How We Crafted a Story That Reached 4.5 Million People (with a Tiny Budget & Crew)

A while back we found ourselves in Thailand with a few free days and an urge to tell a story. That video that we ended up making, The Elephant Whisperer of Chiang Mai, went on to get 4.5 million views. In the tutorial below, we'll show you how we rapidly built out the story by developing all 4 Pillars of the story.

You'll see what we did, step by step, to craft our most viewed video ever—and all of it with a small budget and tiny crew.

Here's the backstory:

A while back we found ourselves in Malaysia doing a workshop for Canon Asia. Our next stop was Thailand and we had a few days in between.

Why not head up to Chiang Mai to tell a story?

We'd done some research into potential stories in all of the countries we'd be visiting. We didn't know when—or if—we'd have the energy for another shoot, but we wanted to be ready should the opportunity arise.

That means we weren't totally starting from scratch, but we really only had leads at that point.

The story that intrigued us the most by far was one of a lady who ran an elephant sanctuary. Her name was Lek and from what we could find online, she grew up with an elephant as part of the family from a very young age. At some later stage she then turned her passion for elephants into a sanctuary to protect and serve them.

We wanted to reach out to her and learn more, but we were on the road doing workshops, and Lek's sanctuary was in the middle of a forest far away from fast Internet that could handle a Skype call.

That meant we were heading up to the sanctuary without ever having chatted with Lek directly. We had 2 and a half days to land, get to the sanctuary, figure out the story, shoot it, then get back on a plane and be ready for a workshop the next morning.

That film–The Elephant Whisperer of Chiang Mai–went on to get 4.5 million views. In the tutorial above, we'll show you how we built our most viewed film ever, with very little time and a small crew.

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Now whether you've learned Muse or not, let me set up the premise so that you can get the most out of this video.

Story is built on 4 Pillars, think of them as your main ingredients for a story. Both the order you mix your ingredients and the amount of each matters. Like sugar makes your cake sweet and eggs are a binder, each ingredient has a role to play. Too much sugar and it's too sweet. Remove one ingredient, say gluten, and it's a completely different result.

After understanding these 4 Pillars and the role they play in story, you can then focus on maximizing each one, regardless of your constraints in time, budget, or crew.

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I'm really proud of the story we created.

And if you take a moment to read the powerful comments on Facebook, you can see how much it connected viewers to both Lek and her cause.

Is it the best story we've ever told? No, I certainly don't think so. The Plot Pillar is certainly the weakest of the four. But we used the time and resources we had to push the story as far as we could. And we did that by developing each one of the pillars and connecting them together.

Now I should also say that Lek was released last year yet Storybuilder, the software we're showing in the video, came out just last week. So we didn't have Storybuilder when we built Lek's story, but this process is exactly what we did on paper (in a much slower and more clumsy way).

And it's experiences like these that led us to develop Storybuilder, knowing the potential that software could have in helping us develop stronger stories in less time.

An interesting take-away to consider is how critical it is to develop all 4 Pillars of your story. In this piece, the People Pillar is certainly the strongest. Lek is a truly remarkable character and it's the strength of her character that makes up for a weaker plot.

While there will always be more you can do in any story (art is never finished, only abandoned, right?), thoughtfully developing each pillar is a huge way to make the most of every story you tell, regardless of the constraints.

If you're curious, here is the final film Lek, The Elephant Whisperer of Chiang Mai

Have any questions about the story development in Elephant Whisperer? Let us know in the comments below.