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Top Writing Challenges for Short Nonfiction Video

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“Helping people understand what can and can’t be communicated through video” and “Keeping viewers engaged” are two top sticking points for the video writers who attended my workshop during GV Expo this morning. We covered strategies and tools for writers to get better results with video. Top tips include:

  1. Define the goals for your video. Use a Creative brief to outline these goals, along with your story approach, point of view, creative look, and any budgetary or scheduling requirements.  Include a few success measures–“if this video is successful, what does that look like?” This might mean a lot more than number of views. It might mean the number of minutes reduced in customer service calls, or the number of registrations for next year’s event. Think measurable goals!
  2. Define your characters. A 1-2 minute video doesn’t need more than one main character.  Supplemental characters include setting and music, which play an important role in how the audience views your subject.
  3. Define your story arc. Everyone thinks about narrative arc with fiction, but engaging nonfiction stories have them, too.  What’s your hook? It needs to grab your audience in the first 15-30 seconds, before the dreaded initial drop-off in viewing happens. What’s after your hook—how do you give the back story quickly and efficiently? What’s the central challenge of the character and how do they overcome it (the climax)? And as your story winds down, do you include a call to action?
  4. Use tools and workflow. Get transcriptions done if you are creating an interview-based story. The roughly $25 per person will be worth it! Then you can focus on finding those elements that move your story forward. Plan a writing workflow that gives you the flexibility to find the hidden stories, but develop creative that meets your goals. Especially if you are writing for animation, you will have to be very detailed in your approach to story so that you allow time for storyboarding, keyframes and animation tests.

Amy DeLouise is a scriptwriter and video director working in short form nonfiction. A slide deck from her writing workshop at GVExpo is on the Speaker tab of this website. Don’t forget it’s #GivingTuesday. Join me in buying a gift for a child in need through Central Union Mission Operation Christmas Miracle.

Hacking Video Interviews

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LyndaAmyInterviewingCoupleYou’re on deadline and need a great sound bite from your boss for the new podcast. Or you’re building a long-form documentary and are interviewing an expert. Or you’ve got five minutes till broadcast and are trying to get a moment with a VIP. Whatever kind of interview you are producing can be made a little easier with a few simple techniques.

  1. Make Your Subject Comfortable. It seems obvious, but often the interviewer is distracted by the crew chatting, the room getting uncomfortably warm, and the fact that, oh, a Camera is Pointed at Their Head. New low-heat lights prevent sweating, thank goodness. But there are many other little touches to keep an interviewee comfortable: hide as much equipment as necessary (I use silks in larger spaces, or just put things away in cases or adjacent hallways in smaller ones); place water on a small table at arm’s reach; Smile when you ask questions (unless you’re on 60 Minutes). And–not for the faint of heart–consider interviewing the person while they are doing something (working, driving, walking), since most people don’t just sit still and talk. These little things will go a long way towards making your subject feel and speak more naturally on camera.
  2. Familiarize Yourself With Content. Again, it seems obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I hear an interviewer ask a basic question that they should have researched in advance. The result is your subject now thinks you’re an idiot, and you aren’t going to get the story you really wanted. Oh, and stop looking at your notes! Memorize them. Focus on making eye contact.
  3. Find Out Your Subject’s Learning Style. With a few quick questions in your warm-up chit-chat, or by watching previous interview footage, you may be able to discern whether or not your interviewee is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Why does this matter? Because the way you ask questions to each should be slightly different, and the kinds of answers you will get will be much richer and more useful when you do. More on this in my Lynda course The Art of the Interview.
  4. Plan a Story Arc, Be Prepared for Something Else. Ideally, your interview will follow a narrative arc. Within this arc, you’ll be gently guiding your subject along the path of the central story for your video—the introduction, the central theme or challenge, and the conclusion. Along the way, there will be meanderings, of course. But if you map out the story – not just bullet points for questions–you’ll be that much closer to building a better final video.

If you’re attending NAB this year, I’ll be presenting an In-Depth Session with the talented Director of Photography and Producer Eduardo Angel on How to Capture Great Interviews.  We’ll cover equipment, lighting, camera position, as well as interview techniques. We hope to see you there!