Ever heard of Arthur W. Page? Probably not. For almost two decades – from 1927 to 1946 – he was VP of Public Relations for the American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Today, he’s considered the dean of public relations and corporate communications. Page wrote about his field before it was even recognized as one, and established a list of concepts he called The Page Principles. All seven are worth reading, but one in particular resonates profoundly with us as filmmakers and aligns with our mission here at Tribe to humanize the world’s most successful companies.
Page’s 6th Principle: “Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions – good or bad – about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee, active or retired, is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, share-owners and public officials.”
The old saying goes, “your company’s most important assets go up and down the elevator every day.” Page goes further and points to the fact that each of your employees is a potential ‘brand ambassador’. Here’s where the power of film comes in.
Many organizations use films to communicate to their constituencies (their tribes, if you will), and these can be either internal or external audiences. This is an important first step towards humanizing their message, because a good film tells a story, and stories are human connective currency.
But for any film to create a human connection it must be human both in content and quality. If employees are a central brand asset, it’s no surprise that films that most successfully connect your employees to each other – to their leaders and to the enterprise as a whole – are ones that feature the employees themselves. These films are an opportunity to both create and showcase a brand ambassador.
With deep experience using employees as the centerpiece of brand films, we propose these simple maxims, which we call Tribe Truths. They capture both our philosophy and some practical wisdom about working with ‘real people.’
Tribe Truth #1: Being you on camera.
When working with non-professionals (a.k.a. real people), I typically do phone pre-interviews before deciding with the client who we’ll actually cast in the project. When I meet them on the shoot day (if not before), I try and get to know them as people. I don’t like to talk about what we’ll discuss when we film; rather, I make small talk. For me, small talk is a big deal. For while I already know about this person’s business persona and what their company stands for, I know nothing about what they’re like as a person. I need to get a sense of their passions, their style of communicating and how they smile without the glare of the lights.
So we talk casually about food, families, entertainment, whatever. This lets me see them as they truly are. My job is to capture this passionate, warm, authentic human exactly that way when we start filming. This authenticity is what audiences respond to on an emotional level.
Many non-professionals have an invisible mask they put on as soon as the camera rolls. It’s a defensive mechanism, a way of staying in control. But I’ve already observed who they really are from our small talk, so I seek to guide them back and capture the real subject, while also making sure they cover the key talking points necessary for the client’s story. You need both the story points and the authenticity to make something special.
Tribe Truth #2: Vulnerability is a good thing.
Non-professional actors are focused on perfection. I’m looking for the opposite. Mistakes reveal humanity, and vulnerability is a universally shared trait. If I can keep my subject from trying to cover up their vulnerability and instead embrace it, a better performance will follow. So I often purposely ‘fumble’ the camera or lights and call myself out for it. In this moment, filmmaker and subject connect on a human level. This is the same human connection I seek to create between my subject and the audience – between the brand and their tribes.
Tribe Truth #3: Find the ‘script’ in the edit.
Actors can follow a script. They have a gift for expressing authenticity even as they speak words written by others. Non-actors read a script and end up looking and sounding inauthentic, even if the words were originally their own. So toss the script! When I direct real people, we have an expansive dialogue that’s captured on film. All the while, I’m listening for the real script embedded within. This is the gold we’ll mine in the editing room.
As we shoot I’m looking for a human connection. That typically won’t click with the employee reading a script with a camera a foot from their face. It might feel more efficient to shoot only what you need, but the humanity is buried under a mound of irrelevant talk and is finally excavated in the editing room. Follow Michelangelo’s advice: To create a statue of David, “remove everything that isn’t David.”
Arthur Page was right. A company’s character is best expressed by its people. A well done brand film featuring honest, relatable and genuine comments provided by employees can create a whole even more human than the sum of its parts.