6 tips for finding your perfect story.

As a community of storytellers, we have a tremendous power to tell the stories that aren't often shared—the stories of people and organizations doing good for the world.

For Storytelling Parade, your mission is to share one such story.

Now, because these stories don't often get told, they may be a little difficult to find. With that in mind, we've enlisted help from Stillmotion to share how they not only found an inspiring story for the Parade of someone doing good but also one that fit their keywords. 

Here are 6 tips to find your perfect Storytelling Parade story. 

1. It all starts with a dream. 

There are many paths to finding a great story. One of the strongest things you can do is start by imagining what that story would be. This is the top-down approach - we’ll imagine the perfect story for us and then set out to try and find it.

Start with your keywords. Take the time to go through that exercise and come up with the 5 words that define what your filmmaking and storytelling is about. Look at those, and then think about what might be the perfect story.

At Stillmotion, as we sat down to think about the type of story we would like to bring to life for Storytelling Parade we came up with our 5 keywords for the perfect fit:

1. Impact 

We want our stories to make a difference. In this context, we also wanted to find a story of somebody who was already making a real impact. 

2. Adventure

We absolutely love being a part of, and try to take our viewers on, an adventure. We wanted a story that would take us outside our comfort zone and take us somewhere we had never been.

3. Elephants

This one may seem odd, but hear us out. Penny, Story & Heart’s mascot, is an elephant. If you know us, you know that she was certainly chosen with great intention and thought. The way the elephants bond, their community, and the powerful connections they form. Elephants are also facing many dangers across the world from loss of habitat to poaching, and this is something that is very personal to Justin. Something he has always wanted to tell a story about, to try and help raise awareness. So in a dream world, our perfect story would either have elephants or carry their essence within it.

4. Magical

We wanted a story that truly felt magical. Something that felt almost too crazy to be true. 

5. Worldly

Our last keyword was the idea that we’d love to embrace somebody who was wordly. Somebody who had an entirely different perspective, who came from a different place than us (us being mostly born and raised in North America and brought up in Western Culture).

Pushing ourselves to develop this list of keywords for our perfect story helped us achieve a few things;

  • we knew which stories weren’t the perfect fit;
  • they made it much easier to pass on stories and quickly move on;
  • and we knew when we found the story that fit these, it would be a powerful experience for all involved.

Had we not done this exercise, it would have been easy to settle on a story too quickly. We would have brought a film to life that would have meant less to us, and ultimately not challenged us nearly as much because of that.

2. Start Small & Build It Out.

So as we set out to find our own stories for Storytelling Parade we stared at our 5 keyword list.

Now, don’t feel like you need to look at all five words and come up with a perfect answers right away. 

Start small - look at a single keyword - and see what it suggests. Let each keyword lead you, and then look for overlap.

Take "elephants" as one of our keywords. Our storytelling approach, as we talked about in Tutorial 1, is based on putting people first (not that a story can’t be on an elephant, but that gets much tougher and more complex) and so we looked for people who would be tied to elephants.

That question led us to two main ideas; 

  • Mahouts - a person who is paired up with an elephant, forms a strong bond, and becomes their trainer—the one they listen to. In some parts of the world, a mahout will spend his life with just one elephant, which allows them to form a very powerful bond.
  • Organizations - perhaps we could find a person, or group, who was focused on helping elephants in one way or another. 

As we looked at the keyword "worldly", we cross-referenced our upcoming travel scheduled.

For our Canon Asia tour we’d be in Vietnam and Thailand both with almost two days off, enough time to plausibly bring a story to life. So based in Thailand and Vietnam was something else we could look for.

Repeat this process for all of your keywords. Ask what type of stories they suggest and just throw ideas down. Don’t overthink it and try to avoid finding the perfect story that hits on all of your words. 

A second question to ask yourself is in which circumstances an idea would fit your keywords. 

For example, we couldn’t just find any Mahout, we would need one who was worldly, and somebody who was in someway making an impact on more than just the one elephant they were bonded with.

Here we are taking our ideas, each inspired by one keyword, and running them through the filter of the remaining keywords, letting each step bend and form the overall idea;

  • "elephant" suggests Mahout;
  • "worldy" suggests maybe they are in Thailand or Vietnam;
  • "impact" suggests they are doing something for more than just one elephant;
  • "magical" suggests that they have a crazy story on how they got there, or what their life with elephants is like;
  • And "adventure" suggests that they are currently working with elephants and are open to having us along, in the thick of it all.

By starting small and building it out, we can quickly come to ideas that fit the stories we’d love and give us way more focus.

3. Hit The Streets (The Google Streets That Is).

Now that we have some ideas, we can start running them through Google and seeing what pops up.

Give yourself a solid hour just to run through ideas and find a list of real people and organizations that are a potential fit.

Don't just think about going directly at the story itself, but also look for those indirect places that connect with the story you want.

So that means we were googling 'Mahouts + Thailand’ but we also looked for placed that might train Mahouts, organizations or clubs for Mahouts, and other places we could reach out to, share our dream story, and give them the chance to share some contacts that could fit.

Look at you list of potential stories and try to narrow it down to the top 5. Use those 5 and spend some time Googling each to see what shakes loose.

If you get creative and take your time, you’ll be fascinated by the results. 

As we googled each, we also took the time to read and learn more. We read through the Wikipedia pages on Mahouts. We spent time on organizations websites to learn more about the issues and current climate for elephants. Finding those current issues and understanding our potential people more helped us to further refine our search.

For example, we learned on Wikipedia of the areas where elephants and Mahouts were most common. An area near Chiang Mai was a great potential location while also being near an airport and a short enough flight from Bangkok (where we’d be) that we could potentially pull it off in our two days. So we refined ‘Mahout + Thailand’ to ‘Mahout + Chiang Mai’ and that more refined search helped us get closer and closer.

There are so many inspiring stories out there, we just need to know where to look and the right questions to ask.

4. Use Your Loose Connections & Be Persistent. 

Spreading the word to your family and friends that you are on the hunt for an amazing story is a great way to get ideas and make connections. If you can refine that request even more, you’re bound to get even stronger leads.

We are often only a couple degrees of separation away from that amazing story or person.

If we make it known on Facebook and Twitter the type of story we are looking for we have a good chance of finding people who do one of three things;

  • they suggest a viable lead that we look into and potentially find out story.
  • they suggest a lead that isn’t the right fit, but may lead us to our story.
  • or they know somebody else who may be able to help, and thus get us one step closer.

It can be as simple as a friend on Facebook hearing about our desire to find a worldly story about somebody connected to Elephants for them to post an article they remember, or a TV show they saw, or any other little tidbit that gets us closer.

A reader of our our blog responded to a request for a PA/fixer in the area. When we told him the story we were looking for, he was a huge advocate of Lek. Right away he thought that Lek would make the perfect heart to our story. And after some digging, he was certainly right.

Now, as you reach out to different people to see if they can point you in the right direction or if they are the right story to tell, be prepared to be persistent. 

It’s likely that they won’t respond to you right away, but don’t use that as an excuse to drop the ball. Remember, many of these organizations are small and with limited resources, so it wouldn’t be uncommon to not reply to email within a couple days.

The key here is to not give up.

Trying looking for other contacts at the same organization and email them. Trying calling. Like really picking up a phone and reaching out. It’s amazing how effective this can be. Drop by their office if it’s local. Make the extra effort to try at least 5 different ways of getting in touch before you consider the lead dead.

By showing that you are invested and willing to go the extra mile to make an introduction, it will add miles to your passion for telling their story.

5. Making Contact & Telling A Great Story.

And when you do reach out, make sure to remember your storytelling.

Put People first.

Share a bit about you, the stories you love, and why you are connected to them. Let them know why you’d love the opportunity to learn more about them, or tell their story if you already know they are the perfect fit. If you tell them about Storytelling Parade it also gives them the opportunity to be a part of something bigger. 

We may be nervous that our skills might not be up to par with what an organization might want, or that they might think we are too inexperienced. However, if you form a real connection with them and share where you are coming from—your why—that will be enough for most organizations to give you the go ahead. 

It is, after all, a free story that can help them. They just need to know that we are serious, that our demands are minimal, and that we actually care.

6. Approach It From The Other Side. Think Local.

The approach thus far has been top-down. We define our purpose. Dive into one keyword and build that out into what would make the perfect story. If that’s not working and you just can’t generate any meaningful leads, try tackling the problem from the opposite direction.

Try searching locally for organizations and do-gooders. You’ll likely find lists, directories, and plenty of Google search results on non-profits and charities in your areas. Armed with your keywords, start combing through them to see if any of them might make a great story and be the right fit for you. 

Rather than starting with the perfect story, dig into what’s already in your neighborhood then run it through your filter.

And one more thing to keep in mind: while global charities are great, there is often more red tape and more doors to stick your foot in to actually make a production happen.

Smaller charities, non-profits, or good samaritan's are much more accessible most of the time.

The Elephant Whisperer

After going through the process above, Stillmotion was able to find Lek and share her story as part of the Storytelling Parade. 

Need help finding your keywords?

Be sure to check out the first tutorial below where we cover everything you need to find your keywords. 

Do good. Hone your skills. Be entered to win over $100,000 in filmmaking prizes and giveaways.

To view the remaining 4 tutorials where we cover everything—from pre-production to post—in what it takes to bring an inspiring story to light, and be entered to win over $100,000 in filmmaking prizes and giveaways, visit storytellingparade.com.