The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made in Storytelling

We live in an age when everything is accessible, automated and easier than it used to be.

Not that long ago, booking a flight across the country used to mean calling a travel agent. Finding a good book meant a trip to the library or Barnes & Noble. Watching a movie meant going to the theater or maybe Blockbuster. Doing stuff meant actually leaving your house. Now technology brings everything straight to us.

I think it's fair to say that, until the last 10 or 15 years, it’s not likely that many of us would be making films, editing photos and producing content the way we are today. I’m a product of this age. Many of us are.

Until a few years ago, what we now regularly produce would have been prohibitively expensive and too technically complex for most churches to consider investing in. I remember when only big TV churches had the budget to make videos. (And most of them weren't all that great.)

Today is a different story. Gear is more affordable and more impressive. Software brings the whole process inside one computer. We can quickly create beautiful imagery that makes us look like we know what we’re doing. We can shoot, edit and do post all in the same day.

Now we’re all storytellers. But there’s an illusion to the age we’re living in.

My background and training is in film and TV music. When I was 19, I moved to LA, learned how to work with directors and how to write music on a deadline. I conducted studio orchestras, recorded the score and delivered project after project on time. A few years later, when I started getting asked to help make videos for our church, I thought I understood enough to jump in and figure it out as I went.

For the first few years, I faked my way through a lot of the filmmaking process. I had postproduction experience, but the rest of it? How hard could it be? You film, then you cut it up, then you stick music on it and render.

I would show up to video shoots with a camera and wing my way through interviews with no particular plan. I would wait until everything was shot before I knew what I was going to do with it.

I broke nearly every rule in the book, rules that would have made my work better. I made a ton of mistakes and learned most things the hard way. But the single biggest mistake I ever made was falling for the illusion of the digital age.

I thought I could do this whole thing by myself.

If I could just push through enough hours of editing, if I could just shoot enough hours of b-roll, if I could just climb on top of the pile and problem-solve my way through the project, I could singlehandedly pull it off. I hate to say I told a lot of stories this way. And though I assumed it was impressive at the time, I was making a huge mistake.

Here’s what I was missing: storytelling is about human connection. It’s a team sport. It’s something that comes to life when you start sharing it with other people. Having the right gear is great. But having the right voices speaking into a project is so, so much more important. When I started leaning on other people, I started enjoying the process more and our stories got better.

There are so many steps to telling a good story – finding new projects and assessing them, preproduction and storyboarding, filming and postproduction. My best advice: don’t go it alone. Allow others into your process. Discuss your goals with people you trust. Pitch your ideas over and over (they get better when you do.) Connecting stories to an audience takes all the skill and creativity you have, and then some.

Don't fall for the illusion that creativity is way easier now. It’s mostly not true. We have better tools. We have more platforms. But if storytelling is proof of anything, it’s that we still need one another. And your story will benefit from the people you gather to help tell it.