Classic storytelling in video form, from Cannes to
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Classic storytelling in video form, from Cannes to

Paul Holmes

About 24 hours after leaving Cannes, I find myself in Boulder Colo., listening to a presentation on visual storytelling that seems particularly relevant given that almost all of the Gold Lions winners were heavily dependent on moving—in both senses of the word—images. Barry Poltermann, CEO of About Face Media, was speaking just ahead of me at a meeting of The Conference Board’s Council on Corporate Communications Strategy, and whose company is focused on using documentary storytelling to achieve brand marketing objectives. “You have to bring to life more than just a marketing message,” said Poltermann, who added that most documentary marketing is not engaging the intended audience: fewer than 30 percent of people are still watching the average video past the 60-second mark. Poltermann has a simple—which is not to say easy—formula for great storytelling: “You need a hero. On a journey. With goals. Showing passion. Facing challenges. With something at stake. Winning. “Your video does not have to have all of these things—very few of the documentaries were produce have every element—but every one of these signifiers helps to make your story more engaging.” Poltermann was the editor of the Sundance Grand Prix winner American Movie, which was re-edited after initially being rejected by the festival in order to conform to the classic “hero’s journey” template, and also showed a documentary shot for architecture firm Perkins+Will that followed the format to convey the firm’s mission. The film features a hero (CEO Phil Harrison), with a goal (sustainability through architecture) and a passion (the environment), on a journey (using architecture to reduce Vancouver’s carbon footprint), facing challenges (changing the way people think about architecture), with high stakes (the future), ultimately winning (with examples of the firm’s sustainable designs). All of this prompted thoughts on the winning entries in Cannes, and particularly The Scarecrow, which won the Grand Prix. The Scarecrow movie is a classic “hero’s journey” tale, albeit fictional rather than documentary, animated rather than live action. It’s a timeless approach that can accommodate a variety of styles and formats, and should be applicable to any company that has a story to tell.
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