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The Story Authenticity Retention Problem

Authenticity in stories can only be retained when the desire for it is reflected in the production process.

When it comes to cooking, the efforts of procuring fresh ingredients are for naught if the chef neither understands the intricacy of the ingredients nor appreciates the complexities of the combinations at play. No point buying an A5 wagyu beef steak if you are going to burn it on the grill. The same is true for documentary storytelling and content creation, where storytellers may often neglect or even abuse the material obtained in order to meet production and client demands.

Such scenarios are sad to see, as opportunities to engage audiences through compelling true stories are squandered by common mistakes that can easily be avoided if the parties involved start on the same fundamental level of appreciation for the process. This in turn serves as a useful guideline to the benefit of the audience, the client and the storyteller.

Much of the market's demand for storytellers stems from the desire for a quantifiable, positive change to the benefit of the client. There is no one right answer to achieving this change, but current trends increasingly favour real life stories as there is an implied (and scientifically proven) positive correlation between authenticity and engagement.

This relationship is also where a common misunderstanding rears its ugly head. For various reasons ranging from the inexperience of the storyteller to the client's desire for short term gain over the expense of long-term potential, the interpretation of authenticity by both parties involved may be misaligned.

For instance, many clients often assume that so long as the authenticity of the source material is present and inherently robust, it will be retained in the end product, regardless of what shape it takes and the process in making it so - with failure in this endeavour being a sign of an incapable storyteller. Referencing my opening example, this is simply not the case.

This common gap in expectation, understanding, and appreciation for the process is definitely inconvenient - but simply accepting it with a sigh of reluctance is unproductive. However, there is another way of looking at this—to see this gap as an opportunity to stand out from the competition and add value. Learning how to do so is a 2-step process, one internal and the other external.

The first is to acknowledge the difficulties that most clients have in relating to the trials and tribulations of the storytelling process. Unlike cooking, clients do not have much to rely on for them to empathise with the difficulties that storytellers face in the content creation process.

This first internal step is important as it will fundamentally change the way one executes the second external step - that of communication. To start right is to start with the end in mind. Beyond simply pitching our creative services, the start is the best, and sometimes, only opportunity to bring all parties to that fundamental level of appreciation. We can take lessons from the culinary world once again.

Prior to cooking a dish at the request of a client intended for their guests, certain factors would need to be discussed:

What is the vision of the final dish(es)?

What is the intended reaction of the guests?

What are the characteristics of the guests? (Think beyond demographics. Psychographics and Behavioural traits are fantastic avenues to explore)

What is the environment in which you are serving them?

What raw ingredients are readily available or available to obtain?

What is the timeline from procurement to cooking to serving the dish(es)?

With these questions in mind, we have created opportunities to not only highlight the essentials that would dictate the process but also to make the intimidating process of storytelling less foreign, for the benefit of all involved.

What stories had you lost during the process?