Long-form video storytelling

When we used to talk about the advantages of the Web, we often mentioned the “bottomless newshole” – the ability to post more and longer stories online.

We’ve learned a lot since then, most notably that the quality of the content definitely matters.  Still, the fact is, there’s more space for long-form video online than in most TV newscasts.

FarrellphotoMichael Farrell is a photographer and producer for the Nebraska ETV Network.   Speaking to a group of Ole Miss journalism students about crafting documentaries, he offered advice that seems relevant to anyone who wants to tell compelling stories. 

When choosing the people to include in a story, Farrell says the tendency is to interview the first person who will talk to you.  Instead, he urges storytellers to find the right person.

“We have to cast them in the film; we have to determine how strong they are as characters,” Farrell said.

He says he often “auditions” his interview subjects by contacting them about his story and asking them who they would suggest he talk to about his topic.  In the process, he gets a a feel for how good they will be themselves without potentially hurting their feelings.

Farrell also offers this advice for getting the high quality content needed to support a longer story:

  • Find an adviser or guide to help you in the research phase.  That person can lead you to the story idea and the themes you want to include.
  • Sprinkle some of the hard, dry facts throughout the story – what someone called a “sawdust sandwich.”  You need to offer nuggets of important information and data, but try to sandwich them in between strong visuals and compelling sound.
  • Be there long enough for people to feel comfortable.  To do long-form well, you can’t just parachute in and out;  you’ll get the best stuff by spending time with your subjects.
  • Strong writing is the backbone – great visuals need to be hung on a frame.
  • You have to outline.  The outline will change through the reporting and writing process, but without it you don’t know where the story came from or where it’s going.

Finally, Farrell told the group that they have to care.

“There’s nothing like having a passion for your story.”

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