Mar 21, 2009


I am dipping in and out of a few sessions today to get as many snapshots as possible.

Here are a few:

Audio: Adam Davidson, an international business and economics reporter for NPR’s National Desk, had a conversation with his NPR colleague and Nieman Fellow Guy Raz about telling compelling stories on the radio. In one example, Davidson talked about the difficulty of delivering compelling stories when the topic is not that interesting. In essence, he said that it is important that even as you talk about one subject, it is important to try different avenues to get the results. In one particularly boring financial story, Davidson quotes Shakespeare and even teased his subject by telling him that he was going to “translate,” his heavy financial jargon into English. The story was a hit.

Documentary: Heidi Ewing, co-owner of Loki Films and co-director of The Boys of Baraka, and the Academy Award nominated documentary Jesus Camp, spoke with producer, director and author June Cross about documentary storytelling.
How did she sell Jesus Camp?
Ewing said most networks love development takes, because it is a small investment. So she put together a clip based on the camp’s own DVDs. She cut together a 2-minute clip and showed it to A&E. The network liked it and gave her $35,000 to develop it. She made a fresh 15 minutes clip. A&E loved it and signed her to a deal. It took about a month. So if you have an idea, get to work.

But Heidi cautioned that not every good story is a good story – at least visually. Here is what I mean. Several years ago, Heidi read a story about a group of Canadian scientists who were doing incredible research on the brain. Fascinating, groundbreaking research. The scientists were actually making people forget past bad experiences. When the article ran, the scientists got hundreds of voice mails from people wishing to erase the past. Heidi even envisioned the opening of her film. Then, she started talking to the scientists. And the more she talked to them, the less convinced she was that she could make this story compelling visually. So, instead of forcing the film, she cancelled the project. She said that she was just not able to make it happen visually.
“Maybe someone else can do it,” Heidi said. “Some stories are just better off as a New Yorker article.”

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