How to release your inner video maker

As a seasoned video professional, you might find it surprising to hear me say you can make great learning video with almost zero technical ability.  I see lots of blogs giving tips to video newbies in which the emphasis is on the technical.  I’m concerned that this can act as a barrier to entry for a lot of people, not only because they find technology daunting, but because technique becomes the principle measure of success.  My empowering message to you is – if the voice track is comprehensible and that the viewer can tell what you’re pointing the camera at, you have a technical success.  Master the basics and allow your intrinsic strengths as a learning expert to come across.

Don’t forget, some of the world’s most popular videos are made by people with very little technical ability.  Disneycollector makes videos of unboxing Disney toys.  In this clip, with one fixed camera position, she unboxes six Play Doh Sparkle Princess.  It’s had over 500 million views. The latest Game of Thrones US premiere only got 16 million viewers!

Of course, many of Disneycollector’s viewers are children, so what about car fixing vlogger Chris Fix?  His video about cleaning your headlights with toothpaste has the most basic of production values and has had 13.5 million views!

Now, I wouldn’t say either of these people is charismatic or endowed with any unusual talents.  What they share is an enthusiasm for their subject.  They don’t shout about it, but they engage wholeheartedly, which means they enjoy what they are doing and that comes through.  Enthusiasm shines bright with or without whizzy production techniques.

On the audience side – these vloggers have plenty of learner incentive.  People want to know about this stuff and the production values simply don’t matter to them.

There are plenty of examples of vloggers whose output has become more polished, but usually this is because they’ve become successful and paid other people to make the videos for them.  And this happens in learning as well – if you’re successful with your video content you’ll get noticed and attract more budget.  Then you can get other people to do the technical stuff.  And relax!

Now, of course, you probably don’t want to be a vlogger.  Perhaps you want to film some interviews with experts and cut them together into a presentation.  The same principles apply.  What do these people say that you are excited about?  Take that and deliver it to others and don’t worry about the finer points of technique.  Use jump cuts, don’t worry about continuity or wipes or slick graphics, leave the technical wizardry to people who do that stuff for a living and focus on the part where you have an edge over them – your subject.  You know what needs to be communicated.  And you know your audience.

In fact, I’d argue that filming techniques aren’t really what distinguish a professional video maker either.  You can film a great script on a smart phone and watch it on a black and white tele and as long as you can hear the dialogue and see what’s going on it’ll carry.  You can film a bad script with all the cameras and lights available to a Hollywood producer and it’ll still be unengaging.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for higher production values – there is, and I love working with them, but the greater challenge and the smarter play is to work around their absence.


Want some help to release your inner video maker? We offer a consultancy and training service – supporting businesses to create great video content in-house. Interested? Get in touch.

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Goodies and Baddies – Drama doesn’t have to be black and white

When we say a drama needs to be based on a conflict, and that involves a protagonist and an antagonist, it brings to mind a hard-nosed clash that you’ve seen with Batman versus the Joker or James Bond shooting at Goldfinger.  This can sound alarm bells.  While such whizzbang, violent conflicts are great fun to do, they’re not usually what we seek in the world of corporate drama.  The next models that come to mind are perhaps soap operas and other more human-scale dramas.  But even these frequently feature stand-up rows and tears, not the sort of thing we can usually entertain.

The fact remains, however, that to articulate a story in drama, conflict is essential, and the starting point is a protagonist and an antagonist.  So, how can we make these characters realistic, but nevertheless credible in dramatic terms?

The protagonist and antagonist want the same thing, but disagree on how to achieve it.  In a corporate context, this could be two people trying to solve a problem at work with one following the received wisdom on the topic and the other stubbornly doing it their own way.  Depending on whether it’s a compliance drama or one about innovation, one of them is the protagonist and the other the antagonist.  They are both working for the good of the employer, but one is misguided, the other struggling to do the right thing.  In this little conflict, neither is really a goodie or a baddie, but one is a protagonist, who advances the cause of the drama, the other the antagonist who stands in the way of the correct working method being enacted.

The most important thing about the protagonist/antagonist structure in a learning drama is that the protagonist can champion the right way to do things without seeming to lecture the audience.  To do the right thing they need to fight for what they believe in.  Whereas if they just tell us what they believe, they come across as merely a rather boring conformist.

Of course, the protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to fight against another character, the antagonist could be a setting a process or an idea.  If our protagonist is trying to conquer a task we could tell the story like a sports movie.  Sport is a vehicle for the participant to objectify an internal struggle.  And this is how the drama is constructed.  It’s an inner struggle, articulated through the mechanisms of sport, which takes place amidst a variety of antagonistic outer forces which together form a collective “antagonist”.  So you could say the antagonist is a multi-headed beast – several characters and events that block the protagonist.  (Of course, I’m only talking about one common model of sports movie here, there are others).

A workplace learning example that could be structured similarly is crisis management.  Here the manager needs to control all the elements in the scenario rather as one might in a game of chess.  The crisis is characterized as the antagonist and the manager needs to manage it by moving the pieces on the board as it were.  Like a sports movie there will be antagonistic elements, such as an angry person who refuses to fall into line, but they are not the antagonist, they are just an element of it.

The other day I watched Eddie the Eagle with my 6-year-old boy.  It’s a movie about the British no-hoper who, against all the odds, got into the Olympics as a ski jumper.  I found it interesting that his route to the Olympics was in stages based on the size of the ski jumps he could tackle.  These are rather like learning points which became plot points in the story.  As a result, I learned quite a bit about the size of the jumps and other technical details.  But, of course, the thing I remember best is the moral of the story, which is that it’s not about winning it’s about playing, and if you set yourself against the odds people will appreciate your valiant efforts.  So, it affected me as a very anti-sport person, as rather effective pro-sport propaganda.  And for a few days I remembered something of the technicalities of the sport as well.

Coming back to goodies and baddies – one reason we don’t want passionate, violent clashes in our workplace dramas is that we don’t want them in the workplace.  On the other hand, if we were to take a workplace topic, something people are unlikely to get passionate about, and pump it up to the level of a melodrama, we’d have a very entertaining film which no-one would think for a moment is based in reality, but the audience would love it and would no doubt remember it and tell their friends.


Real Drama for Learning

Script consultancy: we work with your team to turn workaday content into something truly dramatic.

Training:  Using our conceptual toolkit, we work with your team to give an understanding of the basics of dramatic construction.

Agency support: working with you at the bid stage, we provide creative support to elevate your video-oriented eLearning idea into a winning pitch.

Production: From idea to final film we work with you throughout the journey.

 

Real Drama for Learning – using emotion to communicate ideas.

Read moreGoodies and Baddies – Drama doesn’t have to be black and white

Why Drama for Learning?

Relax and watch the TV

Why does Eastenders have more appeal to a broader audience than Horizon or Panorama? The answer is – you don’t need to use your intellect to engage with drama. And it’s easier to get emotionally involved than it is to get intellectually involved. It’s easier to eat comfort food than it is to eat celery. But unlike a righteous diet regime, with drama you can have your cake and eat it! Drama can deliver messages that have intellectual concepts bound up in them. And while we can’t do that with the sort of detail you’d get from a documentary style treatment, the impact, the engagement and the retention of the message will be much better.

Write a story

Drama is a form of storytelling. Storytelling is a learning buzzword, but why is it so important in learning? Story takes facts, events or ideas and shapes them to create meaning.

St. Paul has been called a spin doctor. It’s meant as a compliment. Paul had extraordinary literary skill which he used to reshape the disparate and sometimes contradictory records of Jesus’ life. He also had the political skill to get his interpretation of the gospels accepted by the church. Paul and his followers wrote vast tracts of the bible post-Jesus, ensuring that a coherent and engaging story was told. This work played a major part in ensuring that Christianity became such a compelling and powerful force in the world. Here, story was the vehicle to spread ideas. Ideas with a spiritual, social and political impact. *

From the sublime to the ridiculous – Keeping up with the Kardashians is another example of the power of story. In this worldwide franchise, the jolly antics of this A-list family look spontaneous and genuine on the surface, but are in fact coordinated and staged by a team of story specialists. “Real” events are framed with staged activities to form stories. Stories that project values, have archetypal characters, plot points, acts and all the rest.

People want stories and want to believe in stories. It’s the principle way that hearts and minds are won and how political change is affected.

Dramatize it!

Most mornings I listen to the Today show on Radio 4 in which John Humphries interviews politicians. The core of his technique is to rhetorically question the position of his interviewee – testing the strength of an argument by trying to demolish it. This format brings out the best in the speaker as they are forced to defend their position. We get the passion and we get to the nub of their argument.

If the BBC let politicians simply tell us what they want us to hear without cross-examination it’d be like listening to a party-political broadcast, and as such, ironically, a lot less engaging and believable.

The latter is what we have seen many a time in a corporate learning drama – characters speaking the company line, showing no passion, and not getting into arguments over the issues. It gets the message across, but it’s not engaging and not convincing either. Of course, most large organisations are understandably wary of depicting their staff as being in conflict with one another, less still argumentative and they’re probably a bit wary of showing passion.

So, it’s our job to carefully guide them past these concerns, to bring in depictions of conflict so their messages can be convincingly delivered. An understanding of the principles of drama can give us the confidence to do this. To sell the client’s idea in a drama you need a champion of that idea (protagonist) and someone who tries to shoot it down (the antagonist). Together, their dialogue allows you to deliver a corporate message with passion and credibility.

Real Drama for Learning

The result of this approach is Real Drama for Learning. Dramatic content that’s as relaxing as watching your favourite TV show. A treat for the learner, a boon for the L&D manager.

Real Drama for Learning – we need it!

* Thanks to the Rev. Ruth Thomas for her Christian review of this paragraph.


Real Drama for Learning

Script consultancy: we work with your team to turn workaday content into something truly dramatic.

Training:  Using our conceptual toolkit, we work with your team to give an understanding of the basics of dramatic construction.

Agency support: working with you at the bid stage, we provide creative support to elevate your video-oriented eLearning idea into a winning pitch.

Production: From idea to final film we work with you throughout the journey.

 

Real Drama for Learning – using emotion to communicate ideas.

Read moreWhy Drama for Learning?

Character in Real Drama for Learning

In this blog, we will be looking at how characters come alive in ‘Real Drama for Learning’.

Conflict is KING

Most people intuitively understand how dramatic story makes use of archetypical character functions (protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, sceptic, etc.) to bring contrasting aims and opinions in line with what the various characters want to achieve. In this blog, we will explain how this mechanism works when we introduce ‘Real Drama for Learning’.

In the real world, everyone experiences behaviour in colleagues that doesn’t sit well with them. In fact, we find it difficult to identify a work place where conflict doesn’t exist. In learning videos however, most often we see people pretending to be ‘professionally’ excited about issues that are not influenced by personal issues. And because of that we struggle to believe them.

On the other hand, we readily accept tense situations when watching a fictitious crisis unfold in a scenario where characters are tasked with preventing an escalating situation descend into full-scale disaster.

In ‘Real Drama for Learning’, we cross the line into that territory where learning situations become recognisable, identifiable and hence more believable and memorable.

Authenticity and believability

To create an authentic story universe, we need to understand the characters’ position and sympathise with their aims and struggles.

Actors can make characters look like real people if the script contains believable dialogue. A good script provides actors with personality traits that flow from being precisely tailored to portray the character they play and evolves naturally in the situation they’re in.

So, how do we create these characters – shaped by the words they speak?

Complexity

People have highly complex personalities. The more contrast or idiosyncrasy we see in people the more we tend to find them intriguing – or even fascinating. To mimic these traits in our fictitious characters, (irrespective of which story function their archetypical role fulfils), we need to give them contrasting yet believable character traits. Doing this makes the characters more complex and hence more identifiable and likeable, (or in some cases detestable – but still human). It also gives us the possibility of making them vulnerable and flawed. Further, by making them imperfect from the onset, it leaves room for character growth as the story evolves.

Archetypes vs. Stereotypes

Let’s begin by exploring how we differentiate between archetypes and stereotypes.

Stereotyping is a popular but simplified characterisation of people often made according to how they visually appear or behave. It’s a superficial judgment: all capitalists are greedy; all blondes are stupid; all white, male politicians are untrustworthy. Stereotyping also exists about cultures and countries: the English have bad teeth; Muslims are terrorists; the French are great lovers but smell of garlic, et cetera.

In drama, rather than stereotypes we use archetypes. Archetypes are how we assign a role to a character in a drama. The Hero, the Mentor, the Villain and so forth. They are less reductive than a stereotype because the same character can play a different archetype in a different story.

When constructing the character gallery, we always begin by pairing the two (and often only) main characters: The Protagonist and the Antagonist. These characters (as our caricatured Story Specialist, Zach Forsythe, explains in the Real Drama for Learning introductory video): “… must both want the same thing, but nevertheless be bitterly opposed.”

These conflicting characters are the drivers of the struggle. The theme for their conflict is the perceived dilemma of how to pursue the right or wrong ways of dealing with the subject matter. The achievements/setbacks (often peaking in so-called dramatic ‘plot points’) become the times/places/situations where the steps in the learning points journey are reached.

In Tom Hickmore’s blog Real Drama for Learning – an Introduction, we mentioned ‘The Problem with Brian’ – a story about how best to handle an employee’s absenteeism. To create the opposing opinions and aims, we created two characters (Protagonist and Antagonist) who both had an interest in solving the problem but based on opposite solutions. We created their personalities, equipped them with positive and negative behavioural traits and established an obvious growth opportunity for the Protagonist. These ingredients are all classic elements used in conventional storytelling. The happy ending, (the protagonist winning), leading to the moral of the story, provides our learning outcome. And the growth in the Protagonist’s character makes us want to side with the winner and adds value to the learning experience.

Follow in the ‘Hero’s Footsteps’

But why do we always sympathise with the ‘underdog’? Normally, we choose to sympathise with the character whose goal we find the noblest. In ‘Real Drama for Learning’ we associate this quality with the positive learning outcome by making the steps towards achieving the desired outcome – also called plot points – the same as the learning outcome steps that the learner needs to take and understand. This way we associate the learning process with situations that are both relevant and engaging.

The Matrix

We have created a consisting of a character matrix and lists of positive/negative personality traits that you might want to experiment with. We hope you enjoy the game of creating contrasting characters and discover how the opposing perceptions of your subject matter that this reveals makes for an exciting learning journey.

[gview file=”https://www.nicemedia.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Real-Drama-for-Learning-Character-Design-Sheet.pdf”]


Real Drama for Learning

Script consultancy: we work with your team to turn workaday content into something truly dramatic.

Training:  Using our conceptual toolkit, we work with your team to give an understanding of the basics of dramatic construction.

Agency support: working with you at the bid stage, we provide creative support to elevate your video-oriented eLearning idea into a winning pitch.

Production: From idea to final film we work with you throughout the journey.

Real Drama for Learning – using emotion to communicate ideas.

Read moreCharacter in Real Drama for Learning