Student Reflection – Ever After (3.1)

Ever After was the first digital media project we were assigned in ENG 4110 Digital Storytelling. I began the semester planning to recreate the short story I wrote over the winter into a digital story. Sometime during its creation, Ever After became an entirely different project. My core idea was to explore the world of a young narrator, one who has lived knowing that she will die at a young age. Ever After can be seen as the narrator’s response to the question, “Are you afraid to die?” The answer is “No.” The narrator has had a lot of time to think about her inevitable death and, more importantly, what death will mean for her. It will not be an “end,” as the definition of death states, but rather the beginning(s) of something new. Death will give her the chance to experience all the things she has never had the chance to because of her circumstances.

My first task was to find a way to express this idea through visuals and audio. First, I set out to make a clear distinction between the narrator’s life (and the common conceptions of death that she does not agree with) and her death (which she romanticizes). To articulate this, I decided to use only black and white photos and a monotonous heartbeat for life to contrast with the explosion of color and titillating music that accompanies her explanation of what death will be like for her.

I mainly wanted to express this idea of freedom and surrealism with the 2nd half of the video starting at 1:44. I chose to use underwater photography for two reasons. One, because underwater photography is gorgeous and embodies the romantic dream state that is the complete opposite to the cold normalcy of everyday life. I have always found water to be representative of freedom—it is always flowing and always changing, much as the narrator imagines her death to be. Water is also representative of life, which also coincides with the narrator’s thesis in a way: that her life will not really begin until after her death, which is why, towards the end at 3:49, I used Zena Holloway’s lipsand roll, because the model’s pose is fetal. I did not want this to present rebirth in the samsarasense, but rather, the birth of the lives the narrator might have had if it were not for her current circumstances, the lives she will only have the chance to experience after death.

It was not until after I started revising my project for publication that I seriously had to stop and consider every word of dialogue and what ideas they may be presenting to the reader, in addition to the narrative being created by the visuals. When writing fiction, I tend to focus more on the sound of each word (and how it can assist in making the piece aurally pleasing as a whole) rather than on their concise meaning. Faced with the task of revising my project, I realized that this tendency was not efficient for a project where clarity is crucial for viewer engagement. And unlike the written medium, the audience has no control over the speed at which they progress through the narrative. In a written piece, the reader controls how they process the information that’s given to them—they can read and reread the words if they need to. For a project like Ever After, the audience is “listening” to my text, processing the information as it comes. With this in mind, I had to take extra care to be as concise as I could.

My second challenge was revising my script for clarity so that I would not alienate any of the viewers due to a miscommunication of my text. To do this, I made a few changes to the narrative by rewriting lines that were misleading or unclear and adding and rearranging visuals to better reflect my intention. The last thing I wanted was for a viewer to come away from watching my project and think that it was a story advocating suicide as an escape for long-term illness rather than a story romanticizing her ever after.

Ever After was at turns a joy and a nightmare to create. My hope is that the end result is something that is sensitive in regards to the subject matter, appealing in its presentation, and thought provoking for the viewer.