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3 Tips for Planning Your #Video #Story

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ButterflyIt’s been a cold, rainy spring here in DC, the perfect weather for planning and strategy (not so great for outdoor shoots). And post-NAB Show, it’s a great time to re-assess workflows, consider new technologies, and tidy up that digital media library.

So what key steps do you need for great video storytelling? It all comes down to Three Essential Questions you need to ask yourself when planning your edit.

Wait, you say. planning my edit? What about my script? My shoot? But let’s face it, the story all comes together during the edit. And when is the optimal time to start planning your edit? Is it a few days before you step into the edit suite? Is it when you start digitizing your media? Not surprisingly, the answer is well before you even shoot the first frame. Working in the digital media space now often means drinking from the firehose of assets–millions of frames to choose from as we acquire with more and more flexible cameras. So it’s even more vital to be prepared before you start working with all of that content. Ask and answer these questions before you shoot, and you’ll be ahead of the game for your edit:

  1. What tools can I use in the field to help my edit go more smoothly? (Tip: any tool that allows you to identify best takes and best soundbites–use Adobe Live Logger, paper notes, or Google docs with notations on your script. And don’t forget to metatag camera footage with more than just date and time–for example camera operator initials or some code that tells you where this footage fits into the story line)
  2. What workflow can I use to ensure that the media gets transferred accurately? (Tip: use the 3-2-1 backup system–make two additional on-site copies of digital media files so that you have 3 in the field, travelling back from the shoot have 2 identical copies (and the one original stays behind). When you get back, ingest one of your two copies and check for accuracy before blowing away the original field cards. And yes, it costs a few more dollars to have extra cards–which is way less than a re-shoot and lost time will cost you!)
  3. What other assets can I collect before or during my shoot to augment my edit? Think about field sound clips, archival photos and other visuals. (Tip: always collect as much as you can in the field–I’ve even brought a mini-scanner on site and scanned old photos after conducting an interview.)

Every ounce of planning will deliver impact on screen. Go for it!

Amy DeLouise is a producer-director, speaker and author. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press) is available here at a 20% discount for blog readers! Use Code FLR40 at checkout!

Brain Chemical Connects Us to Human Stories

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When we watch cSigning a Checkharacters on the screen, why do they make us laugh or cry? And why does one story make us want to support a charity or social cause? It turns out compelling human stories trigger a chemical response in our brains. Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak has been studying the neurochemical oxytocin for years, and learned that humans have a chemical response similar to animals when we find another human trust-worthy: a spike in our oxytocin makes us feel connected to another human being. Even when watching the human on a screen, this response is triggered—what Dr. Zak calls the golden rule response: “if you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

Most recently, Dr. Zak conducted a study with several short films from St. Jude’s Hospital. When viewers connected with the characters in a short film about a father whose young son is dying of cancer, they had an increase in cortisol and oxytocin. That chemical boost ran parallel to feelings of empathy with the characters, which was increased when there was a strong “narrative arc”—a powerful dramatic rise and climax to the real people story line.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to those of us working in nonprofit direct response and impact story-telling. We know that to get donors to give and communities to care, we have to tell powerful stories. We know that viewers must connect emotionally with our characters, just as they would with characters in a fiction film. We do this through not just their words and images, but through lighting techniques, music scoring and the pacing of our edits. But building empathy isn’t enough. We have to create a dramatic arc that builds to a climax. We have to create suspense around some kind of obstacle that the characters must overcome, whether it is in their past or present. And our viewers have to relate to that obstacle, even if it is not precisely the same for them.

This is why pre-interviewing potential characters is so essential for documentary-style stories based on real people. Before they go on camera, we need to understand what will be compelling, what will not be relatable, and what will build suspense for our viewers.  And now it turns out that what we’re also doing is triggering those chemical responses in the brain that will make our subjects and their story connect to the brains of our viewers.  In the case of nonprofit storytelling, we need those chemical responses to be strong, because we are usually looking for a response that extends to well after the video ends: we want a viewer to get involved in a cause, donate money, write to their elected officials, or change some previous behavior (stop smoking, lose weight, etc). So it turns out that all these years I thought I was an English major-turned-filmmaker, it turns out that I’m in the neuroscience business: triggering a brain response that helps people act on the golden rule, and do great things for others and the world.

Amy DeLouise is a director and producer who tells real people stories to help viewers connect with causes and take action.

Brand Resolutions for the New Year

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Sky at Sunset Who doesn’t want to polish up their brand for the New Year? Here are five issues and strategies to consider for your brand this year.

 1. Storytelling Still Matters. As more and more channels and platforms emerge, a compelling story remains the reason users/viewers stage engaged. Whether you are telling a story with info graphics, with photography, with words or with video, make the story Matter.

2. Beware of New Algorithms.   Gmail’s new message organization system is having a big impact on brands who drive customer and donor engagement through email campaigns (i.e. pretty much everyone). Be sure your writing and images (that will be pulled up in Highlights) help users decide your content is relevant to their lives.

2. Get Leadership Engaged in Social Media. Gone are the days when the intern writes your tweets. Customers and donors expect to a personalized experience with your brand’s leadership–whether that is blog posts, tweets or photos on Instagram.  Let the Thought Leaders in your institution–your C-Suite team and your Board leaders–have human personalities, and authentic voices.

3. Ask Movers and Shakers for Brand Mentions. The tweet is the modern equivalent of getting an autograph, but more useful for your brand. When one of my nonprofit clients gave a facility tour to Justin Bieber (and encouraged him to tweet about it, which he did), they got 10,000 new followers in a matter of hours. Find out if any key personalities, well-connected customers or donors might be willing to give your brand a shout-out.

4. Location-Based Content is Here to Stay. iHookupSocial.com and yikyak are the latest spawn of location-based apps. While their purpose is different than Foursquare, the motivation is the same–users want content that relates to where they are right at this moment. Think about how your brand can deliver this content in new ways for users–(re)think conference and events, sightseeing in a town, touring a college campus, and more.

Amy is a video content director/producer,  speaker and author who mainly cares about telling great stories.

Storytelling Connects With Donors and Grassroots Supporters

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In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the teachers who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. You also want the video to be the entrance point to engage them with other content, either on your web page, Facebook page, etc.  So be sure you provide that option in your web video interface.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.