No Need for Narration: Telling a Video Story with Ambient Conversation

Storytelling can take many forms. I’m most intrigued by unrolling a story with ambient sound, as I did in my video November Light.

In that piece, I experimented with telling a stream-of-consciousness story without words. In this, my latest piece, Sunday, BIRI Sunday, I’ve tried telling a story with an intuitive plot, using visuals that follow a natural chronology, enhanced by both ambient sound and conversation.

The video was shot one Sunday last August, when my husband and I went by ferry to Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island (BIRI).

This was my first time using my Kodak Zi8 (which will soon be a dinosaur, now that smart phones are so versatile, but it’s still a great little video camera), so the footage is a bit choppy. But I decided to make use of that quality, since it helps to convey the movement of the ferry and our walking to the beach.

Using Natural Conversation to Develop the Storyline
The fun and serendipitous part of editing was discovering all the little comments that people were making in the background—especially children—describing what was happening. At one point, a little girl cries, “The boat just moved!” I couldn’t have scripted it better.

So I took advantage of those natural comments to move the story along. I used my husband as the anchor for the video. He appears throughout most of the piece, and we experience the day on the island largely through his actions, as well as through my own point of view as the silent visual narrator. The passage of time is relayed through changing natural light.

Capturing Mood with Pacing
While I wanted to keep this story to about three minutes to hold viewers’ attention, I thought a lot about pacing, trying to linger a bit on certain shots, such as the passing ferry and scene at the beach, to convey a sense of Sunday relaxation.

Balancing those two competing claims—short attention spans versus the pleasure of slowing down—was a challenge, and I’m still debating whether I made all the right choices, but I was somewhat limited by the quality of the footage.

I also chose not to lay down a music soundtrack, which would sound artificial to my ear, forcing the mood. I’d rather have you, the viewer, supply your own perceptions and feelings, to complete the story for yourself.

Engaging Your Viewer to Solve the Puzzle
The video works because it has a coherent, easily understandable story arc, and it draws in the viewer as a participant, sharing our mini vacation on Block Island. There’s no need for a narrator to tell you what it’s all about. You are pulled in by curiosity, by the natural evolution of the day and your ability to solve the puzzle of what’s happening.

The more you are pulled in to complete the narrative, the greater the chance that you’ll remember the story. Which makes this format a natural for telling compelling stories that stick.


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