Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to produce online video from scratch

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 15, 2011

I recently showed the behind-the scenes progress of a motion graphics commission using the curating tool Storify and it went down pretty well so I thought I’d do it again, this time showing the process behind a typical video shoot.

Last week I published the third instalment of a web series I’ve been making with presenter Matt Walters. In each film he tries something new (and usually ridiculous) to try and drastically cut his carbon emissions. So far he’s crushed his car, and tried to cut his waste to zero.

In this film he tries to power his house using home-made methane, and you can see the results after the jump.

Below is the behind the scenes Storify – as usual, I can’t embed it into – but click on the image and it’ll take you straight there.

And here’s the film, released this week.


How to make online video that engages people

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on June 20, 2011

Online video is growing: in consumer demand for it, but also in the desire for organisations to start using it. I work with lots of think-tanks, NGOs, businesses and publishers who all want to do more online video.

Lots of companies will tell you that you must start doing online video, and that it’s a sure-fire way to hook, engage and convince your viewers.

In many cases that is the case…but onlyand only – if it is done well.

Plastic video

Here’s a story of two online videos each competing for your attention – and your support. The first is a trailer for the 2010 independent documentary Bag It directed by Susan Bereza. It follows the journey of an ‘ordinary guy’ trying to find out the consequences of our reliance on plastic, and trying to cut it out of his life.

It’s got the key elements of a successful documentary here: a character, a journey, a narrative. We aren’t told about plastic – we are shown it. The voice over is conversational and informal: he speaks to us not at us.

Anyway, Bag It unsurprisingly irked some organisations in the US, including the American Chemistry Council which ‘represents the American chemical industry’ – who of course make plastic. They had some points they wanted to clarify about Bag It. And someone convinced them they needed to do it in online video.

This is a classic case of online video being done badly. Firstly, in style it sets out to mimic either  a TV news piece or a political campaign message – neither of which the public trust. We get a wholesome American guy (with a quite sinister stare) talking to us in a measured – but utterly unengaging way: he is talking at us, not to us.

And that’s all he does – talk. Our only break from him is some lazy b-roll of cars and milk cartons, and some amateur graphics. It is lacking visuals, it is lacking a story, and it fails utterly to hold our attention or make us care.

You could even argue this film harms their message: yes, online video can do damage as much as it can do good.

So let’s look at the stats. At the time of writing, the Bag It trailer had 46,900 views on Vimeo. The American Chemistry Council had 188 – a mere 250th of the audience. Now, I’m willing to accept that Bag It may have had some marketing support behind it, especially after a festival run. But I think the bulk of Bag It’s views come from that fact it is worth sharing.

The American Chemistry Council wanted to get their message across, and thought that online video would be the best way to do it. But online video done badly will, at best, skip off of the surface of the pond unnoticed; at worst, subject your brand to ridicule or heavy fire.

H/T: the digital naturalist

Journalism & the environment

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2009

On the weekend dozens of climate change protesters climbed onto the roof of parliament in the latest stunt to get public attention for the cause. They used ropes and ladders to scale perimeter fencing before climbing up onto the roof of Westminster Hall.

The purpose: to ask MPs to sign a climate manifesto on Monday morning.

I write about journalism and multimedia for most of the time, but because it’s Blog Action Day today, I’ve been thinking about where the two meet. And the answer, it seems, is not in many places.

Let’s think about how the mainstream media cover the issue of climate change. It is of course well documented in broadcast news, with reports every few weeks (for example, from the BBC’s David Shukman). Big newspapers like the Guardian and Times have their own ‘environment’ sections online, featuring the calls of action of Bibi Van Der Zee among others.

And of course there have been landmark cinema releases including Al Gore’s glorified powerpoint presentation, Inconvenient Truth and Franny Armstrong’s Age of Stupid.

As for new media, when I checked 63,000 climate change related websites had been bookmarked by delicious. 69,000 videos are on Youtube with the similar tags.

Are we more informed as a result?

It’s an important question because there is little argument climate change is the most significant and global threat facing us today, and tomorrow. And for the next century.

It deserves more than 90 seconds in the 6 o’clock news every few weeks, and a feature in the G2.

The mainstream media, I think, have missed a massive opportunity to really inform the public on a regular basis. It affects us all, there is an appetite for news, analysis, advice on climate change. Yet it has no regular and protected space on our TV screens, supplements or radios (with the exception of One Planet on the BBC World Service).

PlanetDoes it not deserve a regular, accessible, digestible and regular form of coverage?

I would love to see a weekly magazine show, dedicated entirely to the environment. It would have the usual magazine-format mix of the latest news, interviews with important people in the fight against global warming, reviews of the latest green cars or gadgets, and practical advice on cutting your own carbon emissions.

The closest we ever came to that last item in the UK was Newsnight’s failed Green Man experiment.

Importantly this new video-magazine would not be preachy, it would accept the realities and practicalities of modern living, but show us solutions to those problems.

Perhaps we could all become united around this weekly offering, which shows us how to work together and take small steps as individuals to limit the effects of climate change, and make those dramatic Westminster protests unnecessary.

Just a thought. I suspect though it will be for new & social media to fill the gap.