We live in an ephemeral society.
When you first meet someone, do you instantly forget their name? With so much content (read: noise) available at our fingertips and everywhere we turn, how do you focus on something? Imagine being able to make that lasting impression on someone – a customer, a hiring manager, a future date or a new friend – and have them remember you at some point in the future.
I remember growing up and my Dad always remembering someone’s name. He knew names of all the neighbors, people at the bank, businesses next to his. I would sit there and admire how he would always address someone by their first name. It showed respect.
Now later in life I understand the value of this. It’s much nicer to greet someone by their first name, even if you have only met them once or rarely see them. It will make an impact on your peers and will inevitably return positively to you down the line.
We easily get caught up in it all. It’s not hard for me to identify someone who doesn’t remember my name. It’s unspoken, but not unnoticed. Being too involved in our devices takes us away from interpersonal conversations.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely guilty of trying to consume way too much. I spend hours every single day on various devices reviewing social networks, blogs, news feeds, and text messages. Besides being overwhelming, it can get a little addictive too. When does it stop and where does it end (hint: it doesn’t)?
It might surprise you to hear that the answer to these questions can come from video production. Stick with me for a minute – I’m going to show you how we create lasting impressions with the videos we create, based on what drives that connection and what we look for in pre production.
My sophomore year of college, I was introduced to a fellow film school undergraduate by the name of Conor Colwell. He’s one of the smartest people I know and someone I respect in many ways. His intelligence level being far beyond mine made me struggle to keep up with him in conversations. It seemed Conor could talk about any subject with knowledge and eloquence. He’d mention something that would take me a moment to process, and then he’d continue his thoughts – while I was still processing what he said a moment ago.
Honestly, when I first met Conor, I was a little embarrassed because I felt stupid next to him. I didn’t think I could be his friend because I’d never add to his meaningful conversations. That was tough to deal with because I had a lot of respect for him and wanted to learn from him.
I tried really hard to focus whenever I was with Conor and, eventually, I was able to converse with him more comfortably. And when I didn’t understand something fully, I’d ask him to look for ways to help me understand the subject. Conor became, and remains to this day, one of my best friends and, later, a roommate of mine.
What helped me get over my fear of sounding stupid was my ability to wield one important request: explain this to me like I’m five years old.
When you tell a story, you have to do the same thing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get deep into esoteric details, but don’t assume your audience knows what you’re talking about from the start. If you aren’t upfront with your explanations. You risk them losing interest or being confused – all of which results in what turns out to be a wasted effort.
Explain this to me like I’m five years old.
In video production, and pre production specifically, it’s important to break down what your story is really about. We typically will find a few keywords that remain top of mind during throughout the project. For example, we’ll use: Experience, Brand, Location.
During a documentary shoot, when we’re not working off a script, we’ll ask ourselves what shots can we get that will help tell this story. Can we push through a doorway and reveal our subject in front of 1,000s of fans to show the experience of a live performance? Can we use a drone or aerial videography to highlight the location?
Early in my career, I worked for many action sports companies, shooting their athletes. I traveled non-stop for 3 years, mostly to international locations with professional surfers. I would visit their countries and we’d often stay with their friends who would host us if we were visiting somewhere else.
Every country, town and host was new to me, and many a completely new experience. When I started, I would usually extend my hand and greet them with something like “Hi, I’m Tim.” This might seem normal to you, but I had no idea I was so off so many times. After being greeting with a quick nod from the other person, I began to figure it out – I was speaking English, my native tongue, in their country.
I felt foolish in Morocco, seeing everyone hug as a greeting, or in Puerto Rico, kissing on the cheek. I was an odd man out, and while a quick handshake is polite, if you don’t follow up and create interest, there’s not much that you’re offering. This is exactly why no one remembers your name – you’re not doing anything to stick out and be remembered by.
When we introduce new characters on screen, I always think about creating a powerful opening – something that builds a lasting – connection with the audience. In our latest video for Helping Haitian Angels, Debbie, the co-founder, starts by saying “Unequivocally, they give me ten fold what I give them. It’s not even close.”
We don’t yet know who she is, but we know she’s American and receiving much more than the starving Haitian children we see on screen. Doesn’t this make you want to know why she’s saying this and who she is?
So far, this video is directly responsible for more than $1M in fundraising. People have been so moved just watching the video that they donate without any questions asked, to the tune of $250,000 by one donor and $100,000 by a couple of others on separate occasions. Incredible!
The Power of Undulation
Storytelling is hugely affected by undulation. The emotions you provide your audience with create psychological mood swings that make you focus more and feel as if you’re living on the edge of your seat.
Undulation means to move with wave-like motion – pulsing through the crests and troughs, and riding up and down. You’re happy, sad and then happy again. Movies, especially Hollywood movies with their 3-act structure are famous for this, which is why it’s something we chose to apply successfully to the Boys to Men video.
In just 3 minutes, we opened with deeply emotional quotes from a few young men explaining their lack of a father and the pain that’s caused them during their entry into adulthood. We then pick up the pace of the edit with happy music, surfing and smiles, then close out the video reminding the audience of Boys to Men’s need and a call to action.
To make a connection, we need to give our audience a reason to care – a purpose. If you’re planning to create your own video, you need to slow down and find a way to cut through the noise, create a powerful intro to build intrigue, and develop a call to action to create, well, action.
With Boys to Men, we’re able to bring you into the realities of the life these boys are living. The pressures of the real world, gang banging men put on them and the outlet the non profit is able to provide.
We see 13-year-old boys about to cry talking about how they don’t have a dad, don’t have someone to play catch with them or tell them something as simple as “Good job, son.”
They have their friend’s older brothers telling them how cool their new gun is, or how much fun they had when they stole alcohol from a liquor store.
Beyond this, the story well told creates depth, something these young men don’t have the foresight to see. They can’t see past the life in a gang, but our story goes shows you what a little love and attention can do for them.
Our process is built around this. Diving deep into the Why of a story and how to make that effect come across in a limited about of time.
We typically start off each project with a quick brief – 10 quick questions that cover everything from what the project is about to 3 key goals. The brief starts out with general questions (remember, nothing is assumed) and gets more specific.
We ask each person involved to fill out the brief separately and compare notes. This allows organizations to unearth differences of opinions and gets everyone on the same page. By the time we receive it, it’s usually in pretty good shape for us to dive in and start finding our story angles.
Depending on the project and the answers we get on the brief, a project could go a myriad of ways. This is the foundation of our kick off call and initial creative.
We use this to find our keywords mentioned above and sets the course for the project. We use this kickoff meeting to brainstorm more ideas, figure out how we’re going to bring this story to live and, more importantly, why.
With Boys to Men, we knew we had 1 day to shoot and the subject matter was pretty serious. We decided on shooting each interview with tight framing on the boy’s faces to focus on the emotion. We shot with a wide open lens, using full frame cameras to blur everything in the background, so the audience’s focus would only be on the boys talking.
We picked up the pace, or undulated, with all the boys and supporters of the program surfing. This change was not only visual but audible, too, with the entry of happy, pop music.
And the end is tied together with a reminder of the need, a call to action to help support the program. The emotional loop is complete, and the audience responded incredibly well.
Stories connect us. Humans have been telling stories for centuries, all they way back to cavemen drawing images in the sandstone. Naturally, we enjoy a well told story.
Once we create that connection powerful things happen. Our audience is moved to take action, support us and share our story with others. Short stories for the Internet are perfect for this.
With social media so abundant and sharing so easy we can use our audience, fans, customers to help spread the word, creating a new, larger audience, more fans and customers that purchase or donate or take action.
It’s a powerful cycle, and when the story is right, and the execution is right you can easily have a video go viral.
Boys to Men was able to 2x their donations from the previous year. The supporters had a means to connect with potential donor and show them what the program was, who it was for, and the incredible impact it’s having on teenage boys across San Diego.
A good story is one that connects to your intended audience and inspires them to take action. Speaking to your audience’s emotions improves your storytelling immensely, which is why research in pre-production is so important and can set your project up for success.
Find stories that have inspired you and break down the creative elements and approach to the story.
I’ve been fortunate to grow a company and tell stories for everyone from global, billion dollar brands to small organizations, making an enormous impact in their communities with these tactics.
What storytelling techniques do you use? What kind of success have you had. Let me know in the comments below.