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Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

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Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Steve Grisetti » Mon Sep 15, 2008 10:29 am

At first this advice may sound too obvious to even consider - but please do consider it well. If you want to make great videos, tell a story.

Story is the difference between a bunch of random images and a meaningful video experience. It’s what sticks with your audience even when they don’t remember everything they saw or heard on your video. It’s what inspires an audience member to walk up to you after your vacation video, shake your hand and say, “Man, I really felt like I was right there with you!”

Story is the thread that holds your video together. It gives it shape, heart. Consider the difference between a generic commercial that just shows a car zipping around to a pounding rock beat and one of those brilliantly clever Volkswagen commercials. A story doesn’t have to take long to tell - but its meaning will stay with your audience for a very long time.

At its most basic, story is simply about change. It’s about how an event changes a person, a situation or a relationship. Story is about why a character at the beginning of your video is different from that character at the end. And this doesn’t mean that story is limited to narrative or fiction. If you’ve had the good fortune to see such brilliant recent documentaries as “Spellbound” or “Born Into Brothels,” you know that real stories of real people, well told, are every bit as powerful and dramatic as anything Hollywood dreams up. And there are opportunities for us to tell stories like that on video every day.

It’s always about structure

A few years ago, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, and my siblings and I decided to put together a party, including a video presentation, for them and some of their dearest friends. With the help of my sisters, I gathered dozens of great, old photos. I could very easily have just scanned in the pictures, created a slideshow, added a sentimental soundtrack and that probably would have been enough. With an event that inherently emotional, you can’t go wrong. But I decided to make the video more than just a collection of images. I decided to make it the story of their lives together. Your job, as a storyteller, is to show how the events in your movie changed everyone involved.

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The structure was simple. I conceived the video as five chapters, each one a story about a significant segment of their lives. These chapters weren’t very long. The entire video didn’t run more than 20 minutes. But each of those little four or five minute chapters told of a significant event and how it changed their lives.

The first chapter was, naturally, about how the two of them met. I gathered some photos of them growing up along with early pictures of them together, and I supplemented them some music representing the times, and then I audio interviewed with each of them describing how they came together.

Chapter two told the story of the cold January day when they got married. Chapter three told of how my dad, a construction worker, quite literally built the house that the two of them raised my sisters, brother and I in. Subsequent chapters told of the growth of their family and of how each of the children now have families of their own. It’s old but effective Hollywood advice: Tell your audience what you’re going to show them; then show them; then tell them what you showed them.

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These were simple stories. Just a brief beginning, middle and an end showing how their lives had changed as a result of the experience. But the end result left the audience with the feeling that they’d been a part of my parents’ lives together. Rather than just a photo album or a slideshow, the resultant DVD became a keepsake that merited a dozen requests for copies and which my parents still play for anyone willing to sit through it.

The reason it is so meaningful? In a word: It tells stories.

Every moment has a context

Remember that no moment happens in a vacuum. A wedding is a powerfully emotional event, but it doesn’t just happen at the altar. It’s one of the most significant event in the lives of two people. But it goes even deeper than that. A wedding doesn’t just involve a bride and groom. It’s also about the uniting of two families. A celebration with friends. If your wedding video only shows close-ups of two people exchanging vows, you’ve missed the opportunity to tell an important story. And fleshing out the context of it all is the key.

With pictures, video and interviews, tell the story of the relationship - of how it began and how it all led to this point. Get video of the families as well as their points of view. Tell how we came to this great point in these people’s lives.

Show your audience where these events are happening, who is watching, what time of day, what the weather is like, etc. An establishing shot - a wide shot of the scene or an outdoor shot of the building - gives your audience a feeling for the context of the events.

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Show the preparation for the ceremony and party. Get lots of establishing shots – the outside of the church and/or reception hall and/or the house. Show the weather, the season, the time of day. And, during the ceremony, while you’re shooting the ceremony, make sure someone else is getting reaction shots from the guests. There’s much more going on here than simply the bride and groom exchanging vows. Be sure to get the tear in the eye of the father of the bride. Mom’s glowing face. The groomsman flirting with the maid of honor. It’s all part of the story. And the more you include, the more rich, real and powerful the whole video experience will be.

Remember our golden rule: Story is about the difference between where your video begins and where it ends up. Show a man and woman exchanging vows and you’ll have a record of an event. Show how that event changed them and everyone involved and you’ll tell a great story that everyone will treasure forever!

What’s the meaning of this?


Last year, after a lifetime of dreaming about it, my family and I had the opportunity to go to northern Italy and to visit my grandfather’s home town. I could easily have shot the whole thing as a travelogue and it would have worked. The scenery is beautiful, the train rides exciting and the people are charming. But this trip was so much more to me than scenery and train rides and colorful characters. It was about a search for my roots, about meeting family I’d never met before, about overcoming language differences and finding our commonalities and, above all, about walking the very streets my grandfather had walked a century before. I knew that the key to making my video vital was somehow conveying those meanings in it.

I ran video almost continuously, capturing those precious moments when my American family and my Italian family first exchanged clumsy but effective greetings. I shot as much of the context as I could. The scenery. The tour of the house and the wonderful little details like the exchanging of gifts and the serving of meals.

And through it all, I kept in mind my throughline: This was the story of a journey back to the place that my grandfather had left a century ago. I took every opportunity to interview my hosts about the town, about my grandfather and about what it must have been like to leave a place like this, with no idea what lay ahead, knowing he’d likely never return.

When it came time to edit my hours of footage, I kept that throughline in mind. I made sure the spirit of my grandfather - or at least a sense of family – was in nearly every scene. I added map graphics, old photos of my grandfather and his family, appropriate music and narration - and, where necessary, subtitles.

Narration can help pull a story together and explain things that may not be immediately apparent. But more so, in this case, it personalized the story that was being told.

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Don’t just show what happened. Show why the moment has meaning and relevance.I wanted this to be my story, told from my point of view. And so, wherever possible, I added narration explaining what was going on and why the events I’d recorded meant so much to me. When the video shows our arrival by train in Mozzate, it’s clear that this is a deeply spiritual moment for me and for my family.

And, whenever possible, I let the scene itself tell the story. When my Italian “cousin” shows me the house where my grandfather was born or the basin at the 500 year old church where my grandfather and her grandmother were baptized, the moments I was able to capture are intimate, touching and powerful. And so I let them play as is.

The final DVD tells a single, cohesive story. Rather than being a collection of random travelogue-style sequences or a look at the scenery and people of Italy, it becomes our deeply personal story - a story of how we were all changed by these recorded events in real and powerful ways. The success of this project was told in the greatest compliment a videographer could receive: “I felt like I was right there with you guys, Steve.” Success!

By the way, those hours of video I shot cut down to a DVD that runs less than half an hour. The sequence in Mozzate runs a little over 10 minutes. Just a reminder that your video doesn’t haven’t be long to tell a good story well. And, in fact, brief pieces with strong themes often have the most powerful impact.

And in conclusion

Finally, remember that nothing sums up a video like literally summing up the video. A concluding quote - whether shown as a title card, or heard as final thoughts via narration or a key clip from an interview - can really bring the meaning of your entire video home for your audience.

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Summing your movie up, with either a final quote, a final clip from an interview or even concluding narration (especially with a brief montage of clips from the preceding movie), can leave a lasting impression on your audience and can really bring home the meaning of your piece.
It literalizes everything that makes the story you have just told a story: the meaning, the significance, how the events you’ve just shown changed everyone involved.

Those final words give your audience something to take away from the whole experience. A chance to review the events they’ve just witnessed in their minds and to consider why the moments you’ve just shared with them were worth the time, effort and cost of producing this movie. A way to make the theme and story resonate with the audience long after the movie ends and the lights come up.

It’s a trick that’s long been used by the pros in Hollywood but, like many Hollywood tricks, it’s one well worth finding inspiration in.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby dalelpaq » Sun Sep 21, 2008 5:04 am

I agree of course that telling a story is where it's at. It's also where I have a problem. As an "older" videographer, I both have no friends with even an iota of interest in making videos and am out of touch with younger people willing to appear in one I make. As a result, I'm always looking for stories with no people in them (not really interested in documentaries and nature films)! One concept I'm pursuing is telling a story in the 1st person so that I'm the "star" but not actually in it. Then using shadows and other effects, eliminate the need for actors all together. I'd be interested in viewing other's videos who are dealing with the same problem, no actors available.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Briantho » Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:01 pm

Great advice Steve, thanks!

A few times a year I film (using the two camcorder technique) a few evenings of local amateur opera and at the editing stage several times, during the overture, I've superimposed footage taken during rehearsals, set construction, the move-in, costumes, make-up, behind the scenes panic etc. The story is how it all came together. In fact, for the most recent production I 'pinned' the footage on the stage curtain so at the bottom of the screen you can see the orchestra playing but the footage looks as if it's being projected onto the curtain. It also makes it a bit more interesting for all the support people to see themselves somewhere in the production.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby cdeemer » Sun Sep 21, 2008 1:17 pm

A realization that has worked for me is that any sizable town or city must have retired actors, or retired people with acting experience, that would love to work on short projects. In the summer of 2007, having decided to make some videos, I put an add in the local Craig's List for same, got an overwhelming response, and as a result I've worked with the same 7 actors for over a year now, on 8 different projects, and we continue to work together and even call ourselves a "company" now, Small Screen Video. Our work is at
http://www.smallscreenvideo.org.

Retired actors are EAGER to work. You just have to ask them.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Shrimpfarmer » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:17 am

Steve

Thanks for your post on this I found it very interesting and helpful. I have reached a stage in my learning where building a story is now much more of a consideration to me than simply capturing the shots. I am with you 100% when you urge people to see and include what is happening around them rather than just focussing on the main event. I have a long way to go in developing my skills in story telling but that is what is so cool about this hobby. There is always so much more to learn.

Dalepaq

I understand where your coming from when you say that you have nobody who is willing to appear in your films. I am fascinated by your thoughts on creating a first person film and I have begun to think about that also. Your not alone in that quest to produce storys with a cast of one.

Cdeemer

Excellent idea from you about advertising for local actors. Lets face it, we make videos and post them because the feedback we hopefully get brings pleasure. That pleasure compels us to make more. Its exactly the same for actors. In this Youtube age, the whole world is a stage.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Danlson » Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:53 am

Steve,
I'm new to this forum and your subject caught my attention. Before abandoning wedding video I met some very talented people at the WEVA and former 4EverGroup conventions who have adopted the story telling style. I now do video for pleasure of family and friends events. This past summer was an annual event for my son's brother in law where he has a huge picnic for about 200 people and builds this huge slip n' slide. This year I decided to do the story telling style and to my delight a thread began to evolve as I was taping the interviews on how this thing started. It will be screened this weekend by some of the attendees and the founder so I'm hoping for good feedback on what I came up with. I guess my point here is that you are spot on in your write up about getting into the story behind the people in your video. This one was fun for me!

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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Steve Grisetti » Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:57 am

Welcome to Muvipix, Dan! We'd love to see a sample of your stuff some time. (You can post it in our Gallery, accessible through the link on the left.)

Last year we adopted, as our site's theme, the tagline "Because there are stories to tell." It wonderfully sums up our belief that sometimes adding a little throughline to your videos can really make them come to life. That sounds like a concept you're already acquainted with.

Glad you found us! I think you'll find a great community of friendly, helpful people here!
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby septimius » Tue Jan 05, 2010 10:54 pm

Hi all First post here.....

I like the title of the thread... I like to make slideshows/videos of my kids and things for friends and family... I have made quite a few and post em up on youtube for easy viewing by friends and family who are out of town.

Below is a link of one of my favorites that I think tells a story in itself considering the time it took place...

The description is as follows:

Our "End of Summer" video of the kids featuring footage of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil's Tower, and water slide fun. The main song is Sheryl Crowe's version of "Sweet Child of Mine" Enjoy

It starts out and ends with a cool piece of music that may seem like the whole video is going to be "slow" but then Crow starts up.. lol

I apologize for the grainy feel of youtube but hope you enjoy it

youtubecom/watch?v=Q73nshwf584

Well.. poop ...new user here cant insert links but it said to rename.. so i took out the http thingy... hope this is ok...
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby John 'twosheds' McDonald » Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:53 am

Hello Septimus and welcome to Muvipix. :meet:

Liked the clip, nicely done. Have stolen another idea, filed away for future use - the opening sequence of 'fade in/fade out' stills combined with really effective music (what is it, by the way?).
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby septimius » Wed Jan 06, 2010 12:08 pm

Thanks for the compliment and welcome...

The bookend pieces of music are from one my son's PC games, "Civilization 4" or something. He was playing it and I think it is on the opening screen. I liked it and found that it was made by a african swahili group.. (I think).. the music featured on my other video "Summer 2007" that whole piece came from the same game, and I learned that the swahili language used to sing it is their version of "The Lord's Prayer." kinda neat...
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby EstherOne » Sun Aug 08, 2010 3:09 pm

Tell a story.... Yes!
When our youngest son got married, I took hundreds of photo's starting with the very first planning meeting of the bride, her mother, attendants, etc. Not sure if they wanted me there, I invited myself. Whenever something was happening to do with the wedding, I was there. I collected invitations, decorations, etc. It was a lot of work, a lot of fun and now, five years later, I am still getting compliments about the slide-show story.

Now our oldest will be getting married this winter. And last Christmas I became the proud owner of a camcorder.
I have already started a note-book of "stuff" to get, and to make an outline of what visualize the video to be.
The story is developing in my head, just yesterday I asked our son and the bride-to-be for a few pictures of their younger years - the start of this wedding story.

My biggest problem is that I am still learning all the possibilities of the camcorder, and even worse, all the possibilities of Elements Premiere. For the latter I believe I have come to the right place. Been watching and listening to tutorials etc. I am determined that this story, with moving images (no pun intended) will be better told than the slide-show story.

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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Peru » Sun Aug 08, 2010 6:38 pm

...Just a warm :wcm: to Muvipix
:meet:
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Steve Grisetti » Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:07 pm

I love that people keep re-discovering this thread. Especially because the subject is very close to my heart.

Welcome to our community, Esther! Glad to have you aboard! Looking forward to seeing you around the forums.

Have you checked out Basic Training tutorials, by the way? Just go to our products page and type "Basic Training" in the product search box. We've got a series of both Basic Training and Intermediate Training for Premiere Elements that you may find helpful.
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby Paul LS » Mon Aug 09, 2010 9:54 am

Hi Esther, and a big warm welcome to Muipix from me. :)

Regards,
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Re: Don't just make a video. Tell a story.

Postby EstherOne » Mon Aug 09, 2010 4:08 pm

Peru, Paul and Steve,
Thank you for your warm welcomes!
Yes, Steve, I did see the Basic and Intermediate tutorials. There is a lot of information in them, and if you want funny picture, here's a video story for you: My sitting in front of the computer, headphones on so my husband can still watch television and hear it, my eyes glued to the monitor, my hands busy with knitting - occasionally stopping to make a note for something I want to go back to or want to look up maybe in Help or in the User's Guide, just to get a different slant. I can only take about an hour or even less of just listening and watching, before my mind runs over.
Then for further punishment, I take something I've just seen or heard and try it out.
Maybe it's not the most efficient way to learning, but it works for me.
Eventually I hope to get so good at it, that I will in turn be able to help others!
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