Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Three more lessons in video storytelling…

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 24, 2010

…from people who really know what they’re doing

Time for three more awesome bits of multimedia storytelling we can all learn from. You can see previous write ups on really good video storytelling here and here and here! Here’s three more well executed examples; I’ve tried to putĀ  as much practical takeaways beneath each one as possible. If you think I have missed or misinterpreted anything, then you know where the comments box is!

Big Vinny / California is a place

A chapter from an online series getting lots of love on the internet at the moment — it would seem, by the sheer quality of the storytelling. Produced by Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari for a series called California is a Place, it tells the story of a former car salesman, ‘Big Vinny’, looking back on the glory days. If you only watch one of these videos, make sure it’s this one.

  • the interesting thing about this film is visually, we are only seeing shots of a deserted car lot. There’s hardly any movement, andĀ  no action. Does that hold your attention for the full five minutes?
  • this story is driven by one thing: an extremely engaging character
  • note the opening use of sound beneath a single caption – I find sound used like this sucks the viewer in more than moving pictures would
  • the opening sequence, cutting to “cars! cars! cars!” is a great way of using sound and pictures together for good effect
  • and then at 45 seconds the music comes in…say what you like about video journalists using music, but here it hits the spot and instantly conveys the tragic economic decline at the heart of this story
  • look at how they’ve framed Big Vinny – the shots are always slightly off centre or tilted at an angle
  • it would have been nice to have had shots of Vinny wandering around his deserted former business – if anything to inject more movement into what we’re seeing
  • there’s some great use of colour too, with the saturation pulled down just a bit to drain some of the richness out

Polyphoto / Daniel Meadows

Claire Wardle introduced me to the work of British storyteller Daniel Meadows just recently. His website has several small pieces, which he calls Digital Stories: 2 minute vignettes combining audio with still photos. Click on the image to see Polyphoto on Daniel’s website.

  • first thing you notice is Daniel’s choice of words – he is writing to pictures in the truest sense, a real craft in broadcast journalism which should (I think) continue into video journalism
  • combine that with his gentle voice and it’s like a trusted friend saying ‘come here and let me tell you a really good story…’
  • the narrative begins with the pictures and Daniel tells us about Polyphotos in much detail to draw us in. It’s only then that he begins the real story of how his parents met and their tough life after the war.
  • and this whole story was told using just a repeating series of old photographs, used in different ways: sometimes his mother on her own, then alongside her dad, then composited over each other.

Clifton Bridge / Rosie Gloyns

BBC Natural History producer Rosie Gloyns shot this short piece this month as part of a video journalism training course run by Michael Rosenblum. It’s a simple vignette, but full of clever storytelling tricks:

  • immediately you get the feel of this story: the music and opening shot of Barry (with no introduction) tells us this is going to be a lighthearted story
  • as in the first film, we see a some fast cutting near the beginning
  • but Rosie has been very clever in constructing her story: she sets it up in such a way to create a journey her character must embark on – and importantly she doesn’t tell us what it’s for: ‘he has all the things he needs..except one: and for that he needs to walk 200m to the other side of the bridge‘.
  • we then watch a sequence of Barry crossing the bridge – and we keep watching because we want to find out where he’s going! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you keep your viewer interested.