What Making a WWII Documentary Taught Me About Storytelling

What Making a WWII Documentary Taught Me About Storytelling

The world of business has never been good at emotion. Business — and the more masculine style of leadership — typically prefers the territory of hard facts and figures. Showing emotions is tantamount to showing weakness.

Yet, as John Mellor VP of Business Development and Strategy at Adobe said at the Adobe Summit EMEA this year, we all know that emotions are what drive us. John encouraged the audience (and the brands within) to tell their story:

“Stories bring emotion and emotion drives change,” @mellortime said.

In 1991, I embarked on a journey that was completely unexpected and whose destination is still being crafted. After answering a phone call that was intended for someone else, I went on a 25-year mission to learn about the man after whom I was named, my grandfather — a war hero who was killed in January 1945, twenty years before my birth. This year, I completed a 1/2-hour documentary that will be shown on PBS in the autumn, along with a new book by the same name, The Last Ring Home.


One of the parallels that I encountered in the making of my WWII documentary, The Last Ring Home, was riding the line between that which is historical documentary — where the most important factor is fact and truth — and the personal story. In the making of The Last Ring Home, the challenge was to remain faithful to the facts (in order to remain sincere in the tribute to the men and women who suffered so much) and yet expose the powerful and deeply personal tragedy.

To that end, it was a balancing act between fact and “narrative.” In the business world, where facts and figures offer cold comfort to rational managers, the very idea of emotions — be they via humor or tears — is considered risky business. And yet… As John Mellor suggested, it is in emotions that the power lies. Emotions are the primary filter and driver of change, leading to the desire to act differently.

The choice — and the chance — for brands is to find the right narrative, a narrative that lets the genuine emotions in. Of course, performance and figures are essential. It’s just that it’s not enough to stick to the facts to move people.

Last Ring Home Movie

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