Is watching videos from other colleges and universities part of your creative process? If not, I can understand the hesitation. As creatives, we all want our work to be original, as free as possible from external influence.
But how many different ways can we recap commencement? After only 2 years of covering it for Northeastern, I found it difficult not to repeat my own stuff, let alone the growing number of nearly identical graduation day highlight videos that appear when googling “commencement recap.”
The lack of variety isn’t really our fault, nor is it necessarily a problem. Most of the nearly 5,000 institutions of higher education in this country follow the same ceremony script. We video producers do our best to mix it up from year to year, adding slow and super slow motion, timelapse, tracking shots, aerials, or a mix of visual tricks to the repertoire. Some use student interviews to provide more substance to the narrative. Others rely on a montage of speaker sound bites. Many do both. There are also versions with voice-over narration, titles, and cue cards. And now that more schools are posting videos that include closed captions, which I recommend, it’s easier to illustrate the score similarities, too. Here’s a sampling: “reflective music plays,” “slow piano music,” “piano music playing.”
Despite the subtle variations, the effect on the viewer is largely the same. It’s generally positive, which is probably why we continue relying on the same formula. If view and like counts indicate that alumni and parents enjoy watching the 2-minute version of their 3-hour ceremony, why mess with success?
Because repetition is boring. Like I said above, I don’t think our audiences mind the current approach. But how do you feel about it? If it were up to you, would you wipe this assignment off your production calendar? I sure as hell would’ve. But because that probably isn’t an option, let’s challenge ourselves to make the process more than just a technical challenge. *For the record, I’m genuinely impressed by each and every video I’ve included above. They’re all better than my two attempts. I just want to encourage you to be more considerate of your artistic aspirations. Do you want to be a good storyteller or a montage mechanic? (For a smart breakdown on story, read Frank’s short post, which includes a video tutorial from Ira Glass.)
For this particular post on the value of video research (there’s a shorter sequel in the works), I’m urging you to be the one that stands out in the next “commencement recap” search. Familiarize yourself with what’s been done before and make a pitch to do something different. Find a way to add one or more of the basic elements of narrative. Here’s one to consider: a protagonist.
With that in mind, watch POV WashU 2015 Commencement by Tom Malkowicz at Washington University in St. Louis. The concept is fairly simple, which is part of the appeal: the viewer experiences graduation day from the perspective of one student through the lenses of his smartphone. I’m only 7 search pages certain that this concept is completely unique to commencement coverage, so please correct me in the comments section if you know of something similar, especially if it’s your own work. (Student videos don’t count. I could only find one of those anyway.)
Next week, listen to our podcast to learn how Tom convinced his boss to let him stray from commencement convention.