What would you say if you could share one thing with the world?
We had the amazing opportunity to speak at the Social Innovation Summit hosted at the United Nations in New York.
I had 10 minutes to talk to an amazing group of people, but what did I want to say?
In ten minutes you really want to get to one big idea. So what was it? Our one big idea that we wanted to share with people. I knew that if I tried to say too much I’d end up saying nothing at all.
One big idea to give to a room full of people: CEOs or heads of social corporate responsibility for companies like JetBlue, Chobani, Google, and Microsoft and a few hundred more.
As we thought about what we wanted to share, we realized that there is one storytelling secret that we think everyone should know.
Heidi McKye and I put our heads together to co-author what exactly we might say on behalf of Stillmotion.
This is what we came up with. Our one thing, as shared with everybody at the Summit.
Hiya, I’m Dom, and I’m a Connector at Story & Heart.
Story & Heart is one part film licensing platform and one big part filmmaking community—a place for storytellers to learn, encourage, and collaborate.
In that sense, we foster a passionate group of like-minded filmmakers drawn together to focus on one thing: helping you tell amazing stories. Because we believe that what we grow together will be something so much greater than anything we could have nurtured alone.
So, in the spirit of collaboration, Stillmotion asked me to write a bit about the idea of collaboration.
Imagine, for a moment, a storyteller. Do you picture writers laboring, lonely, behind a stack of paper in a dusty study? Or animators alone poring over the same drawing, over and over, changing it slightly every time to capture the precise pose, or the right mannerism, to convey that perfect purpose?
Now, for one more moment, imagine a freelancer—the storyteller who is bound to work alone, for whatever reason, be it financial or physical.
Because the truth is so much simpler: Storytelling requires collaboration.
That book that writer behind the lonely typewriter is creating? It’s so much bigger than the bounds of that study. It needs an editor—or a team of them—if it has any chance at reaching a greater audience. And that writer, beyond just her editors, also needs an agent, a publisher, a publicist, and countless others to hold her hands throughout the process of publishing, before the book can end up in your hands.
The same, of course, applies to film. When the credits roll, you aren’t bombarded with hundreds of names because of some elaborate joke.
Yet, as filmmakers, we can probably all remember a time when we’ve had a strange relationship with the idea of collaboration. Maybe for you, that time is now, and at the moment you’re staring at this screen hoping we’ll convince you that teamwork isn’t as frustrating or difficult to manage as it’s seemed so often in your career.
In just about any filmmakers career, they’ll spend a good deal of time as the support. Call it a second shooter, production assistant, or 1st AC – there are a bunch of roles that don’t have the prestige of Director or DP.
The fatal mistake of the second shooter is to think that there is any less opportunity in one role over another. It’s all relative. There is always a chance to make a difference, both for yourself and for the larger picture.
Here’s a short story of a shoot we did for CBS last year that really drives that point home.
Last year, Joyce and I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans working on a one hour Superbowl special. As it came close to Superbowl Sunday, things started to get really busy for CBS. As the broadcast network of the game, they had a bunch of specials to put together and many of them would come together in the days leading up to Superbowl Sunday.
One of the biggest pieces they were putting together was the Superbowl Open – a short piece that would air right before kick-off. Together – CBS, Superbowl, the Open – it all meant that there would be some pretty awesome resources put into bringing this piece to life.
We got a call the day before the shoot seeing if we’d be interested in tagging along. Pete Radovich, director of A Game of Honor, was directing the piece. Think Lombardi Trophy, an awesome NOLA stage, a 50 piece kids orchestra, some unreal lighting design, a grand piano, and Helmut Vonlichten (formerly of E.S. Posthumus).
They already had a DP plus a 20′ jib as a second camera. That means we’d be last in line – a third camera. Remember, we were in New Orleans for an entirely different shoot, one that had very long days, so it would be an easy excuse if we wanted to pass.
Do I wish I was asked to DP a spot as special as this? Absolutely. But they had an excellent DP in place and that wasn’t how we could help on this one.
Never one to turn down an opportunity, we rigged the Epic up on the Steadicam and Joyce and I joined the shoot, me as the Steadicam Op and her as my 1st AC.
We showed up with every intention of being the best third camera CBS had ever seen. Ever chance we got, we pushed ourselves just a little further than we thought we could go. And in between our chances, we schemed on how we could do even more the next time our name was called.
Our first feature film, 64 minutes in length – how do you possibly make 96,120 frames all say the same thing?
Every story you tell will come with a million decisions.
We can turn our backs, hide under the covers, or close our eyes. None of that will make them go away.
Think about something fairly straightforward like an interview. You’ve got your aperture, iso, shutter speed, camera height, focal length, white balance, picture profiles, lighting ratio, location, eyeline…okay, you get the point.
When I started filmmaking, I’d make every single one of those decisions with the same thing in mind ‘just make it look good’. But what is ‘looking good’? And it’s probably safe to say that not every story should look that way.
It’s tough business. A million decisions, all hitting you at once, while you’ve got to stay on schedule, get the shots, and find time in all of that to eat and breathe.
So we get overwhelmed and It’s easy to miss or dismiss so many of the decisions. For so long I didn’t know how camera height affected story, that shooting down on somebody could diminish them, or shooting up could give them power and authority.
But guess what? Every time I setup my camera, I was still saying something with my camera height, whether I knew it or not.
Our challenge then, as filmmakers, is to take those million decisions and make them with intention – harness their power to drive your story.
We need a rhythm, a resonance, a way to have them all point in the same direction.
We’re glad you’re here. Really – we appreciate the time you’ve chosen to share with us in the pursuit of stronger stories.
Here’s the truth; we LOVE great stories. And, quite frankly, we think that there should be more of them out there.
We hope you’ll take a few moments to help us get to know you. We’d also love to take a moment and share our story, as it’s so central to the content and ideas we’ll be bringing you.
It’s been 10 years thus far in our pursuit of great stories. We started in weddings, way back when, while in University. One day we got a call, totally out of blue, from the NFL. They’d seen one of our wedding films, appreciated our approach to story, and wanted to see how it might fit for their game. In a week we went from hotel ballrooms to all access for the NFL playoffs, San Diego vs. Green Bay.