Once upon a time, professional video producers over-used the term “cinematic.” Everything was cinematic. If you wanted to make the “big bucks,” you HAD to use that term.
But there’s a new “Sherriff” in town. A new term that is all the craze. Cinematic was replaced with “Storyteller.”
It’s no longer good enough for your work to be “cinematic.” You must now tell stories. And it’s not just for filmmakers. Marketers, advertisers, management consultants, engineers, bankers, dancers, even content marketers. They’re all storytellers.
It’s gotten so bad that it prompted award-winning graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister to comment about it:
I recently read an interview with somebody who designs roller coasters and he referred to himself as a storyteller. No f*ckhead, you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer, and that’s fantastic!Stefan Sagmeister
Here’s the problem that I think Stefan is getting at. There is a lot of talk about being a storyteller. The problem is, nobody is really telling you how to be one.
Lucky for you, I am here to save the day.
My top 11 fool-proof methods for telling great video stories
I will now share with you my time-tested, fool-proof, money-back guarantee caliber system for making any video tell a great story. Corporate videos. Wedding videos. Music videos. You name it.
- Start your video with “Once upon a time.” Think about it. Some of the best stories in the history of stories started with these four little words. But don’t feel like you have to use these exact words. Be creative. Mix it up. (e.g. “A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away…”) Making a promo video for a bank? Start it out… “Once upon a time, there was a banker named Fargo.”)
- Have a sympathetic hero. Find some way to make one of the people in your video the main “hero.” I can’t emphasize this enough. All the best stories have one hero the audience can connect with. In our bank video, our “hero” is none other than the aforementioned Mr. Fargo.
- Use a Melodramatic soundtrack. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a powerful, dramatic soundtrack. Think Spielberg. Think John Williams. A minimum of 3 crescendoing peaks and valleys are a must. If you can add a booj or two, even better!
- Have a sidekick. Find some way to make one of the people in your video a funny sidekick. All the best stories have really funny sidekicks. Maybe Mr. Fargo in our bank video had an old college roommate who is an accountant that juggles books. I mean he literally juggles books—like five of them. If you’re shooting a wedding video, look no further than the middle groomsmen.
- Use a voice-over with a British Accent. Everyone knows that a voice over can really elevate a video to new heights (refer to my “Citizen Kane” blog post for more on the importance of voice over.) But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making the voice over British. (Unless, of course, you can get Morgan Freeman.) Look no further than the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and I rest my case. British accents will increase the prestige and significance of your video by at least 23.4%. (Note: if you are making a video for a British audience, you should still make the accent British, just make sure it’s from southern England. That’s very important.)
- Have a mentor. Find some way to make one of the people in your video a mentor figure. All the best stories have a wise, old mentor. Maybe Mr. Fargo learned the tricks of the banking trade from another banker in the town down the road. For wedding videos, don’t go for the parents. That’s too cliché. I recommend the floral designer (if she’s a 64-year-old Asian woman) or the wedding planner (but only if he’s gay with a partner he’s been loyal to for 15 or more years). If neither of those examples work, then I guess one of the parents will do. But definitely on the groom’s side (that can not be emphasized enough).
- Center framing. Compose all your shots so that people, places, and things are center framed. This will immediately evoke feelings of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson, elevating your video to new levels. If your audience or client has no idea why center framing evokes Kubrick or Anderson—or worse, they’ve never heard of Kubrick or Anderson—do you really want them as clients or watching your videos anyway? Don’t waste your talent or time on dolts.
- Have a romantic interest. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of incorporating a romance. All the best stories have some kind of romantic interest. Maybe Mr. Fargo in our bank video meets his future wife when she walks into the bank to deposit the inheritance from her recently deceased grandmother. If you’re a wedding videographer, naturally, your bride and groom are the romance. However, you can increase the storytelling quality by introducing a side romance. This will have the added benefit of introducing drama and suspense since the viewers will be expecting the whole video to be about just the bride and groom.
- Shoot everything at f1.0. We all know that a shallow depth of field is the #1 ingredient to make a video feel like a real movie (again, I point you to the aforementioned “Citizen Kane” post wherein I point out how much that movie sucked—one of the reasons being there were too many deep depth of field shots.) So be sure to shoot everything wide open. (And for extra measure, throw in as many slider and dolly shots as possible. That’s another hallmark of cinematic storytelling. Even though “storytelling” is the new “cinematic,” you still want it to have aspects of the old “cinematic.”)
- Have a good Villain. Find some way to make one of the people in your video a villain. All the best stories have a really good villain (And by “good,” I mean bad. Not “bad” like good, as in the song by Michael Jackson. I mean the actual bad, but the villain is just really good at it. Capeesh?) Maybe Mr. Fargo in our bank video had to deal with an evil mayor or something. In the wedding video example, I recommend looking for “villainy” in the father of the bride (trust me: as the father of a bride once, I know of which I speak.)
- Happy Endings. Needless to say, make sure your video has a happy ending. All the best stories have happy endings. I really can’t emphasize this enough more than the others. Maybe Mr. Fargo’s bank grows to be really, really big and now is ready to serve you with a smile and great customer service. With regard to the wedding video example, as a recent divorcé, I have no comment on the matter.*
*FWIW, my ex and I had a very amicable divorce, including a conscious uncoupling ceremony of all things. We filmed it. As it turns out, beautifully bittersweet videos about the end of a marriage also make for great video storytelling. However, I recommend that you do not make it one of your wedding video packages. I can’t emphasize that enough.