Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Three more examples of video storytelling at its best

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on February 20, 2012

I’ve been collecting and curating remarkable examples of visual storytelling over at Vimeo for more than a year and the library now has nearly 50 inspiring, thought-provoking, engaging and well made films in there.

They are all examples of video storytelling at its very best: creative, universal, visual, and driven by strong narratives. If you’re new to video journalism, or just need some inspiration, then you ought to watch some. I’ve added several new ones in recent weeks which I could easily write pages and pages on.

Here’s three which I think you’ll like. You’ll notice all three demand quite a lot of your time – much more than many ‘experts’ would suggest. These pieces reward you for your time. Of course, feel free to say what works and doesn’t work about each film in the comments.

The Love Competition

Contestants gather at an MRI lab to compete to see who has the most love. They each spend five minutes inside the scanner while loving someone as hard as they can, while their brains are analysed.

This is the first 15 minute long piece of online video I have watched in a very long time – although remarkably, I didn’t want to switch away at any point. It’s a very good example of how science can be made interesting, accessible and create an emotional resonance. The secret is, of course, that it’s not really about science at all – it’s about something far more universal.

Although we’ve all experienced love of some kind, Brent is smart to include examples of love in its many different forms: romantic, heart-broken, and even selfless. He also doesn’t waste the visuals of the MRI scans, and turns them into a romantic montage as all the contestants go through the scanner.

The takeaway: make your stories universal – so they’re about something we can all connect with.

Dir: Brent Hoff/

Yoshi’s Blend

There are lots of vignettes about creative-types out there (including some by me), partly because they can be visual and personal, but also because they are more simple to produce than many other pieces. The problem is that they can often be quite boring, with the film-maker selfishly keeping in far too much self-indulgent detail.

Yoshi’s Blend immediately stands out as something different. It immediately sets itself up as a slow, reflective story: the first shot is 44 seconds long, but somehow also playful with the use of old jazz records. Again, notice the first thing Yoshi (the key character) says right off the bat: “What is important is for our hearts to be broken..” – a line that hooks in anyone.

What I also like here is Mackenzie’s use of what I call ‘scenes’ – captured moments which we see unfold on screen without any editing. Mackenzie has his character show us and talk to us as he makes a brew; we also see the reactions of local people as naturally as possible.

Dir: Mackenzie Sheppard

The Way Home

Finally, Amy Marquis of The Digital Naturalist blog has recently released this short documentary about a program to get more African Americans visiting US national parks.

For me, this is all about that first shot, again held longer than most shots are, but telling something universal that hooks us all in. Who can’t watch the elderly woman looking up at ancient trees with unabashed wonder and not feel empathy? The film is also rich in captured moments as well as beautiful scenic shots of Yosemite.

It’s a good lesson for those who would approach a story like this from a ‘televisual’ perspective: filling it with statistics, a voice-over and plenty of official voices. I love seeing online video ignore those formulae and just tell a good human story. Film makers like Amy, Mackenzie and Brent realise that the story – the individual, universal, human story – leads and all else is told via proxy. It’s a hard sell to funders and clients who want their message graffitied all over the shop, but a principal we should stick to.

Dir: Amy Marquis/NPCA

If you’ve liked what you’ve seen here make sure you’re subscribed to the Videofu archive on Vimeo (it’s free and doesn’t involve any email nonsense). Once you’ve subscribed you can also recommend films for me to add to the library!