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The Art Of Turning An Interview & B-roll Into A Story

We’ve learned a few things along the way and wanted to share our experience with creating stories that matter. Let’s start with the subtle difference between telling a compelling story vs. laying some b-roll over interview footage, a nuance often overlooked when creating a documentary video.

First off, the medium of video can be tricky; it requires careful planning to strategically reveal the truths of an organization in a genuine and authentic manner. One reason it can be tricky is because the management team may feel like the video must literally meet their communications objectives. In the worst form the CEO uses the video to list the benefits of their organization; we’ve heard this referred to as the program trap.

Another reason creating video can be tricky is because what your audience wants (a funny, interesting, enlightening story they can share) appears to be at odds with what the CMO wants (the direct communication of key product/ service messaging and brand positioning. ) Crafting a great story means always putting the audience first and resisting the temptation to list product/service benefits; the result will be a meaningful story instead of a piece that seems like marketing fluff. We’ve interviewed several established SF artists over the past few months and they’ve all mentioned their desire to use their art to pose a question that invites audiences to respond. Creating a good video should do the same; otherwise you risk the video becoming just another sales pitch that gets tuned out.

We’ve had great success with Impact stories because they accomplish both of these goals: 1. They make an emotional connection with the audience with the help of a single, focused captivating story; and 2. They employ a documentary style approach to communicate messaging themes, benefits and positioning by capturing the success of an organization through the story of an individual who has been positively impacted by the work they are doing.

So, you ask; how does one go about developing creative strategy for telling your organization’s story?

One simple recipe is: choose one person per video who has been positively impacted by your organization; tell their story. Doing this in practice, however, is more complicated than it sounds. Using video means telling your story in three minutes or less. Doing this effectively requires that you don’t spread yourself thin by jamming multiple characters into a single video. Making an emotional connection means creating a connection between your audience and a person you’ve selected. If done well, they will show the impact your organization through their story.

Creating a video that tells a story takes planning.

There are a lot of businesses that have templates for quickly banging out corporate films. We recommend a more creative approach that is rooted in ethnography and is research based. You don’t make videos by showing up one day, conducting an interview and then shooting some b-roll to lay over it.

We are firm believers in the pre-interview and scheduling what we call an “ethnography day.” We recommend spending time in your subjects environment to meet the people whose lives you’ve affected. In the process you’ll uncover individual stories that you can focus on as you begin to plan the film.

Focusing on an individual’s story is what helps you make an emotional connection with your audiences.

From a filmmaking perspective, discovering these specific stories before the shoot and pre-planning certain elements of how this video will unfold allows us to craft a story that has a beginning, middle and end, develops a character, deploys a narrative structure, and allows for the opportunity to set up a conflict and resolution. These are the things that make your story rememberable and more importantly shareable. This captures your audience by humanizing what your organization does.

No one wants to share a story that falls for the program trap (a strung together series of self-congratulating quotes from the executive team who explain how great they think the work they’re doing is,) which is why we seek to find compelling singular stories that reveal the truths of your organization. We don’t pre-script any of the stories, however, we have used story guides to maintain strategic direction and stay focused with our approach for capturing your story.

Our goal in creating documentary style brand films is to create a product that is 100% genuine and authentic to your organization. If your organization has many different stories to tell we recommend creating a series of documentary shorts each highlighting a key individual. We understand the value of communications strategy but we seek to incorporate key messages that reach target audiences as a sub layer that drives branding instead of the outwardly facing story. There is great value in developing a creative overlay that brings these messages to life. Our approach is to develop existing individual stories that enable you to make an emotional connection while at the same time representing the greater mission and vision of your organization.

Embrace specific, individual stories that bring the greater story of your organization to life. This is a strategy for creating compelling videos that people want to share. The antithesis of this approach would be a PSA video where the organization’s executive team cite facts that describe how great their company is.

We’ve successfully done this for The Marine Mammal Center and eBay Motors. We had success with these stories because our clients were willing to let others (volunteers, vets & dealers) tell their story for them. Another technique we’ve observed for developing a good story is showing your willingness to learn, adapt and grow. A businesses who can learn and evolve has a true story of innovation to tell.

Another technique that we’ve had tremendous success with is creating a video with the right proportion of breathing time. Similar to the way a good photographer pays attention to compostion; a good filmmaker pays attention to breathing time. Very simply put, breathing time is the part of the video that doesn’t have any voice over. A common mistake in a short 3 minute video is to jam as many words into the story as possible. Resisting this temptation exponentially improves the quality of your film. It makes every sentence that is used have more meaning and also gives the audience time to digest and reflect on what has been said. Successfully employing this technique is the difference between a good film and a great film.

The other reason the documentary style brand short is an extremely effective mode of communication is because it allows your brand to begin the journey of assembling branded content. In an age of transparency and connectedness using the documentary style approach to tell your story is a powerful way to inspire your audiences!

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