Telling Stories

I think one of the callings of the creative team in the church is to tell stories. The Bible is full of stories. We learn from stories, we’re encouraged by stories, we’re drawn into stories.

Here’s an example of a recent story we did.

We’re always looking for an opportunity to tell a story at COTM. Here are some guiding principles when we sit down with someone to tell their story.

1) Pre-production is huge. We always have a pre-interview over the phone and sometimes in person. It’s important that the person who’s going to be conducting the interview also do the pre-interview. This matters because it gets the interviewee relaxed and comfortable talking with the staff member who’s doing the interview and it gets them accustomed to telling their story, which is super useful when you go to shoot it.

In addition, it lets you know if you actually have a story. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve received a lead from someone in the church on a particular story only to sit down with them and find out their story isn’t that great or more often, they can’t speak well enough to deliver it. Don’t feel badly if you have to pull the plug on a story at ANY stage in its development. It’s part of the process and it happens to everybody.

2) Don’t have them rehearse some speech, actually “interview” them. One of our mistakes early on is that we really tried working with these people to be able to tell their story in big pieces rather than just interviewing them. This was a mistake. People have a hard enough time talking in front of a camera and trying to get them to share their story in chronological sequence only adds to that nervousness. It leads to awkward moments and the video comes off as forced and disingenuous.

I would recommend shooting the video interview style. Ask them pre scripted questions. Have the interviewer sit RIGHT BESIDE the camera so that the interviewee’s eye line is close to the camera but not looking directly into it, that just feels awkward. The only time we ever have anyone look into the camera is when we’re wanting to address the audience. Most of the time, that’s not the case with interviews.

3) Frame your questions to get at the heart of the issue. Ask them questions like: How did you feel when you were diagnosed with cancer? What was your life like before you met Christ? What was the breaking point that brought you to Christ? How did you feel after you gave your heart to Christ?

Many times details of the story are not as important as the emotions of the story. The audience wants to know how they felt, because many of them, at one point or another, have felt the exact same way. Look for the emotion.

Another trick to helping them frame their responses in a way that helps the audience understand what the heck is going on, is to have the interviewee repeat the question back when giving their answers. For example, answers to the questions above might look like this:

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was devastated. Life before Christ was an endless search for something I could never find. The breaking point in my life was… you get the idea.

4) If possible shoot the interview with more than 1 camera. It’s always best to shoot the interview with at least 2 cameras. This will help you avoid having to use “white flashes” or jump cuts to go between pieces of their story. With only one camera you’re really limited in how you can piece their story together. If you only have one camera you could rent one for the days that you’re shooting. This is a pretty cheap way to get 2 cameras working.

In addition, really mind your framing. Study other videos for how much room they allow over the subjects head and mimic their style until it starts to make sense to you.

5) Shoot your B-Roll (this is the footage of interview done when they’re not talking) after the interview is over. Have them give you looks of happiness and looks of sadness. These will come in really handy in edit. We may shoot 2 hours of an interview to get enough footage for 3 minutes, that means we will cut their story up A LOT! So having B-Roll allows you to cover awkward edits. Some sentences are things we crafted in the edit. In the interview the original sentence may have been 30 seconds long, but we’ll cut out the parts that were unnecessary and focus it. B-Roll is essential to making this possible otherwise the footage just jumps around and looks really weird.

6) Begin with the story. Don’t try to edit in all the B-Roll and stuff right away. Just start by piecing the story together. Don’t worry about how it looks just listen to the story, you’ll clean it up later. Start with a long version of the story and then make it shorter and shorter. The goal of any creative project is not to add until their is nothing left to add, the goal is to cut until you can’t afford to cut any more, so try to arrive at a version where the only thing the audience sees and hears is what is essential.

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Whitney George
Lead Pastor
Whitney George is the Executive Pastor at Church on the Move, where he oversees the operations and ministries of the church. Whitney is passionate about the local church and loves connecting with other church leaders. He and his wife, Heather, have five children and he loves Notre Dame football.