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  • Jamie Campbell


Updated: Dec 1, 2019

Our day went from zero to shitshow in 1 minute.

We needed some additional shots to accompany the interview of an exec for a very important and expensive corporate video; simple stuff like talking to a colleague, looking over a report, answering the phone. In the moment we were deciding on the action, the exec, out of nowhere, began insisting we capture her doing burpees in the hallway. Within minutes she’d hijacked our production to indulge her aspirations of creating a behind-the-scenes blooper reel. The rest of her corporate team were complicit as their desire to appease her overtook the story that we were hired to tell. There had never been mention of a blooper reel. There was never talk of burpees or where it would fit in our story, but there I was, shooting this exuberant, sweaty executive flopping around in high heels for a scene that I was absolutely sure would not make the edit. What I learned that day: When there is no roadmap, the loudest voice often wins, and you may end up with someone doing burpees in your corporate video.

Here’s how it usually goes: one person holds the bucket of responsibility to see the project to completion, while an entire team decides how to fill the bucket and with what to fill it. With no guidance or focus, the bucket becomes a repository for every interview, event coverage and footage gathering opportunity the team deems relevant. While this happens, the original message gets lost in the noise. The final product is regarded as a success to the stakeholders who see their fingerprints on it, but to everyone else it is an unwatchable, bloated mess.

If you are starting a project, there is a way to prevent your video from going off the rails. To give your video structure and focus, and to make you the hero of your storytelling team, we’ve created four simple tools that will help communicate your message through the power of storytelling.

Storytelling tool #1: Keywords

Gather your team and, with a stack of index cards, whiteboard or even a notepad, write down every word you associate with the subject of your message. Your goal should be between 20 - 30 words. There are no wrong answers. Make them visible so the team can view them. This step alone is powerful because the team is collaborating creatively right off the bat, setting the tone for what’s to come. Next, narrow the selection down to just 5 words. This gets the team to discover together what is critically important about your message. The team will feel ownership of these 5 words and will defend them. You will use these 5 words to influence every decision you make about your project. Let’s say you’re creating an internal video to get buy-in from employees on a new marketing initiative. Your final list of keywords are: Unity, Personality, Communication, Growth and Focus. Every decision towards the content of your video from now on should reflect one or more of these keywords. They will help you stay focused and infuse the entire project with meaning and purpose. If an idea doesn’t reflect a keyword, it gets ejected. Storytelling tool #2: Characters Like in a Hollywood movie, characters are the people on screen who carry the story. It is through their eyes that we experience the film and we allow this to happen when we see a part of ourselves in them. Think of whomever appears on screen as a character and it’s their job to connect with your audience and deliver your message. The wrong person on screen can alienate the very people they are trying to connect to. Don’t just start with the top brass. Find employees, managers or customers who have unique backgrounds and can bring a different perspective to your story.

Storytelling tool #3: Locations Location is one of the most important visual elements in film and one of the biggest missed opportunities in corporate video, especially when conducting interviews. Sure, you are comfortable in your office and your conference room was recently renovated, but how do these places reflect your keywords? If you want to show personality, think about location as another character in your film. Is there a library, coffee shop, park bench, backyard, patio, or other landmark that shows more personality than the building you work in? It doesn’t have to be pretty if it is unique. If you’re still stuck, think about the origins of your company. Where did it all begin? Was there a place where the original idea for your company was conceived? Most likely, it wasn’t a conference room. The simple act of shooting your interviews in an unusual location will make your video distinctive and grab your viewer’s attention. Storytelling tool #4: Plot Don’t let this step be intimidating. By developing and adhering to a plot, you are simply defining the beginning, middle and end of your film and drawing a line through it. If the line that runs through it is curved, then you’ve also created a story arc. Even the simplest plot with an arc will engage your audience in at the beginning, surprise them in the middle, and satisfy them at the end. If you can answer the following questions, then you not only will have the plot to your video, you’ve also laid the groundwork for an interesting story arc. Find out more about how to develop a simple plot for your video in our companion article, Finding Your Plot Will Give Your Video Purpose.

The strength behind these tools is that, once complete, the majority or your work is done before the cameras even roll, making your production painless and introducing your company to a higher-level of communication; one that actually connects to and motivates your audience. Whether you produce this with an in-house or hire an outside crew, this level of thoroughness and clarity will make production run smoothly.

With a united team, the process becomes one of discovery rather than discord. And you’ll probably avoid burpees.

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