How to Tell a Story With Video (and a Pony)

March 26, 2013 / By

One of the hardest things for beginning video storytellers to do is figure out what makes a good story “work”. Sure, you may love Star Wars, but it isn’t until you understand “why” you like it, that you can begin to make video stories that people actually like.
I’m not saying every video you make has to be perfect, you’ll make mistakes, you’ll have films that you loved when you made them, but can’t watch six months later. Know this: video storytelling is a process. The more you make, and the more you understand and learn about the craft, the better you will become.
Before we dive into the basics of video storytelling, take a minute and watch this video story I put together on a lunch break.

Catch The Audience’s Attention & Set the Stage

Whether your story is in space, a taxi cab or a taxi cab in space (5th Element), set your stage in the first few seconds of the video. Because we are working with video, set the stage with visuals: think in color, in motion, in action. attnAlso, think about your sound: you may want to use the audio you recorded in the video, you may want to add a soundtrack, you may want to add completely different sounds. Whatever you choose, use it to create an environmental experience that works for your story. In my pony video, the lively music, mixed with a funny title and a cute little pony is enough to keep people watching… at least for a few more seconds.

Introduce Your Characters

CharactersYou have precious seconds to tell your story; quickly set up the characters and get on with the story. Remember, only reveal what you absolutely need to about the characters. Identify what is relevant to your story and stick to it. If the pony also happens to be a world-class roller-skater, but it is not relevant to the story, I won’t mention it. In this video, the first character (the pony) is visually introduced, and Tanya is introduced in the text.

Set Up the “Problem”


The problem in your story is the thing that will be either remedied or agreed on by the end of your story. In my story, the problem is simply that, “Tanya doesn’t have a pony.” Maybe the pony was busy, maybe it hadn’t gotten the text, maybe it was out to lunch… whatever the reason, your story needs a problem… something to either solve or be conquered by. Stories are all about “change” – no one want’s to see a video story about something doing nothing.

Throw in a Twist

TwistIn your story a twist can be something unexpected; the dog can talk, your teacher is a vampire, the toaster, and all the appliances are alive (The Brave Little Toaster). In my story, the pony “comes alive” or at least appears alive as it orders lunch, goes to The Apple Store (ponies love apples) and walks down the busy sidewalk of University Avenue in Palo Alto.

Solve The Problem

You could also have everyone come to terms with the problem… it’s up to you. This the “change” that happens in your story. In my story, the pony gets to the WeVideo office, sees his/her written on the “list of things to buy” wall, and walks over to Tanya’s desk. TextPony2At this point, your story also has to have some kind of payoff, some moment where the world seems right, or a surprise is revealed (the guy is dead in the film The 6th Sense). In my story, the payoff is when Tanya gets her pony (and that is 100% real. She was not expecting the pony at all). Storyteller’s Note: This is also when I switch the point of view from the pony (who has until now been a mischievous character) to Tanya, who now has her pony.

Bonus: If you can, give people that extra something special. In this story, I tell people (via the end credits) that this was created during a lunch break.

3 Editing Tips for Making Your Video Story Even Better!

So, you’ve done all of the above… but you’re sitting with your footage all edited in WeVideo, (for example) and you want to add a kick. Here are some tips:

1. Stylize The Video

In WeVideo, you can choose a theme with pre-loaded music, filters, transitions and text to give your whole film a specific “look.” In my video, I hand adjusted the color to saturate (make the colors richer) my story. In one section, I make it black and white for effect.

2. Pick the Right Music

If your video is serious, give it serious music. If your video is funny, give it something comical. WeVideo has lots of pre-loaded music you can use. Whatever you do, don’t just throw your favorite song under every video you make. Not everyone has your taste in music. Note: If you go to film school everyone’s first film (or first ten films) will have all their favorite songs loudly playing over their videos. It’s likely a phase that they just have to get through.

3. Keep it Short!

Two minutes is too long. Three minutes is too long. Under a minute should be enough for your first video. Edit that video down! Make it shorter… shorter is better!

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