I was just informed that my two mini-docs I shot this past year won two Telly Awards. Faith | Christ Saves won a bronze award, while Mariposa Coffee Company won a silver award. Both awards would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for Gerry Caputo, owner of Mariposa Coffee Company, and Tony Lopez, owner of AOA. These individuals are unique and have a charisma about them that is contagious. Once I met them and understood their story, I had to document it.
There are many things to consider when telling a story. The first thing is selecting the right people. If you choose to focus on someone who really does not come across on camera like they care the audience won’t care either. However, if you pick someone who is passionate about what they do such in the case of Gerry and Tony, your story will be headed in the right direction. People identify with people, and you really need to consider who you’re choosing to build your story around.
Secondly, the story is just as important as the person. No matter how cool or caring the person may be, without a story you have nothing. What is there story about? Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Why should your audience care about this story and or person? Does the person have a good hook to their story to draw the viewer in? As for both of my subjects, they had great hooks; they both faced hardships, and they both overcame them. You must treat your subject as a super hero in a way. Stories are told best when we can root for a character. If your character was once down and found their way to the top, that is a great strength to their story.
Planning is my next main ingredient when it comes to storytelling. There is nothing worse than having a great subject that has a great story and you the filmmaker do not plan accordingly. What do I mean? Well, there is all sorts of planning that can take place before, during and after a shoot. Have you had time to talk to the person who are focusing on? I mean, have you sat down with them or talked to them on the phone to really understand their story? Have you asked them why they do what they do? How they became who they are? What drives them? This is just the first step.
By engaging with your subject before you start shooting the story, you will be able to build a rapport with them, understand their story, ask them questions that will allow you to decide how you want to structure the story. You need to decide where you are going to shoot the story too. Will it take place in one location or does the story need to be shot in multiple locations? What lenses will you shoot with? Will you need to use a stabilizer for your camera for any moving shots? These are just a few questions that I think about when I plan my storytelling shoots.
When you make time to plan, you make it easier on yourself to tell the appropriate story. There is no reason to shoot a ton of footage and a ton of interviews. This lends itself to no direction and having to create the story in the edit. Why put yourself through that? Take the time to plan things out, you’ll benefit from it in the long run.
What I have outlined here is just the very basics, but without these three major ingredients, you will have a very weak story. Thank you again to Tony and Gerry for allowing me to tell their story. Without the two of them I wouldn’t be writing this. So, thanks for giving me the time to do it right.
I have been working in television and media for over 18 years. My experience includes news photojournalist, editor, producer and storyteller. I am a five time Telly Award winner.