More insights into filmmaking in behind-the-scenes videos

What goes into making a movie? What are actors’ insights into their characters? I had fun interviewing cast and crew of a sci-fi movie and editing the interviews into short videos.

The film “Breeding Grounds” takes place in a post-war world. It explores the relationships among people in a strange and harsh environment.

Here are some links to videos with “Breeding Grounds” cast and crew. More videos to come soon.

Tabitha Bastien’s character Georgie struggles with having been beaten and raped.

George Borchers constructed sets for the film on a tiny budget.
[Read more…]

My latest video: connecting people to CarbonWA

Here is my latest video, which I produced for the activist group Carbon Washington. CarbonWA is gathering signatures for an initiative. They would like the state to have a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The video is a key part of their crowdfunding campaign.

CarbonWA’s goals for the video included:

  • Connect people to the organization and its people: positive, energetic
  • Get them excited about what CarbonWA is doing: concrete, cutting edge policy
  • Have them feel optimistic about climate change
  • Encourage them to donate money and time to the cause

I hope you watch the video and visit their website to see what this young, enthusiastic group is doing. CarbonWA was started by the “stand-up economist” Yoram Bauman and others who were excited about the positive impacts of British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax.

“Breeding Grounds:” Behind the scenes at a post-war survival film

A few weeks ago I spent the day at a film shoot, interviewing cast and crew. I turned the interviews into a series of behind-the-scenes videos.

“Breeding Grounds” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. It explores the relationships among people in a strange and harsh environment.

Here’s the first video, featuring one of the film’s stars, Telisa Steen. Telisa plays Ellen, an injured ex-marine who finds her way to the post-war survival community Eastern Reach with her ward, Georgie.

The film was produced by the Seattle Filmmakers’ Collective.

Storytelling and the myth gap: the American dream

Building AmericaHere is where storytelling gets interesting. It’s not just about writing an engaging plot. The bigger picture is about using myths. Myths play a powerful role to explain what’s going on and help us connect with others in a shared story.

In our modern, rational society, we tend to think of myths as either a lie or as something that’s important only to primitive peoples. But myths are important to all societies. They help us create meaning and bring us together. They help us interpret and understand the world.

Jonah Sachs defines three ingredients of myths in “Winning the Story Wars.” [Read more…]

The simple story test: a dad, a daughter and a basketball hoop

Here’s a quick test from “Winning the Story Wars” to see if you are using the power of stories in your marketing and communications. And here’s an example of one of the top ads of 2014 that does a great job of storytelling.

As Jonah Sachs said, the more you can answer “yes” to these questions, the better your stories and communication will be. [Read more…]

Gimmickry: The fifth deadly sin of storytelling

“I love to laugh,” sang Uncle Albert in “Mary Poppins.” Laughing made Albert lose his connection with solid ground and float up to ceiling height. Albert’s laughter was infectious. Eventually Bert and the children couldn’t resist. They too floated up to join Albert in laughter. Only the stern Mary Poppins was left on the floor.

We all like to laugh. Humor is a universal emotion. When we laugh at the same joke, we create an instant connection.

But we need to use laughter carefully in telling stories, especially in marketing, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” An empty gimmick, just for the joke, isn’t effective. People may laugh, but the laughter is fleeting. Or the joke may bomb.

“There’s a far more inspiring kind of funny,” Sachs said. It “comes from hearing something we know to be true told in a way we’ve never thought of before.”

The question we need to ask when writing a funny story is, “Is it funny because it’s true?”

Puffery: The fourth deadly sin of storytelling

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

We all know this unforgettable line from “The Wizard of Oz.” Oz makes himself out to be godlike. But inevitably he is exposed as the small man he really is.

We commit the sin of puffery when we issue commands or proclamations from on high, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” If we want to tell good stories, we can’t adopt a puffed-up posture. Our audience needs to be able to relate to us as people like them.

Insincerity: The third deadly sin of storytelling

What's the universal element of your story?

What’s the universal element of your story?

The wolf in sheep’s clothing: that’s the essence of the sin of insincerity. Don’t try to be something that you’re not, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” Don’t try to please your audience so much that you lose your core identity.

While Sachs doesn’t use the word “authenticity,” he’s talking about what makes your story authentic. What are the values or the moral of the story you’d like to tell? How does that relate to your audience as human beings, not as a targeted demographic?

“Great stories are universal because at their core, humans have more in common with each other than the pseudo-science of demographic slicing has led us to believe,” Sachs said.

He points to the example of Pixar. They are aiming to tell stories that connect with a human audience. Stories that are creative, inspired by core values that everyone can relate to, not just kids. Maybe that’s why I have found myself on the edge of my seat more than once in the “Toy Story ” movies.

Authority: The second deadly sin of storytelling

Girl and puppy on lawn

Make an emotional connection. People don’t trust experts and their data. They need more.

We all know the story of the emperor’s new clothes. The emperor trusted experts who told him he had a fine new garment, even though he couldn’t quite see it himself. He paid them lots of money for the fabric and construction. It took a child to tell the truth: the emperor was wearing nothing.

Our belief in our own expertise causes us to commit the sin of authority, according to Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” We believe that the facts speak for themselves, that the data are persuasive. We forget to make an emotional connection.

The problem is that in today’s world, facts aren’t enough. The public no longer believes experts. Scientific opinion changes. Are eggs bad for your cholesterol, or are they a good source of protein? What about cigarettes or DDT, lead paint or leaded gasoline?

When I worked on reducing pesticide use, we turned to the potential impacts of pesticides on children. We knew that parents loved their children and would be concerned about harm to their children’s health. We thought their concern might get them to act.

One of our strategies was to send postcards like the one above, with compelling messages about children and pesticides and a few tips for alternate ways to deal with garden pests. A follow-up survey found a high recall of the postcards. Those who remembered the cards were more likely to change to a less harmful garden practice.

Sachs singles out people working on climate change for the sin of authority. He talks about NASA scientist James Hansen, who spent 40 years dispassionately publishing his findings about the role of CO2 in climate change.

Now Hansen has become an activist. He protests outside of coal-fired power plants and participates in climate rallies with His own story of scientist turned into activist gives him an emotional authority.


Vanity: The first deadly sin of storytelling

We can’t tell great stories if we fall prey to the five deadly sins, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” This is the first of five posts about these sins.

The story needs to be about your audience, not about you.

The story needs to be about your audience, not about you.

Sin #1: Vanity

You are not going to convert people to your brand or cause by telling them how great you are. Your own opinion isn’t enough to convince your audience or community.

You need to connect with their stories. People really want “to see their own reality and values reflected in a message,” Sachs said.

According to Sachs, one of the reasons that John Kerry lost and George W. Bush won the 2004 presidential election was the difference between their stories. Kerry’s story was about his issues and his credentials. Bush’s story connected with American voters.

Here are excerpts from the first few minutes of their acceptance speeches at the respective national conventions: [Read more…]