How Keywords can change everything…

Today, Part 2 of our four part Storytelling series for Vimeo Video School launches! (If you missed Part 1, check out The 4 P’s of Storytelling here.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of the video:

  • 00:39 – Our Discovery process – where we research out topic and do our initial walkthrough.
  • 01:50 – How to use research to brainstorm 5 keywords that will guide every other decision you make going forward.
  • 02:33 – Keyword examples from Jess & Brian’s wedding feature.
  • 03:15 – Keyword examples from I’m Fine, Thanks documentary.
  • 04:01 – Keyword examples from Pulse, our feature on BioBeats.
  • 05:20 – Conducting pre-interviews to finalize which people will add the most to our story.
  • 06:53 – Case study on Kelly Moore’s adoption story – how we used pre-interviews to choose characters.
  • 07:47 – How to scout your places to finalize which locations will add to your film.
  • 09:15 – Case study of Old Skool Cafe – where we choose to film our main interview (and why).
  • 10:08 – Brainstorming beginning, middle, and ends that will eventually make up your plot.
  • 11:05 – Case study of AT&T: My Journey campaign – how we created tension and chose our journey.
  • 11:38 – Summary of importance of keywords and what’s coming in the next tutorial.

This video details, with example, one of the most important factors that helps us tell unique, compelling stories.

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The Four P’s:

People: Who is in the story you’re trying to tell? Who will captivate your viewers? Who will they root for?

Place: Where does the story take place? What do your locations add to your characters or story?

Plot: What is the conflict, and what is the journey? How will we intrique the audience through the beginning, middle, and end?

Purpose: Why are you telling this story in the first place? Who cares? Why should they care?

How this series came about…

Sometimes a new friend can completely change your life.

When we were just a little baby of a company — making wedding films and slowly but surely learning the power of putting story first, we never would have imagined how much our Vimeo account would do for us.

While it was most likely fate that led the NFL to press play on JC & Esther’s wedding film, it was our new relationship with Vimeo that allowed us to put that film (and our company) out there for the world to see.

The NFL liked JC & Esther’s wedding film so much that they gave us a phone call that would and opened up a world of new connections and opportunities. A week later, we were on a football field in front of 70,000 fans, ready to approach the biggest shoot of our lives, all while using the very same techniques we used to tell JC & Esther’s story. Those were the storytelling techniques that put us on that field in the first place, and today we believe in them more than ever.

So when Vimeo approached us to do a guest professorship and put together a series of educational videos for their video school, we didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to share those techniques with you.

When we sat down to think about what topic we could create a feature training series for, we knew there was only one real option…


We’d do a series on putting Story First.

That’s the heart of what we feel we do best – and what we’ve been told we do uniquely in many cases.

Our goal with this new series is to completely transform the way you tell stories from this day forward. To do that, we’ll be focusing almost exclusively on pre-production, planning, and the storytelling principles that guide our decision making process.

What to expect:

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be releasing four 10-12 minute videos covering what we believe to be the most important aspects of the storytelling process.

This is the process that allows us to stay one step ahead of the game, and allows us to tell deeper stories in the end. We want this series to change the way you approach pre-production, because we’ve experienced the major benefits of effective pre-production first-hand.

Over the next two weeks, here’s what you see coming from Vimeo Video School:

Episode 1 (now live!) – Stillmotion’s “Four P’s” of Story.
Episode 2 – Research and developing keywords – using those keywords to choose our characters, location, and journey/conflict.
Episode 3 – Storyboarding, shotlisting, scheduling, selecting proper gear, and the day of the big shoot.
Episode 4 – We’ll show you how we bring all of these lessons together by walking you through our shoot with Coava Coffee Roasters here in Portland, Oregon!

But wait, there’s more…

At the end of the series we’ll propose a storytelling challenge to YOU — you know how much we love fun challenges and competitions!

You’ll compete along with all of the Vimeo community to win some cool prizes (and the fame and fortune that comes with it ;)

All entries will be posted to a Vimeo group, and Vimeo will be choosing 10 finalist. A panel of people from Cinevate (with the aid of us) will finalize the three ultimate winners.

And thanks to our friends at Cinevate, you could win some awesome prizes that will help you tell many stories to come:

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As the master of all things love and heartbreak once accurately (and a little somberly) sang:

“No, it’s not like any other love. This one’s different because it’s us.”

Although Morrissey doesn’t necessarily deliver this line from “Hand in Glove” with a tone that will give you the warm and fuzzies, it does perfectly capture the essence of being in love: Every couple has their own love, each one feels that love is unique, and every story is different because it’s theirs.

So why shouldn’t each couple’s wedding film be different too?

Weddings themselves are a time-honored tradition that generally follow a similar structure, but wedding features really do not need to follow a set structure. In fact, we find they’re a lot better when they don’t follow anything but the couple’s individual story.

Winnie and Jerry’s wedding feature is a great example of how investing in the couple’s individual story (and not so much the wedding-ness of it all) will make all the difference in their film. After meeting with Winnie and Jerry, hearing their story, and asking them all the right questions, we had all the necessary information to start assembling their perfect wedding film.

Here’s what we came up with:

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When you’re working with a cast full of “doers,” it’s not always an option to put their “doing” on hold so you can get your footage — sometimes not even for 10 minutes.

We were constantly challenged by this while working with some very influential (and extremely busy) people on our shoot for “City of Doers”/”Where The World Changes, a piece that we teamed up with director Rob Baget to produce for the city of San Francisco.

As many of you know, we pride ourselves on being able to shoot lean, under pressure, and in circumstances that would normally be considered unrealistic for a production crew.

But for this piece, we really put that pride to the test!

The cast was composed of the business world’s most innovative minds — some of whom simply didn’t have the time to care about us and our agenda, because they were busy running fast-growing, multi-million dollar companies.

For the director, Rob, this was more of a low-budget project, but one that was close to him personally. We’d worked under his direction on the Callaway series (which we now hold very dear to our hearts), so we responded to his request for help on this project with an affirmative “sounds like a blast — let’s do this!”

Here’s everyone we got to spend (very limited) time with:

  • Jack Dorsey – Co-Founder and CEO of Square, Founder and Executive Chairman at Twitter.
  • Ron Conway – Special Advisor to SV Angel and major startup investor for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Square— basically this guy is behind everything you love about the internet.
  • Heather Hiles – Founder and CEO of Pathbrite, a startup career portfolio platform.
  • Lynn Jurich – Co-CEO of Sunrun, an innovative solar power organization focused on affordability.
  • Laura Weidman Powers – Founding Executive Director of Code 2040, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for underrepresented minority computer engineers.
  • Craig Dalton – Cofounder and President of DODOcase.
  • Art Gensler – Founder and CEO of Gensler.
  • Dr. Regis B. Kelly – Director of ¼ of the California Institutes for Science Innovation.
  • David Lee – Founder and Managing Partner of SV Angel, an angel investment fund.
  • Edwin M. Lee – Mayor of San Francisco.
  • Kevin Yeaman – President and CEO of Dolby.

With this kind of all-star lineup, it would only make sense to break out the finest quality equipment we could find, right?


For this job, we specifically chose to bring our Canon 5D Mark III DSLRs instead of the Red Epic, because we anticipated set-up time and overall speed being major factors in the success of this shoot.

These people weren’t going to have all day. We had to be flexible — and match the unpredictable nature of their schedules and availability.

And boy did that decision pay off.

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We are practically living in New Orleans these days.

For the past couple months we’ve populated countless hotels (and Airbnb houses) as part of several features we’ve been involved with for Super Bowl game day.

Getting to tell stories that will be featured on Super Bowl sunday on CBS? You know we are all over that!

The largest project we are working on is a 44 minutes feature story set to air a few hours before the actual game itself.


NOTE: Thanks to everyone who tuned in to watch this live. If / when we receive permission to share the recording, we’ll post it here on the blog. 

In the meantime, check out this emotional feature that also aired on Superbowl Sunday, which focuses on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting.


It’s a 44 minute show – that’s nearly half of A Game of Honor - and have shot this all in just a matter of months.

Shooting such a long feature with a limited number production days means we need to be really efficient.

Many people mistake efficiency for “not taking risks” or “being sure to stick to the script” or “doing what is expected.”

But that’s not the Stillmotion way.

Through the course of putting this piece together there’s been several times that we’ve done things in an unconventional way because it fits the story as opposed to what was right or what was expected or what’s been done before.

You know that scene in the Matrix, where Neo meets the boy that can bend the spoon?

Stay with me…

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