Agile video – learning lessons from TV journalism

25/06/15

So you want to make a video. Where do you start?

“Good journalists know how to take complex issues and turn them into an engaging report – and time pressure and limited resources mean the approach is often very simple.”

Take a step back and consider your existing skills and knowledge. If you watch TV, it’s likely that you’re well aware of what does and doesn’t work on screen. In essence, you’ve unconsciously absorbed the ‘rules’ that result in high-quality programme-making. With some practice, you can turn that instinctive understanding into better video, whether you DIY or work with an expert.

Here are six tips that will help you along the journey from initial idea to final edit.

1. Start with why – not how

Start by focusing on why you want to make a video. Don’t get bogged down in how you do it at this point. That means being clear about the objectives, and making a conscious decision that video is the right format for your project.

2. Think like a journalist

TV news is a great model for short-form, high-impact video. Good journalists know how to take complex issues and turn them into an engaging report – and time pressure and limited resources mean the approach is often very simple.

‘Corporate’ video often means storyboards, scripting, approval, rehearsals. That has its place – but viewers might have a hard time relating to the end results. To break down barriers, you need a foundation of authenticity and trust.

“Apply some simple newsroom editorial tests to your idea: Why is this a story? Why is this interesting? Why would the audience want to watch it?”

A straightforward way to achieve that is to adopt a more natural, journalistic approach to communication. Why not tackle the project like a reporter? Try building a story out of interviewees’ unscripted words and actions. Make sure you pick ‘real people’ who will feel relevant to your audience.

3. Planning your approach

Apply some simple newsroom editorial tests to your idea: Why is this a story? Why is this interesting? Why would the audience want to watch it? If you don’t know – or care – then you’ve got a big challenge ahead. Remember that journalism is about people. So ask yourself: Whose story is this? Who can I talk to? Who can explain?

4. What will you see?

To make TV, you need pictures. What will viewers see on screen? If there’s nothing to film, or nobody to interview… then maybe it shouldn’t be a video. Be honest with yourself.

Think about simple building blocks that will help to tell your story when you come to edit. What can each interviewee add? If you’re not using a narrator, what questions can you ask that will help people give quotes that link different elements? What will you use at the beginning or the end?

5. Be agile

“Think about simple building blocks that will help to tell your story when you come to edit.”

Journalists are used to working under pressure and making the best of a situation. If you can’t control everything, accept the limitations. Turn unpredictability to your advantage – you can embrace any filming opportunities and interviewees that pop up, even if they weren’t part of the original plan. Making video this way is dynamic, not static. You start each job with certain expectations – but you don’t slavishly stick to a pre-defined idea of the end product.

6. The end result

Stepping away from the scripted, corporate approach can help you make video an incredibly effective part of the learning blend. It can connect viewers with a story in ways that are hard to match through other forms of communication. Get it right, and you bring your learning to life with engaging, informative content that feels immediately relevant – and real.

James Woodman presented Agile video: learning lessons from TV journalism at the Learning and Skills Summer Forum 2015. Watch the seminar here

James Woodman is a consultant at Acteon Communication and Learning. He specialises in video production, and also runs bespoke workshops for organisations wanting to improve their in-house video communication skills.

Related articles:
Taking control of video

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