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Mastering Intrigue: How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck

Mastering Intrigue: How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with Steve Stockman

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Steve Stockman, a seasoned producer, writer, and director with over 200 commercials under his belt. His expertise spans various mediums, including web series, films, music videos, and TV shows. The discussion revolves around his book, How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck, where he shares invaluable insights into creating compelling and effective marketing videos.

Embark on a journey to master the art of video production with Steve Stockman as he shares insights on shooting videos that captivate your audience. Discover the crucial elements that contribute to the success of a video, from storytelling techniques to understanding your audience’s needs.

Key Takeaways

Embark on a transformative journey into the world of video production with Steve Stockman in this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. Gain insights into the power of intrigue, emphasizing authentic storytelling over sensational tactics to captivate your audience from the first few seconds. Steve highlights the importance of preparation, urging creators to consider their audience’s needs and deliver value through thoughtful planning.

Simplifying the technical aspects, he dispels the myth that expensive equipment is crucial, focusing on the storytelling element. Learn to storify your marketing videos, turning mundane showcases into engaging narratives that resonate with your audience. Steve also challenges the notion of ideal video length, stressing the importance of conveying your message effectively without wasting the audience’s time. Elevate your video marketing game with Steve Stockman’s actionable insights for creating compelling, engaging, and impactful content.


Questions I ask Steve Stockman:

[00:44] How long will somebody watch a video that sucks?

[01:13] What are some of the things that make a video hard to watch?

[03:08] What things do you have to have prepared before turning on the camera?

[05:56] Much like a hook in copywriting, how do you get people intrigued in the first 5 seconds?

[07:56] What’s the difference between narrative and storytelling?

[13:27] What are some of the most important things to consider in the technical aspects of videomaking?

[17:57] How long should a video be?

[19:27] Tell us a bit about the video course that accompanies your book?


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John (00:08): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Steve Stockman. He’s a producer, writer, and director of over 200 commercials that’s probably gone up since he wrote that web series films, music videos, and TV shows. He wrote, produced and directed the award-winning MGM feature film Two Weeks with Sally Field, and he’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, how to Shoot Video. That Doesn’t suck. So Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve (00:37): Thanks for having me, John. I appreciate it.

John (00:39): So you probably don’t have empirical data on this, but you probably have some anecdotal data. How long will somebody watch a video? That sucks?

Steve (00:48): Oh, that sucks. Three seconds. We’re very attuned to good video versus bad video. If you remember the buttons on a radio, because I used to be in radio, it took a while to understand that it takes about three seconds for someone to decide they don’t like what you’re doing, and that’s true in video as well, I think.

John (01:12): So let’s talk a little bit about what are some of the things that make a video hard to watch, which essentially probably fits it into the category of sucks.

Steve (01:20): Well, the first thing that makes it hard to watch is, oh, let me back up philosophically. The thing that makes video hard to watch is when you don’t feel comfortable that it’s going to a place that you’re interested in. So what I mean by that is that it’s kind of like turning the pages on a book about marketing. If you’re reading the first couple pages and you go, this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about, this is not for me. This book is badly written. I don’t understand the language, the points are nonsense. You’re going to stop reading that book in about three pages. And there are things that we do as people who produce videos that clue people in the same way that we have no idea what we’re doing, which makes sense because until 10 years ago, nobody ever asked normal human beings to make a video.

(02:11): They called people like me and said, can you come in with your crew and make a video? But now we carry around our cell phones and we are expected all day to be shooting video. And the truth is that we grew up on video from the time we were born. So we understand how it works, but we don’t speak it very well. So the shorter answer is that the minute somebody shows you that they don’t know anything about how to light a scene or that they’re pointing the camera in a way that’s unattractive, or their camera is shaking or their audio is terrible, or they cut between two things that make no sense to you, basically the minute that happens, we lose faith that you’re taking us on a journey and instead go, oh, this is terrible. Is it over soon or can I go? And then we click to one of 300 billion other things that we could be watching instead of your video.

John (03:08): So the book title is How to Shoot Video, which sort of implies, oh, you get out your camera and you turn it on, right, that’s the shoot. But there are many component parts, right to go to make a video that is something somebody’s going to watch. How do you think in terms of even preparing before the camera?

Steve (03:26): Well, I think the term of preparing is surprising to some people, especially because we’re used to, for home videos, we just pull out our camera and point, or we get to the Niagara Falls and we go, oh, that looks cool, and we go click and we roll for a couple seconds. But in truth, preparing is probably the biggest difference between what a professional does and what an amateur does. And so any preparation is good, but the key thing is to think about what you want to communicate to your audience, and you need to think about that not in terms of, oh, I want to promote a big sale that I’m having. You need to communicate that in terms of what’s in it for the audience to watch my video. Because a video that doesn’t get watched is like a tree that falls in the forest with no one around, right?

(04:19): It’s like nobody hears it. If you do a video that’s so bad that you drive people away, you might as well not have made it. And in fact, you would’ve been better off not spending the time or the money or calling in the favors or whatever you were doing to cause that video to come into existence. So the first thing you need to do is think about what your audience wants from you and what they want from your video. Seriously consider how you might deliver that to them. Video does some things really well. It does motion, it takes you on a trip or it does emotion. It makes you feel or laugh or cry or whatever. So motion and emotion are big things. Marketers often get hung up on information delivery and video doesn’t do pure information delivery particularly well, which is why commercials are never Hondas are on sale. Go buy them in big letters on black because if it were that easy, everyone would do it, right? Video just doesn’t do information. We won’t sit still for it without a story or without some emotion. And so your prep of what you’re going to say to people that they’ll value and how you’re going to deliver it is the first most important thing for you to do.

John (05:34): So in marketing copywriting specifically, there’s all kinds of advice that spend 90% of your time on the headline because you’ve got to get people interested in reading the rest of the copy. You see a lot of videos, especially on YouTube that are essentially an ad and you’ve got five seconds because I can click away after five seconds. So what’s the similar approach to the headline? I hear people talk about a hook. You have to get somebody really intrigued in five seconds. Do we overdo that? Does that make sense?

Steve (06:08): Yes and no. First, let me completely agree with the premise. Intrigue is the most important thing that you can supply to your audience, but if you make films or television shows or commercials, you quickly realize that’s true. Every single second of all two hours that you’re making that is intrigue is making the audience want to know what happens next. And in the hooky kind of YouTube first five seconds world, people tend to go for something sensational in hopes of intriguing. But there again, it’s not that easy. Car crashes are intriguing, but once we know it’s a car crash, we drive by, right? YouTube videos are the same. Once we know you’ve used some schlocky, come on, then you’re kind of in the neighborhood of those clickbait headlines like Elon Musk opens up about his feelings about something and you click on that once and you go, they don’t know anything about Elon Musk that I don’t know. And then you go look at something else, right? So trying to do a hooky opening that’s based on cheating the audience or grabbing them with a car wreck, it doesn’t pay off in the long run for you because trust is the most important thing you can provide to your audience. Yeah,

John (07:30): They feel cheated. They feel cheated, right? Yeah,

Steve (07:32): Exactly. But intrigue is saying to them, Hey, I’m going to show you something and let me show you the beginning of it, and now let me show you where this is going, and I want you to think about how it could all end up. And that’s really storytelling in a true sense.

John (07:50): I wouldn’t ask a lot of people this, but just in the time we’ve spent together, I think this is going to make a lot of sense to you. What’s the difference between narrative and storytelling as far as what you just described, the common movie where they start with the car crash, but that’s because that’s where the protagonist ended up, and now we’re going to go back to how they got there and tell the story. Am I making sense there? I mean, do you bring this idea of narrative into your story?

Steve (08:18): Yeah, even in commercials, story form is very important in video. So a story has a hero, a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? Right. And if you get that wrong in a commercial, then the end of the commercial is very dissing. And if you get it wrong, if you don’t set up a good beginning where you have a hero who has some sort of dilemma or problem or question or is in a situation that becomes very not intriguing, in other words, we need to immediately care about a character and where they might be going. And if we do that, then we are in a story. And I would argue that all marketing video needs to be storified skillfully. So let me give you an example of what I mean. If you have a, I don’t know, a guitar shop, one of a big music store where you sell guitars and other musical instruments to kids and people in your community who buy those things, and you’re known for antique guitars, not antique a hundred years old, but you’ve got the classics, the Stratocasters, and all those things that are like the ones that the rock stars played in the olden days, and maybe you even have a few of those around the shop and you’re known for that.

(09:37): There’s two ways that you could do a marketing video to put on your website. One way is to show, look, here’s a Stratocaster, and it was once played by somebody in Chuck Berry’s band and it’s $1,500 and then here’s another one and it’s $670. And your audience would basically be gone in about that three seconds. But the other way you could do it is you could think about what your audience loves about your store and how they love the fact that you have these vintage guitars. And you could tell a story of a high school girl who comes into your store and wants to buy the same kind of double barreled guitar that Jimmy Page played on Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven. And you could show in this video how she comes into the store, tries the one that you have draws a huge crowd with her virtuoso playing, loves the guitar, plunks down her 1500 hard earned dollars, this antique guitar, and then fast forward to her debut recital at high school where she’s playing with her band and killing it. That’s a story about what people love about your store that is way more intriguing and gets across exactly the same message as showing a picture of a guitar with a sign. The difference is nobody’s going to watch the pictures of the guitars with price tags, and everybody’s going to watch the story of this amazing young woman. And so by thinking in terms of story and delivering a story to your audience, you’ve vastly elevated the kind of marketing video that you’re doing.

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Steve (12:30): Yeah, exactly. And also giving them something of value so that entertainment is of value to them, that emotion that they feel is of value to them. The chance to be with the hero of your story, this young woman and see her have a goal, have a way to get it done at your store and then succeed with it. People love that. I mean, that’s what we pay to go to the movies for, that we buy our subscription to Netflix for is those kinds of stories. So if you can do a real story that your customers will be interested in, that’s gold.

John (13:06): So let’s talk a little bit about the technical aspects. I know that we could spend all kinds of time unpacking all kinds of equipment and whatnot, but there’s the camera itself, there’s sound, there’s lights. I mean, there’s a lot of things that need to be considered, especially since a lot of my audience are amateur, so to speak. They’re producing video that they need as content, let’s put it that way. What are some of the most important things to consider as you consider the technical aspects?

Steve (13:32): There are two super important principles of learning to shoot video better from a technical aspect. One is that your smartphone shoots better video than Alfred Hitchcock could shoot with a crew of 150 mid 20th century. So it is smarter and more adept at lighting. It does focus beautifully. It does 4K video. It looks amazing, and you can shoot a movie on it. And that’s important because if you go on YouTube and you get all these tips about how to shoot video, you’re going to see a whole bunch of stuff that’s about three point lighting and framing and all that stuff. And that’s good information, but it’s not the information that you really need to create an effective video because in truth, your camera will light for you. It has algorithms in it that make it very hard to produce a picture. Not impossible, but hard.

(14:37): The only thing cameras don’t do particularly well is sound or cell phone cameras. And for that, if you’re doing a marketing video that you expect your customers to watch, you really need to get an external microphone or two and make sure that everything sounds really great, but looks-wise, your camera will do it all. And the reason I start with that is because amateurs especially get hung up on, well, what equipment? I need equipment. It’s like if you think about if you’re a golfer, if didn’t go out and buy the $25,000 golf clubs day one of your journey to the first lesson, what you did was you probably either rented or borrowed some clubs. And the reason you did that is because when you’re a complete amateur, you don’t know the difference between the $25,000 golf club and a $10 golf club. You’re learning that. And so learn with what you have.

(15:36): So most of us have smartphones, which are terrific if you’re going to shoot your own video. Some of us have DSLR cameras that also shoot great video and maybe have better lenses. If you’re a photographer, a skilled photographer, you will notice the difference between the lens of a really nice DSLR and an iPhone. But what you want to do is find a piece of equipment that’s easy for you to use so that you can focus on getting the message that you want to cross and telling the story you want to tell without having to worry about how the equipment works. And as you practice and get better, you’re going to realize that the $10 golf club is a piece of crap and you’re really going to need to upgrade. But you’ll learn that that’s part of your learning process, and you’ll learn what you like to shoot on. And you’ll get frustrated with, the phone doesn’t do this or this, and I really wish it did, so I’m going to upgrade to a prosumer black magic camera or Sony or something. But you don’t need to worry about that until you’re really good at video. People worry

John (16:40): About, yeah, you might learn that. You might learn that you just need to hire somebody that you don’t like doing it.

Steve (16:45): Yes. And there’s no shame in that, right? I mean, for example, I’m a director and I love video, but I don’t actually shoot it. I hire people who love to shoot video to work on my crew, and they make the pictures beautiful, and I look at them and go, could you tweak that a little here? Or Could you point a little more this way? Or We missed that part of the shot. That’s my job, but I don’t handle the camera because it’s not my thing. And the same with audio. I mean, I would never do my own audio, but I know a guy who’s brilliant and can mic 27 people at once and capture everything they do perfectly, and he’ll never make a mistake on the set. And he comes to all my shoots because he’s great at that. So yes, I think it was one of my favorite philosophers of the 20th century. Alf, do you remember Alf, the puppet prime alien life form? Sure. Yes. Alf said, the secret to happiness in life is to figure out what you don’t do and then don’t do it. So I’ve always tried to live by that.

John (17:53): So true. This is a silly question, but I have to ask it because everybody asks me, how long should a video be?

Steve (17:59): Video should be long enough to tell the story you want to tell in an interesting way, not a second longer. So if you think about it, if I have very good luck and a very skilled cast and crew and a pant load of money, I can make a movie like Marvel Avengers, and it will last three hours, and you will sit there through the whole thing and enjoy all of it. If I’m a bad videographer, 30 seconds will make you want to chew your leg off like you were caught in a bear trap and run, or hobble, I guess, if you chewed your leg off. So you definitely, it’s really all about the story and the skill of the storyteller, and not at all about the length of this should be. We used to think that the web wanted short videos, and sometimes it still does, but YouTube encourages its creators to do 10 or 20 minute videos on a regular basis. TV shows have always been half an hour or an hour long, or really 22 minutes and 46 minutes long with commercials. Movies have always been about two hours. They were an hour and a half maybe in the forties, and now they tend toward three, but they’re in there somewhere. The question is how long is it interesting? And what real estate do you need to tell the story? Because the minute you waste the audience’s time, they’re gone, right?

John (19:25): Yeah. When we were starting off air, you told me you have a video course that actually accompanies the book or that has supplemented the book. You want to tell us a little bit about that?

Steve (19:34): Yeah. I wrote the book 10 years ago and it’s been updated since. So the current version is very current and how to shoot video that doesn’t suck, doesn’t really talk about equipment. It talks about this communication, how to take your audience on a journey, how to think about communicating to them with video. And over the years, people have written me and said, why isn’t this a video course? Which I always thought was kind of funny. I always figured it as a book. And then the audio book did really well, and none of it has much to do with pictures, but people asked for it. And so I thought about it and it sort of became an opportunity to add things that weren’t in the book. So I did this video course that you can get at my website, steve, and it’s 22 lessons, 22 short lessons with exercises that cover most of the key things from the book and then a bunch of other things.

(20:28): There’s a whole separate section on marketing video and how to do something that your customers are going to love to watch and that will help them understand more about you and make them feel good about working with you. And then there’s a whole bunch of other stuff, and you get the exercises, and I demo the exercises. And so different people like to learn different ways. If you like reading books, the book is there, and if you would rather have somebody show you for a couple hours how it’s done that you can break up into little bits and do on your own, the course is there as well.

John (21:03): Awesome. Well, Steve, I appreciate you stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, and hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there on the road.