Join Jeff Sengstack for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating effective stories, part of Video Journalism Shooting Techniques.
Your goal when shooting video is to get shots that will help you tell your story, so before you head up the door with camcorder in hand, you need have a clear picture of what that story is. So here are few storytelling tips. First, what is the message you're trying to convey. What's the essence, the nugget, the theme of your story? You really need to distill it down to something you can express in a sentence or two. Are you promoting a new product, covering a city council debate, or shooting a wedding? In each case, you need to give viewers a reason to remember your story. Second, and this might be blatantly obvious, but effective stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Consider that novels, plays, and feature films usually work best in three acts: the setup that states the theme and presents the characters, the middle section that supports or prove that theme, and finally the conclusion that wraps things up. Public speakers know they need to repeat their message several times to make their point. They state their topic upfront, go on to support or prove it, and then resolve or reaffirm it at the end. Consider your audience. Who will watch your video? You need to focus your efforts, steer your presentation to fit that demographic.
What will the viewing venue be? Will your viewers watch your story on your website, on YouTube, on mobile devices, at home, in theater? These things dictate content, story length, pacing, and visuals. If you have a captive audience, you have more leeway. If you have to grab people's attention and then hold their attention for the full story, you have to work harder to pull them in. The body of your story should usually be more than 3-5 main points, which you need to support visually. Keeping things short and to the point is generally your goal.
Consider that most TV news feature stories run only about a minute and a half. Provide viewers with compelling reasons to keep on watching. Topping the list of possibilities is an engaging character, someone people will want to learn more about. Even if you think your story's theme is compelling on its own, it will content more strongly with the audience if you include people in your story. If you have a several larger topics that fit into a single theme, you might want to break up your narrative into separate, easily digestible, bite-sized chunks. Wedding videographers create DVDs and websites with links to each element to the wedding, with each of those elements working as a stand-alone story. Write loose.
Be hard on yourself as a writer. Say nothing in the script that your viewers would already know or that the visuals say more eloquently. Allow for moments of silence. Let a couple seconds of compelling action occur without a voiceover. For a writer, nothing is more difficult to write than silence. Build in surprises to sustain viewer involvement. Surprises can be visual, natural sound, short sound bites, or poetic script. Surprises add little moments of drama. Who will tell your story? If you use a narrator, then it's best if he or she presents only the facts: the hits, runs, and errors.
Use sound bites from people in your story to present the emotional content. Keep those sound bites short. Don't use sound bites as substitutes for more effective storytelling. If you want individuals in your stories to be the primary storytellers, you'll need work extra hard to get video to support their narratives visually. Viewers don't want to watch only talking heads. Create a strong close that you build to throughout the story. It, too, should be visual. Finally, as my favorite TV news feature reporter Bob Dotson told me, make your story memorable.
Can the viewers feel something about the story and its subjects? If that feeling is present, the story will be memorable. It will stick in viewers' minds.
- Creating effective stories
- Planning the shoot
- Setting proper exposure, shutter speed, and focus
- Adhering to the rule of thirds
- Framing the shot
- Achieving a good color balance
- Keeping shots steady
- Using smooth zooms and pans
- Establishing opening and closing shots
- Transitioning from exteriors to interiors
- Editing cutaways
- Using lights
- Using trucking shots
- Working with audio