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July 26, 2010 3:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell better stories with video?

This is not a technical question AT ALL. I make (verite/journalism, 3 to 10 minutes) videos, they get broadcast on TV. They are adequate, but not excellent. I've gotten better technically (i.e., I have no issues filming and recording solid material) and when I come back from a shoot, I know I'm coming back with good stuff. Then the editing happens.

I'm hitting a little bit of a wall on editing my stories together better. I own a million books, I get regular practice, but I feel like I'm plateauing. Any helpful words to the wise on improving? I think I'm looking for more macro/conceptual, but what do I know?

Any video editors out there care to spill the secrets?
posted by history is a weapon to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you studied story structure? You know, breaking things down into act; arcs; turning points; etc.? This stuff works for both fiction and non-fiction.
posted by grumblebee at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2010

Seconding grumblebee. Read some stuff about screenwriting (Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger is a good one) and apply some of the things you think of a being more for fictional stories to your non-fiction work.
posted by stefnet at 5:41 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

So I've been slamming my head into this brick wall in the audio world. I found that reading these books is helping: Telling True Stories, Reality Radio, Radio: An Illustrated Guide. I also have Writing for Story and Sound Reporting waiting in the wings, which might help as well. But my larger more applicable point is that writing about what I've read and then giving myself homework assignments after reading them is working WAY better than just reading them. I just wasn't absorbing it the same way when I didn't have to reframe it and spit it back out again. Reality Radio has been great because it's a bunch of different visions and styles that I can try on for size. Ira Glass' essay would probably be applicable to video as well as audio, same for Jad Abumrad's. Hopefully, someone will drop by and give you topic specific recommendations, but I think the trick is not just to read but to apply it.

Here's a block quote from "Harnessing Luck as an Industrial Product" Ira's essay:

"…on any given story, in addition to whatever my editor wanted, I had my own goals. For instance, every story-even the stories thrown together in one day-had to have a tape-to-tape transition. That is, the story would go from one quote directly to the next…or from a quote to location sound to another quote, with no narration. This was to keep me alert to pacing. Too many radio stories get into this rhythm of script then quote then script then quote then script then quote. That’s poor craftsmanship. And boring."

He also in that one or in Radio: An Illustrated Guide, I can't remember, talks about writing a script before you go out in the field so you have big questions and themes that you are looking for, and then you adapt based on what you actually encounter in the field. Most professional radio journalists seem to feel similarly, Robert Krulwich being one of them.
posted by edbles at 7:12 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have solid material and a solid narrative arc, questioning each and every transition to make sure it's happening at exactly the right frame can make an adequate story sing. As an editor, getting the narrative down is only half the game. Once you have it, you have to tune all that out and really pay attention to the vocal patterns, gesture, movement, color, eye position, etc. to add an element of poetry to your narrative. It's a lot like music in that sometimes the rhythm of the words is more powerful than the actual content.
posted by ohisee at 8:05 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good idea would be to write down the story that you envision, either as a script or as a short story just before, or while you're editing. Look at the all the material you have, and analyse what each element can convey to your audience. You'll find that writing a faux-story and translating it into a coherent video makes things much easier to process.
posted by Senza Volto at 10:36 PM on July 26, 2010

Even when I'm editing videos that aren't strictly a "story" I make sure I have a thread that reappears throughout the video. That thread might be clips from an interview with a person, or video of a house in progressive stages of completion.
posted by jander03 at 5:16 AM on July 27, 2010

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