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How to Make a Viral Video: Lesson 3

Principle #1: Capture Reality

Screen Shot from a piece produced for The New York Post

This is the third of a 10 Lesson series on How to Make a Viral Video.

You can find the entire course here

Maybe not everyone enjoys documentaries as much as I do, but I can assure you that among some of your favorite movies there is at least one based on true events. The reason behind this “feeling” is quite evident, “The most contagious online content provokes strong, active, positive emotions … being true helps create and turn up the volume on that emotional connection.” (The Viral Video Manifesto, Grobe & Fritz).

Connection, then, is key. Regardless of the genre, whether a hollywood blockbuster and classic like Saving Private Ryan, or an amateur youtube sensation like Greyson Chance Singing Paparazzi (48 million unique views in the original video) these stories or happenings are true - or based on true events - and that’s one of the reasons why they connect so strongly with the viewers. But we are talking about videos that you can make on your own, with one camera, one subject and the ability to tell a story, so let’s be practical about it …


Today, technology has come a long ways, and shooting a video on the latest iPhone is not much different, in terms of resolution and sharpness, than if I were to shoot a documentary with a Canon or Nikon DSLR (those are my favorite brands).

The point is, technical issues are no longer a limitation when it comes to producing high-end, great looking videos. So in the end, it’s all about the story in front of the lense, not the lense itself (pay attention to sound though! In lesson #7 I’ll talk about optimal, minimal equipment you need to produce great looking video and sound).

Keep in mind, however, that I’m not talking about TV commercials or theatrical releases (although there are known cases of movies shot on cellphones), but I’m referring to videos that we can shoot today, tomorrow, one-person crew and a few hours in the editing room. No fancy 20-people crews, lights or catering services. So find a subject that is true. Real. Remember that, when it comes to social media, content trumps all. If your subject is true, then emotions will be true. Keep it real and people all over the world will want to share your content.

Do you guys remember the JK Wedding Entrance Dance? It was silly, quirky and, because it was a true, real moment, it became an internet sensation.

But finding a true, real story and subject is step 1. In order to increase your video’s chances of going viral you have to exercise the rest of the principles. Remember that a freak “accident” can land your cute cat video into a superstar worldwide frenzy, but it’s one in a million chances. With preparation and considering the 4 principles behind virality, your chances of making a successful, shareable video are exponentially increased.

Tomorrow we will tackle principle #2: Be Concise.



This is a practical blow of fresh air when it comes to podcasts. My team and I have just started producing a podcast designed specifically for freelance journalists and video producers in mind with the belief that 5 minutes of short interviews with media experts and colleagues, and quick hands-on advice, can be much more effective and valuable than 45 minutes discussions.

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