Friday, August 08, 2008

Video Storytelling Notes

Looking forward, if all goes well, to creating a series of videos for Morton Grove Public Library over the next year. Short vignettes or mini-features about environmental or green issues serving the information needs of the Morton Grove community. My hope is that these videos will include interviews with local experts about a diverse array of environmental issues of interest, though I admit to a pedagogical bent: the carbon life-cycles of certain household goods, mini-features on insulating your house for the winter and other simple tips for how folks can save on your monthly heating bills, a tour of a recycling center, environmentally themed video essays made by and with our patrons, working with teens to create their own mini-features on the environment, etc... A lot of exciting possibilities.

But how to make these videos interesting? We're competing, after all, with content creators who are better equipped and savvier, for our patrons limited time. How do we make something they'll actually care to watch and learn from? How do we make a worth-while, entertaining, piece of information? More importantly, does the information (noble sentiment approaching) help fulfill our mission to assist our patron's/community's pursuit of personal growth and lifelong learning? Is it a good tool for helping them fulfill that need?

And you can't simply post this video content into a bubble and expect them to come. You have to sell it to them, bring it to their attention and hook them. Right? The most important piece, I think, of vying for and gaining our patron's attention is to involve them, to make them collaborators. I'll need some help in this area.

Part of what I'm most looking forward to is honing my documentary craft. Constructing meaningful, coherent narratives in particular. Additionally, I'm look forward to:

1. exploring how to make the results of these narratives visually interesting (storyboarding, filming with more then one camera, post-production massaging)
2. as well as acoustically stimulating (and getting good sound is my priority right now)
3. graced with charismatic, compelling people
4. finding numerous, quality distribution platforms for the content
4. all that and more.

I've barely even begun, though I can't think of any other endeavor other then fatherhood that I'm having a better time exploring right now. I've got the itch to tell and help others tell their stories using video and seeing what comes of it.

I love the fact that my job is, by and large, about storytelling. I know it's cliche, but we are the stories we tell each other, the narratives we construct. And I can't help but think we've reached this very exciting, very interesting moment where people have been empowered by the ease (both technically and financially) with which they can construct, edit and share these stories. Folks are no longer passively consuming media, but creating and distributing it in record numbers. They're sharing, collaborating, sampling, remixing, extending, critiquing, infringing, fair-using and tip-toeing around the stories we tell like never before.

But are they doing it well? No doubt a healthy heaping of it is frivolous beyond even the seasoned hallway cat warding off the helplessly adorable encroaching puppies.

But some of it, quite a bit of it actually, if you're willing to really make a go and really search for it, makes nearly instantly accessible an impressive chunk of the past 200 years of our visual history, both still and moving images. And recently, that includes you and me and not just the so-called professional media. Some of us are starting to do it really well.

I've been astounded by the level of professionalism and visual narrative acuity of the hundreds of so-called amateur videos I've run across on various video-hosting sites like YouTube, the Internet Archive, oodles of Public Library's or Berkley's Center For Digital Storytelling. People are telling some phenomenal stories there and I'm convinced that Public Library's need to be jumping in to help their patrons-- not only bringing attention to the impressive body of work already out there, but informing, teaching and ideally making available the tools with which to create their own stories. The fact that millions of us already are telling stories, with video especially, is as good a proof as you'll find for how radically the way our communities consume and share information (or tell stories) has changed over the last decade.

My particular obsession, if it isn't already pretty obvious, is how we can take advantage of the easy-to-use digital video cameras, editing software and distribution platforms that are out there and help our patrons tell their own stories via this medium. We are, after all, in the business of storytelling. Our missions are filled with noble sentiments like helping assist our respective users/patrons/communities with their thorny pursuits of personal growth and lifelong learning. We can remain idle and pretend that the passive consumption of books is the best or only avenue through which our patrons can learn and grow, or we can acknowledge that a new and exciting information/media movement is afoot and become a vital part of it.

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