Rule #1 of Video Storytelling – Edit in Your Head FIRST!

FIRST RULE of video storytelling: edit in your head before you hit record. If you shoot too much footage a) you’ll struggle to edit it; b) you’ll lose track of the story; and c) the result will be hard to watch. Chances are you’ll lose heart and never finish your first story.

So here’s how to edit in your head. Don’t even touch your camera/smartphone until you’ve asked your potential interviewee these questions:

  1. “Hello, what’s going on here?” Start by asking about action and practical stuff, not opinions, theories, motivations or anything else. Keep it simple. This will settle your interviewee down: you’re talking to them about something they understand. Follow up with “Can you show me?” Again, this reassures your interviewee and puts them in control of the conversation. Plus it tells you what’ll make good pictures. As far as your audience is concerned, seeing is believing.
  2. “What’s surprising about this job? Tell what’s particularly good (or bad) about it?” These questions will start to uncover what’s exceptional or unusual: this is the stuff which grabs your audience’s attention. Listen very carefully for emotion (frustration, satisfaction, pride etc). Play these emotions back to your interviewee in the form of questions:
  3. “So, is it very rewarding? … frustrating? etc” If you’ve been listening carefully, you’ll call this right and your interviewee will really open up. You can follow up by asking “Why do you feel… ?” Don’t be tempted to dodge emotion because if feels a bit uncomfortable or nosey. Every story needs an emotional element.
  4. Bonus questions: “Why does this matter?”  or “What should other people think or do about this?” might throw something really interesting up. Always worth asking “Have I missed anything important?”

Ok, so that’s your basic research. Now you’re ready to edit in your head.

First Edit: Just Three Questions.  Ask yourself “what are the three questions I can answer in this story?” There’s no point trying to answer more, it just gets confusing. Here’s an example of three basic questions any story can answer:

  • What’s going on? Can you show me?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • Why does this matter?

Second Edit: Show and Tell.  Figure out what you can film or photograph that shows what the interviewee is telling you. Remember: seeing is believing.

Third Edit: Practical and Safe. You’ve got to film with decent light and audio, otherwise you’re wasting your time. Don’t interview anyone where there’s lots of background noise. Your ears filter it out, but your camera won’t. And don’t put yourself into any kind of dangerous situation to try and get a good shot.

Here’s a tip for filming with strong light:

FINALLY you’re ready to pick up the camera. Remember to shoot in short bursts. This will make the final edit on a computer much easier.

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