The Power (and Ease) of Video

By McKinlee Covey, Communication Fellow '17

Everyone loves a good youtube video, right? That was the approach that Matt Weber and Iman Rastegari took during a session of the VOICE Program: Harnessing the Power of Video. The group had a good laugh watching a young boy desperately wanting to be a “Single Lady” - mostly because we could relate. Who hasn’t wanted to be Beyonce at one point in their life?

While the videos used throughout the training were fun, they often were springboards to the engaging and thought-provoking subject matter of storytelling though film.

One of the first things we discussed during the session was that the medium of film is much more accessible than we realize. Often the notion of film can be intimidating because it seems like a professional endeavor. People often think of large cameras, fuzzy microphones, and movie star trailers when they think of film. In other words, it seems like a large production and a lot of effort! Matt and Iman quickly helped us to dispel the myth that film is only for those with the best equipment or the greatest skills. Iman explained that the value of a video has nothing to do with the equipment, but with the story. This point was emphasized as we watched a short, cinematically beautiful video - which to our surprise had been shot on an iPhone 4s.  

This helped us see that anybody is capable of making a video regardless of equipment or initial abilities. However, we discussed the question of what makes a good film? Iman enlightened us by highlighting four important aspects required to produce a good film.

First, he explained that we must have a Story that we want to tell. Film is all about telling a story in a way that allows us to engage all of the senses. What story speaks to our hearts and is meaningful?

Second, he emphasized the importance of Purpose. Why would we tell this story? Who is our audience? What do we want that audience to feel? think? do?

Third, he encouraged us to explore our Creativity. How could we share our story in a way that is unique?

Fourth and finally, he elaborated on the importance of Craft. As he did this he shared a few small techniques that filmmakers often use such as paying attention to framing and stability or the rule of thirds.

After gaining all of this knowledge, I already felt like the session had been a success. But we weren’t done yet! One of the things I love most about the trainings we receive as Communication Fellows is the opportunities we have to actually practice skills. Matt emphasized the need for us to move beyond the theoretical and into the practical realm during our sessions together. Just like in our previous session together, he and Iman had specifically reserved time for us to put our new knowledge to work. They explained that we would work in groups to create a pitch for an upcoming movie that they would create in the next few weeks. The pitch could be about any story that was meaningful to our group.

To spark our creativity Matt was kind enough to share incredible toffee and chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of his wife. Those cookies alone were reason enough to attend the workshop!

As our group munched on cookies and discussed, we went back to the criteria that Iman had taught us. We went around the table looking for someone who had a great story and we soon found one. After that we discussed what our purpose would be in sharing that story. Once we agreed on this, we began discussing the creative ways that we could craft such a video. Then we rejoined the other groups to share.

I was inspired by the ideas that each group had created. One group shared their idea of highlighting one of the Communication Fellow’s communities that was doing an excellent job of helping Syrian refugees integrate and start meaningful lives in the U.S. They discussed getting interview footage of certain refugees from that community who were now attending college at places like Stanford. Another group made the pitch for a film focusing on a new student-led organization that was formed on campus all about first generation college students. They shared their ideas for taking cameras into schools as these first generation students spoke to high schoolers about the possibilities that awaited them. 

My own group highlighted an upcoming event that will tell many individual stories about race. In November many photos will be displayed in the Gutman library which focus on race and the different perspectives people bring to this issue. We hoped to bring awareness to this event by highlighting a few of those photos while telling the story of those subjects through filmed interview.

Needless to say all of the ideas shared were great. This helped us to realize that there are many stories that need to be told and that we should not wait to tell them just because we are inexperienced with film. We know how to tell stories and now we know a new medium with which to tell them. As Matt said, we have phones that have film capabilities - so why not get started? So the next time you’re enjoying a youtube video, remember that someone made that film - why couldn’t it be you?