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Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals

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greg janza
Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 5:49:13 pm

What's quite odd about video professional forums is that almost all of the conversation centers around the technology of the business and only rarely do people talk about the single most important thing that we do - tell stories.

A million dollars worth of video production and post-production gear is rendered useless if you don't know how to tell a story in an engaging and effective manner.

One great example of fantastic storytelling comes from one of the most boring areas of the corporate world - Insurance. Prudential Insurance has very quietly been creating a series of videos in which the storytelling is stellar and therefore the company shines as a result.

Here's one example of the truly great work that their agency has been creating:







https://www.linkedin.com/in/tmprods
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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 7:40:11 pm

Absolutely agree that this is a wonderful, even life-enhancing piece of work.

But is it "story-telling"?

A story by definition has structure and narrative development. This has none - at least not in any real sense other than that we observe the same situations as (a very short period of) time passes.

I am uncomfortable with the way that "story-telling" gets appropriated by film-makers who don't actually tell stories.

I think we need a different word for what we are talking about in this case. Not sure what it is.

But I will defend "story-telling" against any land grab anyone wants to try - it's too precious and special for that.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 7:45:47 pm

I hear what you're saying Simon. I don't necessarily differentiate between traditional narrative storytelling and short form of advertising storytelling.

To me, any time you're taking a viewer on a journey from point A to point B you're telling a story.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tmprods
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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 7:51:23 pm

Fair point. But I think I'd disagree.

Story is more than a line between two points - it's a line between several points. It's a structure - not a rope.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 8:55:14 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "Story is more than a line between two points - it's a line between several points. It's a structure - not a rope."

And that's what makes advertising all the more impressive. A story told in with extreme efficiency.

Would you consider this a story?







https://www.linkedin.com/in/tmprods
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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 9:06:16 pm

[greg janza] "Would you consider this a story?"

No, I wouldn't. It's a two-line slogan. Powerfully delivered. But it's only a two-liner. And that's not a "story".

A story has a structure - it's not a straight line between two points. Its very claim to be story is in how the structure is developed.

The unique genius of story is that, even at its very simplest, it's complicated. In fact you could say that story *is" complication.

Story is in essence non-linear. It comes into being in the detours that it makes.

A story isn't A-B.

A story is A-X-B.

It's X that makes it a story.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 9:25:48 pm

Great thoughts Simon. We completely diverge though on what constitutes a story.

At it's core, storytelling involves connecting with other humans on an emotional level through the collective human experience.

I would say that the Nike piece tells a sweeping and epic story of the history of bias against women in sports and their long-term fight for gender equality. The Nike slogan is only a mere tag line to the larger story.

Stories are inherently emotional journeys. The best stories should sweep a viewer off their feet and completely engage them in the journey. Each and every time I watch that Nike piece I go on that same emotional journey. To me that's a story told very well.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tmprods
tallmanproductions.net


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 9:36:43 pm

Attributed to Hemingway, but probably not written by him, the shortest story ever written is:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Why is it a story?

It's not: baby is born and then dies before wearing the shoes. That's a two-liner and not a story.

The story resides in everything in between, supplied in this case by our imagination: the parents' dreams of having a family, the conception of the baby, the anticipation, the birth, the complications, the anxiety, the trauma, the despair, the numb aftermath, the resignation ...

Story is a process not a statement.

The reason I labour this is that I've worked on so many films where the makers have convinced themselves they have a story ... when all they have is a proposition.

It's all too easy to be seduced by false signifiers and I see that all the time. You describe the Nike ad as being "epic" and of course it is - it has huge scope. It has what most people would see as the trappings of story - but it's missing the essential core.

This is a huge subject and I'm not doing it justice - I'll go away and try to formulate my position better, but thank you for raising it as a topic because it's endlessly fascinating and hugely important. Not just for film-makers but for everything we are as human beings ... and that really does take us into deep waters!

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 6, 2019 at 9:55:23 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Sep 6, 2019 at 9:56:14 pm

Just a bit more though on the Nike ad:

Our takeaway from it is: "People might tell you you can't do stuff, but you can."

OK, it uses examples that are "stories" but using those examples doesn't turn it into a story. It just underscores that it's an essay proposition. A story never says: "For example ..."

You could turn it into a story by showing *how* you get from being told you can't do stuff to finding out that you can. (Note that if all that consists in is a montage of how hard you trained, then that's not a story either ...!)

But if all you do is show us the start and end of the journey, you haven't built a story.

We can find the proposition emotionally engaging and satisfying and uplifting - but it's not "story" that's engaging. It's other stuff.

We need a name for that other stuff because it works and it's got value and we need to understand it - but we don't help ourselves by calling it "story".

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 7, 2019 at 1:30:14 pm

The reason I maintain that this is important is that if we devalue the concept of story by using it too freely, when it actually comes time to tell a story we will find we have unlearned the discipline of how to actually make it work.

Far too many film-makers simply don't understand that story is "what happens in Act Two". As a consequence they are completely unable to write Act Two and instead they resort to "marking time" between Act One and Act Three.

Act Two isn't "filler".

It's the difference between having a film that works and one that falls flat.

Act Two is where everything that makes our film worthwhile should be happening.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 8, 2019 at 11:25:58 pm

I think I understand why you want to differentiate between things that fit into a definitive story structure and other items that, while potentially being extraordinarily engaging to a viewer, may not technically be stories by this defined standard.

I say I think I understand it because I do think that in dramatic filmmaking the story structure is everything. And when people get it wrong it's highly problematic.

It may also be a simple case of apples and oranges when talking about storytelling in different forms of video or film but I think too that the differentiation isn't essential when analyzing the overall effectiveness of a video.

The most important questions to me when watching something are: Did I connect and engage with the piece on an emotional level? Did it move me in some way? Did it change how I think about the subject or at least cause me to re-evaluate how I think about the subject?

If I answer those questions in a positive way then the filmmaker has successfully taken me on an emotional journey and in my mind that journey occurs through the art of storytelling.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tmprods
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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 9, 2019 at 11:46:37 am

[greg janza] "If I answer those questions in a positive way then the filmmaker has successfully taken me on an emotional journey and in my mind that journey occurs through the art of storytelling."

I'd go along with everything you say ... except the last part of this sentence. I just don't agree that this is the right way to use the word "storytelling".

The things you describe are very important and we need to be aware of them and work towards achieving them in order to make effective pieces of communication ... but we need a different word to describe them.

In fact, perhaps that's exactly the right word.

"Communication" is the exactly thing you're describing - those processes by which we connect with our audience and make our message vivid to them.

"Story" can certainly be a specific subset of "communication", of course, not not all "communication" is "story".

Does that make sense?

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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Mark Suszko
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 9, 2019 at 4:11:36 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Sep 9, 2019 at 6:55:39 pm

Maybe calling it a "vignette" is more accurate? It has a "setup" and a "punchline", like a joke does. It advances a premise. It makes an argument. It reveals a bit of character. You could perhaps assume in the light of the revelation of the various characters' priorities, those couples are going to sit down and re-assess their values and priorities. When you put that all together, then I think maybe Simon would find it satisfies his criteria. But I don't presume to speak for him.

I will say that in whatever I do, even in a 30-second spot, I try to incorporate a Campbellian "Hero's Journey" into even such a short narrative, as well as giving it the equivalent of a three-act structure, even though those "acts" might be only two sentences or ten seconds long.

That's a lot to try to communicate in 30 seconds, so you want the Photography, music, sound, and especially the art direction and editing to help take some of the narrative load off of your actors and dialogue.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 9, 2019 at 8:14:20 pm

My point is simply this:

Story is an incredibly precious concept.

It requires all our critical faculties to understand what it is and how it works.

Let's please not devalue it by applying it to things that aren't stories.

Usage has already bruised and battered the concept of story:

Newspapers tell us that they give us "stories" - but they rarely do. Instagram has "stories" - but they really aren't. Marketeers want to tell "stories" about their products - but it's just empty cliché.

I'm fighting back because story is too important a concept to use idly.

As editors we do a disservice to our craft when we use "story" in an imprecise sense. It's a concept we really, really, really need - and we need to expend all our efforts in understanding how it works because understanding it is anything but easy.

If we've already bought into the notion that pretty much anything can be "story", we've lost the battle, not just for ourselves but for those who come after us.

Let's not twist "story" to mean anything and everything - let's try harder to understand it and how it works. I'm at the end of my career and every day I'm still learning how little I really know about it.

Any film can be a story. Most are not, even though they claim to be.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Storytelling - The Primary Skill of Video Professionals
on Sep 10, 2019 at 8:33:12 am

[Mark Suszko] "I will say that in whatever I do, even in a 30-second spot, I try to incorporate a Campbellian "Hero's Journey" into even such a short narrative, as well as giving it the equivalent of a three-act structure, even though those "acts" might be only two sentences or ten seconds long."

I think this is a very good point.

It's a great idea to use what we know of story structure to help us structure pieces that aren't themselves stories. The 3-act structure is exceptionally useful as a device - even when there aren't any "acts" as such. But using it as reference point doesn't automatically turn our film into a story - we're just using the device metaphorically.

Simon Ubsdell

hawaiki


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