Workshop Prep

Welcome to our digital storytelling workshop! Before you arrive bright eyed on the morning of the workshop, we wanted to share some introductory materials.

This workshop is based on the highly successful three-day training developed by NITLE under the name “multi-media narrative”. Nitle led the effort to adapt the digital storytelling movement to the academy. We compressed the traditional three days into two or even one, with the help of some new, streamlined digital tools. The workshop is pretty intense!

Because of this compression, we have found that participants who do the kind of preparatory work outlined below get much more out of the workshop. Our goal is for everyone to end the day with a film, and hitting the ground running will help us all achieve that goal.

Module 1: Intro to digital storytelling

Digital storytelling is a curriculum for creating short videos.  It was developed by a Berkeley group in the 1990s, and ultimately formalized under the “digital storytelling” name (it would’ve been trademarked, had they been corporate).  That group formed an ongoing teaching center The Center for Digital Storytelling (or CDS), and continues to teach and spread the word to this day.

The curriculum is aimed at *anybody*, regardless of technological ability.  If you can move a mouse around a screen, you’re good to go. How does this work, given the complexity of video?  By focusing on storytelling.  Every person connects with stories, at some level, and can tell something from their lives. Indeed, the Center for Digital Storytelling team prefers that participants create personal stories.  (For the record, your facilitators are happy if your work is personal, impersonal, or somewhere in between.)  The curriculum only teaches enough “tech” to be dangerous, er, useful, in the service of conveying a story.  This can mean basic manipulation of images, how to use a digital video editor, very basic audio recording, maybe DVD burning.  It also means non-tech stuff, like writing a very short voiceover, focusing a story into about three minutes, and perhaps a smidge of copyright.

What do these digital stories look like?  The classic form is about three minutes long, and includes images, a voiceover, and some subtitles. Some include video, and some effects, like closing in on an image, or fading from one to another.  Many include a music track.

Here’s a digital story Doug Reilly made, reflecting back on his study abroad experience in college:

And here’s one made by Doug Reilly and Matt Moyer, a National Geographic Photographer:

Both those are fairly personal, though they reflect the kind of personal growth and career exploration that students abroad often experience. Here’s a slightly more academic digital story, as Professor Craig Jacobson tries to explain the passion for his field, science fiction. Watch it here, then hurry back!

Life is a Cabaret is a more personal digital story, which is a great illustration of how tone of voice can be used to underline the story arc. It’s by Eric Holm, produced in the Kino Weed and Seed program in Tuscon, Arizona.

For more academic examples, consider those from the University of Houston’s very impressive digital storytelling project. Also see the excellent work UMBC has done with digital storytelling across the curriculum.

And the Wikipedia page on digital storytelling has actually become pretty good.

Don’t let the scope of this info spook you.  As we’ve found in teaching digital storytelling since 2003, the power of storytelling brings every single person into a fine space for learning and creativity.  Every participant has made a video.

In fact, you can get started on your project right now.  Here’s how.

Module 2: Brainstorming Story Ideas and Drafting a Script

1. Brainstorming

Given the speed of teaching, and the sheer amount of possibilities the tools open up, tt’s always best to arrive with an idea (or a few ideas) already partially thought out. Digital stories are very compact, concentrated and succinct. They often work best when focused on an object, place, person or single event that is important to the storyteller. Digital stories aim to capture the essence of experience, not every nuance or detail.

They often focus on something small in order to tell a much larger story.  Just as often, they focus on something large but with simple language, the details distilled down to, again, the essence. The best digital stories have what I call a “turn” in them, a point at which the storyteller, or the audience, or both, comes to understand something differently, or an event that precipitates that change. It’s not quite the same thing as a “climax” in classical story form.

What story do you want to tell? It can be about anything. We recommend that you choose a topic that is important to you, whether it be personal, academic or a mix of both. Brainstorm several ideas for a digital story. Doug Reilly offered a brainstorming like this:

  • How I almost became a soldier
  • How the illness of a parent allowed me to see a proper night sky for the first time
  • How I almost died on Comb Ridge in Utah, alone and foolish
  • My discovery of “roots” and “home” by creating a magazine about my city
  • The first time I was every truly alone (in the Mosque of Cordoba)
  • The letter from the angel guardian home about my biological parents
  • Page 1 of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, a page that changed my life

These are all digital stories Doug very much wants to make, but hasn’t yet had the time!

Once you have your brainstorm (and yours is most likely to look very different than Doug’s) and you read it over, often one story sticks out.

2. Try writing a script

First, a word about economy. Our goal is to have each of you produce a digital story of about 3 minutes. How many words is that? That totally depends on the other elements you use, including silence and music or recorded bits of other things. But generally, it’s not a lot of words. Here’s an example.

Now here’s the script to “Tanya”:

I never had a lot of friends, not really…The truth is that I didn’t even know what one was. Growing up I was shy, and confused friendship with popularity. Last year I met Tanya, and we became the kind of friends that most people are, acquaintances.  Tanya had AIDS and knew she would die soon, but facing death gave her more strength to live. She had no place to leave her girls and wanted to find them a good home. Tanya also wanted to start an organization to help parents like herself die in peace knowing that their children would  be loved and cared for. She also needed a real friends.Tanya got a lot of attention the minute she told her story, as if the world had been waiting for her. I stood by and watched in amazement. A few months later she couldn’t do much on her own and for all her efforts she felt she had accomplished only things…she found a real friends, and it was me. I couldn’t her dreams die with her.

The other night, Tanya told me to lay my head down next to hers. She wanted to tell me a secret… “Monte Fay, don’t forget, all we’ve got is where we’re going…”

I couldn’t believe she knew my middle name. (Monte Hallis)

That’s 213 words!

It’s okay if your script is 426 words to start with. Part of process we will go through at the workshop is writing, sharing, feedback, rewriting…and cutting it down to the essential narrative arc, recognizing the important that other elements (images, music, silence, text) will play in creating a layered story. Write freely!

3. Collect images on your hard drive, zip drive or online for your film.

In most of the cases above, Doug would have to scan a few old photos. For example, if he was going to do the film about “my experience at the Mosque of Cordoba,” he would scan the three or four photos he has of himself in Spain, with really cheesy green eyeglass frames, and a few photos that he took of the Mosque itself. Then, Doug would probably log in (or register for free if it was his first time) to Flickr and visit the creative commons page and search for a few additional images he might need. Doug would save those images by clicking on the ‘actions’ tab top left of photo, and then ‘all sizes’ (above the images and then clicking on ‘original’ (far right) and then finally, ‘download original size’. Doug would also change the image title by adding the flickr name of the person who posted the image so he could make a list at the end of his film (attribution).

You can store images on sites like Flickr or Photobucket or Picassa, or even Facebook, or just can bring them on your laptop.Some people who don’t have images of their own decide to draw pictures instead. You’re welcome to do that, or to mix. Making a digital story is very much a process of collage.

Doug might then check the internet archive for any historical footage from the Spanish Civil War, for the part where he would talk about how the Civil War influenced his thinking about Spain and about how Spain is still divided all these decades later.

Doug might also visit the Freesound Project, and search for some ambient street recordings from Cordoba, and maybe even CCmixter to search for some copyright free music to use in the background of his narration.

With a draft script in hand, a zip drive with some scans, creative commons images, sound files, video clips and music, Doug is ready to attend the workshop. Or he might just have a brainstormed list of ideas. Do what you can. We hope this helped and we look forward to seeing you at the workshop.


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