Storytelling Tips from Stillmotion and Vimeo’s Video School: Part 2

Storytelling Tips from Stillmotion and Vimeo’s Video School: Part 2

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Recently, Vimeo has been playing “Storytelling” videos courtesy of StillmotionWe covered Part 1 here, and they have gone on to break down the storytelling process even further in several new episodes.  The storytelling process is so crucial to creating video, a how-to like this is extremely valuable.  Even if you don’t do exactly what Stillmotion lays out in these lessons, I think the foundation for a great story has most of these techniques at least implied in them.  So, onto part 2 of their lessons.  These break down the basics, or the 4 “P’s” of the first lesson: Purpose, People, Places, and Plot.

Storytelling the Stillmotion Way, Part 2

It should be noted that the tips Stillmotion gives here are given examples through non-fiction storytelling: documentaries, commercials concerning real life, etc.  But if you’re going into a fictional story, many of the tips they give still work.  Even in a work of fiction, researching a subject thoroughly can make a big difference.

Discovery and Pre-Production

So what is your purpose?  In pre-production, you need to do research on the story you’re telling to brainstorm specific keywords that will guide the video.  These keywords need to be kept in mind for pre-interviews, scout locations, and to find conflict in the plot.

Pre-production starts with discovery: get to know the story.  Follow these couple of rules:

1. Research the topic

Try to experience the subject firsthand.  Ask others who also might be in the know.  In the example provided in the video, it shows someone walking into a place of business and learning about it through customers and by actually being a customer.  While around, ask for additional information: pictures, stories, old videos.  Anything that can shape the story.

2. Don’t rule out anything

Ideas may form.  Consider them all.  You might go in thinking the story is one thing, but it might end up being another.  Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the initial research, it’s time to create keywords.

Come up with around 5 keywords or phrases that best match the research.  Every decision must fit these keywords.  During the first brainstorming session may get you more than 5, but it is suggested to reduce it to 4-5.

In the video there is the example of a film they did for “Jess & Brian’s Wedding.”  Why would they have an adventure in Ireland?  3,000 miles away from home?  When Brian had never been there, and Jess had only been there one day in her life?

Stillmotion came up with 4 keywords for this particular story:

  • Family: bringing people together
  • Adventure: it would be a wedding trip full of exploring and activities
  • Fun: they love to be silly together
  • Sentiment: wedding vows would be touching.

Whatever the case may be when crafting a story, make sure the purpose consistently shines through.


Pre-interviews will help determine which characters will best embody the keywords.

The difference between a pre-interview and just a regular interview is that the pre-interview is not often recorded.  It’s a short interview that allows you to get to know the “characters,” how they may fit into your story.

Some basic rules to follow:

1. No e-mail.  With face-to-face, you get a better feel for how the person acts when in person.

2. You want someone who is both passionate and good on camera.  There are many who can one or the other.  Look for both.

3. Always remember keywords when looking for candidates.  Your potential character should be able to embody one or more of the keywords.  Pre-interviews allow you to select the right characters for your story.


You may have already scouted locations, but it’s time to go back to each area to see which ones make the cut.

1. Look at the light.  Anything with good natural light, or where you can bring your own lights are always preferable.

2. Think about the characters.  How comfortable will they be in the locations that you are considering?

3. Close your eyes and listen.  Does it have low noise, or controllable noise?

If your location doesn’t fit your keywords, it shouldn’t be in the film.  I like what is said here: Fight for relevance.


There are hundreds of angles you can take. You now have to narrow them down to find your story.

1. Think about your journey in three parts: beginning, middle, and end.

2. Create three conflicts and journeys, and then decide which one is the best direction to go.

Stillmotion isn’t done.  There are other parts already available on Vimeo right now.  I suggest anyone looking to get a better handle on story go and seek their Vimeo page and see the other parts.  We’ll be covering them all in due time.


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