An Excerpt from MUSE, the Comprehensive Process for More Impactful Storytelling

MUSE Storytelling Process
Earlier this week, Stillmotion launched the pilot program for MUSE, their most ambitious and potentially game-changing project to date.

To recap everything that was in our first article, MUSE is a combination of an interactive online course and a physical toolset that is designed to empower filmmakers to tell more engaging, powerful stories. Even though the MUSE pilot program, which closes on Monday at 10am PST, was met with skepticism by many readers of this site, our good friends at Stillmotion wanted to give our audience an exclusive look at some of the actual content included in the course. They're insanely proud of what they've built, and they're confident that this material can help all types of filmmakers, not just folks working in the non-fiction realm of documentary and corporate, to tell more intentional stories that move audiences.

So without any further ado, here's an exclusive excerpt from Step Two of MUSE, which discusses the process of choosing Places for your story. For narrative folks, this will help you find locations, props, and situations that best suit your individual characters and story. As a quick recap of the step prior to this one, when Patrick and the gang talk about the "Heart of the story," they're referring to the lead character, the person whose uniqueness, desire, and complexity engage the audience in the story. With that out of the way, onwards to Step Two!

Why Place is Universally Important for All Filmmakers

Patrick and I chose to excerpt this specific piece of the MUSE process because the concept of Place is one of the most important parts of great filmmaking. Why, you may ask? Well, in short, because filmmaking is an inherently a visual medium. It gives us the opportunity to show the story, rather than tell it. In essence, choosing great places for your story actually enables the story to tell itself.

"As filmmakers, we work in a medium that relies heavily on visuals. We have an incredible opportunity to show our story, rather than tell it. We can craft stories that let the viewer be a witness rather than simply telling them how to feel or what to do. But to truly use story and let the viewer become a witness, we need to become a master of the 4 Layers of Place." -Patrick Moreau 

In the course, those "four layers of place" that Patrick is describing are defined as the following:

MUSE Storytelling Process: Four Layers of Place
While the course is replete with examples and case studies for how all of these concepts work together in order to form a story, perhaps the most powerful and engaging case study comes from a piece that Stillmotion produced. It's about Dave Jacka, a quadriplegic man with only 6% of his body function who, through sheer force of will, not only manages a life of relative normalcy, but who defies all odds and becomes a pilot. That in itself makes for an incredible story, but the way Stillmotion chose to capture it takes the story to another level entirely.

Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion

We could have simply interviewed Dave and asked him about how long it takes him to get into bed at night, about the hours it takes hime to put his clothes on. And we as the audience could hear just how tough it is. But when we apply the 4 Layers of Place, when we look at environments, objects, situation, and time, and consider where we can show rather than tell, a new world of possibilities springs up. Here's an example:

A wide shot of Dave’s room with all of his devices, all of the extra structures needed for him to go to bed, all in such a tight space, certainly communicates his unique struggle through his environment. A tight shot of the hook he developed to hold his wheelchair in place so he doesn’t tumble helplessly onto the floor would be an object that communicates his resilience and adaptability. Or seeing Dave actually trying to get into bed, a long hand-held shot that makes the viewer want to help, and lets us feel his struggle, would be a great example of situation. Or we could get up at 4:30am and be with Dave as he spends 3 hours preparing for the day just to make it to the air strip for sunrise—an excellent use of time to show how powerful his character is.

Dave Jacka, a Quadriplegic Pilot

My primary criticism of MUSE in my early review was that, in its current iteration, the course is designed with non-fiction filmmakers in mind. That is, the toolset it offers really caters to documentary, corporate, and event filmmakers who are pulling characters and stories out of real life. However, lessons like this previous one show how applicable it is to every kind of filmmaking. We're all trying to let stories unfold on screen, regardless of whether we're doing it with manufactured sets and characters written from scratch or with real people and places. In that sense, MUSE is absolutely universal, and it will add value to your storytelling whether you're doing corporate work or independent narrative films.

Final Thoughts On MUSE

The driving concept behind MUSE is a simple one: Speak to the heart to move the mind. As filmmakers, most of us got into this game because we have something to say, a distinct viewpoint on the world that we're driven to express through moving images and sound. The problem is that expressing things through the medium of film isn't particularly easy. Even more difficult than simply expressing a point of view is leading an audience of people, who are likely pretty stubborn (as humans tend to be), to your intended purpose. That's where the power of story comes in.

You probably remember this commercial from several years ago, when it took the internet by storm.

Video is no longer available:

Not only does this ad turn people with steely resolves into teary-eyed and warm-hearted lovers of humanity, but it's one of the greatest examples of what the MUSE storytelling framework can help people accomplish. Honestly, nobody really gives a shit about the Thai communications company that made the commercial. If it were a standard commercial, without any real story or emotion, it never would have expanded beyond the Thai airwaves. However, because the story is so powerful and universal, and because the characters are so emotionally-engaging, the audience has no choice but to go along for the ride and be led to the purpose. And at that point, when the commercial ends, you don't even care that it was a commercial. You've been enchanted by story.

Of course, we're not all making commercials. Most of us are here because we want to make art. We want to move audiences using compelling characters who embark on unlikely and extraordinary journeys, and who, against all odds, overcome seemingly unworkable obstacles. Humans are hard-wired to engage with that kind of narrative, it's just who we are. MUSE is designed to help filmmakers achieve stories like that, stories that speak to the heart of the audience.

If you're interested, the MUSE pilot program closes on Monday, June 8th at 10am Pacific, and won't reopen until later this year.     

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Your Comment


I think MUSE has a place, if you're willing to spend for it. One can sure go about teaching themselves on their own, but here is an organize course that should do well for anyone starting out in this area.

June 5, 2015 at 4:20PM


Stop moving our hands so much. It's distracting.

June 5, 2015 at 5:02PM, Edited June 5, 5:02PM

Jonathon Sendall

I agree. Not only distracting, but the presenter loses a degree of "authority" with the overly excessive use of hand movements. It's almost the Golden Rule for news anchors: "Sit still, don't use your hands."

Watch any network anchor and their hands, body and head are all kept as still as possible. Watch Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes or Melissa Harris-Perry and their hands are all over the place - which is why I quit watching them.

June 7, 2015 at 10:50PM

Harry Governick
Actor / Writer

You guys forgot the little green "SPONSORED" badge.

June 5, 2015 at 9:13PM

A. Broad

honestly i think this is a class i need but its just me no monies right now =[ took classes on everything else on film. this is my weakest link, which is also the most important!

June 5, 2015 at 9:53PM


Looks like a great course. Hand movements seem a little exaggerated and distracting though. Great work by Stillmotion nonetheless.

June 6, 2015 at 2:42AM, Edited June 6, 2:42AM

Darren Wolff
Self Shooting PD

I'm not sold on this being the most "comprehensive guide to telling a story through the medium of film that has ever been created" as No Film School claims. To me this video of step 2 just sounds like they're stating the same things I've heard in almost every screenwriting book or course ever made. "Show it, don't tell it."

June 6, 2015 at 9:23AM, Edited June 6, 9:26AM

Director, Cinematographer

Yes, every storytelling resource ever tells us to "show, not tell." But most of those resources fail to deliver tangible, actionable steps that filmmakers in particular can use to show their stories, and that's part of what makes this course so valuable. Stillmotion sure as hell didn't reinvent storytelling, but they've figured out how to distill their entire process, which is super comprehensive and has won them a pile of Emmys, into a bunch of simple steps that people can use to tell stronger stories.

June 6, 2015 at 10:45AM, Edited June 6, 10:45AM

Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom

Joined Muse a few days ago.
I haven't really started with it, but it looks and feels well thought through.
The proof is in the eating of the pudding, so I'll be eating quite some pudding the next 2 months :-p
And then we'll know whether I took a bullet for you, or that you missed out on something great ;-)

It isn't free, indeed, but I see it as an investment in my skills and thus in my company.
The MIMIC can wait a few weeks :-p
(And will stop working over time, while a deeper understanding of storytelling will never break if you stay mentally healthy ;-) )

June 7, 2015 at 9:09AM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

Thanks for joining us Walter. I think it would be great for you to come back and let others know what you think of MUSE (good or bad), share your thoughts and perhaps help others decide whether that is the right fit for them or not. We, as well as some folks here I'm sure, would love to know what you think.

And if you get the MIMIC maybe you can let us know how that works too :)


June 7, 2015 at 3:59PM

Joyce Tsang
Creative Director + DP

I've bought in at the $497 price. That's about what a decent 2-day seminar would be (including travel, hotel, etc.) and I expect to get more from MUSE than a 2-day seminar. Storytelling is often my biggest challenge as a filmmaker, so education is welcome!

June 7, 2015 at 10:33AM

Robert Bryant
Writer, Editor, Sound Designer

No Film School is selling MUSE, this article is advertising and marketing from top to toe. Anyone can see that. Can't they?

June 7, 2015 at 3:48PM


Hey Luiz - This is actually a follow-up article from a previous one where some readers suggested that NFS post a sample of the course content here for people to see so they can make a more informed decision about MUSE. So Robert reached out to us about sharing a module, we thought it was a good idea and so he did just that. He also took the whole course and wrote about this for folks who might be interested in learning more about storytelling.

Much like news about the latest camera or a new piece of software that might be helpful in post, I believe Robert wrote this so NFS readers can check it out to make their own decision to see whether it's the right fit for them or not. After all isn't that why we have community and online forums - so we can share and talk about things that are of interest to the group?


June 7, 2015 at 4:36PM

Joyce Tsang
Creative Director + DP

Interesting - I really enjoyed the video - sometimes it all felt a bit obvious, but overall interesting. I'd even pay to watch more, but $400 is just tooooo much.

June 8, 2015 at 1:22AM

Mark Whatmore


I paid for the Muse program on June 6 but have not received any links or info about registration. Is there anyway to contact someone about this? Thanks.

June 8, 2015 at 9:23AM


Maybe contact them there. There is an email link to the actual online course.

June 9, 2015 at 12:48PM


I thought this was a bad idea the first time around but I thought that this post was an attempt to disprove naysayers. Looks like it was worse than I assumed.

Stopped watching when the video said "get bored and stop watching."

My email is - If you're thinking about spending money on this. Email me first. Tell me what your goals are and where you think you're at to achieving them. I will give you books to read that I think will help.

I'll even hold my arms like a t-rex and move them a bunch if you'd like.

June 8, 2015 at 12:26PM, Edited June 8, 12:26PM

Brooks Reynolds

This is for videographers and has no place in a filmmaking community. Its actually harmful as it further blurs the line between people who show up with a camera to record events and those who use the art of storytelling to craft visual narratives.

June 9, 2015 at 6:13AM

Chris Reed

I just kept thinking Will Ferrell from "Talladega Nights"

Loved the info in it! Honestly, it's good stuff. I just didn't jibe to the presentation. You need someone with authority, not 20-somethings nasally yelling at me.

There's also a butthole icon on the set. That's just weird.

June 9, 2015 at 1:09PM


Looks like a great course

June 11, 2015 at 10:37PM