Category Archives: Art

Building Better Banter

Based on Patrick King’s “The Art of Witty Banter: Be Clever, Quick & Magnetic”

The Basics Part I

Tool 1: Never Use Absolutes

“What’s your favourite movie, ice cream, meal?”
Instead, use stream of consciousness, free associations, connections based on particular nouns/topics discussed.

Tool 2: Canned Invitations Questions

Q: How are you? A: “I’m swinging in an hammock!”
Q: How was your weekend? A: “[describe something funny]”
Q: Where’d you go to school? A: “[partying 80% studying 20%]”
Q: Where are you from? A: “[the prairie skies…minus 40.]”
Q: Do you have siblings? A: “[one sis, two bros..lot-a-sharing]”
Q: What do you do? A: “[I help financial traders click better]”
Q: What did you study? A: “[people, places and beers]”

Tool 3: Double Answers

Step 1 – provide a layman’s answer that is short, unique and fun. “I pack and send wallets for a living!” “This weekend I sailed my parents sailboat chanting limericks and avoiding siblings.”
Step 2 – provide the expert answer. “I’m the CEO of a men’s apparel company.” “Sailing since I was 12, like riding a bike.”


Don’t want to appear too knowledgeable or elitist in Step 2

The Basics Part II

Tool 4: Always Stay Positive

Lead with: “Yes!”, “Agreed!”, “Totally!”, “Awesome!”
Avoid: “Nope!”, “Yeah But!”, “Wrong!”, “The opposite!”
Compliment things that the person can control: clothing, hairstyle, accessories, world view, their ideas, how they solve/tackle a problem, weight loss…..
Do not compliment eyes, ears, face, body as the person cannot really control those things, (also inappropriate).
Flattery can quickly become ham fisted and lame, avoid it.

Tool 5: Pay Attention to how they want to be perceived

Call out when some one has put in a lot of effort.
“You kept working on that project, we love it!”

  • Don’t use absolutes, use generalizations…no right answers.
  • Reactions are important, mirror the emotions that the other person is expressing, this brings them onside.
  • Use free associations in the conversation; keywords!
  • Double answer: layman answer and expert answer.
  • Give people complements on the things they control.

Witty Banter Part I

Tool 1: Don’t Be Too Literal
  • So the idea here is to be more playful in your conversation, less literal and less serious. Use conversation as a way to have fun with people rather than share information or facts.
  • Something that is noteworthy and gets their attention is more valuable than a straightforward answer, in most circumstances.
  • Make sure you actually answer the question so that you’re humorous and informative.
Tool 2: Witty Comeback
  • When you come back should be done with an indifferent tone, in the way that perhaps James Bond might use, after just defeating a villain. “Positively shocking!”
  • Focus on specific words that the person uses. And exploit those words. Re-interpret them in a new way. Intentionally mis-interpret their statements.
  • For example, Statement: you’re as slow as a glacier….could be interpreted as. Comeback: you mean I’m strong and cool under pressure?
Tool 3: Amplify the Statement to a ridiculous degree
  • “You look like a girl” Can be responded with “Am I a charming girl?”

Witty Banter Part II

Tool 3: Banter Chain
  • The key is to stop taking things at face value and start intentionally misinterpreting the statement for goofy results.
  • The best way to break the mold in small talk is to play dumb and misconstrue what the other person’s point was.
  • You can achieve quite a lot in your banter by agreeing and then going beyond and amplifying what they had said to create a banter chain. For example, Statement: I love the colour of that cat. Reply: “so you think that cat is sexy huh?” Answer: “Yeah, I think that cat sexy I can go on a date with that cat.” Question: “where would you take the cat?” Answer: “I’d take that cat dancing all night, cats are nocturnal after all.”
Tool 4: Exaggeration Is an Effective Technique
  • For example if you say I’m really hungry I could eat this whole meal myself, the other person could reply oh I could eat a horse;
  • Make sure the exaggeration is extreme: “I’ll call you when you get home.” A: “Well, I don’t know how I don’t know if they have phones on the moon….”

Play In Conversation Part I

Tool 1: Break the Fourth Wall
  • Commenting on the conversation itself.
  • Acknowledge something about the conversation. Full meta!
  • “This conversation just took a fun turn…”
  • “I apologize for talking so much about this topic…”
  • Be positive: “Franky, I don’t know where this conversation is going but I like it!”
  • Us against the World: “Have you noticed something…?”
Tool 2: Fall Back Stories
  • Fall back stories should be universal. Never use absolutes…..
  • Four distinct parts
  • The bridging sentence “You know what I heard yesterday…”
  • The story “One of my friends proposed to her boyfriend, didn’t want to wait…”
  • Your opinion of the story “I thought, well, it’s 2021…”
  • What their opinion of the story “Would you accept a proposal like that?”
  • Just transition from a dead convo: “Want to know something interesting that happened yesterday?” or “You won’t believe what happened?”
  • Story points out some basic emotions, story telling. It’s not even about the story…what is the primary emotion and point!!!
  • My opinion: “You want to have a positive interpretation.” It’s key to be positive… 
  • Opinion: “Would I do that?” You need multiple questions to prime the conversation.

Play In Conversation Part II

Tool 3: Role Play

Get the creative mind flowing, how would you proceed with this story?

  • Make a judgement about someone, that contrasts with you. “You are great at navigating”
  • Give them a label in a statement made. “Chris Columbus of Round Lake.”
  • Start playing the role: the modern Chris Columbus. Then you play out the role conversationally. 
  • Then continue with the fake set of questions…Chris Columbus would you travel to the moon?
  • Breaking the fourth wall;
  • Use against the world technique;
  • Short fall back stories to test how they would react;
  • Role playing….take on generic roles and then follow up the role play.

Funny on Command

Tool 1: The Comic Triple
  • List two things that are positive (negative) and then one negative (positive).
  • Audiences expect the third to align with the other. This surprise causes laughter
  • [good things], [good thing] and [bad things].
  • Greeks gave us science, democracy and little cubes of charred meat that taste like sweat. – Big Bang Theory
Tool 2: Misdirection

Stating something in the first part and then the true sentiment in the second part.
I love dogs except seeing, hearing or touching them.

Tool 3: Sarcasm
  • Usually to exaggerate the situation to the absurd…
  • Make sure you do this dead pan…
  • Oh that would be the end of the world…
Tool 4: Irony
  • The opposite of what was intended. Observing contrasts.
  • Ironic Simile: “As a sad as a dog with a bone.”
  • “As flexible as a brick.”

Captivating Stories

Tool 1: The Power of Three

We have an innate desire to hear things in threes the human brain is drawn to patterns of three, the three little pigs, the three bears, the holy Trinity and the three branches of government. Etc etc.

Tool 2: MiniStory

You have to recognize them in our daily stories.
Storytelling is telling someone what happened.
We must draw and tell stories from our daily lives.

Tool 3: The Story Spine – 8 Elements
  1. “Once upon a time there was _.” You lay out the characters…
  2. “Every day, _.” You lay out their world…
  3. “One day _.” dilemma one….
  4. “Because of that, _.” dilemma two….
  5. Because of that, _. (and so on) dilemma three…
  6. “So….” dilemma four….
  7. “Until finally _.” Climax
  8. And every day after that _. You provide the moral of the story at the end which signals you’re done telling the story
    The High Point of a conversation could be referenced at a future point in the conversation which creates an inside angle between you and the person you’re talking with
    Asking the right questions in a conversation is critical by asking the right questions you’re able to elicit storytelling so frame your question as though it requires a story and you’ll get more out of your partner.
    One ask for a story to be brought as to what you were asking give them multiple prompts
    Ask them for an emotional angle.

Ken Burns on Documentary Film Making

Learn By Doing! Get Out There!

First of all, we tell stories to keep the wolves from the door, mortality, according to Ken Burns. Life is short. There is no solution to learning other than to go and do, which is the best way to learn. There are no rules about films. Ken Burns has been doing it for 46 years, and he does not believe in formulas in documentary films, there is no formula. The only formula is Doing + Learning = Growing.

The Renaissance of Documentary from the 1980s to Present

There are so many documentaries that have emerged in the last few decade that has put the genre on the map. And notice that there is no orthodoxy. Errol Morris, Michael Moore, Al Gore and Werner Hertzog all doing their own things in this genre. Again, no formula. Ken Burns does not do his own narration and / or ask questions on camera.

The Brooklyn Bridge

He felt that biography of Washington Roebling for the Brooklyn Bridge was important. It was emotional. You have to have faith in yourself. That project was Ken Burn’s first in 1981. He had a shoestring budget to make it happen. And a Ken Burns documentary takes especially long, hence he left New York to finish the film and moved to New Hampshire where the cost of living was much more reasonable.

Know Your Creative Goals

  1. Is this what you want to do?
  2. No one is going to give me the budget, you have to beg, borrow and steal!

Transcend: film-making is industrial anxiety, there are 100s of things that can go wrong. You need to welcome the unanticipated problems. You need to have patience.

Be a Jack of All Trades

  • Writer, sound designer, fundraiser, marketing, and you will give your spiritual life to be a good film maker. Don’t let it be one single skill that you possess: be well-rounded, inquisitive.
  • Documentary filmmaking is highly collaborative. You need a good cinematographer and a good writer. A film project cannot be a one person program. You have to make your own career path, what are you willing to do for your art go commercial or go public funding, it will still be your art.

Research Everything, Even While You Build the Story

Your model / filter of past is going to be challenged. The opposite view is possible. The Vietnam War ($30M budget) humiliated Ken Burns with new facts. Conventional wisdom is harmful to truth. You have to tell the true story of the Vietnam War which is more nuanced then Ken Burns realized in the outset…same with his audience. That particularly documentary being probably the most important since the Civil War.

The Drama of the Truth

How far can you go with art before you mess with the truth? What have I done in the service of cinema in order to tell the truth? Inclusion and exclusion are both part of the story. There has to be a human act of faith in selecting what is included.

There is no such thing as objectivity. There are a completely different realities and you then have to average things out, according to Burns. Human experience is human experiences (plural) and as you gather them you can more clearly understand that moment. You need to take a certain license, however. The truth is you have may be challenged by a lack of evidence whether it be photographic or otherwise.

The TED Radio Hour: Manipulation

Manipulation is Part of Art

Contradiction is very common in reality. Be manipulative in your story telling. You shouldn’t see manipulation as evil. You need to be manipulative. How do you get along? Manipulation gets the shooting done. If you aren’t manipulative then you are deceiving yourself first and everyone else second.

The Civil War Script

Proposal script for the Civil War had certain sections pre-written before production. You need to write a treatment of your story. You then need to lay out the parameters.

Money is the most governing thing: money is very important.

  1. government,
  2. individual funders,
  3. corporate funding.

You could also develop a bankable story. You need to make the audience no longer understand. Ken Burns’ team writes a lot of proposals.

You have to be realistic budget: how much does it cost for the sound people, editing, you have to pay yourself. Push through: the made a good food, Ken Burns is fundraising and being told 1500 times and 15 times told yes. So Ken Burns is a sales guy in effect.

Structuring the Document Narrative

  • You want to know how it can be told. We are under the powers of story telling.
  • Archival information is critical to historical documentary: you need to follow leads.
  • You shouldn’t look at the great men of history; look at the bottom up and the top down. You should look for the home movies, for example in Vietnam. For example, in The Vietnam War documentary a solider sends home videos back home from the front and the towns people.

Shaping Nonfiction Characters

Liberate the characters of the heroes and villains model. Abe Lincoln, he attacked the US constitution. The Civil War is morally complex.

Layered Characters Drive Narrative

It’s most effective if your audience thinks the character should make other decisions than the ones they make.

Many light bulbs drawn on colorful sticky notes.

Visualize Your Story Boards

He had the episode of using the post it; then they do these different modes in the story.

Balance Larger Themes with Individuals

  • Good writing is easier building blocks for a better story, you have to have good writing to back the rest of the experience.
  • Narration is based on 3rd person in Ken Burns films. Ken Burns did not invent narration in documentary film. Do not be afraid of narratives. The word and imagine together are more powerful than the sum of their parts.

The 3rd Person Narrative

  • Words are not set in stone. There will be many drafts. and then you do a blind session. Does the structure makes sense. Then you do a blind assemblies of the voice over and then the visuals.
  • Using caveats which is “may have been” qualifications. Slavery was abhorrent, but the statistics are abstract. 4 out 100 lived passed the age of 60. Born in a shed, most children died before age 12, if they did survive they would work in the fields.

Ken Burns Loves Still Photos

Trust the audience to be more engaged. I will invest those limitations. Ken Burns is an effect is not about giving people a slideshow. The psychological response to a picture.

Imaginative Symbolism

  • Word and Image is (1 + 1 = 3): Mirror illustration, have the words and the picture talk to each other. We look for the obvious but try to find the dissonant and different because you will find new meaning in it
  • Jack Johnson Unforgivable Blackness. These past moments rhyme perfectly, for Ken Burns, with what is going on right now in the US.
  • Selective Interview Subjects: Burns interviewed 1,000 interviewees and got only 100 interviews. Some people don’t want to have stumbling, some people clam up.
  • Be Honest and Persistent: being completely transparent.

Conducting an Interview

  • Stay Open to Possibilities: you don’t know what is going to
  • Conducting an Interview: be very nervous in the interview, be humble. If it doesn’t work, then take the blame and or say we moved in another direction. Ken Burns asks the subject to insert the question into their answer so that editing-wise his voice never has to appear in any of the films. You want to break down the wall and get them to drop their barriers.
  • Honour your interview subject: you should conduct an interview like you planned to meet him.
  • Stories Greater Than Facts: The facts aren’t as important as the story about the curiosities. About the stories in the war.
  • Ken Burns, does not treat his interviewees as transactional. Use your own imagination to effect emotional connection to the audience.
  • Ken Burns uses live cinematography that are still shots. The magic hour is the sun setting light.
  • Steal Shots: Sometimes you have to steal the shot if you can’t get access to the a certain area.
  • Lighting an Interview: make sure that you have eye line, don’t include anything other than the subject. Focus in on the face of the person.
  • Shoot Interviews with A Light Crew…just easier.
  • Music is the Quickest to Feeling Art: music should not be an afterthought. Start to use particular themes in the key moments of the film. Get most favoured nation deals for the music. Ashokan Funeral was actually write in the 1980s but the instruments were of that area.
  • Editing Process: Trust your editors….Ken Burns actually doesn’t edit his own films these days.
  • Blind Assembly: worked on the narration, then you just hear a radio play. So you can then start to add the picture.
  • Messy Full Research Document: The first assembly, it should be very messy. There should be a daunting task to make the film to make it an actual film. Take it piece by piece.
  • Authenticity: You need to make sure that you convince the audience that this is another new thing, not a summary of someone else’s story.
  • Private Viewing: You need to follow up with the historical advisors. And then have a lot of bodies there to review the film before launch. Take very particular negative feedback and fix it, don’t give them scripts for the film or they will read that rather than watch the film.

Editing: A Process

  • It is the principles: You want to be able to edit your answer on how was your day. Tell a story. Not all 1,440 minutes of it.
  • Tempo In Art: You need to triage the quality of the film, it’s not about imposing yourself. Documentary film making is absolutely a tempo on the screen on musical notation, a film must be rhythmic.
  • The Vietnam War Introductory: The blind assembly is key, you have the dramatic structure. Scratch narration (use your own voice) until you have the best voice in town Peter Coyote..
  • It’s the personal story and intimacy of the character that people remember.
  • The Recording and Using Voice Over: the most important narrator has to be confident. Peter Coyote has to inhabit the non-journalist voice. You do not want to have the dramatic voice be done by a celebrity unless the content is able to flip the audience over so that they are in the scene, and can’t recognize the voiceover as a result. You want the front row lens in.
  • Rank the Quality of Performance in Real-Time: Give the narrator the script and then circle the narration runs that you liked in rank order.
  • Never Record the Voice Over to the Pictures: record to the words.
  • Sound Design: there is a lot of video footage without sound so Ken Burns has to create that. There are 175 recorded sounds in the Tet Offensive sequence of The Vietnam War.
  • The Artist’s Responsibility: it is the artists responsibility to lead the audience to hell but also to led them out.
  • Allow Moral Dissonance to Occur: interesting people populated most people. You should not self-select away. It’s not one thing or the other. There are strong divisions in the United States because it is such a vast country.
  • Decide Your Outlet: Distribution is needed. You want the most number of the people. Ken Burns learned that you give the film to PBS and it gets scale.

Evangelize the Film / Aspiration to Action

  • Allow the audience to assign their own meaning. You want the audience to have a conversation with you and they are continuing a conversation that they are having that conversation with you.
  • You need to go out there, nothing happens unless you start. You need to make the phone call to make sure you find that support. You need to jump over the chasm from aspiration to action. Don’t let your mind crush the idea, do something to get started.