Profiling individual people and telling their story is a fundamental method of documentary style film making.
In this post, I give you two examples from my own library. I made both of these videos while working as a field producer/one-man-band video production crew for WSMV-TV in Nashville, TN. I did everything except narrate. Our anchor lady and my long time good pal Demetria Kalodimos narrated these pieces.
My job at the station was to produce health-oriented stories. Healthcast was the name of my segment and no doubt wherever you live the local TV news has a similar segment.
To enhance the “watchability” of a video new story, and make it appeal to a broad audience, the standard practice is to profile a person who experienced the subject matter of the story. Videotape them doing whatever it is they do, and weave it into the final story in a logical way.
This is a great technique, especially when you’re trying to visualize an abstract topic.
The best, most entertaining videos to make are compelling stories of individuals who experienced whatever issue the story is about.
How do you make a video about an abstract subject like depression? Tell the story of someone who dealt with it. That’s what I did with the first video in this post, which I named “Garden Grief.” (Video posted is just the first half of the story.)
The woman in the story had recovered from serious depression stemming from the death of a friend, by becoming an avid gardener. she worked out her grief and stress by creating a huge backyard garden. So videotaping her on her knees digging in the dirt was easy video to weave into the overall story.
The second video in this post is about losing weight. As you can well imagine, like any health reporter, I’ve written more than once of the subject of weight loss! This story stands out to me because I told it through the marriage of Maria, a lifelong obese woman whom I’d profiled several times before about weight loss.
Weight loss is a complex emotional issue. What better way to impart that in a minute and a half than to intertwine it with the most emotional of all events, a wedding! This video is the full story, just without the anchor intro.
The video in this weight loss story is a basic sequence of her dressing and preparing for the wedding. Into that basic video, I wove in the emotional aspects of obesity, the core subject matter of the story.
Now you can’t tell me that isn’t a better technique than doing the twenty zillionth dieting story showing carrots and scales!
DOCUMENTARY STYLE VIDEO MAKING
In order to do a basic profile story of a person on video, you need a good interview plus video of them doing something. If you are doing a long piece, you can make it more compelling using variety. Videotape them doing several different activities, not just one.
Interview your subject in more than one location. Interviewing them while they are doing something, and not just sitting there, is also a good idea although neither of these pieces make much use of that technique.
Hopefully, whatever video you take is perfectly related to the subject matter. Sometimes it’s impossible to get the video you really WANT so you have to learn to configure the story around what you have.
In those cases, you write the narration in such a way that it makes perfect sense to be seeing the video we are seeing. In the story on Maria getting married, once I established the link between love, weight loss and her wedding, it made perfect sense to see video of her putting on her wedding gown.
In the same manner with the depression story, close-ups of bird’s nests and wind chimes make sense in context.
When I made the Garden Grief story, I really would have liked to have added some still pictures of the auto accident which lead to her depression. If you watch the portion of the story I posted, there is no doubt that at the right time screeching tire sound effects, music and quick shots of the wreck scene would have worked well.
I did not do this because this video was produced in a context of JOURNALISM. I needed images of the actual wreck, not just any generic wreck. There was no way I could get them by deadline so I left them out.
If I had not been telling this story in the context of journalism, I would have felt free to use generic wreck shots and sounds. It would have added to the impact of the story, but it would have crossed ethical boundaries of realism in journalism for me. Now there is not much ethical journalism going on in America today but that is another post! I sure always tried.
Neither of these stories is anything outstanding, rather they are typical of what I used to do on a daily basis. They are typical of documentary style film making in general. No matter what kind of documentary style videos you want to make, chances are real high that profiling people and telling their stories will be one of the best ways for you to accomplish your goal.
I hope you enjoy these examples and can see from them all the different elements it takes to make a quality documentary style video. Notice the pacing of the editing. Rarely does any one shot last as long as ten seconds. There are lots of close-ups. There are short natural sound breaks between paragraphs of narration.
The video illustrates the story but really does not match word for word with what the narration is saying. In is more of association type relationship between the words and the video, not a literal one. People who have been making video forever (like me) consider this type of relationship between our visuals and our spoken words to be a more creative method that tells a more effective story.
Thanks for reading Video Production Tips. as always, drop me a line if you have questions about online video.