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Adventures in Storytelling: Good Things Come in Small Packages

(Reprinted with permission by the Wave One Group.)

With planning and focus, 90 seconds is plenty of time to tell a concise and meaningful visual story.Back in the Ice Age of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I learned a couple of road rules as a newly minted TV news reporter: find the “people angle” in every story; and keep your stories focused and short.

The ‘people angle’ I got right away; brevity and focus were another matter. Countless times I would return from a 2-3 hour shoot, only be told by a show producer, “I need a minute-45 for the pack and the lead-in.’’ In English, this meant: write 15 seconds of copy for the anchor to introduce your story, then write a 90-second news story, which would include a couple of short interviews, voiceover narration and an on-camera transition. The tight deadlines of TV news meant I’d usually have an hour to write, narrate, and edit my story.

I often chafed at the 90-second story rule. Ninety-seconds isn’t nearly enough time to tell a strong story, I’d cry. I need more time! Sometimes my begging worked and I got an extra 30-45 seconds; usually I didn’t. But over time, I learned that with planning and focus, 90 seconds was plenty of time to tell a concise and meaningful visual TV news story.