Telling a story that inspires — with stock footage

This week, we’re heading to Nashville to present at STORY. This “uncommon creativity conference” honoring the transformative power of storytelling got us thinking about how stock footage — given its limitations — can help tell transform a story.

A powerful story tends to be expansive. It opens up a new world to its audience, shares a new way of thinking, seeing, feeling. Yet few stories are born free of constraints. In fact, it’s often constraints that sow the greatest creativity.

As a stock footage company, we understand constraints. We work with amazing filmmakers and shooters — storytellers themselves. Yet we sell seconds-short video clips. How do you create a story from that, never mind one that moves people?

Using our stock footage, we’ve created several buzzworthy videos, four of which have earned Vimeo Staff Picks. They’ve made people laugh, they’ve given people pause, and some, like “7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living,” have truly inspired.

Lay the groundwork

A story may find its origins in any number of sources, but ultimately it’s the script that will form the foundation for all else. In this case, Maria Popova’s wonderful essay was the starting point. Her reflections on how to live a rich, full life moved us all.

We obviously had an advantage on the inspiration front, but still we needed to ensure the script translated into an engaging video. The original essay was running long for what would be a “consumable” length, so we worked with Maria to edit it while retaining the spirit and intent of her words.

Find its soul

Nikki Stephens, video editor of 7 Things, took her cue as much from its tone as its content. “Maria’s message is about being centered, present. So I looked for footage that was less literal and more contemplative,” she says.

This is where stock is really useful — it can help show what’s being said in a more conceptual way. There are more than 30 clips in the video, yet they’re united by their mood and focus on the individual. They underline that this is about an individual’s journey.

Listen to its voice

Do not underestimate the power of a video’s voiceover and soundtrack. (You can see the difference a voice makes in The Rest Is History.) Given how personal 7 Things is, we wanted Maria to read her words herself. Her gentle voice adds an intimacy to her message. Coupled with the light, airy music, it feels rather lyrical.

Layer on meaning

The sky’s the limit when it comes to video effects these days. But just because you have access to them doesn’t mean you should use them. Know what to use when.

When it came to effects for 7 Things, Nikki again took her lead from the spirit of the piece. “That imperfect hand-drawn animation adds a DIY authenticity to the digital medium,” she says. In calling out key words and tracing the models’ movements and bodies, the animations also add another layer of meaning. (See how to get that animation.)

Greater than the sum

7 Things was widely shared when it was released and has more than 40,000 plays on Vimeo … a video made entirely with stock footage. While you’re unlikely to create a film exclusively from stock, 7 Things shows that, when deftly chosen and edited, the footage and other elements of a video can tell a story greater than the sum of its parts. One that may even inspire people.

Get started on your own story — browse our latest clips.

Find out more about STORY, and join us there! Creative director Sheldon Popiel and product manager George Georgeadis will be on the main stage Thursday, October 1, at 1:55, then hosting a Festival Session in the Port William Room at 4:00.