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Three ways to humanise your video stories for emotional impact

From tapping into human instincts to including genuine experiences, our Masterclass trainer shares his tips

Illustration by Julia Wytrazek

How do you tell a good story on video? It’s a simple enough question — but with a medium that seems to require a hundred different choices about everything from concept to length to casting, it’s easy to get bogged down before you’ve even started. “People get really obsessed by detail: what's the camera? What's the grade? What sound design do we need on this?”, says Carl Prechezer, founder and director of digital video marketing agency Unit Creative. “But they don't talk about why we should care. How's it going to make me feel?”

Ahead of his D&AD ‘Emotions in Video Storytelling’ Masterclass, we spoke to Prechezer about some ways to achieve a bigger emotional impact.

Tap into basic human instincts

All stories start with something large. Love. Hate. Greed. Surprise. Anxiety. A funny moment. “You need conflict. You need a point at which there is an emotional change,” Prechezer explains. “If you've got a situation or character, and they are feeling a particular way, something needs to happen to change their emotional state. That is live action. If there is a strong enough emotional change, your audience will feel connected and interested, because it's a shock.”

To get there, Prechezer recommends going back to basics. “Look at the brand's brief, look at the situation and think in emotional terms. How can we communicate with the specific audience that we're looking to talk to?” What this means in principle is boiling it down to a key idea or feeling. When you’re working with a brand, you need to understand who they’re appealing to. “If you've got an Adidas commercial, it's unlikely that it's going to feature two pensioners talking at a table,” Prechezer says. “The tone and the world of the brand immediately gives you a steer.”

After that, ask further simple questions. What genre is this? Comedy? Horror? A realistic slice of life? “Don't go deep until you've got the big top lines. Stick with creative development that feels real and has a big idea. You shouldn't have to explain it when you come to pitch your idea to the client or the creative director,” he says.

Draw on the real experiences of real people

Prechezer summarises his approach as “people, emotion, connectivity.” What does this mean in practice? Really, it’s about just being empathetic. After you’ve agreed on your core emotions and tone, it’s time to make it meaningful. “To create good video content, what you need to do is understand people,” Prechezer explains. He stresses that this is less about being a storyteller than it is about being a perceptive person who knows what makes others tick. 

Speaking to people with diverse experiences and understanding their point of view is one of the best ways to create content that will resonate. We recently saw D&AD Pencil-winning work that did exactly this, tapping into real stories to both reflect and elicit real emotional responses. These included AMV BBDO’s #Wombstories that incorporated real stories of people with wombs relating to fertility, periods and endometriosis, and Rosa Paris’s Just a Wall, an installation that visualised the stories of three children who were beaten to death though recreating children's bedrooms, separating the world outside by just a wall, showing how close to home the issue is.

Mirror how an experience feels

The real challenge is to capture the experience around why we feel certain emotions in a way that will resonate. “The way people connect is if the character behaves in a certain way that is relatable. The story must feel multi-layered; we don't just say ‘I feel angry.’ The interesting question is: why do you feel like that?” To Prezecher, it’s all about reaching for the feel of that feeling. He suggests tapping into highly emotional milestones that may feel nostalgic, giving the example of Bose’s ‘Bliss’ adverts, which centre on moments of real feeling connected to music. “There’s the silhouette of a teenage boy walking down a high school corridor with the music of the dance playing in the background. Perfect. Shot two, they cycle their bike home in the fading light. Shot three, they're wearing headphones, they start to smile. And you see that they have a lipstick mark on their cheek. And I can't remember what the strap line is. But that moment is done.”

Carl Prechezer’s ‘Emotions in Video Storytelling’ is a three-hour online Masterclass that aims to give you a grounding in the power and principles of emotional thinking. By encouraging participants to think video-first, it offers a practical toolkit that will take them from idea to pitch to script, ensuring new levels of empathy and emotional resonance from beginning to end. More information and sign-ups to the course here. You can also explore do at your own pace courses here, as well as upcoming in-person and online teaching here.

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