Animated Storytelling

An animated cartoon about the Federal Reserve has made quite a stir online.  "Quantitative Easing Explained" has been viewed 4.2 million times as of today, and was featured in a Wall Street Journal article in last Friday's print edition, by Ellen Gamerman, entitled "Animation Nation" (temporarily accessible without a subscription).

According to the article, sites like Montreal's Xtranormal make it easy to create such animated videos.  The first time I saw this video, I didn't actually "see" it, I just listened to it, because I was driving at the time (and even in Washington DC bumper-to-bumper traffic, it's not a good idea to be watching the video screen of your phone while driving…).  I loved it, I thought it was hysterically funny. 

And that's the point here, I think.  It's not really about the animation; it's all about the dialog. The WSJ article quotes Richard Appel, a TV producer:

It's a writer's medium that cleverly found a way to get people to look at their screen and listen to what's being said.

The animation supports the dialog, but that's all it does.

And so everything depends upon the dialog.  Proof?  The Reply to Quantitative Easing video, posted shortly after the original (they've both been out for about 3 months now), was also created on Xtranormal's site, and uses exactly the same animated characters and background as the original.  Yet the Reply has captured fewer than seventy-five thousand views.  Why?  I think it's because it's dialog is lame.

What makes good dialog?  Quantitative Easing works because of its snappy question and answer format.  Here's the opening of the movie:

Did you hear about the Fed?

No, what about the Fed?

They announced another round of the quantitative easing.

what does that mean?

it means they are going to make large asset purchases via POMO.

what does that mean?

it means they are going to expand their balance sheet and buy treasuries.

what does that mean?

it means they are going to print a ton of money.

so why do they call it the quantitative easing? Why don’t they just call it the printing money?

because the printing money is the last refuge of failed economic empires and banana republics, and the Fed doesn’t want to admit this is their only idea.

Omid Malekan, author of this video, refers to it as "Socratic Satire." 

Followers of this blog will recognize in this question and answer approach a close similarity to the S.Co.R.E. method of storytelling–and therein lies the appeal. An interesting question and answer sequence keeps the viewer's interest going, just like a good story.

So if you want to write a catchy animated video, use the S.Co.R.E. method.



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