Producing a digital story for someone else

For the pilot phase of a recent project I produced a couple of digital stories on behalf of Northumberland National Park Authority (NNPA). This is one of them…

A bit of context. This output comes from the pilot phase of a project we did with NNPA which was looking at creating a mobile site to enhance visitor engagement with certain locations along Hadrian’s Wall, in this case Walltown Quarry. This site required content and we were investigating the effectiveness of digital storytelling as a way of conveying information about the locations in a more appealing format than text.

The creation wasn’t without pain and there were some good learning points to come out of it.

An authentic voice

The original plan was for me to write a script that would be narrated by a Park employee with a local accent. Having spent an absolute age scripting and storyboarding I had a bit of a reality check when Yvonne Conchie, the main client, reviewed the work in progress. I remember with clarity the long pause followed by “…I like the duration.”

I’d misunderstood what she wanted and felt utterly gutted! It was several weeks before I could face having another go.

Fortunately I bumped in to Yvonne at the Walltown site during a visit and had an audio recorder with me. Handy.

We toured the site and Yvonne just improvised a voiceover based on her own knowledge and love of the site. She speaks really well and I think it works much better than if it had been my script.

More importantly, it makes it her story which I think is very appealing. She has a real enthusiasm for her job and for Walltown and this comes out in what she talks about.

Personal vs Corporate

Digital storytelling works best when it’s personal. Towards the end of the piece, Yvonne talks about the three aims of the park and I was concerned that I’d lost her story at that point but it was crucial to the aim so I couldn’t edit it out.

Consensus among colleagues is that it actually works OK. It’s only a small part of it and Yvonne delivers it concisely before talking about why these aims are actually so important.

Again, had it been an anonymous voice telling the story it wouldn’t have worked so well.

As much as possible I tried to keep in her personal anecdotes and asides. It was the first time I’d created a digital story from interview audio and I think it sounds good.

Walltown Quarry road signHow “real” is it?

Pretty much all the images and sounds were captured at or around the site (not always by us) but there’s a bit of digital sleight of hand in there.

I’d love to say that the noise of the Curlew at 0:47 and the jet at 1:55 happened just as I was recording but it would be a lie!

The curlew was recorded separately on the day of the visit but the jet’s roar was captured in Wales. Both were carefully mixed in to make them sound like they were “live”.

Personally, I’m OK with that. There is a boundary of truthfulness that, if crossed, damages the trustworthiness of a story but in this case I feel I’m on the right side of it. Both sounds are heard on a regular basis at the site. It’s not like I put the sound of the TARDIS in!

How successful is it?

At 4 mins it’s a bit long for my liking and it doesn’t really have a narrative hook in there. I’d have liked to get more of Yvonne’s personal reflections in which would have made it more engaging. I did another story which was my own personal take on the project and if anything it got a more positive response from the community than this “official” one.

But overall, it’s not a bad piece of work and is of a quality I’d be happy for the public to see. It’s been useful to have it as a resource to frame some of our discussions about storytelling in workshops, team meetings and conferences.

In a future post I’ll do a technical deconstruction of the story so you can see what went on in the editing phase.

If you’d like to talk to me about helping you do something similar my contact details are here.