4 reasons ‘The Umbrella Man’ video is compelling

A video about the man holding a black umbrella near the site JFK was shot offers important points about creating successful online videos.


When I develop online video content, I ask myself: Would I rather watch this or read it?

Video can certainly enrich the content experience, but for every great online video I’ve seen, I’ve seen just as many that would be better off as an article. The best videos don’t tell stories, they show stories.

While I’m tempted to point you to the best video I’ve seen in the last week or month—we’re in the era of real-time content, after all—I would like to pick out a video from Nov. 21, 2011, the 48th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

I stumbled upon “The Umbrella Man” by Errol Morris on The New York Times’ website. Even though I’m a fan of Morris’ work, this was the first short, online video of his I’ve seen.

Here is why it worked:

1. It keeps the viewer engaged. Despite being longer than six minutes—almost an eternity for most online videos—”The Umbrella Man” tells a compelling story with a beginning, middle and end which, from the first minute, I had to see.

2. It features a skillful interview. Though you can only hear what is presumably Morris’ voice a few times during the interview, his cinematic voice is all over the film. Josiah Thompson is a great interviewee, but Morris is able to extract his own signature caustic humor and conspiracy theory-style storytelling from Thompson.

3. It has great music and graphics. The music adds suspense, which is important to move the story along. The graphics are also well done. They support the story and are high quality, but not too flashy.

4. It has a good takeaway. Isn’t the end such a great lesson for all of us to remember?

The suspense of “The Umbrella Man,” coupled with the humor and superior storytelling of both Morris and Thompson, makes this is a piece of content that must be shared as video. Text just wouldn’t do it justice.

Kate Ottenberg is the director of video publishing and media relations at TMG Custom Media. A version of this article originally ran on the Engage blog.

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