Some tips for capturing stories on video

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 17, 2010
Filed in Business storytelling

A few nights ago I watch Changeling starring Angelina Jolie. It’s directed by Clint Eastwood (has he ever directed a dud movie?) and I was fascinated by a short documentary we found in the DVD extras where Clint explained why he never calls out ‘Action’ when directing a scene. As an actor Clint found a director’s call to ‘Action’ off putting. He was immediately reminded that he was an actor, acting and his performance suffered. Instead Clint calmly and quietly says things like, “OK, in your own time …” or “when you are ready …”

I’ll add that advice to my repertoire of tips for getting people to tell their stories on video. I like to use my Flip Video to make rough and ready clips. Here are the seven things I keep in mind when filming:

  1. Sit the person in front of plain background–you don’t want to be distracted by what’s behind the storyteller
  2. Have light come in from the side (sit them next to a window) to give their face more depth. But not in direct sunlight.
  3. Hold the camera as still as I can.
  4. Start filming well before you ask the person to recount their experience and engage them in some idle chit chat. This gets them used to being filmed.
  5. Keep the camera as close to my face as possible and tell the storyteller to tell me, not the camera, the story. Ask them to look me in the eye. With the camera close by it will look like they are looking at the camera.
  6. Keep filming after they finish their story. You never know what they will say after they relax and then there is plenty of space to edit the ending.
  7. Try to avoid making noise and nodding while they are telling their story (hard to do). Otherwise your sounds and movement also get captured.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Dear Shawn, we have arrived at using Flip for interviews together. Thanks for the tips. My first blogged example of a flip interview is Margaret Jackson at

  2. Joe S says:

    Along with #7 I’d add, express interest in the story. Just nodding your head in agreement and smiling so that it appears as though your hanging on every word causes the person to open up more.

  3. Wayan says:

    I’d also counter #7 – interaction with the subject can make them much more interesting.
    And add #8 – don’t be afraid to do several takes. Digital storage is practically free, but you only get one shot at capturing your subject.

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