Alien storytelling video
Alien storytelling video

What Alien can teach us about corporate videos

Credibility and empathy can be what makes us identify more with the Nostromo crew in the sci-fi classic Alien than our own CEO in a corporate video. But framing your corporate video just right, it can be as enthralling.

By: Lars Wittrock, Creative Advisor & Video Specialist (September 14, 2017)

Why do we sit at the edge of our seats, drenched in tension for two hours when the last survivor on a spaceship fights against an invincible alien – while we get bored and disinterested during a three-minute film about our own workplace? And how can Alien – a 37-year-old sci-fi horror movie – be more capturing and engaging than situations close by and relevant for our work lives?

The answer to the question appears in the intro: Alien is more credible and believable. Or rather: The people are more credible and believable. Through conflict, character development and dialogue, their challenges, successes and fears are depicted credibly and believably. We see them as real people with shortcomings, conflicts, and oily hair.

This results in identification and empathy as we co-live their frustration, suffering, and victories as our own – despite the fact that it all takes place on a spaceship.

The starting point and goals of a corporate film are of course different than those of a Hollywood production. But even when you have a badly lit conference room and a colleague who has not been on stage since 3rd grade instead of Ridley Scott’s 11-million-dollar budget, it is still possible to produce movies that create empathy and identification.

Here are five tips on how to create a convincing story about your company that will make an impression and convey messages and values successfully:

Speak with your own voice
Your employees are not actors and they cannot play themselves, so drop the manuscripts. Very few people manage to appear natural while reciting a manuscript from memory, or reading from a teleprompter. Create a relaxed atmosphere and a good framework for conversation, with a good interviewer who knows the purpose, core messages, and the topics you are going through. Let people use their own words to tell about their own experiences.

Instead of one-liners, you will be rewarded with authentic and credible results – because personality and commitment are more important than precision.

If you want full control of the text in your film, you may want to opt for an interview with the contributing employee speaking over a film clip. Drop any recorded manuscripts read by an actor in a sound studio. It will sound artificial, because that’s what it is.

Use natural light
Our reality is not illuminated with lamps and light panels. That is why situations and scenes will look arranged when illuminated with lamps. From the perspective of a film photographer, the quality of indoor light is often insufficient – this is why many photographers use artificial light.

It often works better – and is easier – to move the interviewer to a window, a light hall or a place with big windows. Faces and people in natural light come across as more positive and harmonious. If you can’t move the location, ask your camera person how to create a more natural light.

Talk about difficulties
Like our personal lives, our work life isn’t always a piece of cake. Imagine Little Red Riding Hood without the wolf. Or Batman without the Joker. Not much of a story.

Use the resistance and conflict in the market, a project, customer case, or personal experience as a starting point for your positive story. What happened? What was at stake? What did you do? What did you learn? Where are you today? It adds credibility when companies and people dare to talk about difficult matters.

The choices you make when the going gets tough says more about your company than a movie on how great it is.

A picture speaks a thousand words
Letting the picture speak does not mean that your colleague should go up a staircase to show ‘a career ladder’ or the director should throw a football when he ‘passes the ball onward’. It means that you should hold your reality, location, tasks, and customers as the starting point.

Think about where in your business and in which situations your colleagues do something that gives the viewer the experience you would like to give. The viewer’s experience of the film is the real message. Build pictures of real work situations with your employees.

The experience of the excited engineer or heartfelt leader engages and affects your viewer much more powerfully. Use movies to reach your audience through feeling and experiences – and save the hard facts for elsewhere, because facts and information are quickly forgotten.

Test your movie
Test your movie – both before and after recording. Imagine the scenes, the sounds and the voices. How should it sound and look? Find examples that you like and talk with your director or team about creating the right style and atmosphere for your film. Get them to explain how the camerawork, color grading, and sound support your purpose of the film. That is why they are there.

When the film is finished, watch it without sound. Listen to the sound clip without the image. Have you been successful? Is it credible? How would an outside person experience it? How do our employees sound? Does it look like we’ve got it together? How are our workplace and employees experienced? Is the film believable?

You may not have created the business version of Alien with these five steps, but you will have a credible movie that you can show your audience – without them checking the clock during the few minutes it lasts.

This article has earlier been published in a Danish version on Kommunikationsforum.dk. Read the article Lær video af Alien (Kommunikationsforum.dk, March 7, 2017). Photo from the movie Alien, 1979.