Posts filed under ‘content’

Brain Chemical Connects Us to Human Stories

When we watch cSigning a Checkharacters on the screen, why do they make us laugh or cry? And why does one story make us want to support a charity or social cause? It turns out compelling human stories trigger a chemical response in our brains. Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak has been studying the neurochemical oxytocin for years, and learned that humans have a chemical response similar to animals when we find another human trust-worthy: a spike in our oxytocin makes us feel connected to another human being. Even when watching the human on a screen, this response is triggered—what Dr. Zak calls the golden rule response: “if you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

Most recently, Dr. Zak conducted a study with several short films from St. Jude’s Hospital. When viewers connected with the characters in a short film about a father whose young son is dying of cancer, they had an increase in cortisol and oxytocin. That chemical boost ran parallel to feelings of empathy with the characters, which was increased when there was a strong “narrative arc”—a powerful dramatic rise and climax to the real people story line.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to those of us working in nonprofit direct response and impact story-telling. We know that to get donors to give and communities to care, we have to tell powerful stories. We know that viewers must connect emotionally with our characters, just as they would with characters in a fiction film. We do this through not just their words and images, but through lighting techniques, music scoring and the pacing of our edits. But building empathy isn’t enough. We have to create a dramatic arc that builds to a climax. We have to create suspense around some kind of obstacle that the characters must overcome, whether it is in their past or present. And our viewers have to relate to that obstacle, even if it is not precisely the same for them.

This is why pre-interviewing potential characters is so essential for documentary-style stories based on real people. Before they go on camera, we need to understand what will be compelling, what will not be relatable, and what will build suspense for our viewers.  And now it turns out that what we’re also doing is triggering those chemical responses in the brain that will make our subjects and their story connect to the brains of our viewers.  In the case of nonprofit storytelling, we need those chemical responses to be strong, because we are usually looking for a response that extends to well after the video ends: we want a viewer to get involved in a cause, donate money, write to their elected officials, or change some previous behavior (stop smoking, lose weight, etc). So it turns out that all these years I thought I was an English major-turned-filmmaker, it turns out that I’m in the neuroscience business: triggering a brain response that helps people act on the golden rule, and do great things for others and the world.

Amy DeLouise is a director and producer who tells real people stories to help viewers connect with causes and take action.

March 3, 2015 at 2:53 pm Leave a comment

Is It Worth Putting JFK in Your Video?

Just about every week, a client asks me if we can use a famous person’s video clip or voice in one of their productions. The much talked-about “Come Back to the Sea” Carnival Cruise lines Superbowl Spot brings up yet again this topic much discussed among creative media-makers: what rights are involved, even for public domain archival materials?

So-called “rights of publicity” are often something to consider when you are using a person’s image or voice to endorse a product or brand. In an interview with PR Newswire, the Carnival spot’s Director Wally Pfister (Dark Knight, Inception) seemed to be saying that an implicit product sale wasn’t the point of the ad (“we aren’t just asking consumers to purchase a product or widget, but instead, we are hoping to move them to feel a certain way about cruising.”)  While the JFK’s “we are tied to the ocean” 1962 speech made to the Ambassador of Australia and delegation might be considered public domain because he made it while serving in public office,  the audio could be considered to fall under rights of publicity when it comes to promoting a cruise line. (Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. I don’t play one on TV. And I have no personal knowledge of whether or not BBDO requested these rights from the Kennedy estate.)

As creative content producers–whether commercial ventures or nonprofit enterprises–we should always be wary about this issue of the rights of people to their own voices and images, even when they are deceased. A few relevant cases come to mind. Ford Motor Company used a “sound-alike” voice in a commercial and Bette Midler sued. The appellate court ruled in favor of Midler, saying that her voice was protected against unauthorized use. The ad agency who came up with the creative (Young & Rubicum) was also named in the suit. A similar situation occurred with the estate of Erol Flynn when a photo of him was used in car ad.

Well, these are famous Hollywood stars you might say. JFK was a public servant. True enough. But the family of Richard Nixon raised a big fuss with Disney over Oliver Stone’s movie “Nixon”. On the other side of the ledger, the makers of “Selma” completely avoided using the actual words of Martin Luther King in his famous speeches, presumably because of the highly litigious reputation of the King family when it comes to MLK rights of publicity. That’s really too bad, as a generation of film-goers might never read or hear the real speeches.

So it’s a dilemma, and one you can’t always determine with full clarity in advance. As media makers, we always need to be mindful about archival clips, why we choose them, and how to use them properly. That often means running creative ideas by attorneys (as if EP and client reviews aren’t enough!). Defending our creative choices in the courts isn’t really what we have in mind when we’re designing storyboards, so it does need to play into our thinking.

Amy DeLouise is not an attorney nor does she play one on TV. She is a creative producer and director, and speaks and writes about the issues faced by other creative types trying to earn a living making interesting content.

 

 

 

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February 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

Brand Resolutions for the New Year

Sky at Sunset Who doesn’t want to polish up their brand for the New Year? Here are five issues and strategies to consider for your brand this year.

 1. Storytelling Still Matters. As more and more channels and platforms emerge, a compelling story remains the reason users/viewers stage engaged. Whether you are telling a story with info graphics, with photography, with words or with video, make the story Matter.

2. Beware of New Algorithms.   Gmail’s new message organization system is having a big impact on brands who drive customer and donor engagement through email campaigns (i.e. pretty much everyone). Be sure your writing and images (that will be pulled up in Highlights) help users decide your content is relevant to their lives.

2. Get Leadership Engaged in Social Media. Gone are the days when the intern writes your tweets. Customers and donors expect to a personalized experience with your brand’s leadership–whether that is blog posts, tweets or photos on Instagram.  Let the Thought Leaders in your institution–your C-Suite team and your Board leaders–have human personalities, and authentic voices.

3. Ask Movers and Shakers for Brand Mentions. The tweet is the modern equivalent of getting an autograph, but more useful for your brand. When one of my nonprofit clients gave a facility tour to Justin Bieber (and encouraged him to tweet about it, which he did), they got 10,000 new followers in a matter of hours. Find out if any key personalities, well-connected customers or donors might be willing to give your brand a shout-out.

4. Location-Based Content is Here to Stay. iHookupSocial.com and yikyak are the latest spawn of location-based apps. While their purpose is different than Foursquare, the motivation is the same–users want content that relates to where they are right at this moment. Think about how your brand can deliver this content in new ways for users–(re)think conference and events, sightseeing in a town, touring a college campus, and more.

Amy is a video content director/producer,  speaker and author who mainly cares about telling great stories.

January 13, 2015 at 5:22 pm Leave a comment

3 Ways to Ruin Your Next Video (and How to Fix Them)

Amy DeLouise Dynamotion set   1. Your Client (or Boss) Wants Your Video to “Go Viral”

Of course they do. But your project doesn’t have Jennifer Aniston as its on-screen host. Nor have you the budget to license Gerry Rafferty’s famous Baker Street song for the big finish. Not to mention the fact that you can’t afford to rent a large hard-cyc studio with full production crew, direct the separate shoot and graphics session for the dancing babies, and don’t forget about the puppy and its handler! But we digress…

Solution: So if you don’t have the budget for those things, how do you give your client the views they want? The first way is to assess where their community lives online. Are they pinning on Pinterest? Tweeting on Twitter? Posting images to Instagram? Checking in on Facebook? When you understand the platform where your community lives, you can more successfully design content they want to interact with and share with friends and colleagues. I hate to mention that your end product might not even need to be a video. It might be more effective as an Infographic that tells your story. It might be a powerful image that can get pinned and reposted. It might just be a fantastic blog post that you cross-promote by making it a guest blog post on a more trafficked site where your community likes to be informed.

 2. Your Client or Boss Wants to be IN the Video

Of course they do. They are the head of a department. They are an expert. They are in charge of this project. And maybe they are just fantastic on camera. But chances are, they aren’t. Chances are, they do more speaking in front of live humans, not lenses. And so you will need to come up with Another Way.

Solution: Enter animation. Animation can allow your on-screen host to introduce ideas and elements that bounce around on the screen and keep everyone’s attention, without having to just look at a talking head. Lots of companies are now providing Whiteboard Animation services for educational/informational productions. But really any animation style can be used as long as you take the time to develop a script, and storyboard out the frames so you know what visuals are best for telling your story.

3. You Plan to Shoot This Video on Your iPhone

Sure, you can do this. I even have iPhone footage of myself on this website. But I produced it using professional lights, a teleprompter, a backdrop, and someone to help me so I wasn’t juggling everything myself.

Solution 1: Remember that if you decide to shoot with a phone, the lens is the size of your fingernail. It will not be able to capture images and lighting with dramatic contrasts or motion, so keep things reasonably steady and use supplemental lighting.  You’ll need to hold on each planned shot for longer than you think, as the phone will shave the last few frames off each image as it saves them. But even more important than the images, a phone will only record the audio you provide it. That means, having someone shout and hope your on-board mic will pick it up won’t work. You’ll need to have a DAR (digital Audio Recorder) and a mic. It’s worth the investment if you plan on doing this often.  You’ll also need iMovie or some other editing program to help you get rid of unwanted scenes and frames. There are plenty of consumer products to choose from. One other note: phone footage will not do well if you are planning to blow up your video on a large conference screen (move to Solution 2).

Solution 2: If you decide being a videographer, sound recordist, director, producer, and editor is too much for you, then planning your workflow with a professional production team can improve your results. If you’re concerned about the budget, plan to lessen the work for the outside team by doing these time-intensive tasks yourself: location scouting, interview scheduling, and supplemental photo or footage research within your company archive or stock archives.

Amy DeLouise is a writer, producer, director and speaker who loves making great video content come alive.

 

December 2, 2014 at 12:53 am Leave a comment

Sure Way to Increase Donors and Activists: Tell Stories

Sky at Sunset In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube, Vimeo, and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the people who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. And viewers who will ACT once they’ve heard your story. So be sure you provide a way they can engage other than passive viewing. The framework around the video should have clickable links. And if you are participating in Youtube’s nonprofit program, you can embed links to your nonprofit site directly in your video content.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

Amy DeLouise helps nonprofits tell their stories, strategize about their futures, and influence the world around them.

November 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

Videos with Real People on Camera

LyndaAmyInterviewingCoupleWhether you are a corporation or a mission-driven nonprofit, telling stories–obstacles to overcome, successes won–can be one of the best ways to show people you are delivering on your brand promise.  Human stories compels viewers and listeners in a way that other communications just don’t.   But if you’ve ever had to interview someone–whether for a podcast, video or audio program–you know that drawing out the best story can be difficult.

Three typical obstacles are: 1. the person is very nervous, 2. the person is over-confident, 3. the person has tried to memorize some talking points that don’t feel natural.

Your job as an interviewer is part coach, part cheerleader, and part edit-prep-ninja.  For the overly nervous person, you must find a way to connect–something you both enjoy doing or talking about, a person you both know, a place you’ve both visited. Your “small talk” before the interview will ensure success (or failure), so pay attention!  For the over-confident person, your job is a little different. Rather than set them at ease about the cameras and lights, you need to make them confident in your abilities to show them in their best light.  Most over-confident people are actually nervous people in disguise. So your job is to make them feel like the leader, when actually you are leading them to a better performance. The final challenge-someone who has over-prepared–is always daunting. Often I just let them get through all their points, even though it’s wasting time, so we can finally get to the “real” interview.  Once you’ve gotten a subject to feel relaxed after they’ve completed their “performance,” then you can ask follow-up and clarifying questions on key points to develop the themes and answers you know will work for your production.

Amy DeLouise loves to draw out stories through interviews. For more of her tips and tools for interviewing sucessfully, try Art of the Video Interview on Lynda.com.

November 13, 2014 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

Your Fall Media Checkup

It’s not sexy or glamorous. But it’s vital. So tomorrow, I’ll be speaking on a topic near to my heart: how to prepare for your video edit. So, when is the optimal time to start planning your edit? A few days before you step into the edit suite? When you start digitizing your media?

Not surprisingly, the answer is well before you even shoot the first frame. Working in the digital media space now often means drinking from the firehose of assets–millions of frames to choose from as we acquire with more and more flexible cameras. So it’s even more vital to be prepared before you start working with all of that content.

As we all launch back into fall busy-ness, it’s a great time to re-assess workflows, consider new technologies, and find new digital platforms for distribution. So take the time to review your steps as you prepare for your next media production and ask these questions (which I’ll help to answer for those of you at my session at IVMG tomorrow):

1. What tools can you use in the field to help the editor (or that might be you) locate and metatag your footage properly?

2. What other assets can you be collecting (audio, music, supplemental photos and visuals) to help tell the story once you’re back in the edit room?

3. What systems can you put into place for logging footage and identifying the best soundbites?

4. And what process can you use after the project is over so that you can find all this stuff in 6 months, or even 6 years?

There is no perfect system, but there are better systems. I’m updating mine and hope I can help you do the same.

October 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm Leave a comment

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About Amy

Amy is a strategist and digital storyteller who helps people connect with great brands--mostly nonprofit ones. She's a popular speaker, consultant, workshop leader and multimedia content producer. Find Amy at amy [at]amydelouise[dot]com. or join her on Twitter: @brandbuzz.

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