The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

A Commercial With a Perfect Structure

In just 30 seconds this TV commercial for The Guardian - Point of View - brilliantly manages to include all four points of view necessary to tell a complete story. The reason is the power of perspective in storytelling.
1) The first point of view is of the skinhead. He’s noticed something.

2) ´┐╝The second is of the establishment figure, with a briefcase and trilby. This was dated even in 1986, but is very concise story telling. The director defines the character as concisely as he or she did with the skinhead’s outfit.

3) Finally there’s the Overall Story - the businessman is being saved by the skinhead from the falling bricks. But that wide shot also includes the 4) Relationship perspective - as those two characters fall together against the wall, there’s the hint of the relationship that has instantly developed between them (about the nature of misunderstanding).

What’s special about this commercial is that even though it’s very short, it feels complete.

The commercial’s tag line is that “it’s only when you get the whole picture that can you fully understand what’s going on”. But in truth it works because it includes all four perspectives that you need fully understand and feel what’s going on. The overall story is about understanding, the other three are about feeling. If one of those perspectives were missing then the commercial would work far less well.

The reason you need all four perspective is because that is what's needed for a complete experience.

The four essential perspectives are - They, I, You, Us

You have:
The Overall Story Perspective - What's happening to Them
This is the overall story where you can see all the characters and how they are interacting. In Western story telling it’s often called the plot - what is happening to them. In the commercial it’s the one that shows you what’s really going.

The Main Character Perspective - The Me perspective
This is the subjective, emotional perspective on the story. It gives the audience the chance to experience the story through the eyes of the main character, feeling what they feel, making their own choices with them. In this story I’d judge the main character to be the businessman - the one you might empathise with.

The Influence Character Perspective - The You perspective
This character is important as it challenges the Main Character to consider their perspective. They won’t change unless they are made to. The Main Character and Influence Character can sometimes be swapped round for emphasis.

The Relationship Perspective - Our perspective
This is the perspective that looks at the nature of the relationship between the Main and Influence Characters - what they experience during and after the rescue.

The power of a great story is this. Meaning comes from both perspective and context. For each perspective on the problem you show a different way of looking at the problem. That combination of perspective and approach makes a story feel rich and complete - you have explored a problem in every possible way.

1) The business man sees the problem because of a fixed attitude or prejudice. Up to the point when we have the overall shot we subjectively identify with him, and to me that's what makes him the main character. If we didn't identify with him, we wouldn't feel the shock at the conclusion.

2) The skinhead is the influence character, coming at us. He sees the solution to the problem in his actions - he is running to physically protect the businessman.

3) & 4) The final two perspectives combine two ways to understand the problem - The relationship (there’s a sense that they are talking about a sense of misunderstanding or miscomprehension). And finally the overall story we see the whole situation, the complete circumstances of the event.

Those four perspectives in a complete story are what makes it so powerful. At 25 seconds this commercial snaps into focus all four perspectives in a way that has kept it memorable almost 30 years later.

It's a remarkable achievement.