Why Do You Need an Experienced Storyteller?

  • Harry Hayes

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When Unexpected Things Happen, an Experienced Storyteller Can Keep Your Production on Track.

What’s the real value of having an experienced storyteller and producer on the set of your video or commercial production?

I think this story says it all.

A few years ago, I wrote and directed a TV campaign for ATC Income Tax, a tax preparation company in Atlanta. The campaign was built around a memorable catch phrase: “They messed us up.”

Each commercial featured people talking about their tax problems, explaining how the previous year, their tax preparer had screwed up their refund or gotten them audited. In other words, “they messed us up.”

One commercial showed a mom, dad and two kids sitting around the breakfast table. It was supposed to be a simple production. The kids would sit there looking cute while mom and dad did the talking.

But one of the kids had a different idea.

He Messed Us Up

This kid—a cute two-year-old named Ashton—quickly tired of munching on Cheerios and started snickering when he heard the catchphrase.

For some reason, “they messed us up” was just the funniest joke in the world to him.

By the third take, he was blurting out the line himself, stepping on the dad’s delivery.

And of course, this made the others crack up.

Actors breaking character, take after take, can slow down a shooting schedule and put the entire production at risk. We had three spots to shoot that day. The clock, as they say, was ticking.

When a two-year-old started disrupting this production, good thing there was an experienced storyteller on set.

An Experienced Storyteller

So what should I have done in this situation? Get mad? Yell at the kid? Talk to the kid’s mom?

That’s where being an experienced storyteller comes in. I realized immediately that this giggly kid’s performance was adorable and actually better than our storyboard. So reaction number one—I zoomed in to get the kid’s close-up, in case he stopped.

But he didn’t stop. He went take after take, giggling and smirking at the camera.

He didn’t stop after we wrapped, either. The kid’s mom texted me a few days later and said Ashton was still walking around the house saying “They messed us up” over and over.

The kids were supposed to just sit there looking cute, but this two-year-old had other ideas.

I Got the Shots Needed

While we did lose some time with the interruptions and laughter, we made it up on the next set-ups.

I got shots of the mom and dad saying their lines (sans Ashton) so I’d have editing options.

That’s another way being an experienced storyteller helps. I knew I couldn’t just shoot the storyboard, so I adjusted the approach in a way that incorporated the kid’s performance but still kept my editorial options open.

The outtakes video of this cute kid ended up outperforming the commercials on YouTube.

An Outtakes Video

With all those takes of Ashton on camera, I cut together an outtakes video for the clients enjoyment and posted it on YouTube. And of course, the outtake video far outperformed the actual commercials.

Within a few days, it had racked up nearly 20,000 hits, well on its way to becoming a viral video. It was supposedly trending quite high in Germany, though I have no idea why.

But I DO know this—that two-year-old actor was something special. That situation could have easily derailed our production. Instead, an experienced storyteller (me) was able to adjust the approach and use it to our advantage.


About the Author: 

Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

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