Storyteller, Not Videographer

Lesson Details

Subject: Business

Title: Storyteller, Not Videographer


Showing up with a video camera is not enough to make it in this business. I will show you what you have to do in order to separate yourself from the pack and become a premier VJ.


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There was a time not so long ago when just showing up with a video camera was enough to make a living or actually a still camera was enough to make a living. That’s because there just weren’t that many still cameras around or that many video cameras around or that many people who are all that good at it. But today in a world of 3 billion iPhones where every phone is a broadcast quality video and course we’re only at iPhone six soon the 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 will come out and the quality will be absolutely unbelievable. The notion of just showing up with a video camera to shoot some video is not going to be enough to earn a living unfortunately. This is a tragedy because there are some people who have spectacular eyes and I guess there will always be a job for Hollywood cinematographers and they certainly will make a lot of money but for you and me, just showing up with the camera is no longer enough.

Just making video is no longer enough. Just turning it on putting on a light, hitting record and editing it will not be enough to earn you a living or to warrant a career. This is not unusual. This happens time and again. When I first launched Video News International in 1992 the global news business based on video journalists. I was the first one to do it I think. My first investor was a guy named Nick Nicholas who was then the Chairman and CEO of Time Life Magazines. Time Life Magazines in those days being sort of the Apple or Microsoft of the media world. Today they’re are pale shadow of what they once were. But they once ruled the world and the very best people in the world worked for them. So having made his initial investment of my company, Nick Nicholas walked me down the hall and introduce me to all the greatest photographers of Life Magazine and Time Magazine that there were. He said these will be your first video journalists and they were. And they had fantastic eyes these guys. And they got beautiful pictures and we won lots of awards including Emmys for cinematography in our first few years because they could walk into a room and see what had to be shot.

Several years afterwards and I became very friendly with many of them, I was out with PF Bentley was one of the greatest photographers, photojournalists of his day. The White House photographer, Time Magazine, personal friends with the Clintons and everyone else, beautiful shots and we went to a political event and PF had a brand-new digital camera, still camera from Canon.

Still cameras, digital cameras had just come out and Canon of course was giving the world's best photographers their very first digital cameras to play with. The rest was shooting on film as we were used to. So sitting next to PF at this event I'll never forget this he held the camera over his head without even looking through the viewfinder hit the shutter speed and clicked off maybe 100 exposures. Without ever looking and he said, “Wait till you see this”. We went back to his hotel room and he downloaded these exposures onto a simple primitive laptop computer and picked out the best one it was indeed a beautiful photograph. Focus was automatic, exposure were instant second by second, by second and he had a great shot and I turned to my said PF “That's great but that's the end of your career”. Because if you can do this anyone can do this and unfortunately that turned out to be a harbinger of the future. Because as digital cameras got better and better and more and more of them came around, there were fewer and fewer jobs for great photojournalists no matter how good their eye.

Because fundamentally anybody can get a high resolution photograph and it wasn't great it was good enough and now magazines like Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and Time and Life of course they’re all gone. At least Time and Life have gotten rid of all the contract photographers because everyone with an iPhone can now take a picture. What happened to photojournalism is going to happen to video journalism. There are three billion iPhones around the world now and God knows how many video cameras in the hands of people looking essentially pick them up and point them at things and shoot pretty good video and cut pretty good video.

So your career as a video journalist cannot hinge on the fact that you can go out and shoot great video as well. What you have to do is you have to become a storyteller. Because it’s those compelling stories that make people want to watch. So if you have a brand, your own brand you bake cookies, you have the best cookies in Detroit you can expand that brand by creating Detroit cookie videos, your own story.

Tell me about you. Make the audience fall in love with you that's why people buy stuff. Not because the cookies are so good because they love the brand and they love the brand because they love you. Look at television commercials for almost anything it’s not about the product per se is about a warm, loving family. It’s about people can relate to, it’s about fuzzy and funny. You can create videos that build a brand, a video brand around a product or business, a travel agency magazine, a cookie-cutter. Whatever it is that you make, you can marry to video. Now if you can't do this and many people can't or don't want to although they can always come the to learn they may not. But there are lots and lots of visitors like Tony's Pizzeria that we talked about that need video. You can make that video as a video journalist storyteller and maybe that's the best way to talk about it. Your job here is not just to point the camera and turn it on and get well-lit good video and then cut it together into a workmanlike video.

Your job it's a great stories that people care about. The world is full of social media whether it’s Pinterest or Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or Instagram, they’re great platforms to distributing content, particularly video content, and there’s going to be more and more video on all these platforms. Video is ubiquitous, video is compelling, and those platforms are fantastic distributive mechanisms for getting the word out either for you or for your clients. With Facebook you can get in front of 1.2 billion users instantly and for free. It’s quite astonishing. The Internet goes to 3 billion homes so you can tell your video story about yourself or about your clients to as many people as you can imagine. Oprah Winfrey for a massive investment in the Oprah Winfrey Network barely gets into 20,000 homes in the morning and I don't think many more than that in the afternoon. You can beat her at her own game but the essence here is not just clean video shooting and good video editing and writing script, the essence here is telling a story. It’s what we talked about in the beginning. So don't think of yourself as a video journalist think of yourself as a video journalist storyteller. And if you're telling your own story about your bakery that's great and if you're telling someone else a story about their bakery because they can't do it that's great too. But take your camera and bring the same intimacy that we talk to in terms of news and photojournalism and magnum photography and stuff like that and marry it now to their product, their service, their brand or your own. Put it out and make people fall in love with you or with your client. And use this medium of video to tell a story that they can’t stop watching and that way you’ll be a success and so will they.

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2015