January 25, 2021 • Sam Grabel
Recently we introduced a program called Remote Story Capture. It allows us to document a diverse set of company stories— processes, culture, ethos—into a video record we call “living history.” To share more about the program, we sat down with History Factory’s Adam Nemett and Dario Sarlo, creative leads who have helped clients such as S&P Global, Deloitte and Woodward to implement their own Remote Story Capture programs.
Adam Nemett: Remote Story Capture is a process that we developed specifically during COVID-19 because of the need to be socially distant and travel less. We couldn’t just deploy our creative team and camera crews on location with clients, so we had to come up with a new way of gathering corporate stories directly from their people.
It’s a hybrid technology platform, overlaid on our typical storytelling approach. We develop overall project goals and craft customized individual interview prompts. We storyboard it in a specific way so as to create a compelling narrative, complete with b-roll—establishing shots, locations, close-ups, etc. We direct the individual participants to film themselves and use their existing technology, usually a smartphone but at times has included higher-end professional video equipment. And then they capture each clip and seamlessly upload these files to a cloud platform, and then our video team can edit and produce final video deliverables using these assets.
Dario Sarlo: The words “history’” and “story” have a shared background in terms of evolution of meaning. In our early years our CEO, Bruce Weindruch, on behalf of clients, would mail blank cassette tapes to people directly in pursuit of capturing stories. For History Factory, it’s always been about telling the story or the history of an organization.
So remote capture is simply an extension of what we’ve always done, just that the pandemic forced us to accelerate the change. We evolved to the next stage when it comes to how we execute. Above all, we had the right kinds of clients who were open to this.
Adam: Oral histories and these kinds of interviews are probably the most powerful thing we do at History Factory. Anyone can Google a company’s history and look at Wikipedia and access annual reports, articles and press releases. You can tell an outside-looking-in story about that company. But I’ve always felt that oral histories are where you get the story from the inside out—people who’ve actually lived that history sharing their personal perspective. It transforms the content from a corporate entity story to a very personal human story, where one person has one experience and another person has a very different perspective on something that’s occurred. You get all that color, all that direct storytelling from people who have lived the history.
So how do you use it? You can certainly create stand-alone videos. But just by capturing and transcribing the stories, we can mine those transcripts for lines of dialogue that go into written stories. We can pull the audio for podcasts. They can show up as titles in an exhibit or block quotes in a book. There’s really no limit to what you can use it for.
It’s certainly much more time- and cost-effective than sending a high-end camera crew on a plane with equipment to film on site. Now, you do sacrifice something in terms of production values, because every employee is not a seasoned cinematographer. COVID will hopefully soon be a thing of the past—or at least we will get back to a new form of living life and interacting with each other in person—but I think this this Remote Capture format will remain viable with or without COVID for projects where you don’t necessarily need the highest production values and where there’s a need for diverse voices and authenticity in seeing the rawness and realness of people in their home or office.
Dario: An organization at its most simple level is like a tribe—a collection of likeminded human beings. These videos illuminate the beliefs and behaviors of that tribe. Such stories lend visibility into a company’s culture, a behind-the-scenes look that you can’t get from a press release or purpose statement. You get that real personal angle.
Sharing personal perspectives is a welcome reminder to others that we’re all dealing with similar experiences during these remarkable times. These stories draw the viewer in, as they see colleagues going through the same challenges and finding solutions to those challenges.
Dario: It’s kind of like an X-ray of an organization, showing something that you may not have opened up before, and that has a lot of value. We’re living in a time that increasingly expects and demands transparency.
And in addition, whether it’s around a water cooler or through digital means, it’s a great engagement activity, to talk and share stories.
This wasn’t always the case. When we have asked people to write their stories in text form, in a box on a website or something, the response is not as great. The chance to film yourself is hugely enticing to people, especially during a global lockdown. People want to be seen. They want to be heard. They want to share their experience. So that’s leading people to go above and beyond, unleashing their creativity in how they film their worlds. We’ve seen clips with aerial drone footage, with families and pets, standing by iconic landmarks, all sorts of things.
Adam: We’ve done a lot of oral history programs. You’re usually filming in a closed set or conference room or something like that. We have a hair and makeup artist and a whole lighting rig. We’re typically interviewing executives or their all-star engineers, product developers or communicators—usually a pretty high-level and exclusive group, given the cost of each of those one- or two-hour interviews. What’s cool about this is that it really opens up the tent for anybody to participate. Tens of thousands of people can now submit videos, from all levels in a company.
On a recent project, we got videos from people all over the world: from Korea, Germany, Poland, Japan, Bulgaria. We had folks from the factory floor all the way up to C-level executives. The aggregate of what you get is not just the same as a story told from people in similar roles. It becomes this tapestry, where you get dozens of different stories from different parts of the organization from a very diverse range of employees. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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