The Story Deficit

This is Bill Shea, owner of Shea’s Gas Station Museum. If you live in central Illinois, you may have driven by Shea’s dozens of times. Bill’s place is famous among enthusiasts of historic Route 66. Tourists from all over the world have visited. It’s been featured on numerous national television shows. It has its own Wikipedia page.

Bill Shea passed away in December of 2013. Earlier that summer, on D-Day, I interviewed Bill for a regional TV show called Illinois Central. See, Bill is also a veteran of Normandy. He stormed Utah Beach on June 6th, 1944. Bill Shea is one of the last great Americans to whom I now owe the privileges of running a business, blowing spit bubbles with my daughter, going on vacations, and eating too much ice cream.

I’d love to tell you that I planned to interview Bill on the anniversary of D-Day, but the truth is that the scheduling just happened to work out that way. It was pure serendipity. The story was later nominated for a 2013 Mid-America Emmy Award – the honor of my career. The credit for that has to go to Bill, of course. It was all him.

Tools matter.

Every day it seems, there’s a new camera announced, new software, a new kick-starter campaign for a slick gadget guaranteeing cooler images, sweeter camera moves, and on and on. Cameras that can capture images at 4k (twice the resolution of HD) are now the size of a cigarette box. Incredible. I own one. The Solo Smart Drone equipped with a GoPro 4k camera weighing 1.5 lbs can automatically orbit an assigned subject in flight and send live confidence video to a mobile device over the air. You guys- my first documentary was shot on a 1/3-chip Sony PD150 mini-DV camera.That’s tape! It is, without a doubt, an amazing time to be in the industry.

The tools we use to do our job matter a lot. In fact, it’s one of our core values here. We are students of our craft. We embrace change. We invest the latest technology and methods into our work. That’s because we feel we owe our clients the highest production values available.

But we owe them much more than that.

Robert Redford said, “Storytellers broaden our minds; engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” That’s why we exist.

We can get tricked by shiny things. We start to believe that a new camera or other new device will be the difference-maker in our work. Can tools be used to better serve the story? Of course! But the tools, and the filmmakers themselves, are not the story.

I shot Bill Shea’s story on a Panasonic P2 camera. It was 10 years old at the time, minimum. It wasn’t even in high definition. It was simply what was available to me. Technically speaking, it was certainly not “leading edge.” Yet, to date, it’s the only piece for which I’ve been nominated for an Emmy.

Why? Because Bill Shea is a good story. That’s why.

 Josh and Andrea all gussied-up at the Mid-America Emmy Awards - October 5th, 2013

Josh and Andrea all gussied-up at the Mid-America Emmy Awards - October 5th, 2013

When photojournalist Rob Hart was laid off from the Chicago Sun-Times – replaced by reporters with iPhones – he decided to document the experience using only his iPhone. His images are incredibly powerful. Why? Because they tell stories. I love his tumblr. I would share the iPhone work of actual Sun-Times reporters except that none of it is really that notable.

So, are you a newbie who feels outgunned by the bigger, better, faster equipment? Forget about it! Tell good stories. Are you a business owner or leader of a cause? Focus on crafting and delivering your story no matter the tools at your disposal. Because for all of the technology we have now, I believe the world is still experiencing a story deficit.

Spend some time checking out the stories in our portfolio. I hope you’re entertained. I hope you’re dazzled at times. But most importantly, I hope you feel better connected to the people and the causes we’re serving. That’s what this job is ultimately all about.

What’s your story?