Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Great online video: Live The Language

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on February 14, 2011

Time to dig down into another awesome piece of online video from the video .fu library.

This week it’s a brilliant commission from the EF Language School, and although it is technically a commercial, for us online video journalists there is a lot we can learn about telling an engaging story.

Director  Gustav Johannson has created  short films for London, Barcelona and Beijing – but because it’s Valentine’s Day – let’s head to Paris, the city of romance and one of my favourite places.

OK, very sweet right? But of course, there’s more to it than that.

Firstly these shorts tell us about the power of collaboration. Johannson directed these films, but they were shot by Niklas Johannson and the pitch perfect typography was created by Albin Holmquist. All three clearly have unique talents and together their work is much more impressive. Collaboration works well for a lot of documentary makers too – just look at the work of Phos Pictures, a similar collaboration between director, videographer and editor.

Let’s look at the film itself. Firstly, each one has a central character (in each case a new student arriving in a city to take an EF Language course) and we follow them on their journey of discovery through the city. Character & journey: it’s a format as old as the hills but still as effective today.

A character is identified immediately - she's on a journey

What I really love about these films are they are a great example of visual storytelling. It’s a phrase bandied around all the time, and too often, people mistake anything shot on video as visual storytelling. But they’re wrong. This documentary about car crash victims in Qatar is not visual storytelling – it’s a series of talking heads and static shots. It won’t get watched as much as a result.

Visual storytelling is playing with images to create a narrative. These films are full of them – for example these two shots teach us the French for left & right (à gauche & à droite) in a visual way: our character walks one way, gets lost and walks the other way.

Left or right? Visual storytelling is about using pictures creatively

Similarly, this montage of French confectionary is used to reveal the words for different colours. This could have been done with a collection of shots of different objects – but using the same object in different colours makes a visual point.

Again, this is visual storytelling in action - a montage of colours

And finally, what wraps up the film to make it far more engaging and memorable? That’s right, girl meets boy – or in other words: a story.

Drawing a narrative into the films, instead of just a music montage, captures our attention, engages us, and we put ourselves into the position of the protagonist. Interestingly all four of these films contain this same ‘go abroad fall in love’ narrative, a cynical way perhaps to bring in more customers. Either way, it’s a reminder that without a story our films are mere shadows of what they could be.

I featured this film in the video .fu library last week: if you want to see more awesome online video before it gets mentioned on this blog, be sure to subscribe to the channel!

And hurrah - a story! Boy meets girl is an old one, but still works, right?

So what do you think? What else can video journalists and documentary storytellers learn here?


8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Sharon Green said, on February 22, 2011 at 6:09 am

    I think this demonstrates a useful way that video can be used to tell a story. Even though the piece essentially serves as advertising, I was still captivated and enjoyed it from start to finish. The idea was simple yet effective. I think multimedia journalists can definitely explore video as a way to communicate a message or tell a story. On the topic, have you seen this education foundation that produces documentaries that challenge topics in the media? Thought it was most relevant for this blog:

  2. Lady Roq said, on February 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    These ads don’t feel them at all. I feel energized, engrossed and enlightened after every word I see! The visual storytelling makes the adventure keeps the viewer glued so that they feel they too could make it somewhere completely new. As a New Yorker I have made it in the Big Apple but I would like to make it somewhere else too.

    This piece eliminates the fear many of us have when it comes to going somewhere new and language is the foreboding barrier keeping us from setting ourselves FREE to explore!

    CHECK ALL 4 Videos OUT @

  3. aj said, on February 23, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    do you know what program these were created in?

  4. […] Great online video: Live the Language […]

  5. EF Team said, on September 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Hello Adam!

    My Name is Yagmur and I am part of the EF team. We’re really happy you like our videos and wanted you to be one of the first people who see our newest “Live the language” short films!

    Los Angeles, Sydney and Vancouver are the latest editions to EF’s “Live the Language” series, also directed by Gustav Johansson!

    You can check them out here:

    We’d love the hear your interpretation of our newest videos!

  6. Ed said, on September 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

    The 3 new videos are just as amazing as the first 4 ones, with a brilliant “forever young” feel. We shot a parody of the first 4 in Helsinki this summer with my friends, with nice fonts and atmosphere of course 🙂 Have a look!

  7. Mats said, on September 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Hello Ed, here at EF we stumbled upon your Helsinki video this morning and the whole video team (including the Camp David guys who also saw it) had a good laugh! I just forwarded it to our EF office in Helsinki to for our staff to enjoy 🙂 We’re impressed by the effort – now we’ll just HAVE to open an EF school in Helsinki 😉 Cheers, Mats @EF

    • Ed said, on September 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Glad you liked it! I wasn’t sure if “Live the language” was a trademark or anything, so I’m happy to read that the people at EF were ok and laughing about it!
      It was just so much fun to make throughout the whole summer, and it was heartbreaking to choose between all the footage we had! An EF school in Helsinki sounds like a challenge because finnish takes more than one summer to learn, but motivated teacher and students can achieve miracles! (Well, I don’t actually speak finnish! 😉 )

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: