I'm Thom, I'm a former BMJ Learning Multimedia editor, now producer and freelance filmmaker, I've worked for BBC, Guardian, Nature, Royal Institution, and many others.

I'm at BMJ in the next few months doing 20 days consulting. Hosting a series of workshops to encourage people to seek out opportunities, commission, and make, more multimedia content. So get in contact, let's get making!

You can sign up for the workshops by adding your name under any sessions you want to attend on this spreadsheet:

https://docs.google.com/a/bmj.com/spreadsheets/d/15RI2f42cmVDqaqvES8ckdN1ngi97s57_cDjTQuH--rY/edit?usp=sharing

Below is an extract from a 3 minute animation I directed for BBC News. By working with artists and creatives it's possible to get some interesting, striking, shareable content. With planning, this can be used in different mediums, on different platforms, to reach different audiences. This animation had no text and was cheaply translated in Arabic for BBC Arabian News. An edited down version was shared widely on social media. It only cost the BBC £3000. With a creative approach we managed to squeeze lots of value and use out of the project.

A video posted by BBC News (@bbcnews) on

YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world, and BMJ needs to be the answer. More people click on, and share, social media posts with images, and there is so much potential to engage, tell better stories, enhance learning and reach into new demographics.

Multimedia doesn't belong as an afterthought. Whenever you see a character or story, think 'how can we make the most of this' and vitally 'what is the best medium for this message?'

For some great examples, and to get your creative juices flowing have a look at the following, why do these things work as film/audio/animation/illustration/photos/combinations? How could BMJ borrow these techniques and ideas?

I'll help you find a way to make something similar for a reasonable budget. Deal more effectively with freelancers and producers, and help bridge the great expertise between different areas of the business.

My two point pitch to you is to:

  • Look out for and identify great ideas/stories/characters to work with.
  • Note down/bookmark any multimedia you see anywhere that you think really works [there is a guide to what to look for, later in this post]. 

Follow Humans of New York. It started as a Facebook blog, and is now kind of a viral movement. At it's heart is very simple storytelling, a photo and a snippet of a conversation. Remember that BMJ is dealing with the same issues of health, life, death and societal progress. These 'vignettes' create a 'curiosity gap'- people want to know more and will be motivated to follow up. Can you think how this type of thing might enhance your content?

“We broke up when she left for the Peace Corps, with the agreement that we’d revisit things when she came back from Mali. But a few days after she got home, she fell seven stories off a roof and died. She actually wrote me a letter from Mali, but it took so long to be delivered that it arrived a few days after she died. She wrote about how her anti-malarial medication was giving her these vivid dreams. In one of her dreams she was trapped in a falling elevator, and she said the last thing she thought about before she hit the ground was me.” 

“We broke up when she left for the Peace Corps, with the agreement that we’d revisit things when she came back from Mali. But a few days after she got home, she fell seven stories off a roof and died. She actually wrote me a letter from Mali, but it took so long to be delivered that it arrived a few days after she died. She wrote about how her anti-malarial medication was giving her these vivid dreams. In one of her dreams she was trapped in a falling elevator, and she said the last thing she thought about before she hit the ground was me.” 

Does that engage you in understanding the side effects of malarial medication? Could BMJ tell these stories? This is compellingly shareable (389,681 likes on Facebook) whilst encouraging people to learn more. This would work to engage a broader potential audience, increase readership of articles, give people a taste of why they must read this story. We have to be thinking about these opportunities when speaking with contributors, audiences, and stakeholders in the company. (Estimated Total Cost - free, if you have the character/story already. You can also get a great photographer for a day for £300, or learn to use your smartphone to take better photos with a guide like this)

On a simpler level, consider using a site like this from Rethink Mental Health. They are offering free stock photos to challenge the tedious 'headclutcher' photos often used to illustrate mental health articles.

Check out some of 'The Atlantic' series answering health questions. Simple to produce, need a charismatic presenter, series with a style and tone to help keep production simple. Do you know anyone like this? Would this work for BMJ?

ETC ( filming £500 - editing £500, time planning, pay presenter for time)

We have spoken to these guys, and they are keen to collaborate. I think their style is not very BMJ traditional, but reaches into a crucial demographic for the future of BMJ. If you can combine BMJ budget and reach, there is a great collaboration to be had. ETC - (£350 filming - £1000 editing)

Taking the Humans of New York set up on a level, consider the storytelling power of this short audio interview. Here a lady and her daughter discuss assisted suicide. It's a really powerful insight into differing perspectives. The tone of their voices, show you what words alone can't tell you. It would make a compelling addition to any article on the topic. (ETC - audio producer for a day (£250, editing anywhere £400-£1000)

Story Corps is a great American project where friends and family sit down and interview each other just as audio. Some of the best ones then get turned into simple animations. This is a great example of seizing a great story and picking the right medium to tell it. The audio interview allows people to feel less self conscious than if they were being filmed. This creates more emotion and makes it more engaging.

Then, the next stage animation, is much more shareable than audio. It broadens out the capacity to empathise. Because animation is more abstract, simple characters and shapes, we can more easily put ourselves into the picture. It isn't just about one person, it's more about our collective experience. Another great example is the Animated Minds series. BMJ Learning ended up licensing these films to go into Learning modules. They would have cost thousands to produce, but only £500 each to license on the BMJ Learning website. Hunting out the collaborations is a great way to enhance our content offering.

TED talks are an example of simple recorded 'lectures' that often go viral. It has everything to do with the character of the contributor and the story. If you have access to a great speaker with a great story BMJ should be the ones to tell it. (ETC contributor -  many days preparation to get your talk down to 5 minutes) 1 day film, 1 day editing per speaker >£1000 [could record multiple sessions in a filming day, potentially 10 filmed and edited for £2500) 

Consider these videos on health topics which have had 8million views on TED.org alone:

This recorded lecture at the RSA was animated by a company who brought it to life with a whiteboard effect. ETC (£3000, big range from £1000 to £8000, depending on the complexity of the animation)

My friend made this for Nature on a small budget, but they identified a great paper with an interesting story that needed some visualisation. It racked up over 800,000 views. Representing a great reach into newer demographics. 


Here is a great example of 'show don't tell marketing'. It's basically a software demo, mostly done via screenshots, but it SHOWS what the product does.

And google just does maps and email. BMJ products change people's health outcomes and save lives! Can you think of a similar story that shows BMJ's products making things better?

Other examples: Again on the 'can we make software interesting' front, check out Google Documents ft Hall and Oates, and This viral marketing film about how Skype brings people together. Do we have any stories like these? The Skype one is real, the google one made up. 

BMJ's how to/marketing films should be as engaging as this. The google ones are technically very simple to produce, apart from shedload of thought, crafting, and a great idea.

Think about what story shows what BMJ does best...? Dear Sophie is a made up story, what would different BMJ product's 'perfect story' be? 

If you have a real great great story that might be worth investing a few thousand pounds in telling. Maybe consider something like this from AirBnB... Is there a parallel example where a BMJ product has changed someone's life. That would SHOW our products, rather than us saying they are effective. 

It can be low budget too...

Also consider this really nice film producer by the BMJ Quality team using the internal skills of Dan Fox from BMJ Learning and his work experience undergraduate. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7HPqT4dT27AOVA0TDRPUWJuUFU/view

That animation is a bit rough around the edges, but it's a really nice thing. The idea could be a prototype to give to a professional animator who could step it up a level, make the illustrations really stand out.

If you think a key audience for your product or service are people who are searching YouTube for 'what is a PDSA cycle'?- They should find BMJ giving the answer and directing them towards places they can get involved with Quality Improvement. 

Go to an artist/producer with an idea or a problem you want to solve, if you know the key messages, they can set about creative ways to visualise them. And then put a couple of thousand pounds towards an animator/illustrator who could make it really sing. Collaborating with artists doesn't have to be expensive, you can make something really cool, if you give a filmmaker/artist some boundaries to create within.

Good production is often invisible, it is immersive. It feels objective and like a record of what happened. When in reality it's heavily constructed. As producers, and publishers we absolutely have to think about these things when we watch films/read articles etc. When making something ourselves we need answers to the following.

Here is my simple guide to productive conversations with artists/producer/filmmakers, and for things to watch out for when consuming multimedia, what are the answers to the following questions? You as the commissioner must know as much as you can about this side of things.

Examples - Show them examples of things you like. This combined with your ideas about the below can really help discussions of what to make.

Target audience - who is this aimed at, who do we want to reach? Helps you get the tone right.

Objectives - what do we want to achieve, what do we want the audience to see/think/feel/do after viewing the content? (allows all smaller creative decisions to push towards this goal)

Style - How does the style/theme/ideas support these objectives/audience. Which competitors/parallel industries are making something in a style that fits the platform. 

Volume of information - how much can we realistically get across in a video, image, graph, it’s about trade offs.  Sometimes best to focus on a couple of messages. Some times we just want a short piece to prove value, quality, and to create a 'curiosity gap'. We can then use links to direct people towards the full content/product/service (potentially 'subscription' content.)

Emotion - does it engage on an emotional level? Does that matter? 

Alternative - should this be a video, should this be a picture, should this be text? Why is this the medium?

Budget - How much do we have to spend? People can work to a broad range of budgets. We have to make more of this type of content, make sure you invest in the best great stories.

Defining Success - What would count as a success for this film? 1 billion hits, or ‘this changed my practice’? Perhaps a reduction in calls to customer service, replace valuable staff time. Even just making something creative, experimenting, proving a home at the leading edge, useful, shareable, show a strong quality brand.

Think about all these things as you watch example content, Newspaper films, adverts, photography, animation illustration. What do you love/hate. What are they trying to make you feel/think/do, have they succeeded? How can this apply to your work in BMJ?

Some extras things

Good free stock video site - Videvo, often some very cool stuff here, you probably need to credit people, but well worth digging around.

Check out the 'Webby Awards' the oscars for internet things. Usually some pretty cool inspiration to be had there.

Download Snapchat, start messaging your friends in pictures, images, films. It will help you get a better understanding of the communicative power of multimedia All young people are growing up with these tools. We have to work harder to get used to being digital natives. 

Aeon - curates cool science related films http://aeon.co/video/

Podcasts are revolutionising the distribution of audio content. These podcasts came as a reaction to a restrictive talk radio culture. The producers wanted to create something new, and started their own shows making use of a cheap medium and easy distribution. They got sponsors, and recently formed their own 'podcast network' raising $620,000 from listeners on Kickstarter. The old models are changing and these are the warning signs/opportunities. These are all somewhat tangentially related to BMJ, but worth investigating. Love and Radio - stories from the ambiguous spaces in between, 99% Invisible - lessons from the world of design, Everything is Stories - simple interviews with people on the margins. 

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