Tom Clifford Q&A


It’s a great treat to present the 13th in my series of Q&A interviews with story practitioners. I came across Tom Clifford in the blogosphere, and we’ve become good social-media pals since. Tom’s Q&A will be in five parts, with one question and answer each day this week.

About Tom, from his Web site (where there are lots of links to more info about him, including his “One Sheet”): Tom is an award-winning filmmaker and he thinks “remarkable organizations deserve remarkable videos.”

For 23 years, Tom has been helping companies tell their story by producing award-winning remarkable documentary videos.

He finds out what matters most to organizations — what they want their market and the world to know about them. Tom headshot white bknd small.jpg

That’s why companies from Fortune 500’s to non-profits use his films for marketing, recruiting and retention, sharing corporate values and more.

From CEO’s to the front-line, Tom makes people feel comfortable being in front of the camera.

Q&A with Tom Clifford

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

A: I become involved in storytelling through rock n roll.
Ever since the British Invasion days of 1964, music captured my imagination like nothing else; the lyrics, the rhythm, the cadence all combined to create endless stories in my mind.
One day I found a guitar in the house when I was a kid. I picked it up and taught myself how to play. I eventually took lessons, then studied classical guitar; all while playing Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf and Grand Funk Railroad on weekends throughout much of junior high and high school and into college.
My grand plan? To become a famous rock n roller; the same as everyone else at that time! Those plans were short-lived as my band learned that our performance before a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert were cancelled at the last minute.
I graduated from high school. I came home one day in the summer and found a college brochure on the kitchen counter. It just happened to be open on the pages with photographs of a television studio. I instantly jumped! This was it!
What attracted me to the video/film world was the ability to capture and tell a story and have an audience go, “Wow!” I was hooked.
I loved combining sight and sound to emotionally move someone into action with an interesting story. In many ways, it reminded me of playing live on a Saturday night with my band. Watching your audience, through music or storytelling, is thrilling.
I’m fortunate. 25 years ago, I found my passion. I found my voice. It is to enable the voices of others through video stories. I found my calling early in life. I never had another job.
This is what I was born to do.
Q: What people or entities have been most influential to you in your story work and why?
A: I have been blessed with so many remarkable people who have shaped my life.
Here’s a short list of the most influential people who helped me open my eyes and discover new dimensions in my mind, heart and soul. All these remarkable people have influenced my story work by the very nature of who they are.
How did they influence me? They taught me to question. Question reality, my purpose, my work, my legacy. They taught me to push and not settle for “good” or “average.” For that, I am thankful.
  • Ira Glass
  • Ira_Glass.jpg
    Ira is a magical storyteller. Pure genius. Ira hosts This American Life on NPR. In addition, This American Life on Showtime continues Ira’s storytelling format for television with short “slice of life” stories from around America. Believe me, the stories Ira discovers and captures are extraordinary.
    His ability to ask questions that few dare to ask is what inspires me most about his work. Sometimes I’ll watch his DVD before I film an upcoming interview to remind myself how powerful great questions can be in getting to the heart of a story.
  • Seth Godin
  • From the time I read Seth’s first book, All Marketers Are Liars, I was instantly hooked!
    I’ve read every single book from Seth because he’s like a modern day Columbus; he discovers AND creates new territory before almost anyone else. Seth’s marketing/business background often crosses over into the psychology of why we do what we do. Seth presents different angles into how life works so few others are capable of doing.
  • Errol Morris
  • Errol is my favorite filmmaker. Period.
    Errol Morris is the Oscar-winning director of “The Fog of War.”
    Like Ira Glass, his inquisitive nature is apparent when he interviews his people. Sometimes we hear his questions off-mic while the camera is rolling.
    The camera zooms in capturing a close-up of the person; sometimes thinking, sometimes laughing, sometimes confused.
    I enjoy Morris’s inquisitiveness into the nature of the people he films.
  • Michael Moore
  • Michael_Moore.jpg
    I love Michael’s ability to take a simple point, sometimes an abstract idea or concept, and capture it on film in a scene that allows us to “get it” immediately. I think he’s a master at metaphorical storytelling. To me, that’s his greatest gift as a director.
  • Ben Wren
  • My world totally flipped when I met Fr. Ben Wren at Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.
    A Zen Master? A Jesuit priest? At the same time? Is that even possible? Indeed, it is!
    Not only that, Ben taught several classes in Zen. Of course, I took every Zen class and from that time in 1977 till now, meditation has become my daily foundation.
    Ben quickly became a friend I could count on at any time of day for anything.
    While studying under Ben, Eastern philosophy and spirituality absorbed every spare minute I had.
    I practiced Zen meditation, kundalini and hatha yoga, tai chi. I read Alan Watts, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita. I couldn’t read enough of these ancient teachings.
    My soul was happy. I was being filled with experiences I always longed for but didn’t know where to look. These disciplines pointed to realities beyond our everyday senses. These teachings began answering the many questions I had about the deeper underlying truths about the nature of reality.
    Ben was the first person to open my eyes and mind and show me there’s more to life that what we see in front of us. He passed away in 2006 from lung cancer.
    While at Loyola, Ben pointed me to Bede Griffiths, the next most influential person in my life.
  • Swami Dayananda (Bede Griffiths)
  • I first met Bede in 1979 while in New Orleans. It was Bede’s first visit to America from India. This was my introduction to Hinduism, the Upanishads and the Vedas. I finally felt at home.
    Bede Griffiths was a Hindu-Christian sannyasi; a monk, a holy man.
    Bede left England while still young and spent most of his life in southern India. While there, he headed up an ashram; the East’s version of a monastery, welcoming everyone of all faiths. The ashram is still very popular to this day.
    I was immediately attracted to Bede. If you’ve never been in the presence of a saint, it’s extremely hard to put in words. It’s life changing.
    Since Bede’s first visit to America, I had the good fortune to see him many times after that when he returned to the States. My days were spent listening to his teachings, meditating with a community and exploring new ideas. I can’t imagine my life without having met Bede.
    Bede passed away in 1993 but his holistic teachings are close to my heart.
  • Deepak Chopra
  • If you want to see a current master storyteller, look no further. For me, it is Deepak Chopra. I can’t think of a contemporary teacher who pushes, challenges and integrates cutting-edge concepts for the lay person to easily access any more than Deepak.
    A great storyteller will grab your full attention without you even noticing it. Weaving poems from Rumi, quantum physics, science and breakthrough medical findings into his seminars, Deepak can hold your attention for hours at a time. And you never look at your watch.
    I have spent many days in Deepak’s presence and can tell you this with full certainty; every time I see him, I’m more impressed. He answers everybody’s questions. He spends time with those needing it.
    I start seeing the inter-connectedness of life when I read Deepak’s words and attend his seminars. I’m whole again. I’m reminded of my purpose in life.
  • My parents
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: As a filmmaker, my definition of story is different from many others.
I think story is a journey that takes a person from “here” to “there.”
My work involves capturing a “story” as authentically, emotionally and as honestly as possible.
I have several ways of looking at “story.”
First, “story,” as I see it, is a point of view; it is a particular way of looking at life.
Second, “story” can be seen as a person narrating a sequence of events; first this happened, then that happened, etc.
Lastly, I see “story” as emotional connections one may have with someone else, a group of people or even a company.
If were ultimately to define “story” as a formula it would be this…
Story = Brand.
Q: You’ve written recently about “responsible corporate video storytelling.” Why is that important, and how does storytelling fit in?
A: It’s important simply because we have limited resources.
Wasting limiting resources like time and money on video stories that don’t enlighten, inspire or simply help someone on their journey is not acting responsibly.
Storytelling fits into this framework because we have a choice when it comes time to produce a video.
We can choose to produce a story that enlightens, uplifts, educates, inspires and points to a deeper truth within each of us.
Or we can choose the opposite.
I believe a company’s story is simply a reflection of each person’s story. It’s a collective story of individual stories. As such, these stories need to be handled with care, respect and integrity.
Irresponsible video storytelling is a disservice to everyone.

Q: Many practitioners agree with the idea that corporations need to tell their stories, but not that many of them are doing it with video. In your view, why is video important to the equation? Are you seeing other uses of storytelling in video that excite you?

A: Here are five reasons why it’s important an organization tell their story in video. Video stories can:

  1. Strengthen your brand. “Who are you?”
  2. Create emotional connections. “Why should I care about your company?”
  3. Share culture and values. “Is what’s important to me important to you?”
  4. Change perceptions. “Really? I didn’t know that.”
  5. Inspire change. “You mean I can make a difference?”

What other uses of video storytelling excite me? I honestly haven’t seen much because I don’t have the time to surf around and see who is doing what with video.

I do enjoy the Hitachi True Stories that came out recently. The stories are captured really interesting ways without being overtly commercial.

A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:


Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.

The pages below relate to learning from my PhD program focusing on a specific storytelling seminar in 2005. These are not updated but still may be of interest:

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