I am always on the hunt for a great story. I remember talking with an acquaintance a few weeks a ago who told me she had to get out of sales because she felt like she was always thinking about selling her product to everyone she met. I laughed and told her that’s EXACTLY what I do every day with everyone I know. If you know me, you have most likely have had me hit you up to be either featured in a video story, connected me with someone you know for their story, or allowed me access to your work/venue/event to film something for a story. Which leads me to tip #1
TIP #1: Be shameless. Put aside those squeamish “I’m a pain” feelings and discomfort at hitting up people you know for contacts, leads. In fact, when you have an idea for a story, the first thing you should ask yourself is “do I have any contacts in this area?” Now, if your story will expose secrets, feel pressured, or has the potential to end your friendship then you should practice common sense and look elsewhere. For the most part however, if you are polite and respectful, people are happy to help connect you to experts or potential subjects that could help you tell a great story. For example, when I wanted to profile a musician who challenged the traditional notion of success, I turned to a friend of mine who is a music producer. He just happened to have a huge up an coming artist from New York coming into his studio to record the next week. Turns out that Grace Weber was recently featured on Chance the Rapper’s latest Grammy award-winning album. https://vimeo.com/85457327
..which leads me to tip #2.
TIP #2: Have a specific story and subject in mind. When I was managing a team of emerging journalists and storytellers, I would receive a wide-range of pitches. The ones that featured broad issues were good starts – like “the impact of homelessness on public parks”, but needed to be refined in order to tell an actual story. A better pitch would be “Bob has been homeless for 3 years and lives in “x” public park. He spends his days picking up trash to try and help the environment.” This is a story pitch with a specific subject and a compelling process to follow. I can sign off on Bob, who addresses an important issue through the lens of his personal story. When I was assigned to interview Dr. Colleen Delaney on the benefits of cord blood transplants, I knew it wouldn’t be enough to just interview Dr. Delaney. I had to have a personal story from a subject who had gone through the transplant and experienced the benefits. Luckily, she had a special little girl who was up for sharing her story. https://vimeo.com/124438990
TIP#3: Think of a process to follow. I see lots of videos with the traditional formula of talking head interview and broll cut in between to illustrate what they are talking about. Sometimes it needs to be done and there’s no other way to tell this story. However, I always try and see if my subject can be filmed completing a process – specifically an action that has a beginning, middle and an end. This allows for a more compelling story arc that prompts the viewer to stay with the story to see how the process turns out. For example, you would not just film an environmentalist walking through the woods, you want to film them tracking a rare species of bird (do they find it?). The video below features a group of high school girls learning construction skills in Seattle’s central district through the non-profit Sawhorse Revolution. I told their story through spending three months following them through the process of building a tiny house for the homeless. It was a huge investment, but I felt following the process was a more compelling way to tell their story than simply filming them banging nails for a day and I think the end result was worth it. https://vimeo.com/169891129
Remember, in the end, it’s about how people relate and resonate to your subject and story. Think about what story YOU’D like to hear and test your pitch on yourself. Keep it specific, personal, and process-driven. Good luck and reach out anytime if you’d like to learn more about the components of what makes a great story pitch!