TBT to 2008 - The Power of Music and Old Tricks


Storytelling and Music

By Randy Murray

Each week when I sit down to write these United Way #TBT blogs, I start by watching that year’s campaign video. And each week, it has been a treat to take a little trip back in time, remembering the people and the journey. But watching the 2008 video, Jennifer’s Song, was a special treat. Jennifer, the star of this video, was born into a horrible situation. She was dealt the worst of cards. But that was before United Way came into her life. I was honored to tell her story.

Jennifer Crying

Work That Lasts

A number of forces came together at the right time for this story, and I just love how it turned out. More importantly, the good that this story documented has held up over the years. I am thrilled to have spent a little time recently with Jennifer and her boys for the 2015 campaign video; they are doing great. United Way brought a number of agencies together to help Jennifer. Her life and the lives of her children were changed for the better forever.

I guess it is this type of experience that drives me to dig deep for the ‘truer’ truth in every story. More than just showing the expression on a face, we strive to let the viewer understand the emotion behind it.

Spoiler Alert

Like the 2007 video, we employed a twist at the end of the video to make it more effective and memorable. If you have not seen this video, I suggest you take a few minutes and watch it before I dive into the details of why we did what we did. It is a powerful story with beautiful cinematography and original music. I think you will enjoy it.

 

Power of Music

I started my career as a storyteller by combining video and music. In 1980, as a broadcasting student at ASU getting ready to graduate, I pitched my senior project to Channel 3 as a new concept in local programming: a late night rock-and-roll variety show with music videos, live music, interviews with national acts and comedy skits. The show was called Wavelength and they bought it. It ran every Friday night at midnight for the better part of three years and was a huge ratings hit. This experience gave me the opportunity to meet some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Rod Stewart, B.B. King and U2. It also gave me the opportunity to do live recordings with acts including Canned Heat, Pat Metheny, Devo, and Garland Jeffreys. But most importantly, these years taught me the power of using music as a tool for storytelling.

UOP Drums 2

Since those years with Wavelength, we have used original music as part of the stories we tell in videos for clients such as Intel and University of Phoenix, as well as in both of our feature documentaries, Mitchell 20 and The Joe Show. So when Jennifer told me that she writes and performs music, I immediately wanted to hear her work. I thought it was very good so I shared it with Sam and Matt at Big U Music; they liked it. The creative was locked.

Bonus Features

In 2008, DVD and Blu-Ray were the popular way to enjoy a movie at home. Bonus features were abundant. Since United Way distributed most of their videos this way, we decided that adding bonus features would be a good way to add value to the campaign and further engage their audience. We included extended interviews, additional VSUW videos and the full music video of Jennifer performing on the stage at the Phoenix Symphony Hall. Being a storyteller today means so much more than having a great concept or script – you have to consider all of this additional material. Delivering content is as much an art as creating it. Going viral is the new Holy Grail. And shifting expectations is the only way to remain stable.

Piano Close Up

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Bowie said, ” I still don’t know what I was waiting for.” And at RMP, we don’t wait; we love change and the innovations that come with it. In this industry, change represents opportunity. Opportunities help us tell stories in more exciting ways, more engaging ways, even more organic ways. I have seen and embraced the change from film to one-inch tape then 3/4″, from Beta to DV, from HD to 4K, just to mention a few. Now, we look in awe at the possibilities of virtual reality and the demonetization of television advertising. The next five years are going to be an amazing time for storytellers and a great opportunity to stir things up. We love to cause trouble because “time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” RIP, David.

Tilt Then Swing

When talking change and technology, there is an interesting note about this project. Working with the incredibly talented DP Howie Meyers, we decided to use a very old technology: a tilt-shift lens. This lens distorts the image by misaligning the front and back of the lens to create an area of focus and areas out-of-focus. It is great for creating a disorienting visual, particularly with landscapes. I remember playing with the concept in high school photography class. Now, it is popular again. A recent, notable and beautiful use of tilt-shift lenses is in the open for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” We decided to employ this tool in the United Way video for a number of reasons including wanting to focus the viewer’s attention, wanting to signal the instability of life on the streets and, well, because it’s just darn cool looking. I love how it turned out! And I love how some of the oldest tools of storytelling can pop up as a new, cool way to reach viewers.

Jennifer and Sons Fishing

It’s funny – being called a storyteller can be a good or bad thing. I joke that when I was a young boy, I got my tail tanned for telling stories but now I get paid handsomely to do so. Here it is 2016, and we are celebrating 20 years of telling stories for United Way and 25 years under the banner of Randy Murray Productions. Looking back, the ride has been a true joy and honor in so many ways.

But we can’t spend much time looking back; the future is so exciting for our art. I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud to be called a storyteller, even if it means getting into a little trouble from time to time.

 


 

Randy is an award-winning director and producer with a passion for helping others through the power of storytelling. He’s also a political junkie, loves college football, and enjoys performing random magic tricks for children he meets in the street.