Exploding dead whales, Brexit and Touch and Go
Journalists joining television news – often after working in newspapers – used to be told that the best stories featured fires, floods and moments of destruction. Television was after all a visual medium. It was a pretty obvious thing to say – and took no account of the importance of the story – but it was a key lesson for many of my peers/hacks who failed to grasp that you might have the best story in the world but to tell it you required pictures.
In later years, when I was in a position to call the shots (sorry!), I probably took this concept too far. I was sick of report after report featuring buildings. Boring, unimaginative and lazy. So I banned shots of buildings – unless, of course, they were on fire, had been flooded, etc.
Television news has changed. Analysis on national news programmes, and for obvious reasons on rolling news stations, has become more prominent. Pictures, though, stick in the memory more than the latest Brexit explanation from the multitude of television correspondents. In the past few days you’ll have probably seen the terrible images from the Brazilian landslide and, by total contrast, this act of bravery/madness https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-devon-47029891/kite-surfer-jumps-200m-over-sand-spit
The poor television reporters, producers and crews are trying their creative best to bring the Brexit crisis to life for their audiences. We’ve had behind-the-scenes never-before-seen glimpses of Westminster’s corridors of power; last night we saw the unpacking of order papers (wow) and – of course – through the magic of special effects (a big green screen) we’ve been presented with reporters in the middle of a virtual Downing Street, House of Commons chamber, etc.
Believe it or not, in the world of corporate video world production we also face similar challenges. Filming a ship as explosives send it to the bottom of the sea (as we did in September) achieved the grand slam – fire, flood and destruction – for a good visual story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMdPU0gF6ko&t=30s . Understandably such assignments are few and far between.
A former employer used to spend a lot of money on average trainers and snake oil salesman. An exception was an American consultant who introduced a generation of TV producers across the UK to this gem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVVW8BferzQ
While the report about an exploding whale certainly fits one of the criteria for good television news – as well as a master class in script-writing – the consultant also provided us with sage advice on how to tell a story which, at the outset, does not have the promise of strong pictures…never mind chunks of blubber landing on cars.
The technique – Touch and Go – is, as most nuggets of wisdom, quite simple. Every shot/sequence on television or video requires an explanation (as simple as one sentence of voiceover) to show to the viewer why it’s there. That’s the Touch. Once the shot has been described, the reporter can talk about things the viewer isn’t seeing. The Go.
So, for example, if in the next few days Theresa May catches the Eurostar to Brussels we might see pictures of her boarding the train at Waterloo. The reporter and crew are unlikely to be allowed to travel with her, but – as the train departs – the voiceover might say something like: “She heads to Brussels, one more time, for the latest most important meeting of her career. If she’s told then that the EU’s public message of “nothing’s changed” is genuine, she knows she’s wasting her time. But, as the last months have shown, Mrs May finds it difficult to take no for an answer.”
A bit of imagination, creativity and Touch and Go helps us create watchable, memorable and effective videos for some of our clients. This, for example, is a promotional piece for a recruitment consultancy. The starting point was the client – Kevin Stephenson of Experts in Business – saying nothing more than he wanted a video. I hope you like the result.