Cathie Dodd Q&A

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An interesting kind of storyteller I’ve come across is the small-business person who creates video montages to help folks and families celebrate weddings, births, graduations, and the lives of loved ones. Cathie Dodd, whose partners include her sister Juli and a family friend, Julie Wilkerson, operates Tears of Joy Video.

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Bio: You can find some biographical material about how Cathie and partners started their business here.


Q&A with Cathie Dodd:

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?

A: My sister and I (who do this business together) have always loved storytelling, since we were little. Our mother didn’t read us stories; she told us stories from her own experiences, and her family. Family photos were also important to the family, and she was scrapbooking before it became known as that. All her albums told stories. As my sister and I got older, we both became interested in photography and film. Pictures had to tell a story, and even in our spare time we found making movies with our friends seemed a great way to spend a weekend. Then we started doing weddings, my sister doing pictures and I doing the videos. For a while I also did photography. But it wasn’t till after my mom died and my dad asked us to do his biography that we really saw the power of storytelling with pictures and film. We made our own memories come alive, and the part of my mom came alive with them. We realized that with this film we had saved a part of our family history forever. From that film came many requests from friends to create one for them. We get the same type of pleasure creating the stories for our clients as we did when creating it for ourselves. Every one of our clients say the first time they watch a video we created, that they are hit with a wave of emotion. Thus came our business name, Tears of Joy Video. I have heard from our clients that these stories become like a glue to pull their families together. It constantly reinforces in me the power stories have in our lives.

Q: The Tears of Joy Video Web site notes that “Creating a video montage project can be quite overwhelming.” What you find are some of the most overwhelming and difficult parts, and how do you overcome them in working with your customers?

A: When we create their personal stories on video, they are overwhelmed about which pictures to use and how to organize them. We talk to them about what they want to convey, what type of things to include and how to break the pictures up in categories. Then if they can’t come up with it, we suggest titles for each section and songs they might use for the pictures they provide. We also give suggestions on interviews they might want to include on video, or film clips they could use. We help them shape the project into as story by asking questions and trying to find the type of story they picture in their minds. Most of our clients say the videos are much better than they could ever have imagined.

Q: Do you have a favorite video that your company has produced? What makes it your favorite?

A: Each time I do a new project, it always becomes my new favorite. But I do have a couple of them that are special to me. I created a birth story for a friend, and she allowed me to use it online for our marketing and for a midwives site that was recommending our services. You can watch it here. The video really tells a story, but I think it is also interesting because it was the first water birth I ever saw.
My second favorite is one we created for fun with my nieces. My 10-year-old niece wrote the story and directed it, and my other nieces acted in it. I loved this, one, because it is so cute, and two, because it helps us train my nieces in the importance of storytelling-as well as how to use video to get those stories told. Take a look at their video:

Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?

A: I think stories have always been there; it’s just now people feel more disconnected than any time in history. With divorces, many are searching for family roots. Also I have heard it said that people are more in a cocoon state. With crime and terrorism many people feel safer to stay home. But they reach out to strangers through email and social networks. A good way to connect with people on social networks is with stories
.
Stories draw families together, help them remember their past, their good memories, their sense of family, even if it isn’t “perfect,” the stories make it theirs. Stories also make perfect strangers draw closer to you, give that person on the other side of the keyboard a personality, and more depth. It helps them relate with you, and feel they know you.

Q: What people or entities have been most influential to you in your story work and why?

A: I would again say the most important one was my mom. She could tell a story and have the whole room drawn into every word. I have felt like I lived her life over and over again as I asked her to tell her stories. I never tired of hearing them. I cannot tell them like she could, but if I close my eyes and picture the story; I can hear every word she used to tell and exactly how she told it. Storytelling is an art, and she definitely knew the art of how to relate a story.
I don’t have that same talent in speech, but put me behind my computer and I can make my clients stories come alive with pictures, titles, music, and video. While I am working on a video, it’s as if I put myself in my clients’ life. In the end I feel that I have come to know them as I do my own family. I have created their story. When they come back and say to me it is perfect, I know I have captured exactly what they wanted to say.

Q: How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?) What definition do you espouse?

A: A story is an experience that happened to you or to someone else, or is an experience that is made up in your mind. It can be used to create a mood of laughter, or reflection. I can also be used as a parallel to a point you want to bring home, or a moral lesson you want to teach. Personal stories are what we focus on because personal stories create a connection between you and the person the story is told to. We try to create that with our videos and with the stories we share on our site.

Q: The culture is abuzz about Web 2.0 and social media. To what extent do you participate in social media (such as through LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Second Life, blogs, etc.)?

A: We are on LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Metacafe — actually many video-viewing sites. Also Merchantcircle, fabulous40.com, and many different Ning groups. Some we are on every day; others we use every once in a while. Many of the people who come to our sites were first introduced to us through social-media sites.

Q: To what extent and in what ways do you feel these venues are storytelling media?

A: All these sites allow you to blog, and what are blogs, but stories about you. Some of them actually have regular columnist that contribute stories about themselves or a subject, and then allow people to interact with that story by adding their comments. The same is true of the video-viewing sites and YouTube actually has a new feature that allows you to watch a video and comment back with your own video. So now you can video back and forth your stories.

Q: If you could identify a person or organization who desperately needs to tell a better story, who or what would it be?

A: I think small businesses need to share their stories on their websites with video. Here is a story to show what I mean. A few weeks ago I was at a corner farmers market at a local school, and one of the stands had a teacher that had his own business selling food products he brought over from Italy. Each product we asked him about he brought out a photo album of his trip there, and showed pictures of where the product came from and proceeded to tell us how it was made. I became so involved with his story; I wanted the product because of the stories, and not because of the product. I asked him if he was online. He said he had a website but wasn’t doing well. I told him that was probably because he it didn’t draw the people in the way his personal stories did. I told him if he created these stories on video, and uploaded them to his website, he would see his sales triple. He was a storyteller, but he had no idea how to use those stories to create a profit for his small business. I think more businesses need to plug themselves into the personal stories of their products or services and create those stories online to personalize their websites. We can help you do that.

Q: Are there any current uses of storytelling that repel you or that you feel are inappropriate?

A: I don’t like dirty jokes and I don’t like stories that are basically bragging. These are just self-serving stories, that have no benefit.

Q: What future trends or directions to do foresee for story/storytelling/narrative?

A: I can see more and more online video stories and interactive stories online. I also see more people creating their family histories on video.

Q: What future aspirations do you personally have for your own story work?

A: For our site I am looking to team up with a few storytelling coaches who would be interested in holding storytelling classes [from] our website.

Q: What would you like to do in the story world that you haven’t yet done?

A: I would like to have an online radio show where people can call up and share different personal stories about their lives.

Q: What’s your favorite story about a transformation that came about through a story or storytelling act?

A: I am going to share a story told by one of my clients who we created a memorial video for her father’s funeral. This one is on our site.
I heard from one of our customers this morning and she told me about a showing of one of our videos. Her story gave me chills. I had created a video for her father’s memorial. They decided to play it at her brother’s house afterwards. They played it in his family room and kept it playing over and over again for hours.
During all that time, her mother sat a watched the video over and over again. For a number of years her mother has had Alzheimer’s and hasn’t even recognized her own children. But her daughter told me as she watched this, her face started to light up. She used music that was all her fathers’ favorites and her mother started moving to the music.
After a while she started recognizing her husband and her children on the screen. By the end of the evening she was telling people, this is my daughter. She was recognizing all her kids. Her daughter said it was amazing how she reacted to the video.
She called me to talk to me about creating her mother’s story now. She wants to do this while her mother can still respond to it.
Even now this story is getting me emotional. To know that something I created allowed these kids to have connection with their mother again. That is priceless!

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?

A: Stories about personal experiences and lessons you learned or triumphs you had from the experience work best. Don’t share a story while you’re still living the experience. Wait it out till you can share the conclusion. Nobody wants to hear the struggle without a solution.

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