How to Tell Stories.
With the theme of writing for TV this week we’ve covered the art of writing stories (screenwriting) and how to find stories (journalism) but today Chris Dodd tells us a Story about a Storyteller and explains how telling stories can get you a head start in TV.
If you’ve ever looked for a media job, you’ll have noticed the good old chicken and egg situation: You need professional experience to get that first job, but you can’t get experience without first having a job!
Getting a job as a runner can be a bit like winning the lottery. Finding runner jobs that require no experience are few and far between and production companies advertising such jobs will be swamped with applications from eager new-entrants.
While working as a runner for a production company will give you a wealth of experience in how TV is made, it won’t necessarily give you the skills you need to succeed in the industry.
The media – be it TV, radio, print or online – is just a tool. It’s a kind of conduit – it connects information from sources and delivers it to audiences.
The technical elements are important, but the crucial part is the information, which is always driven by stories. To really succeed in the media industry you have to have the skills for finding stories, developing stories and most crucially for telling stories.
The great thing about story telling, is that it’s a skill we already have and use on a daily basis. What’s more, you can develop and improve on this skill within a media context very easily.
Peter Oakley first uploaded a video to YouTube in 2006. Within a few short weeks he’d become the most subscribed user on the video sharing site. Today, nearly 10million people have viewed Peters videos. Not bad for a man who was born in the same year that the BBC was incorporated.
“I’d had a computer for some time, I was interested in graphic design and I had it to find friends really, because I’m a widower living alone. It didn’t really work very well because I didn’t know where to go and I got into all sorts of wrong places – very dodgy sort of places.
I was modifying photographs with Photoshop, and I started doing family slide shows and I thought they were alright, but I didn’t produce anything very wonderful, and I thought if there was some movement and some videos in them, then that would be more interesting. I didn’t know how to make videos, but at that time I’d got a PC and I found out it had Windows Movie Maker software that would enable you to make videos and so I gave it a try.”
Through his many videos Peter has humbly told the story of his life, from his love of motorcycles to his conscription into the armed services during World War II. He started his YouTube life with a simple web cam –
“It was before the days that camera’s were built into computer monitors, I bought a logitech web cam, which was pretty basic.”
Peter now uses a Mac instead of his PC, but he has never really sought to improve the technical side of his videos.
“I never script anything, I can’t do entertainment stuff very well. Working on your own, with your own cameras I don’t have the facilities to do the sort of thing that TV people do, so the videos haven’t really improved, except of course one gets a little more confident I guess of just talking to the camera in a more natural way.”
Although Peter puts a lot of his success down to luck, his natural on screen presence, charm and a somewhat mischievous sense of humour really draws viewers into his world and stories. The many positive comments that adorn his YouTube pages give an insight into the genuine care and respect he has earned from his audience.
“YouTube and what are now known as social networking sites were the domain of the young, old people were never expected to go on there, so I was possibly the first old person to put a video up onto YouTube. I don’t really know how it happened, but Reuters [news agency] got hold of the fact that I had done this, and then everything went berserk. I mean I was approached by all sorts of people from all over the world, Radio, Television and newspapers – It wasn’t because of what I did, my first videos were perhaps a bit crap – they really were terrible. It was just the fact that I had done it, and everyone thought that it was amazing. Of course I didn’t think it was, and I didn’t expect anything to happen, I thought because it was all young people, well that they wouldn’t even look, but because I got all the publicity worldwide, then everybody wanted to know who this old bloke was and sort of came to look at me. Then I got loads of subscribers and it basically went on from there.”
Despite his clear modesty, there is a definite link between the success of his videos and the deeply fascinating personal stories and anecdotes he shares with the world. Peter is a natural storyteller – a skill which is the core of any successful media production in absolutely every genre. From comedies like One Foot in the Grave to reality shows like Big Brother it is the human stories that drive the narrative and that are the source of the entertainment.
The lesson we should take from Peter is that anyone can be a storyteller – and a media producer. It doesn’t require expensive equipment or technical expertise.
If you’re struggling to get onto that first rung of the career ladder consider finding a space to tell your own stories, or stories from the people around you.
It could be the experience that separates you from all the other new entrants.
As for Peter:
“It’s led to so many other things, being approached by news papers, television stations and radio stations and things like that, I mean, it’s very good, It’s quite exciting for an old man to be able to do these things. Through television I was invited to be a member of the Zimmers Band, which has taken us all over the world – America and Europe and places. So I think they’ve been wonderful benefits.”
Thank you Chris for yet another great article. Go find and tell those stories folks!