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What is Organic Storytelling?

storytelling for nature in Canada

What is Organic Storytelling?

The word ‘organic’ gets tossed around a lot in the world of creatives and filmmaking. Organic this. Organic that.

Blah blah blah.

People will say they want a video or film that makes them authentic and/or organic. But trying to get some folks to understand – and embrace — what exactly that means can be elusive.

It can be confusing because organizations often want one of two types of videos: Corporate-ish or Storytelling.

One is heavily scripted and choreographed. And the other is often more free flowing.

Perhaps to better understand being organic in your storytelling, it’s easiest to first talk about what inorganic means.

When a story has inorganic moments, you’ll notice a few things:

Inorganic elements appear out of place. These could be corporate babblespeak. It could be something that appears to push marketing-ish. These could also be distracting graphic elements on screen, like Buy Now!, or something similiar that contradicts a tone in a video.
Inorganic elements feel forced (think reading scripts). Have you ever noticed someone’s eyes movements as a dead giveaway that they are reading something, rather than talking from the heart?
Inorganic elements pull your viewers out of a story, rather than into a story. This is really the sum of all inorganicness in a video. The more you have, the more you risk viewer abandonment.

The more inorganic elements you have in a story, the more your story will feel scripted, staged and unauthentic.

Sounds like a bunch of sure-fire killer ways to demolish engaging narrative storytelling, eh?

So how can you create more organic stories? Or repair an inorganic story when the feedback is “Ugh, this is so staged and corporate sounding!”

The Genesis of a Story

Grab a pen and paper, call a meeting, and announce “We’re going to create a video and we need to put your story ideas down on paper right now!”

Whoa. Not so fast. Remember that part about feeling “forced?”

The genesis of a story begins in the mind, maybe while you’re working in the field one afternoon. It might have been inspired by a comment you overheard, a character, or an inspiring place. It’s really not even a story idea at this point. It’s just something that caught your attention, even if only for a moment. It’s here that the idea simply rests in your mind as a planted seed. It may never grow beyond that. Or it may be watered by your mind in subsequent days and start to grow. Bingo! This is the early stages of an inorganic approach to a story.

Think of this stage as the understory of a potentially engaging story. A good organic understory is like a foundation and helps to keep you on track. When someone suggests adding inorganic content, like someone reciting some corporate babblespeak, you can quickly show how that inorganic content will stick out like sore thumb from the flow of the organic understory.

Keep The Camera Rolling

Remember that time you filmed a talking head segment for a video? You positioned the microphone. You set up your tripod. You focused on the subject and hit record. And then the questions and answers began. If the talent made a comment like “I’m not used to this…” or the person keeps stumbling over their words and blurts out “I can talk about this subject with anybody but it’s so different when the camera is in front of your face!”

Why is this so hard? Well, it’s because it’s forced and staged.

You can help lessen this problem by trying to capture as much organic content as possible. You can do this by keeping the camera rolling as much as possible, especially when capturing broll. Capturing casual conversations in the field is how you turn routine broll into main roll narrative content. It’s real. It’s unrehearsed. And it’s natural.

Before you start filming, have a conversation with the field workers, biologists, etc who will be appearing in your video. Tell them to carry on with their work and conversations as they usually would. You’re simply there wanting to capture day-in-the-life content that captures the realness of the work. I’ve found this approach to be especially helpful in easing people into the fact they are being filmed. I’ve also found that a mid-range zoom lens of 12-40mm to be ideal for this kind of field filmmaking. It allows me to get close to film footage without having to be always in someone’s face. Just make sure you are using a hyper-directional microphone like the Sennheiser MKE 600 to pick up the conversations in the field.

Gregg McLachlan
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