How to make a video that ignites people’s passions on your issue

My video editing partner, Brad, asked me a really good question this morning: Will this video ignite a passion about this issue?
The topic of the video is irrelevant here. If you’re going to do advocacy in video, there are certain universal truths. And Brad made me think about some basic journalism principles I hadn’t consciously thought about in a long time. For some people, this is review. Others might be hearing this for the first time.

We were fortunate in that Brad interviewed people who are passionate about the issue. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. That’s step one. I don’t know if that’s stating the obvious or not, but it goes without saying that your job will be a lot easier if the people who are talking are passionate about the issue.

Which reminds me: Some people are really nervous in interviews. There are several things I tell people to calm them down and put them at ease.

1. Remember why you’re here
2. Remember why that’s important to you.

That helps them focus. The other thing I tell them is to not worry about what they look like or sound like. Making them look and sound good is my job. You can pull out stutters and pauses in the editing process. (If the picture jumps after you’ve done that, find an excuse to show something else during that segment, or put in a transition.) If you can’t make the person look good (fat chance–NTSC television is awfully forgiving), show the person’s surroundings while they’re talking, rather than showing them. That’s a good idea anyway, since a talking head isn’t very interesting.

Once you’ve filmed the person talking for a few minutes, the first stage of the editing process is identifying the best points they made. Identify those sound bites, then take them into the computer. Concentrate on things that get your attention even when you’re distracted–I usually don’t sit down and watch the tape I shot, I just press play and go do something else and I stop and make note of things that make me drop what I’m doing–and on things you didn’t know before.

Once you’ve collected those pieces, do what I’m doing now: String those sound bites together into something coherent.

When you’re done, chances are you’ll have something that’s 3-4 times the length of what the finished product is going to be. Then you have to get merciless. Listen to the audio. Then remember Brad’s question, and consider every second of audio you’ve collected. If any particular second of audio doesn’t do something to ignite the passion–if it’s not necessary background information, or some killer point they made, or if they’ve already made that point somewhere else before–cut it.

The shorter it is, the more of it people will remember. And that’s what you’re setting out to do. A lot of advocacy pieces aren’t 30-minute documentaries. People have short attention spans. You can do an effective advocacy piece in two minutes. If you’re really good, you can probably do it in 30 seconds.

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