Storytelling is Still in Style

Storytelling is Still in Style

And long form video isn’t dead!

April 16, 2015

It’s still the way of the world: Young beats old, new triumphs over the status quo. I know. I was young once, and part of a generation that was taught to not trust anyone over thirty.

Okay, 40 MAY be the new 30. but the attitudes still prevail, and moreover, we live in a world where youth is celebrated, envied, targeted, ogled, modeled, OMG’d and TMZ’d.

There is a begrudging nod toward the “classic” or “Old Skool” (sp), but this is usually when some idea that transcends time is adopted and “mashed”.

I have a career because my partner and I though we could bring something new to the communications game, something beyond the traditional. We adopted new media, refreshing visual techniques, snazzy soundtracks, and incorporated a new style of writing.

But eschew classic forms? No way.

All of us came from journalism and communications colleges. We studied film, documentaries, and in radio production techniques. We learned what worked. Then we added our style to it.

And told a story.

The proliferation of videos on the web is proof that video cameras are reaching typewriter (ok, make that word processor) status– various uses, techniques, styles prevail, from simplistic POV to eye-bending storytelling. From screen-capture training to dramatic time lapse. From 6 second Vines to 2 hour dramas.

Short videos prevail, but these are mostly informational or slice of life, camera tricks or just plain look at the camera rants.

But a recent New York Times article pointed out that videos on the web are actually getting longer. Longer doesn’t mean better, but it does provide more room for storytelling

Perhaps today’s hyper-connected people have discovered the joys of the explorations of thought and emotional catharsis longer forms can provide.

That would make a nice ending for this story.

How My Favorite Soundtracks Helped My Career

How My Favorite Soundtracks Helped My Career

Movie Music had a major impact on how I decided to craft our earliest slide show (eventually video) soundtracks.

As a 22 year old in a competitive corporate climate, I wanted to make sure that our “sound” was big time. I knew that the proper use of “movie style” music was the key.

Eventually, I found the right music to “borrow”– a combination of classical and movie soundtrack– and we were on our way. I first learned my craft doing family “Tributes” for my family, and some of the listed music was for these in-house “practice” projects.

I borrowed from some of my favorite soundtracks, and here’s a list of what I borrowed (this was 42 years ago, so I assume the statute of limitations has run out. If not, well, then, who hacked my WordPress?)

Citizen Kane. Bernard Herrmann’s music made this movie for me. His symphonic compilation, “Welles Raises Kane”, covers all the emotions… pride, enthusiasm, triumph, a life’s summation. I combined this with “The Memory Waltz” from Jane Eyre to add early moments of nostalgia.

Midnight Cowboy. Not for the Nillson songs. For John Barry’s beautiful “Joe Buck Rides Again”. It romances, then it gallops.

The Magic Christian.  Three great pop songs came out of this, but I loved the energy in Ken Thorne’s underscore to “The Hunting Scene.”

 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. John Barry again, and this time it’s for the lilting, then marching Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway.  I used this to help paint a picture of my parents’ trip to San Simeon for a slide show my Dad was putting together. He was amazed.

And some classical favorites that actually work within the context of arts or industrial soundtracks:

The Overture from the School for Scandal. Samuel Barber’s first composition for full orchestra. It was composed in 1931 while Barber was completing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. We used in in our first professionally completed slideshow for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The Academic Festival Overture. Johannes Brahms. Brahms composed the Academic Festival Overture during the summer of 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau, which had awarded him an honorary doctorate the previous year. It is amazing to me how cinematic this piece is, and we used a recording of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performing it in a slideshow documentary for the Milwaukee Symphony, conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn.

After these first few practice runs, with the hope that our output (and income) would increase, we began investing in music libraries, which in those days came on 12″ stereo LP’s. My early favorite was The Chappell Library, which souerce music from England, France and Germany, and later, KPM, which primarily distributed the works of top notch British composers / conductors.

But it all started, as it did for so many in so many ways, with a viewing of Citizen Kane.

Public Domain Video for Your Project

Public Domain Video for Your Project

Let’s say you are doing a tribute video to celebrate your parent’s anniversary. 

You’ve got pictures, a bit of home video or film and some appropriate music. But you’d like to add some production elements that enhance the story. 

That’s where public domain footage comes in. You could add news footage, scenes from old tv shows, even musical performances. It’s all in a place called The Internet Archive.

For a family history we did for a client, we interviewed the parents and learned their backgrounds– he had been in the the second world war; she was an accomplished office manager. Searching the Internet Archive, we found appropriate footage– newsreel footage of the second world war with narration, and generic 1940’s office scenes that we mixed with pictures of Mom at work. Not only does public domain footage help flesh out your video, it makes it more interesting to less involved (non-relatives) viewers. 

The footage can be downloaded in several formats that should work with your editing system… make sure your downloading the highest resolution for the biggest impact.

Give it a try!

Why The VideoBiz Book?

Why The VideoBiz Book?

I like to look at the big picture. The big picture will constantly keep you focused on your goals. The big picture also shows you how all the pieces fit together.

During my production career, I faced many challenges– changing production formats, new technological advances, and the changing temperment of suppliers and even employees.

As I solved each problem– creative, technical, financial, I made a mental note to not do the next time what we had done to create the problem I built a set of rules that helped me help my clients, deliver great creative, and stay competitive in the marketplace.


I like teachers. I remember clearly the ones that encouraged me toward my goal of something audio-visual.

I was lucky enough to teach of semester on visual communications at Marquette University, where my business was located. That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I even hired one of my students!

“Someday, I will do this again,” I said to myself.

TVL Seminar at Brien Lee Creative Solutions office, 1995

Alas, that never happened.

But I did teach my staffs over the years, and did offer some group training seminars for new editing equipment that had emerged in the marketplace. Once again, this was very rewarding… even clients and competitors attended!

Real Life Experience

Brien Lee at TVL Seminar, Phoenix, Arizona 1997

Through the years I wished there had been a book that offered real world knowledge about the ups and downs of making a career or starting a business in video production… something beyond the “winging it” method my partner and I were up against at the dawn of video communications!

The Video Biz Book

As I approached retirement age (although I’m not exactly retired) I realized I had to write that book. I would describe the book as non-clinical, confessional, anecdotal, and real-life. It is all based on real experiences in the production biz, from starting up, to being creative to methods of organization, to work flow, to client handling and to popping the cork of success.

Do you have a story you want to share? Chime in below, and thanks for being here.