounds mingle, invisible hands awake and fumble for a switch. Light. In the middle of the night. A man and a woman. Another light is on. Then off again. An exhausted pattern of taking turns, one that can fill both dream and waking life with exposed nerves, low tolerance, fatigue.

Time to heed the call. Time to put on glasses, to try and see. Where does life go?

Now we’re in a car, slicing through a yawning sequence of on/off lamp-posts, flashing like low-energy question marks, without apparent purpose nor answers, so much more powerful is the night. It’s a  journey with no peace of mind. The man drives, focused, spent. His eyes gripping the road through the steering wheel, his mind taking logical stabs at the scarcity of solutions, given the dire medical report he just heard. His woman sits by him, navigating by feelings rather than professional instinct. She offers a hand but he refuses, they don’t hold together. Pain and fear create a kinds of distance that – uncured – can be fatal. The director frames each separately, two broken halves deep in silent visuals of the hallucinatory real. The dawn is much further away. How can life be fixed?

We understand from scant dialogue delivered with surgical precision – in script and performance –  that this scenario is recurrent. 120 seconds into the film and we are immersed in an amniotic texture of lucid confusion, a quiet helpless re-investigation of the apparent dead-ends of life,  relationships, memory. Before we can even begin to try and escape to safe and controlled rationalizations (what city are we in? have I seen a film by Chapero before?) or connect plot strands (where are they going? who is sick?), a darkened apartment and bedroom engulfs and suppresses our resistance.  We are witnesses in a magnetized, polarized cinematic space of dark and bare practical lighting of the devastating narrative undercurrent:  life is much more subtle, weaker, than death. We are here to spend ten minutes in the bedroom next door and – through a magical unpredictable development in narrative  – we will stay there much longer.

The characters enter, the forces of life assemble around each other’s weakening pulses, matching optimism against pessimism.  “She will make it. She always makes it” says his sister. Silence replies. Rafa shifts shape from son-who-is a-doctor to Doctor-who-is-also-son by directing a nurse in the technical requirements of tonight’s pain-aversion attempts. He tries to appear in control, hides feelings. His woman observes, until now a cutaway, a pair of eyes of vast and quiet intensity. The old woman on the deathbed appears childish and angelic, but wrapped in breathing tube and coughing all she seems to have left inside, with resistence. Time and place is now, the narrative secrets of the first first few minutes are explained. There was no need to clarify who was going where and why. This is the doctor’s mother and she will soon die despite the morphine and more morphine.

Predictably, death will not be mentioned around a deathbed.  This is a story about death and the living. Its ending escapes classical categories of dramatic endings (happy, sad, good, bad, etc). In “Alumbramiento” the passing on of the old mother is not the end of the story. It is not the tipping point where we cry. The childhood song about the piggies is, sung by the doctor and his sister. Seconds before the doctor’s wife life-embracing beat of no-return  “Tu te vas a morir” had opened the dances with death, unafraid. The doctor’s wife now replaces human logic (the distancing and silencing of pain, the fear and avoidance of death) with a peaceful caresse and a simple imperative: – Breathe, you did well in life. Just breathe.” She removes all power from the predictable. These two beats open the narrative doors and award “Alumbramiento” unpredictable emotional heights:  the visible moment-to-moment defeat of fear and death by way of love, forgiveness, rejoycing, celebrating life as it was. As it is.

Here is a look at this extraordinary film from a film-practice angle.


“Alumbramiento” has a simple plot yet a complex structure. There are several relationships defined by the story, not provided before the story. Information, when needed, is integral to the development, as in real life. We see what we need to see – and what we manage to understand – at the exact moment the story requires it, all “in medias res”, includes all the characters’ lives, which we encounter “in the middle of the night”. This simplifies audience “narrative baggage” to a focus on the now, nothing more. During the nighttime ellipsis at the mother’s house, we see a montage: images of a butterfly, a photograph of a woman holding hands with a boy. None of this images added narrative burdens by imposing overly-complicated symbolisms to decode. The family imagery remained elusive, poetic, organic to the moment. It is sound that brings the past to life, the clear sound of a shared song sung in tears, wash away the heavy cough of departure and welcoming the final silence.


It feels like this film and itss catharsis may refer to the director’s own experience. Making peace with one’s memory, one’s daemons may be afforded us in fiction more than in real life. The power of short films to engage in topics of deep significance to all of us (i.e. phases of natural life) seems better exploited as a combination of personal experience and dramatizion. The personal links are left to the thank you references to real persons in the credits, but the story is not told in first person. An asset.


 “a surprise ending” can be any clever solution pushing standard plot structures aside. “Alumbramiento” has a miniauture three-act setup (the call, the wait, the end) and – quite predictably – cannot prevent the old woman from dying. To the contrary, it is a film about facilitating the end of suffering through shared memory of life’s accomplishments and efforts. The dead woman’s smiling face is an image of eternal happiness and purpose. Rarely have I ever seen on film a sequence so poignant: a woman choosing, accepting to die, honoring the good in the mystery of life.

Two of everything

the director extends the cinematic aesthetic contradiction of light and darkness to all areas of content. The film’s apparently static locations and forms function as a delicate visual and aural layer, with particular magic in the use of duality, ambiguity and repetition. The son has been there many times before, the sister suggests the old mother “always pulls thru”, morphine injections are repeated, childhood memories recur, aesthetic patterns exist.

Repetition is a key to modulation. it establishes what small later variations can highlight. Modal musical scales are a parallel example.

The final gestures (the holding handsover the dead body) is itself a repeated gesture healing the first occurrence, when hands would not hold in the pain-car. 

Eduardo Chapero-Jackson is in full control of “Alumbramiento”, its cinematic and narrative textures, and its emotional high. “Alumbramiento” can mean in Spanish both “illumination” and “safe delivery”, the awaited climax, the arrival of light and peace.  Imagine all that, in a film devoid of any visible sunlight.

Gracias, Eduardo.

/ daniel alegi

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.


Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.


Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.


Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.


This winter I tried something new: I organised an event in the “gift economy” style. Inspired by ancient gift cultures, gift economy means offering an event (or other work) as a gift instead of exchanging it directly for money. At the end of the event people connect with their gratitude and give in a way that fits for them—either with money or with non-monetary gifts. The idea is to promote community, connection, and gratitude by moving away from transactions.

The practice of gift economy opens up new ways of interacting, learning, and seeing. I’ll share what I learned from the experience in the hope that it will inspire you to participate in a similar activity.

Wealth is what we give to others, not what we keep for ourselves

Instead of seeing wealth as an accumulation of money or resources, in a gift economy a person’s wealth comes from what they give to others. Anything we choose to give in the hope of meeting another person’s need is a gift. This may be material things, like money, food, or shelter. There are many other types of gifts, though: the gift of listening, the gift of art, the gift of connection. In a gift economy, wealth is our power to help others. Through giving we can accumulate goodwill, connection, and community.

My gift economy experiment: an evening course about building trust

I was inspired to try organising a gift economy event after reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. I announced an evening course about practices for building trust. I used this version of gift economy:

I offered the course as a gift with no upfront charge. Instead I invited people to apply for the course by sharing what they hoped to learn from participating.
Based on advice I found online, I emphasised that it was not a free course, and shared the needs I was hoping to meet through organising it. This included the direct costs of hiring the venue, and my non-financial needs like introductions to people who’d like to attend my events, feedback on the course activities, and help organising conferences.
At the end of the course I asked the participants to reflect on their gratitude, and to give in way that aligned with it.
I clarified my motivation: I organise because I want to learn

When I tell people about this experiment, many appear to object, saying, “but you need to make a living somehow!” This reminds me how foreign the concept of gifting is in today’s capitalist culture. Yes, I need to make a living somehow. It doesn’t follow that I need to make money from every activity I take part in!

Offering the course as a gift helped me to clarify my motivations. I realised that I was organising the course to meet my needs for learning, growth, and understanding. Although events and training are the focus of my work, this event wasn’t about making a living. It was about learning how to run workshops where people can practise communication techniques. Discovering this changed my attitude towards the participants. Instead of seeing them as people who wanted to benefit from my expertise, I was grateful to them for facilitating my learning.

I was surprised to find that letting people know what gifts I’d like to receive created a dynamic of mutuality. Asking for what I need makes me vulnerable, and that encourages people to connect. The participants could see me learning during the course—including when things didn’t go to plan—which created an atmosphere based on helping each other to learn, instead of a one-way exchange of knowledge. I spent most of the final session getting feedback from the participants about what worked and what I could change in the future. Because of the gifting vibe, this didn’t seem out of place.

Gift economy enables events that wouldn’t be feasible otherwise

Participants at my other events have their places funded by their organisations, which limits the number of people who attend. My events are about practices for building trust, an area that many people think is important. The problem is that their organisations have difficulty funding it, because it doesn’t fit their concept of “professional development.”

Gift economy reverses the situation. People participate because they want to, and the question of who provides funds is secondary. It also reduces risk, because people don’t need to determine the value of the course before they’ve experienced it. At the end they choose what donation to make, whether monetary (paid by their organisation for some) or another type of gift. This experience helped me realise that many more events are feasible under this arrangement than under the transactional model.

Gifts create relationships

Giving and receiving gifts—rather than transactions—creates the conditions for a relationship. As well as more than covering the direct costs of the event, every single participant offered to volunteer at my larger events—something I always need help with. At the end of the course, I asked each of them to keep in touch—something we say a lot, perhaps—but this time I believe it’s likely to happen.

Next steps

If you’d like to organise an event in the gift economy style, read the post by Marie Goodwin that I used to get started, and check out Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.

I’m organising several gift economy events in 2016, including a series of evening courses and an event about transition. For details, subscribe to my mailing list or contact me.

This post was originally published on the Impact Hub King’s Cross blog.

Faster than a speeding bullet! Why Superman does what he does…


A story well told

Telling a story well as a film is not easy. And yet more and more people want to try and be storytellers. Some feel the need to express the personal experience of scars: pain, adventure, life detours, wonder, feelings.  Others do it for work. 

Pull Back to Reveal: Story is the mega-trend, it is everybody’s business.  

We are defined by our vision, our will and the hard choices we need to make in the face of conflict. When a person doesn’t stop trying, their vulnerability is exposed. Sooner or later meaningful connections develop, and story grows in the shared space of relationships.

To me a story well told, and worth telling, is, simple and smart. By “smart ” I mean a story  with a cinematic DNA, with the energy to connect the feeble light of our fragile optimism with the dark shadows of human nature.

At Cinemahead many projects are DIY style, home-made or personal. Are you are on a storytelling path?  What are you working on? Where do you plan to go with it?

Let it grow. 

“The War of the Worlds” If you don’t hoax, who will?

Listen or read the Orson Wells radio on “TheWar of the Worlds.”. The sci-fi sceneario of alien invasion became a surprise hoax radio show in 1938. Today, pulling off an event like this seems unlikely, for  a few reasons:

a) This storytelling genius was so precocious smart and prolific as to make a thread of absolute masterpieces, only to get blackballed for good by the industry of fear. There are few people like Orson Wells around today.

b)  The story of alien pods landing in New Jersey farms  was told in a no-TV environment where fact-checking was impossible. Today news data travels faster than gossip and secrets pop like GMO corn.

3) There hasn’t been a good hoax in a while. Too many hoax-check sites out there.

Here is THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – SCRIPT – Orson Welles & the Mercury Theratre on the Air

danny alegi

Ps – make a #littlesecretfilm.