5 tips for creating compelling story videos

Testimonial videos, story videos, mini-documentaries…whatever you call it, many tech people and worship leaders are familiar with this type of video. You have probably made them before, and will likely make them again. Producing these types of videos requires a wide range of skills, some of which you may possess, and some of which you may not, depending on your role and expertise. As a creative video content creator who makes my living producing videos, below are 5 simple tips when making a story video for a worship service.

TIP 1: Beginning, Middle, End

Regardless of your subject, every story has one thing in common. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. While this is a simple truth, I have found this helpful for creative decision-making. This structure allows you to creatively think, “How would I like to treat the beginning?” Isolate that part just for a minute, and you can start the video in many different ways, whether it be text on screen, a hook line of something compelling your subject said, a broad introduction to the subject the story tackles, stats, animation, etc. etc. 

Next comes the middle, which is typically the bulk of the story journey, and finally is the ending. 

The ending is usually something that was learned from the journey, what has changed in the person’s life, or what has happened as a result of this story. Similar to the beginning, if you isolate the ending and ask “How would I like to treat the ending?”, you could potentially come up with some creative ways to end the video that are different than before. 

It’s helpful to think of your beginning/middle/end before filming, because it can inform what you would shoot and how you would shoot it. And even if you decide not to be creative with your beginning/middle/end, realize that it still exists in your story, and make sure that each section is flushed out appropriately so the viewer travels the journey you want them to travel.

TIP 2: Tell the Story Visually

I made my living in the theater world before crossing over to video full-time, and I had a rule of thumb when I would direct musicals or plays. The rule was this: I want my staging to tell the story in such a way that a deaf person could understand it. In other words, I want to tell the story visually, and not rely on audio to tell it. 

Video is a visual medium, like photography, and like theater. We should take advantage of that. For interview videos I want to watch them talking as little as possible. Which means I need to figure out what visuals I can use to cover up their interview. B-roll footage, stock footage, animated text, photos, drawings…there are many visual options available to tell the story visually.

TIP 3: Switch Your Music Track

This tip is very tactical, but there are so many story videos that only use one music track for the whole video. Music is the tool in your story video that evokes the mood, feel, and emotion of the story. If you want the entire video to have one emotion or feeling, by all means use one music track. But I have found that many stories involve struggle or conflict of some kind, and using music can amplify that struggle. I’ve also found that many story videos have happy endings, which would potentially call for a different music track. As you think of your beginning/middle/end, consider the idea of switching your music track to help tell your story musically.

TIP 4: Know Your Gear

Alrighty tech people, this is your section. The tip here is to KNOW your gear. We all want more gear. We all love gear. And there’s always new gear coming out that can replace the gear we’re using. So let’s just get that out of the way. 

With that said, it is important to know the gear you do have. Do you know how the camera works? How to shoot in manual mode? Where to place the microphone? What types of microphones are good in what situations? The color temperature of your light? Where to place the light or lights? How you would light the subject with 2 lights vs 3 lights? We live in a great time where YouTube can help us learn just about anything we need technically. So next time you have a shoot, spend 15 minutes learning something new about your gear, or how to light a subject, or what codec or frame rate to use. There’s always more to learn. 

Here’s my gear and workflow for a typical video: Sony FX9 and A7s3 cameras, Zeiss Batis & Sony G-Master prime lenses, F&V Z800s and Z400s lights, Light and Motion Stella Pro CLx for lighting backgrounds, Sennheiser MKH-416 boom mic, Sanken COS-11D XLR wired lav mic, capture footage through Finder to Mac computer, use Renamer to retitle the clips, drag into Adobe Premiere Pro CC, and edit. I use Music Vine for copyright free music and Storyblocks for stock footage.

TIP 5: Find a Truth-Teller

We all have someone in our lives, whether at work or personally, who will shoot straight with us and tell us the truth. For me, it’s my wife, and often I will show her one of my videos to get her honest feedback, which is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But she’s never cruel. It’s so helpful for me to have her perspective, because she hasn’t spent days working on this project, she doesn’t know the story, and she’s coming to it with fresh eyes. Which is basically like everyone who will view your video. It takes a little bit of humility to put your work in front of someone and receive constructive feedback, but it always makes it better. And if you care about your work, you want it to be the best it can be. Hopefully these 5 tips will help.

Join us for FILO 2023 to learn more about telling stories well! Early Bird pricing is available through March 27th. 

Dave Hunter

Dave Hunter

After making his living in theater for 10+ years, Dave Hunter moved into the video production world armed with a wealth of visual storytelling experience. For years he has traveled the world producing videos for businesses and nonprofits for marketing, training, and advertising purposes. Dave still performs improv comedy monthly with GreenRoom Improv, which currently has two resident theater locations.

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MAY 7-8, 2024