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August 2, 2021

Video and Visual Storytelling with R.J. McNichols

The Magic Boost, a summer-long experience for 16 aspiring track & field storytellers representing all platforms of new media, is underway.

Over the course of eight sessions, the Magic Boost Class of `21 will be exposed to the wisdom and experience of numerous in-the-field experts to refine their skillset as the next generation of track and field storytelling.

For our fifth session of the summer, the group heard from R.J. McNichols, a documentary filmmaker who has produced long and short-form content around some of the sport’s most interesting personalities like Nick Symmonds and Nick Willis.

Emma Zimmerman (the host of the Social Sport Podcast a CITIUS MAG Podcast Network show that explores the connection between endurance sport and social change) and Joshua Potts (producing content for and by the culture with The Running Report and his Two Black Runners Podcast) shared the following takeaways and lessons from the session…

“A good story is a good story. It doesn’t matter if it’s five seconds or five hours.” -R.J. McNichols

While it’s safe to assume that both ends of this spectrum are exaggerations (have you ever enjoyed a five-second or a five-hour video?), the sentiment is strong! There is no “ideal length” for a good story. It all depends on the medium through which you’re presenting it, your audience, and the story itself! Plus, if a good story is truly a good story, it can be told effectively in a variety of lengths.

“Knowing your worth prevents burnout.” -R.J. McNichols

R.J. talked a lot about money, so much so that he apologized for talking too much about money! Yet, the apology was unnecessary; while money talk can be taboo, R.J.’s words were important. In today’s filtered world, reality can be pushed under the rug by Instagram-able slogans like “follow your dreams” or “live your passions.” But to adequately “follow your dreams,” you need to value your dreams and the time you put into them. Plus, how long will you really be able to “follow your dreams” if you can’t put food on the table? R.J. urged us to know our worth and advocate for it. If a client or a company cannot provide a reasonable rate, be kind but assertive. Tell them you’d be happy to work with them in the future if they have the budget at that time.

“Tell the story at the level of the new friend—someone who is not too familiar with track and field. The only way we’re going to grow the sport of track and field is if we lean into others’ levels of understanding and drag those people in.” -R.J. McNichols

In previous sessions, various media professionals have shared their thoughts on the level at which we should present stories. Some have echoed the advice that we should never “dumb down” our content. While I doubt R.J. would tell us to dumb down our content, he urged us to think about which details and background information will make the story more accessible. He pushed us to consider the long-term results of our stories. Which register will benefit the sport in years to come?

“We all come from different places and walks of life. Use that. Use what you’ve got.” -R.J. McNichols

This advice is relatively self-explanatory, but crucial, nonetheless. Our backgrounds inform our storytelling; they draw us to different stories and perspectives and allow us to see the world in unique ways. We should consider our differences as assets to our creative work.

“Know how to walk through a track meet. If you have a credential to be there, act like you own the place. Be respectful of everyone else, but don’t be tentative.” -Keith Peters.

Keith jumped in with important words of advice as we head into the Prefontaine Classic and future events: act like you own the place. There’s a difference between acting arrogant and acting confident. Our goal is the latter. We need to act like we have every right to be at the event and tell stories because we do.

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