Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Great online video: Gold’s Strong Stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 10, 2011

Newspapers and magazines are still, I think, hesitant to use online video in new and creative ways. It doesn’t help that many are trying to cut costs, but the other problem is a creative one: most video journalism still mimics television.

It’s not the first time on this blog I’ve highlighted great online video coming not from journalists, but from businesses. They’re the ones picking up the mantle of of video storytelling, embracing it and providing work for reporters, film makers and editors.

A week or so back I added a prime example of this to video .fu, our library of great online video storytelling.Production company Phos Pictures were approached by – of all people – a gym. They used documentary-style, portrait storytelling: not to create a naff advert for the gym, but to engage us with the stories of the people who use it.

The videos themselves are not embeddable, but here’s a promo produced by director Eliot Rausch.

You can’t gleam a huge amount from the trailer, so head over to the main site and watch one of the short films on there.

What’s the point?

You might recognise the people who produced these films – they’re the guys behind Last Minutes With Oden (Vimeo’s Documentary of the Year 2010) and Pennies HEART, both of which feature in the video .fu library.

The Gold’s Gym films utilise many of the same strengths: a single, engaging character, on an internal and external journey. We hear their voice, but don’t always see them speak. The characters are carefully chosen, and interviewed extraordinarily well: their words are almost poetic, and you’d think they were scripted if they weren’t delivered so naturally.

This comes from a skill which really sets the Phos Pictures team apart: they know their subjects intimately.

Here’s what Lukas Korver said about making Last Minutes With Oden on my other storytelling blog, blog.fu:

I think the best advice we can give is to always keep your eyes open for fresh characters and stories, they are all around us.  Take a few moments out of your day and talk to interesting people you pass in your daily life. If you’re intentions are good most people are quite receptive to being on film, once they get to know you and your intentions.

One of the best parts about being a filmmaker is getting away from the bubble  you create at your desk around your computer and go out into the real world and do some real face to face interaction.  Most days I’m not shooting I live a pretty solitary life so its great to break out of that routine of controlled isolation and experience life, or in our case as a filmmakers, experience others experiencing life.

These videos prove that engaging, documentary storytelling has uses beyond the boundaries of news and current affairs. Why does that matter for us? Well, it provides a possible new revenue stream, which can potentially fund independent journalism. Not only that, it provides a great opportunity to practice this very challenging craft.

It’s a lesson for journalists, but really it’s a lesson for businesses big and small: online video done well can bring your business to life.

5 Responses

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  1. Marco Leitão Silva said, on March 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Hi, Adam!

    First of all, congratulations for your post.

    As a broadcast journalist, I know that television and radio have their own “languages” and codes which can be learnt and repeated again and again. Charlie Brooker made a very funny movie endorsing this point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtGSXMuWMR4

    However, as a new Media enthusiast, I am still trying to figure out what’s the “language” for online Journalism. Some of my teachers (I’m attending an MA at the City University) say that one of the best things about online Journalism is that you don’t really have (yet) codes to follow, rigid structures to which you must obey. The feeling of freedom is undoubtedly great.

    The debate you raise on this post is an interesting one, but I have asked myself: since the television formulas have worked for so long (and so successfully), shouldn’t we use them when we are producing video for the web? The point you make about storytelling (the use of characters) is not something that we see exclusively online. Television has used characters for a long long time, as well.

    I do know that television and online video are different by nature. But is the storytelling process so different as you try to show on your post?

    Thank you for this engaging debate. It would be great if I could get your thoughts on this.
    Cheers,
    Marco

  2. Adam Westbrook said, on March 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Hi Marco,
    Interesting question! Funnily enough I’ve been putting together a post about that very thing over the weekend, which is going up this coming Thursday.
    You’ve raised some interesting points so I’m going to add some responses to your questions as well!
    Thanks for commenting🙂

  3. […] Marco left a comment on this post earlier this week, raising a valid point: …since the television formulas have worked for so long (and so successfully), shouldn’t we use them when we are producing video for the web?… I do know that television and online video are different by nature. But is the storytelling process so different as you try to show on your post? […]

  4. […] Great online video: Gold’s Strong Stories […]

  5. […] business. Duckrabbit’s TV campaign for Oxfam uses the real story of a donor to make us care; this series by Phos Pictures uses the same device to advertise -wait for it: a gym. It almost made me sign up, and I live 4,000 […]


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