Inside the making of the "My YouTube Story" videos

For our fifth birthday celebration last week, we asked documentary filmmaker Stephen Higgins to make short video portraits of more than a dozen users whose lives have been strongly impacted by YouTube. (If you haven't checked them out yet, the full playlist is embedded below.) Now that the arduous production schedule is over, Higgins took time out to share how he came to make such poignant videos about you. Learn what you will from him, then upload your own YouTube Story here; we'll feature a handful on Monday, May 31.

These videos are just two minutes long. How do you have a strong narrative in such a short period of time?
Some subjects, genius storytellers, know how to get there naturally. With the others, you need a good set of questions, and good editing to back up what you may not have gotten perfectly at the beginning. But the most helpful thing is to put yourself in the shoes of whomever you're interviewing and imagine how they felt at x or y'll empathize, and know where to take the interview.

What are the kinds of content -- topics, quotes, expressions -- that you look to include?
When interviewing a subject we try to get down to why they do this, the "genesis" story, like the kid who was picked on who grew up to be the coolest flute player, or the unpopular girl who used makeup to get the boys' notice and now builds a makeup empire. It's often the areas where people feel they need work that they focus attention and end up surpassing expectations. The next thing to learn is what have they given up....all successful people know well what they've given up and want to talk about it. That conversation puts into context what one gets for one's efforts, and humanizes the heroic subject. Ask the harder questions about what was sacrificed for success.

What kinds of techniques do you use to make these videos look so good and feel emotional?
When we all make YouTube videos, we're creating for a screen size of about 630 by 350 pixels, so go in close. Use eyes, use foreheads, look at the way people move their mouths when they talk...all that says a lot, beyond just the words. Use that emotional power of the face to amplify what they are saying. Shoot as close to the face as possible, because we're trained by thousand of years of evolution to respond to those movements of the face. And don't forget hands, which can speak in the opposite way...or in sync...and reveal much. In the end, we want viewers to feel they've had a chance to meet these subjects over a cheeseburger or a beer and really feel them viscerally.

How do you find the right music at an affordable price?
There are so many great resources for good music at an affordable price. Good is easy to find. Great is harder, and usually costs a bit more, but all music licenses are negotiable and very much based on personal conversations with your representative at the music library. So for a great piece of music, you should negotiate hard as you would for a carpet at a market in Cairo...that's the game here. Play the hard bargain. Music is so key to's like steroids for a good story, so aim for the best, and get it at the lowest price imaginable. In the end, if the price seems high but you love it, get the music, because it is often more powerful than we give credit for.

What is something about YouTube users you didn't know before you started this project?
What I didn't fully understand was how much the content creators have given their lives over to communicating with others. They've found their mission. Sharing their talent or passion with the world. Despite realities of family obligations, old jobs, the need to learn a bit more about technology, the people who shine come through because of sheer passion and faith. They believe that what they are doing on YouTube will change the world, and the effort that belief inspires in them usually gets to a positive outcome. Not one of the YouTube creators we've met has failed to inspire us.

61 Responses on "Inside the making of the "My YouTube Story" videos"

  1. Wow, those are some things I never took into perspective when making my own story video. This will surely help me amplify the emotion in my future videos.

    RyanC says:

    Very inspiring! YouTube has done a lot of things for a lot of people. I'm not exactly one of the success stories, but what the site has done for me is give me an outlet of entertainment. One that has inspired me to do other things in my life.

    Happy Birthday YouTube.

    Ray says:

    happy Birthday Youtube! I worked really hard on mine and it basically has all of these things in it already! Mine is from StingRay809 and it is featured on the FiveYear channel.

    Anonymous says:

    Youtube...thank you as you are very inspiring. For many years now you have helped a ton of people. Just recently you too have helped me. I am not one of the people who has posted anything here yet via your site but by watching others videos and how they approach it, I have been learning how to and will one day be part of the media so like others I can get to show others I have the knack to be a video star. Your site is to me one of the best I come across since being an internet user as of 2001. You are a great incentive on how to help someone gain a start in an industry of music etc. At least via your site people like me get to see who our entertainers are, follow them like twitter and also find the latest news and other events that keep us wanting more. Um I wish you guys the best at keeping the site more active and may you also have the greatest success in years to come...Happy Birthday!

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    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
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