What is Storytelling in Video Production

18.09.2020 Content Strategy
Eoin Dowdall
Creative Director

What is the key factor for a successful video or animation? 

Budget? Celebrity endorsements? Professional lighting and lenses?

These are all good to have, but what truly makes or breaks a production is a great story. We’ve seen this over 100s of projects over the years: storytelling is the secret sauce of success when it comes to online video and animation. 

Storytelling does sound deceptively simple. After all, everyone knows how to tell a story, we do it all the time. That is true, but we also all know how to write, yet only few of us will earn a Nobel prize for literature. That is to say there’s quite a bit of daylight between poor, OK, and excellent storytelling. Thankfully, there are a few simple best practices. We’ve seen these work well time and time again in our collaborations with clients over the years.

What is storytelling in Film 

Simply put it is the art of connecting with your audience, keeping them engaged, relating to their emotions and to their brains, and leaving a memorable impression. Budgets, celebrities, lights, lenses, all help with this, but they are nothing without a great story.

The ingredients for a great story

We typically start with the 4P: Purpose, Plot, People, Place. This is a simple and helpful framework to think about great storytelling.

Purpose. What do you want your audience to take away? What emotions do you want them to feel? What actions to take? It seems simple, but it’s essential that there’s total clarity on the purpose. We’ve seen projects go off the rails where different members of client teams had different implicit understandings of the purpose. It’s worth committing some time to spelling this out as clearly as possible, including emotive as well as action-oriented outcomes. 

Plot. You can think of this as the scaffolding for your story. Thankfully there are many archetypes of plots you can build from, going as far back as Greek drama. Most plots involve an element of surprise or suspense. They also require a human element, for instance a character the audience can identify with, or a perspective they are familiar with. There’s also typically an introduction that establishes time and place and then, after you’ve taken your audience through the dramatic arc, a resolution or conclusion. That said, you can of course create memorable stories by breaking with these archetypes, by playing with conventions and mixing things up a bit – this can allow you to connect with your audience even more deeply, in particular if they are aware of your references.

People. This P means: know your audience. It’s essential that the production team is deeply familiar with the cultural signifiers your audience knows and loves, with their language, their history, their fears and hopes. Only with this common ground will there be emotionally resonant storytelling. Any characters introduced as part of the film need to be grounded in this awareness to be relatable to your audience – otherwise it’s easy for them to feel generic or synthetic. Have a look at some of the biggest flops in film history here.

Place. That is of course where the plot unfolds. You’ll have to decide on a place whether you are producing real action video or an animation. Any story needs a clearly established sense of place. Next, place also refers to where your audience will encounter and engage with your story. A trailer watched in the cinema, a commercial for TV, a YouTube video for mobile, or a TikTok story. All these ‘places’ will put very different requirements on your story (see for instance research by Accenture).

A word about your brand

Most of the clients we work with are really proud of their brand. And rightly so. Many have built it themselves and have worked incredibly hard to get it where it is now. And for all their job and success metrics are tied to the welfare of the brand. It is true that every video or animation project needs to have a clear sense of how it builds on and supports the brand (see ‘purpose’ above). That said, we’ve seen problems arise when the brand becomes the story. If a project is overly focused on the brand this can get in the way of strong storytelling. Audiences will feel they are spoken to vs. actively engaged with. It can be hard to create the essential emotional resonance if the brand outshines the characters in a story. Our advice, distilled over decades of professional experience, is to put a conversation about the brand and its role upfront as part of the purpose discussion. That ensures that it’s taken into account appropriately and reflected in the decisions about plot, people, and place – but doesn’t take the role of these essential ingredients.

Of course, every rule has its exceptions: some videos or animations are specifically created to celebrate the brand or history of a company, but even then strong storytelling is needed so that the film will resonate.

Talk to us

At Kartoffel Films we take great pride in crafting outstanding stories jointly with our clients, several of which have won awards (and yes, some had celebrities in them as well :). Do get in touch to see what story we can create with you for your brand.  mash@kartoffelfilms.com

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