“Habanero” by Justin Baez

Here’s a well-told story that pulls us along with some creative and entertaining visual cues and underlying questions.


In his book “Directing the Story”, Francis Glebas makes a big point about dramatization through questions. “We direct the audience’s attention to ask narrative questions by providing stories in which they wish to know what will happen next,” Glebas says. Sparking questions like “Will the main character get the girl?” “Will he reach his goal?” “Why isn’t she telling the cops about that part of her evening?” get the audience involved and caring about the outcome. Good films tell stories about characters who we, the audience, care about. Those characters live through challenging experiences that we can experience vicariously, and because we care about the characters we want to know what will happen. We have a vested interest in the outcome because we care about the character.

Who is Glebas? He is a filmmaker and storyboard artist for Walt Disney Studios. He’s also taught and consulted on storytelling and storyboarding. Glebas knows something about crafting good stories.

In this short “Habanero,” Baez introduces his main character in a barroom setting, talking with his buddies. The barroom set-up provides enough backstory to bring the characters to life. We learn that the main character is a married guy who, when he was unemployed for a spell, wanted to help take the load off of his working wife by cooking some chile for her. She gives him precise instructions and – right at that point – I started to formulate some questions that pulled me into the story. What is this guy going to do to the recipe? What is going to go wrong?

The film progresses and I realize my initial questions and line of thought were off-base. Without giving too much away, I find myself replacing my original set of questions with alternatives — and now I’m really hooked. I definitely want to see this guy work out of the situation he’s in. I just don’t know where this is going to lead. What a great place to be as a storyteller: you’ve hooked your audience with an interesting character, someone the audience can relate to and care about, and you’ve placed your character in a challenging situation that he’s got to work his way out of. Keep the character’s actions true to his personality, and like Baez you can lead us wherever you want to go.

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