3 video tips from the Visual Story Lab

August 26, 2013

Steve Stockman, a Hollywood writer/producer/director and author of How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck, advises that nonprofits avoid a cause- or organization-centered approach to video. Instead, they should do audience-centered video. Why? Because you don’t get to decide whether your audience watches your whole video – the audience does. It’s not like a play where most people feel obligated to sit through to the end even if it’s awful from the first scene. Your audience decides moment to moment whether they will continue watching. If you don’t engage them, you lose them.

Here is some advice to keep your audience in their seats:

  1. Step back and analyze your videos. Which ones have been the most popular? Which were the least popular? Why? Our guess is that the videos you have produced that describe why you do what you do, rather than whatyou do, will have fared better. This simple switch is the surest route to touching people’s emotions, getting them invested in something that matters. You were once the audience; tell your story. Authentic stories are always the most engaging and a great story will beat sophisticated technique any day. The story is what will provide meaning to the viewer and is what people will remember.
  2. Don’t wait until you have taken five classes on professional editing, expensive gear and a tight script. Just start shooting video and develop one to three-minute segments. Provide visual variety – wide, medium and tight shots, especially for intimate moments or foreshadowing shots. Your videos don’t have to be professionally shot, but if you are going to include any bad cuts, they had better well serve the story. However, while you might be forgiven for bad lighting (though we strongly advocate that you have good lighting), you will never be forgiven for bad sound. Good audio equipment is where you should put your money because if we can’t hear you and understand you, your message is lost on us. If the audio is built in, your mic needs to be within three feet of whoever is speaking. Otherwise, buy a separate mic. They aren’t expensive; for example, the iRig Mic, which plugs in to the iPhone, costs only about $50.
  3. Remember those pesky video release forms (you get extra points for having them on your iPad). Just as with photos, you should follow proper etiquette and get permission if you use people in your film. It can be as simple as a paper reading, “I hereby give permission to [name of producer] to use my image, voice, words in all forms and media for [name of video project]. I understand that he/she may edit, reproduce and exhibit the project.” Then, create lines for their name, address, signature and the date. The only changes needed in language for minors is: “I am the parent and/or guardian of the minor named above. I give my permission for his/her participation and agree with the terms in this release form,” all followed by the parent’s name, signature and date.

To see great examples of cause videos, go to the Daily doGooder. You can sign up to have several fantastic cause videos land in your inbox each week, or you can comb through the site for examples and inspiration for your next video.

For technical tutorials on how to make great videos, check out Steve Stockman’s website, SocialBrite’s ten-step tutorial or Vimeo’s video school.

Liz Banse