I love to learn new things – you could even say that I’m a naturally curious person (if you’re given to making those kinds of statements). And believe me when I tell you, that trait comes in handy as a video producer, especially making the kinds of videos we make at Mixed Bag Media.
Curiosity is a key ingredient in what we do. It’s part of our secret sauce. For instance, it’s key to digging in and finding out about a company or organization, or researching and exploring a subject and making an interesting story from that. One of our former interview subjects, Dr. Linton Hopkins, an Emory doctor still practicing in his 80s, said that curiosity was the key to a good life and a long career. We think that applies to video production as well – learning about interesting people and what they do, or taking subjects that are potentially dry or boring, or difficult to understand, and turning them into interesting, exciting, and watchable stories.
Wikipedia says that curiosity “is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning.” We just think of it as the main ingredient of our method, the one thing we couldn’t do without.
To start with, curiosity is the life-blood of research, the fuel that runs the brain. And research yields a very valuable commodity when it comes to making documentary-style videos: the right questions. The right questions help you get the sound bites you need to tell the story you want to tell, or fully explain the subject you want to explore.
But it’s not just about asking the right questions. In the interview process it is also important to listen carefully to the answers you get in the moment and to react to those. Don’t just mechanically ask the next question on your (well researched) list – be prepared to digress and follow up on an interesting statement or some casually dropped hint at a larger story. Oftentimes these nuggets can be gleaned by talking with the person you’re going to interview beforehand. This is a great way to put them at ease as well as get to know them and possibly uncover something you didn’t already have a question for.
Some of our videos are more about subjects than people. When we’re telling these kinds of stories we can’t use a conventional narrative device. With videos built around a subject something else is needed to engage the viewer, some other narrative thread than a personal story. In this context, where the subject is the hero, the story can be seen as the adventure of discovery. It’s an adventure that the viewer goes on, an experience that the viewer has.
Like the adventurers and explorers of old – Sir Walter Raleigh, Ponce de Leon – we go on missions of discovery, mapping the geography of an unknown continent, observing the natives in their habitat, then sending reports of the strange and exotic flora and fauna back to the King, his councilors, and the people of our native land.
And if we’re not having Lewis and Clark fantasies during a production we might also see ourselves as translators – we take a subject that is understood and expressed in the language of specialists and present it (or translate it, if you will) so that it can be understood by the layman.
In fact, we are often very much in the position of laymen, finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory and trying to figure it out in our not-an-expert way. There’s a value in being an outsider. You see something with fresh eyes. Your initial perspective matches the viewer’s.
All of this exploring, researching, translating, outsidering, etc comes down to…you guessed it: curiosity. If not for that magic ingredient the rest would not follow (or would be a long slog at best!).