The Buzz Bin had the opportunity to gain some valuable insight from the master of corporate documentaries himself, Thomas Clifford. Better known as Director Tom, this award-winning filmmaker’s extensive list of clientele includes Fortune 500 companies to non-profits. For 23 years, Tom has managed to help companies tell their stories and bring their brands to life.
BB: People assume video is easy, but it’s quite complicated. How long did it take you to become a strong professional?
TC: A few years after college, I studied intensely for two years under an amazing director who was a master at capturing short personal stories for organizations. When it came time for him to move on, I was offered the opportunity to take his position. I was more nervous than you can possibly imagine!
I was responsible for producing and directing around 50+ videos a year. That’s a tremendous amount of material to produce and direct, but I’ll tell you, I did it! And my team won numerous awards for our innovative approach to filmmaking and storytelling.
So, I’d say it took about four years at 60-80 hours a week to get to the point where I’d know what a client was looking for, see the story in my head and comfortably know how to capture it.
BB: What do you think of the flood of amateur videos, both corporate and personal hitting the market?
TC: Overall, I think it’s great. Technology has enabled many of us to tell our story in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. That’s the good news.
I think the potential downside is twofold. First, we lose a lot of time wading through a forest of material seeking the gems. How do you recover your time? You can’t. So, portals specifically designed to help us watch exactly what we need will become increasingly important.
Second, viewers will click out of poorly produced stories from companies that don’t engage them. As a matter of fact, I’ll click out and they’ve lost me. And who knows when I’ll go back? The video story should reflect the brand, the tone, the emotions, the story.
Here’s my view: capture the best story possible. Even if it’s produced at the amateur level, you’ll have a shot at capturing the hearts of your audience.
BB: What are some of your personal favorite projects?
TC: “People” stories are clearly my favorite films to produce.
I really love people and when I’m interviewing someone and I hear their dreams, their frustrations, how they came to work at a place, why they do what they do, what makes their work special…I’m reminded of how similar our stories really are; I’m reminded our inter-connectedness.
From HR issues like diversity, corporate culture, leadership profiles or de-mystifying myths about an illness…getting to the essence of the story and connecting to your viewer is what matters.
BB: In your opinion, what is the key to successful Internet video creation?
TC: Short. Engaging. Meaningful. That’s what comes to mind. I recall reading an article that indicated three to five minutes is the ideal time for digital storytelling. Look at Common Craft. They take complex ideas and capture them in clear ways in just a few minutes. It works extremely well. http://www.commoncraft.com/
Internet video or not, one more thing to remember…add a “dragon” to your video.
A “dragon” is an obstacle, a problem, a challenge. If a story is sugar-coated, your audience will become skeptical because the story doesn’t reflect life. Dragons add credibility to your story, company, team, culture, product, service, etc.
BB: YouTube is not the end all be all of video sites. What are some of your favorites and why?
TC: Here’s a few of my favorite sites and films on-line:
I love these short stories on Sundance. The style, the simplicity, the honesty…these stories just grabs me right into the world of the storyteller.
Errol Morris is my favorite director. My ultimate favorite short company film is this one from Errol. He produced it for an IBM conference. The conference was eventually cancelled and the film was never completed.
Hitachi’s True Stories video are stunning captured. Real life stories from real life people. The Hitachi plug comes in at the end to tie the story together. Beautifully filmed, I love these stories.
Quantum Shift is a great site filled with short, “higher consciousness” type videos. Climate change, business, energy, human rights, heroes, and more are all covered by submissions from around the world.
Global Oneness produces interesting videos on indigenous cultures, social change, sustainability, spirituality and philosophy. Bookmark it.
Here’s a few of my favorite documentaries:
- Riding Giants
- Dogtown and ZBoys
- Fog of War (and everything Errol Morris)
- Roadtrip Nation (series of DVD’s)
- What the Bleep Do We Know?
- Manufacturing Consent
- The Awful Truth
- Hoop Dreams
- First Amendment Project
- Hard Day’s Night
- The Beatles Anthology
BB: Do you think network television is a dying media form?
I’m certainly not the expert in this field. My take? Know one knows, really. The FCC ruling mandating stations air their material in digital formats starting in 2009 might be a game-changer. As I understand it, this opens up opportunities for more programming and more content. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean more viewers. If the content isn’t worthy of watching, then the eyeballs and eventually the revenue, won’t be present.
BB: What’s next for Director Tom?
Short term…First, I’ll continue producing and directing films for visionary organizations that make a difference in the world. It’s incredibly rewarding to get emails and phone calls from clients to hear how I’ve touched their lives in some positive way. It’s food for my soul and makes the journey that much more fun!
Second, writing for my blog “Bringing Brands to Life!” constantly needs attention. I’m grateful it’s doing well; the community is awesome and it’s receiving neat recognition from a variety of places.
Longer term…I’d love to publish a book. It would not be a “how-to” book but a collection of short essays and ideas reflecting my values, techniques, and thoughts surrounding producing films for organizations. Most people beginning this journey don’t know where to start, who to call or how to think about the film they really need. My book would address these issues from a customer point of view.
Thanks, Geoff, for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers…it’s been fun and certainly appreciated!
Thomas Clifford works with Fortune 100’s to non-profits who are losing market share and employees or people simply frustrated they can’t breathe life into their corporate story. He can be reached at tom [at] directortom [dot] com. Follow Tom on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thomasclifford