Telling a story without words

The Delaware Department of Education hired us to help them attract teachers to Delaware. We watched videos from other states and most of them followed a similar format, listing features and benefits: How much teachers get paid, what kinds of incentives they have, etc.. The more we watched them, the more they all sounded the same. We decided to try a different approach. We wanted these ad spots to celebrate teachers in a way we hadn’t seen, acknowledging how hard teaching can be, and speaking directly to people who are passionate about taking on the challenge.

We also decided we wanted these stories to work with no dialogue at all. Film is primarily a visual medium, but it can be very easy to slip into thinking about dialogue first, and sprinkling in some visuals later. Writing a scene without any dialogue is a great exercise for any screenwriter.

Something to think about this week: If you were going to tell a story about yourself or your company/organization, but you weren’t allowed to use any words at all, how would you do it?

Of course, if you want some other creative minds on the task, drop us a line.

Here are the pieces, accompanied by a special behind-the-scenes video (don’t miss that):

  • Director: Mike Pfeifer | 5 minutes

Behind the Scenes

The Red Pen

Pi Day

Costume Commute

The The Doodler

Introducing Mike Pfeifer

Mike Pfeifer

prep cook/director
  • Directing
  • Lighting
  • Table Tennis
  • Actual Tennis
  • Sense of Direction

The Delaware Department of Education project was the first project that Mike Pfeifer directed at Short Order, and it was a big one.

Mike’s an all-around filmmaker with experience in many roles. He’s the guy you see at every nerdy filmmaking seminar.

A few years ago, Mike started his own company and got into the wedding business. He built his company up into a sort of empire just in time to realize that he didn't want to do weddings anymore. He really just had a passion for storytelling and the power that stories have to change minds and behavior.

One of Mike's greatest assets is that he naturally thinks visuals-first. This is an incredibly rare trait, and one that I’m envious of, as someone who has always been a words guy. Once we had settled on our creative approach for DOE, Mike started doing something, that to me, was really... odd: After we had loosely developed the stories we wanted to tell, Mike went straight into storyboarding. Whenever a discussion of the script came up, Mike would say something like "Yeah, the words, we'll figure that out. But do you think this shot would work better close or medium?” I actually started to get concerned.

As the process went on, and was going so well, I found myself reconsidering: What if Mike's approach, storyboarding before writing, was actually more useful than burning a bunch of brain cycles on wording?

Upon some further investigation, I learned that, starting with Disney, it's long been common practice in animation studios to start with an outline and jump right into creating storyboards, and only after the story is working visually, to develop the script and get the lines right. With this approach, the visuals lead the story. And why wouldn't this work for live action?

“It was always my inclination to think in pictures rather than words.” - Walt Disney

Working on this project with Mike, I've learned that screenwriting, though I've focused so much of my life on it, is not always necessarily the best first step. It may not even be the best second step. Agonizing over every word of dialogue, or worse, how to cleverly describe an action in just the right words, might actually be a waste of time. At the end of the day, we are working to create a series of two-dimensional images. We need to get an idea of what those images are going to look like in order to tell the whole story. We can figure out how the character says that killer line later.

It's amazing to see the creative versatility of our crew develop as we add more people like Mike.

Fun fact about Mike: If I told you that Mike is "Mr. Delaware," I actually mean that in literally. He's married to former Mrs. Delaware, Alina Pfeifer.

Next week, we have some huge announcements. It's been a big month. Stay tuned.

Give us a call if you need anything