Breeding Grounds film premieres

Breeding Grounds premiered last night at Northwest Film Forum. This post-apocalyptic movie explores the relationships among a small group of people thrown together in a “breeding camp” designed to repopulate the United States. The Seattle Filmmakers’ Collective produced the film with an all-volunteer cast and crew.

A few months ago I visited the production site to do behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew. You can see them all on the SFC website. I conducted the interviews and edited them into short videos.

Here’s a direct link to my favorite interview. Telisa Steen plays Ellen in Breeding Grounds.

Ben the Bear: Ann Wylie and online storytelling


PETA photo

“The bear, known only as Attraction #2, lived in a cage the size of a child’s room.”

That is one possible lead for a story about Ben the Bear, said Ann Wylie. She was speaking at a PRSA Puget Sound workshop on writing for the web called “Get Clicked, Read, Shared and Liked.”

Wylie described Ben’s story in a classic story template.

  • Introduction: Make the lead concrete, creative or provocative. What is a  critical moment or interesting fact that will draw people into the story and encourage them to keep reading?
  • Problem: Describe Ben’s dismal life in a North Carolina roadside zoo. Paint a picture for readers.
  • Solution: Talk about how your actions (by your company, nonprofit organization, agency program or other) improved the situation. In Ben’s case, PETA and other organization filed a cruelty-to-animals lawsuit that eventually got Ben out of the zoo, and FedEx transported him to his new home. Don’t use too much detail to describe your actions. Other people don’t care about those details. They want to know what happened to the story’s hero or protagonist.
  • Result: Ben now lives in a bear sanctuary, where he has green grass and his own pool. Happily ever after.

Stories are a powerful way to communicate online. Stories that involve human (or animal) interest and personal stories are more likely to be read.

To find stories, look for where your company, agency or program touches your customers. What have you done that is “aw”-inspiring?

Storytelling is half research and half structure. You need both for good stories.

Watch for more from Ann Wylie and her co-instructor Shel Holtz in future posts.

Empowerment marketing and the VW Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle ads with headlines like “Think Small” flew in the face of inadequacy marketing approaches. Route 66, photo.

In a previous post I talked about inadequacy marketing. This is marketing that reinforces our insecurity and tells us that if we just buy a certain product, we will feel strong, safe, secure or sexy.

Here’s another idea. What if marketing helped us realize our potential, tapped our better instincts or engaged us with something more than self-interest? In Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs calls this approach empowerment marketing.

I grew up in Michigan, a state whose economy was based in the auto industry. I remember my parents (and my friends’ parents) buying a new American-made car every two years. They were supporting the industry, but they were also influenced by automobile advertising.

Auto advertising was a great example of inadequacy marketing. The ads said that your status, taste and social acceptance resulted from the car that you drove. My father’s car was very important to him. He babied it, washing it every week so it gleamed.

The Cadillac was THE status symbol. According to Sachs, Cadillac ads “sold a whole set of values–values about happiness, identity and the good life.” Owning a Cadillac showed that you had made it, you were on top.

But that sense of achievement only lasted until the next year’s model–bigger and better–rolled out. Then your car was no longer the height of fashion. It might look small and worn out. Do you think people were feeling anxious and inadequate?

Then in 1959, full-page newspaper ads began to appear with a simple image of the Volkswagen Beetle. The headline said “Think Small.” The ad copy talked about the car being modest and efficient. The antithesis of a Cadillac ad.

People found the ads funny and honest. They flew in the face of traditional advertising approaches, allowing people to celebrate something small and clunky rather than a fashionable status symbol.

“Live Below Your Means” was the headline of another Beetle ad campaign. It celebrated the fact that the car’s design had not changed for almost two decades. New model year, what model year?

Fifty years later the VW Beetle ads are “still widely considered the stand-alone best marketing campaign of the twentieth century, number one on the Ad Age list,” according to Sachs. The Beetle became a symbol of the counterculture revolution. It celebrated not the suburban dream, but freedom and the open road.

The Beetle ad campaign was creative, but it was also powerful because of its values. As Sachs said, “While Cadillac was celebrating an endless quest for status and wealth, VW celebrated joyful modesty of material desire and truth in the face of insincerity.”


How to focus a story, and other tips from pro storytellers

“How do you focus a story?” asked Joe Fryer of NBC News at the Northwest Storytelling Workshop. You could center it around a character, around a place, or around an idea or concept. Once you’ve determined it, get rid of everything that doesn’t help your focus, Fryer said.

Fryer was one of several speakers at the recent storytelling workshop sponsored by NPPA, the National Press Photographers Association, at KING-TV in Seattle. [Read more…]

Inadequacy marketing and the magic solution

Magic solution

A magic solution may reduce your anxiety, but at what cost to you and to society?

Marketers are letting us down by making us feel inadequate, says Jonah Sachs in Winning the Story Wars.

Marketing has enormous power and reach. Each of us has received more than one million marketing messages in our lifetime, and they have a big effect on how we see ourselves and the world. In other words, in many ways marketers are mythmakers.

Marketing stories and myths could raise us up, help us grow and mature as individuals and as a society. Instead, for many years marketers have told us that we are somehow incomplete.

Most advertising reinforces emotions like vanity and insecurity. It tells us that we only need to buy a certain product to feel strong and powerful, safe and secure, or sexy and desirable. Sachs calls this inadequacy marketing.

Inadequacy marketing is a two-act story: [Read more…]

Rainbow Bend video wins Hermes Gold Award

Another of my videos has won an award. “Restoring Rainbow Bend: Good for People and Fish” won the Hermes Creative Gold Award.

Hermes Creative Awards is an international competition for creative professionals. The Gold Award is presented to entries “judged to exceed the high standards of the industry norm.” There were about 6,000 entries from the US and 22 other countries in the 2015 competition.

My role was director and scriptwriter. Tim O’Leary, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, was videographer and editor.

The video tells the story of a restoration project on the Cedar River that moved 55 families out of harm’s way and allowed the river to expand into the flood plain. Hundreds of fish now use the site throughout the year, and nearby Highway 169 no longer floods.

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…]

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?”