Crash Course: Part 6 of 6

How to tell a story in 5 shots

Discover the formula used by broadcast journalists the world over to tell stories.

how to tell a story with 5 camera shots

In part 5 of our crash course, I unpacked a formula used by even the biggest marketing agencies to build instant rapport with their target audience.

When used correctly, that storyline is one of the few that can be delivered almost entirely using a talking head setup without boring the pants off your viewer.

However, in many cases a video where the main action involves a single person talking to the camera for anything more than 30 seconds without a change of camera angle or background scene is a guaranteed way lose your audience.

Instead, you should be thinking “how do I use video footage and graphics to help tell the story and get my point across?”

In this post I'll show you how to tell a story in just five shots.

In part 5 of our crash course, I unpacked a formula used by even the biggest marketing agencies to build instant rapport with their target audience.

When used correctly, that storyline is one of the few that can be delivered almost entirely using a talking head setup without boring the pants off your viewer.

However, in many cases a video where the main action involves a single person talking to the camera for anything more than 30 seconds without a change of camera angle or background scene is a guaranteed way lose your audience.

Instead, you should be thinking “how do I use video footage and graphics to help tell the story and get my point across?”

In this post I'll show you how to tell a story in just five shots.

The ‘Five Shots, Ten Seconds’ rule

First developed by Michael Rosenblum, this formula is now widely used by broadcast journalists to get the shots they need to tell a story.

The premise is simple: shoot five specific kinds of video shots in sequence, each one at least ten seconds long. Then add a voiceover or excerpts from an interview during editing.

Here’s an example video. In this instance there is no narration, which speaks (excuse the pun) to the power of the formula to effectively tell the story just with visual elements:

Here's how it works

The 'Five Shots, Ten Seconds' formula is simple. Get the following five video shots in sequence, with each shot lasting at least 10 seconds:

1

A closeup on the hands of a subject showing WHAT is happening

2

A closeup on the face showing WHO is doing it

3

A wide shot showing WHERE it's happening

4

An over the shoulder shot (OTS) linking together the three previous concepts

5

An unusual or side/low shot to provide story-specific context

In practice, you’ll want to shoot approx 30 seconds of each shot to make sure you get enough usable footage.

Optionally, you should also try to interview the subject in the video. Use a tripod for your camera and headphones to make sure the audio is captured correctly. Aim to capture at least a minute for the interview.

The image below fleshes out the concept and process:

5 shot story checklist

Add impact with bookends

Having assembled the five-shot footage on your editing timeline, it's then relatively simple to script a voiceover that describes the action.

You could easily use PromptDog to record that voiceover, either directly to your video editing suite or to free standalone software like Audacity.

However, if your goal is to position either yourself or a client as an expert, then appearing on screen will be important. One popular technique is to 'bookend' the story with a talking head intro and close by the same person who does the voiceover.

Here's the process:

1

Record the entire script using your teleprompter

2

Use uninterrupted live action and graphics to tell the meat of the story

3

Bookend the final video with talking head shots at the very beginning and end

This format is particularly suited to YouTube where the competition for your viewer’s attention means it's vital to persuade them immediately that your video is worth their time.

Here’s a how-to style example by iFixIt:

The video opens with the presenter on screen. She quickly states the problem the video will address and makes a promise to show the viewer a solution.

That’s followed by footage of the fix in progress with a scripted voiceover describing the action. The presenter then comes back on screen to close it out.

That’s all there is to it. That’s how to bookend a video with a talking head.

And again, that whole video could easily have been recorded using PromptDog, breaking the script into scenes to minimize performance errors.

Coming next

As usual, I hope that helps. Storytelling is crucial to almost anything you want to do with video. And since we all have to find a way to pay for whatever that goal happens to be for you, using story will remain a focus on this blog.

To that end, we have content from a man who has been using story to sell products on the web since 1993. Look out for that coming to your inbox soon.


Author: Gary Elley