Stories can come to you

Sometimes stories come to you. I was fortunate enough last year to be invited by my teacher, who is Burmese, to go to Myanmar (Burma) to document the transition from a strictly military government to a more democratic state through the voices of the people who are living it. I was able to interview some key people in that transition and was blown away by their stories.
Some of those I interviewed where jailed on and off as political prisoners for 25 years. These were members of the so called 88 Generation and were students during the height of the military takeover of the country in 1987. One member, Paw Oo Tun (better know as Min Ko Naing), a leading democracy activist and dissident who has spent most of the years since 1988 imprisoned by the state for his opposition activities, was only released in late 2012. I also interviewed some who are trying to change the country through social and political means.
Through this documentary I want to have their voices, as well as those that had to flee their country, be heard. These emotional, compelling stories moved and inspired me and need to be told.

Great Storytelling

I hope I am not stepping on any toes or using something I shouldn’t, but at a recent expo for non-profits I attended, I was introduced to a very good way of thinking about how to capture your audience’s attention in either a speech to an audience or in your video. If you can write/tell your story in three minutes as if you were writing/telling a novel, complete with a hero, an enemy, allies, strategy for operation, expected outcome and the message you want to share, then you will have the audience in the palm of your hand.

If you can identify a hero (your agency, yourself, some other figure), allies (donors, etc.), enemy (budget cuts, etc.), your agencies’ strategy (challenge, who you will connect to, etc), what victory looks like (what you would like to have happen), the message of hope your agency wants to convey, then write a concise, personal story using these elements, people will listen.

Editing – key to the video

I was recently at a networking group where the speaker spoke on the topic of Engaging Your Audience with Video. The speaker made several good points, but the one that hit home for me was that with all the technology out there it is easier today to make your point visually and with sound than ever before. From the smart phones that take video to free video editing software for your computer the opportunity to use video is there for you at a very inexpensive starting point.

The one place where most of us fall short is actually making the video do what we envisioned it to do. Nothing takes the place of experience, but there are now ways to gain that experience (through trial and error mostly) without refinancing the house and taking a leave of absence from your job. We can do it in our spare time (ha ha) and for very little monetary investment.

Editing can make or break your piece. It is the last phase of the production, however if you think about the editing before or while you are shooting that phase can go a lot smoother. We are essentially telling a story every time we produce even the shortest video. So from conception through the shooting to the editing if you keep that in the forefront you will create a better product. In editing there is something called pacing. I am sure we have all seem films where we feel we are running with the characters the entire time and by the end we are exhausted, or ones in which we are constantly looking at our clocks to see when it will be over. The best films are ones in which we have places where there is action and there is reflection. Where the pace seems fast in places and slow in places. This is controlled by the editing. Fast cuts makes our hearts race and long scenes slow the pace down.

So go out and try some shooting and editing. Mix it up a little and see what happens when you try different lengths of cuts in your edits and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Sound and Visual Counterpoint

Unlike any other media video/film can employ a multi-sensory experience for the viewer. If edited with skill, video can combine visual images and auditory inputs to create a third impression, not explicitly either seen or heard, that can elicit an emotional response from the audience. This can be done by showing an image, say as an example a young boy running in the park, and at the same time the narration can be talking about something unrelated to the image, say the lack of adequate child care in the US, and the viewer will get an emotional response by combining the two inputs. This can be a powerful tool. The advertising industry uses this all the time to get us to buy products. You too can use this method to get donor sympathy and therefore contributions.

Story is the Skeleton

The key to any video/film is the writing. This is the skeleton on which all the visuals and audio hands. The best visuals can only be watched for so long.

Even if you are doing a documentary there is always editing and refining of the content of what is said. If you are creating a story from scratch then all the more reason to make the script the key to the piece. The beginning and end of the piece is the hardest to make work. You want to grab the audience at the beginning and you want to conclude the piece making sure your point/message has been made. The audience can forgive if the middle rabbles a bit so long as the end is strong. In a documentary you can pre-write an outline of what you want to cover making sure you get most of the content during filming. Then be flexible enough to alter what you capture to still make your point is made.

So make sure you take the time make the story work well.

What makes a good video! cont.

Sometimes the best way to say something is by showing it. How best to do that. It is my opinion that you should treat your audience with a degree of intelligence. Don’t show them, tell them and put the words on the screen for the same message. You can use visual and sound counterpoint to be showing one thing and saying another thereby your message combines the two and actually says a third thing. To employ this method it is important to have a good script. Even if you are doing a documentary style video you can write (or extract from the footage) a story that makes sense and treats the audience with respect and intelligence.

What makes a good video and how to post it to YouTube!

Following a workshop I gave for the Sonoma County Volunteer Center I want to give some helpful tips for what makes a valuable marketing video for your organization.

First, you want to keep your video short and concise. We in this country have been raised on short (30 seconds to one minute) commercials on TV. We also have the most sophisticated productions in the world. People have a short attention span due to this conditioning. Most people will not sit through a video that is beyond 10 minutes no matter how compelling you make it.

Know your target audience. Taylor your video to the market you are trying to reach. This may mean that you will have to create many videos if you have several different types of audiences.

Use appropriate language for your audience. If you are trying to reach a younger audience the words you use should reflect that.

Stay tuned for more info about this and other helpful hints.