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Expert Tips to Improve Your Video Storytelling

Julieta Shama

Media Partnerships

Lesson at a Glance

One Big Takeaway: When creating and monetizing video, lean into your publication’s unique approach to storytelling.
2 Steps to Take Now:
  1. Video performs differently across platforms. Create videos that tell your unique story and are tailored to each platform’s best practices.
  2. When you are planning a documentary’s story, you can tell it using a character, an event, a trip, or a theme, or several of these approaches at the same time. Share the story your publication is uniquely positioned to tell.

Telling Stories in Video

To Bernardo Loyola, a documentary journalist and former Content Manager of VICE USH and Latin America in VICE Media, the skills needed to produce videos are not the same needed for text. But video and text do share a common goal: storytelling.
The best path to creating video — even if you’re still new to creating it — is to find your publication’s unique approach to storytelling. Your unique voice shapes your text content. It will also shape your video strategy and the value your videos’ storytelling provides your audience.
Loyola shared VICE as a good example of unique storytelling via video. VICE has focused its unique storytelling on first-person, subjective journalism. VICE videos look at cultures from a human perspective in ways that other media doesn’t report on.
Loyola presented at the Digital Video Accelerator, a 6-week, 6-class pilot program in Buenos Aires, Argentina for 25 news publishers on developing a digital strategy. Loyola’s presentation walked through how to improve video storytelling in video pre-production, creation, and distribution.
Build a Business Model Around your Video’s Unique Voice
Honing a unique voice for your videos also hones your video business model. You can monetize a video unique to your publication more effectively than you can a video with no differentiation.
Before you dive into video creation, set your business model. How would you like to monetize your videos? Here are some of the key methods of monetization that Loyola recommended pursuing.
Generating Intellectual Property
VICE is able to add value by selling intellectual property rights to major chains, like HBO. VICE began with short YouTube videos and today has a daily programming schedule that generates the bulk of the company’s revenue. This is a good example that shows being able to find unique voices and formats can be profitable.
This includes programmatic or direct sale monetization, although earnings can still be marginal in relation to the bulk of a business. The website is used to monetize via direct sale campaigns using native video players, something which can only be recommended in this specific case because performance is inferior to embedded Facebook or YouTube players.
Branded Content
Branded content is another major source of income for content — especially lifestyle content like travel and music — which is distributed over social media or proprietary platforms (belonging to associated media and brands). Continue creating videos that highlight your unique storytelling and perspective, and find sponsors whose interests overlap with yours. According to Bernardo: “Branded content is the sort of project Vice would do anyway but getting somebody else to pay for it.”
Diversify your Approach for Each Video Platform
A long-standing KPI at VICE News was page views, Loyola said. In recent months, VICE News has started measuring total reach across all platforms instead.
Doing so helps VICE News understand the full impact of its video distribution. Loyola recommended that publishers first consider where their digital videos will be distributed and how their videos should change accordingly. The format used by each platform may change the way a story is told, Loyola said. For instance:
  • On Facebook Start out with strong images or movement that immediately capture the viewer’s attention. The first few seconds are key.
  • On Instagram Viewers expect content on Instagram that is produced naturally and organically, not something highly produced or noticeably designed for another platform.
  • On Instagram Stories Post video with a straightforward narrative that uses language the audience can relate to. Ideally, use Instagram Stories’ native tools instead of uploading video designed for another platform.
Tell Stories in a Documentary Style
Loyola defined a documentary as a narrative-driven, chronological audiovisual project. A documentary can be a traditional long-form movie — it can also be a shorter digital-only video. Regardless, your documentary must take a clear position and approach issues from a media standpoint. For example, The Missing 43 lasts almost 40 minutes and was made while events were taking place, but published later to avoid competing with news outlets. The Missing 43 opted for an entertaining, insider style of reporting.
Aim to create a documentary that showcases the world we live in through topics such as food, travel, and music and in a transparent, visceral, unfiltered way. Your documentary should aim to trigger viewers’ curiosity and empathy while informing the viewer intelligently and with respect.
How should one approach this philosophy? Here are some of Loyola’s key points:
In Pre-Production: Set a theory or hypothesis to prove or disprove.
During pre-production you’ll plan everything around that theory or hypothesis. Define your starting point, characters, and locations. Think about the resources you will use to tell the story: archival content, additional material, B-roll, time lapses, music, etc. Your resulting outline will give you an idea of the story you want to tell. It will also help inform your shooting plan and budget.
During Interviews: Generate Empathy and Trust
There are very clear differences between a text and a video interview. In the former you are on your own. On video, there is a camera and a team listening in. The staging might create a distance to the interviewee which could put the capture of natural moments that build a richer story at risk. The challenge is to generate empathy and trust and avoid just turning up with a camera and starting to record. Send your questions ahead of time. Spend time off-camera getting to know your subject. Focus on putting your interviewee at ease in front of the camera.
When Shooting: Have Every Detail Prepared
Before going out to shoot, you’ll need to know what you want to say. At a minimum, you need a strong idea of the story you want to tell and from what angle.
When you are planning a story, you can tell it using a character, an event, a trip, or a theme, or several of these approaches at the same time. Understand your story’s angle before going into shooting. You’ll also need to understand what your main distribution platform will be: Will it be TV, Facebook or Instagram? This makes it easier to decide if you’re going to convert to another format later and how to record it.
Loyola’s Quick tips for shooting video
  • The smallest technical team you will need includes two people: a cameraman and a producer. You also need an editor to provide basic post-production, after-effects, and graphic design.
  • Don’t forget your releases; signing a rights release form for each interview is very important.
  • Camera settings are very important, even if quite simple. A phone is also important. You need some basic knowledge.
  • Create your “Shooting bibles.” This is when you think about a series or show using your own system.
  • You’ll need to contact a production music library like Audio Network, a music stream, or a music publishing and licensing company like Jingle Punks Music.
  • If you use stolen music or other resources, your content loses its value. Do not trust in fair use. It depends on country by country legislation.
Loyola’s Recommended Equipment:
  • Canon C300 and Sony FS7.
  • Don’t forget the audio! Boom microphone, wireless microphones, cables, etc.
  • Ideally, you should take three lenses: A wide-angle, a 70-200 mm telephoto, and a 24-70 angular telephoto lens.

The Video Accelerator Program
The Facebook Journalism Project’s Video Accelerator Program helps news publishers create excellent video and build sustainable business models that work. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP) in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists, each Accelerator includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans and coaching from industry experts. Catch up on all the lessons from the Video Accelerator here. For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter
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