The Third Something

044 / Cloud Bergs

Some thoughts on striking the right tone in journalism and documentary. The world is a serious place, but sometimes a light touch is what’s needed.

A black and white photo of clouds over the Irish Sea by Adam Westbrook

Gliding over a still Irish Sea last Sunday, the low clouds looked like small icebergs drifting in artic water.

Dublin is a lovely city isn’t it? Monday’s shoot went well and then my friends Joe and Lauren taught me how to drink a Guinness the ‘right’ way (the trick is to consume a third of the pint in the first gulp, leaving the line between the beer and the head precisely between the bottom of the harp and the top of the word “Guinness”); my wise friend Jenny and I talked about soulmates and friendships and children.

And just like that, it was over!

I have two videos in production-mode now: one is about anti-vaxxers and the reasons our brains are so easily fooled by misinformation; the other is a longer explainer video about privacy. Some filming for that one has been completed in New York, but the script is proving difficult.

So much of it is about finding the right tone. In journalism, the default tone is serious: long words, monotone delivery, evidentiary images. It says “take me seriously, be moved.”

The problem is that telling the audience to be moved can kill your chances of actually moving them.

Going in with lightness, on the other hand, is really effective. The audience is disarmed, open to having their minds changed.

In the last week The New York Times Opinion Video team I work with have published two videos which I think nail this lightness in service of saying something serious.

Firstly this video gets a group of young Europeans to react to facts about the American way of life. It was made by filmmaker and Third Something reader Brendan Miller; he and co-producer Rubina Pabani use music, editing and tongue-in-cheek prop work really effectively.

Secondly, this video tells the story of Memo, a Mexican immigrant running today’s New York marathon. The writing and editing are playful and the result feels effortless to watch.

Now imagine a version of each of these films which labour under their own seriousness. I don’t think they would be nearly so effective.

It was C’s birthday last night so we went to see The Antipodes at The National Theatre. It’s a story about storytelling and the value of stories in a world falling apart. You get the sense of an apocalypse brewing outside the room in which the play takes place, but Annie Baker’s script is a riot.

In a world like ours it’s easy to drown in the weight of it all

Those little Cloud Bergs have the right idea.

Thank you so much for all your kind messages about my drawings. I was nervous sharing them, but you all made me feel really positive about it, and maybe a little emboldened to share more raw work with you in the future!

Until another Sunday soon,

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