“I have a passion for storytelling.”
That’s the first thing they all love to tell you about: of the passion. For storytelling. Not of masterful post-production workflows, or successfully, routinely managing a lean team of individual creatives toward the expert level execution of a dynamic and intricately planned vision for valued clientele. Not of focus, or depth-of-field, or exhaustive immersion into an environment to adequately portray a sense of time and place. And, certainly not of shot composition, or flawless audio capture. Sure, those all might be selling points somewhere in the mix, but first and foremost, it’s always about the… storytelling?
Yes, I get it. It is an innocuous and easy to digest marketing phrase used to quickly portray a sense of duty and dedication to one's craft. All of those technical details and capabilities play a big part in telling a story, but they are hard to describe in three words or less. In evoking the emotion necessary to properly tell the tale, to convey the message, a talented storyteller must be a master of delivery, more-so than an administrator of linear bullet-points, facts, and figures. A story well told is the sum of many parts, but the passion for storytelling, the ubiquitous catch-all catch-phrase that somehow is supposed to sum all of that up has become so pervasive on every blog, ‘About’ page, and personal bio of every level of video production professional and wannabe of the last few years, and it has become exhausting.
It’s okay. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just a hip phrase of our creative era. A lot of the greatest multimedia production houses tout their “passion for storytelling.” But…
To the average freelancer the end goal is rarely Schindler’s List. The end goal is usually, “sixty second social media promo for an industrial storage warehouse and their fair, affordable rates.”
Storytelling is easy. It is a formula. Why do almost all feature films look and feel the same? Successful, mainstream feature films, stage plays and TV, and especially viral videos resonate with the public because they usually follow a very specific, very well defined formula. Magic, creativity, and individuality have virtually nothing to do with any measurable level of success in any performance or motion picture media script, or storyline format. From the most heady, intellectual, three hour cinematic masterpiece, to the latest and greatest viral videos, or the most basic local coffee shop promo video uploaded to Vimeo: a successful video is based on a series of well worn, well proven formulas.
Newsflash: most stories, especially in the marketing world, are not live changing epics. It’s not insulting, or a point of shaming anyone or any thing, it’s just the reality of most video production projects. Therein lies the magic of that buzzword as a marketing tool. It makes the potential client feel as-if their simple story might be more compelling than they ever imagined. To the average freelance, or mid-level video producer, the end goal is rarely Schindler’s List, or a soul shattering documentary expose on inhumane Chinese bunny farms. The end goal is usually, “sixty second social media promo for an industrial storage warehouse and their fair, affordable rates.” Wow. Good thing we have Werner Herzog on this one, because this story can only be harnessed and delivered to the world with a rare, and unique level of passion.
Cynical, I admit it. Realistic? Yes. In fact, I will go so far as to admit that when you have a simple message to deliver, a passion for finding an inspiring way to tell that "story" is most certainly a good thing! As a professional creative, I know I often get excited about short, simple promotional projects because they are excellent vehicles for exhibiting masterful levels of technical execution in a short, portfolio-ready package.
Who doesn’t like a good story? Maybe buzzwords are the very definition of laser focused marketing, and creating visceral, and immediate impact.
As a creative, you should have passion for everything you do. Including storytelling, no matter how simple or complex. But, as a creative, you are rarely working in your own arena, creating your own stories. You are a tool in a marketing machine of some size and girth or another, and in marketing, it’s not necessarily always about storytelling. It’s about making an impression and getting a result. Sometimes you get that result from telling a well-nuanced story. But, to properly tell a story, you often need more than 30 or 60 seconds. To properly market something, you need to portray something as beautiful and/or engaging, to harness and administer certain key details for potential consumers. In all of the stylized perfume, and luxury car commercials on television, how many stories are told? Not many. Most of it is all eye candy, meant to be beautiful, and cool, and keep your attention. Sure, in some cases, or on some level there may be a beginning, middle, and end that brings the viewer to the final call-to-action, but it’s usually pretty damned simple, and primarily geared towards finding the quickest possible way to grab the viewer’s attention.
This is the part where you accuse me of being bitter, and somehow jaded. Not exactly. I am passionate. I am passionate for creating visceral images, for creating unique identities for clients and myself as an artist. I am passionate for delivering the intended message, in whatever manner necessary, so long as it achieves the goal, and meets the needs of the client. I am passionate for maintaining an active, viable career by meeting or exceeding client expectations as a means of earning money to survive.
Am I jaded from having consumed too many buzzwords? Sure. I certainly feel that the passionate embrace of buzzwords, and the most elementary description of what is really a deep creative process does somehow cheapen a project, and the relationship with a creative team before the project even starts. But, then, I look back at all of these portfolios, and ‘About’ pages, and reels, and marketing pitches from creative agencies, large and small. Some great, some not so great. And what is the first thing I see…
A passion for storytelling? Or, a quick effective way to grab your attention?
An effective marketing technique.
Maybe all the corny, unimaginative self-promoters of the world have proven my point simply, and from the very moment of messaging impact. Who doesn’t like a good story? Maybe buzzwords are the very definition of laser focused marketing, and creating visceral, and immediate impact.
Maybe. But, I suppose I can admit, while I have no passion for buzzwords, or the current trend of appealing to the vague, non-descript “storytelling” fad, I do have a passion for staying inspired, and staying relevant. From the perspective of a creative professional, I still strive–and advise my counterparts–to be careful of how heavily we lean on buzzwords for self-promotion, especially if it is in lieu of a robust body of work readily available in a public portfolio. Always try to be more original, and more forward thinking than your competition, while keeping them comfortable and retaining their trust. To clients, I would advise to always be concerned more with the body of work your creative agency has to lean on, than the number of buzzwords, or lengthy, unnecessarily wordy explanations of their craft presented on their website.
But, that being said. Marketing and video production are evolutionary beasts. If embracing a certain vernacular means the difference between professional success, or filling out bankruptcy paperwork, then consider me the best viable candidate to quantify the media assets necessary to shift the paradigm of your verticals to adequately deconflict the solutions for your vibrant community.