Personal Growth

5 Storytelling Tips From "Black Panther" Director Ryan Coogler

By now, you've probably heard of "Black Panther," which has taken the box office by storm since hitting theaters in February. The film, wrote Variety, "marks the first time that a major studio has greenlit a black superhero movie with an African-American director and a primarily black cast." The star line-up includes actors such as Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, and Forest Whitaker, among many more.

One of the minds behind the film is Ryan Coogler, a 31-year-old director who previously worked on movies like "Fruitvale Station" and the "Rocky" sequel "Creed." Coogler was able to take a popular comic and transform it for the screen, creating an epic film in the process. Here, drawn from his interviews with Variety, NPR, and Slash Film, are some of his best storytelling tips:

Treat Action Scenes Like Musicals

"I kind of look at action films like musicals, and Black Panther is definitely an action film, among other things," Coogler told Slash Film. He goes on to describe how Sylvester Stallone actually talked with him about this a lot as they were working on Creed. In musicals, emotions swell to a crescendo before the singing breaks out — and that also goes for action scenes, Coogler realized.

"We're talking, but if it gets too intense, we've gotta fight," he says. That also means that fights aren't just about cool weapons and epic scenes: they're about the characters and the emotions that they're experiencing. As a result, "each fight should feel different. Each fight should tell a different story about the characters' emotions," he said.

Pick Stories That Challenge You

In his interview with NPR, Coogler describes how Black Panther brought him closer to his roots. He traveled to the continent of Africa for the film and noted that for him, that journey was about the question, "What does it mean to be African?" Coogler goes on to tell NPR that it was a question he needed to answer about himself to make that personal connection to the film.

"It's a question that sounds specific, but it's actually universal for a lot of reasons," Coogler explains. "It's not a question you can answer with one word. But it's a question you can spend your life trying to figure out, and have fun doing it." In future, Coogler says, he hopes to continue to find problems that challenge him as an artist and person.

Perspective Is Everything

One of the gifts that cinema has is perspective and proximity to the story, Coogler told NPR. Through watching movies, you can travel and experience the life of the people the film centers on. Storytelling can be a vehicle through which you move through the world and others' eyes.

Find Your Theme — and Make Sure It's Personal

"For me, in retrospect, I realized a lot of what I deal with as an artist is with themes of identity," Coogler told Variety. "I think it's something common among African-Americans. For us, we've got a strange circumstance in terms of our view of ourselves." Coogler's trip to Africa helped him understand some of those themes even better — and that understanding is crucial for a film: "I tend to like movies where the filmmaker has a personal connection to the subject matter," he told Variety.

Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge You

Coogler tells the story of when he first sat down with Marvel to Slash Films, and they told him that they saw the film as an opportunity to be the universe's version of James Bond. The directive inspired and excited Coogler, who is a fan of that franchise and who also appreciates it when other creative minds come up with the unexpected. "I'm always impressed by creative people who have thought of something that I haven't thought of," he told Slash Films. "There's nothing that bums you out more than hearing an idea and everyone was like, 'Yeah, I was thinking that.'" But when you are working with people who can surprise and challenge you, you can also strengthen your own creativity.

Black Panther's Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene

Written by Stephanie Bucklin March 26, 2018

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