Canadian filmmakers/photographers Stillmotion recently shared four basic things that need to be thought out before you even pick up a camera on Vimeo’s Video School. One of the things we always preach here at ReelSEO is the idea that your videos need “great content.” Well, how do you do that? What questions do you need to ask yourself before you create a story? Luckily, Stillmotion has many years of experience, and by their own admission, once tried to make videos without this kind of preparation. Surprise, surprise, they didn’t succeed using that method.
Stillmotion’s Four ‘P’s’ for Storytelling
Figuring things out on the fly is no good. There are building blocks to making something worth watching, and Stillmotion has labeled those the “4 ‘P’s of Storytelling:” That would be people, places, plot, and purpose.
1. People-Who is in the story?
The primary purpose of the characters is to make us care about the story. We want these characters to win in the end. Unless we want to do something different with the script where the audience roots for an antagonist to fail.
Two other points about characters:
A.) Your characters may not always be a real person, it could be an object. Stillmotion harkens back to a wedding video they made where the couple’s Winnebago is a character.
B.) Sometimes your characters are not obvious. Stillmotion talks about an ad they did with Phil Mickelson where they found a character in his caddy, “Bones,” (Jim Mackay) that helped fill in the story they were trying to tell:
Remember to be creative. You pick these characters. You’re in control.
2. Places-Where does the story take place?
Locations have a way of adding depth and intrigue to your characters’ journeys. Locations can visually communicate a great deal of information in a short amount of time. A bad location can disconnect your story from the audience. So what do you need to look for?
A.) Relevance. Does the location make sense to the story you are telling?
B.) Comfort. Is this a place where the actors can act naturally?
C.) Production Friendly. Do we have enough space? How much lighting is required? Can you do what you want to do with the sound? Who or what might be in the way?
Stillmotion details a shoot where they shot a documentary about a woman who had decided to move into a tiny house, so tiny that it was difficult to set up a proper production. They could have shot outside the house, but decided to “make it work” inside because that seemed to be the entire point: its relevance overshadowed the production friendliness. But for the most part, you want to try to get all three.
3. Plot-What is the conflict and the journey?
Finding the conflict in a story is what separates a good story from a “fluff piece.” Conflict and tension does NOT mean having a villain twirling their mustache hatching schemes. It can come from a variety of places: sometimes it’s from character flaws, mental barriers, or physical limitations. In one wedding video, Stillmotion focused on the nervousness of the groom as he prepared his vows, focusing on the pacing and fidgeting. This causes empathy and audience investment in a character. It is satisfying when ultimately that character overcomes the barrier and is able to succeed, and we feel like the victory is earned.
This is important because it gets your audience to become an active participant: they ask questions. They’re curious. As soon as the plot becomes predictable they have no need to watch your story anymore. Keep them intrigued, they’ll stay to the end.
4. Purpose-Why should anyone care? What is the meaning of your story?
A.) Know what you’re going to say before you speak. If you know this, you’re story will resonate with more people, saving time, stress, and your hard-earned dollars.
Stillmotion took an issue that affects many people and found other people who had overcome those obstacles. Now, that works when you’re setting out to make a documentary about something meaningful to you, but sometimes you might get hired to do something you have very little information about. What do you do then?
Well, you have to be able to share in the passion of the people hiring you, and continue asking the question, “Why?”
Here’s what they did for an iPhone app from BioBeats that detects your pulse, then creates music on the fly based on that pulse. This story happens over a great amount of time over several locations around the world:
B.) In one sentence, what is the purpose of your story?
Stillmotion is planning to do more of these for Vimeo, and that’s awesome. This gets to the heart of great content, what kind of questions you should be asking yourself when you create a video. I’m looking forward to what they say next.