Sometimes we get so excited about the possibilities of video marketing
that we forget we have to make a great basic video. Some people can
make this happen even on the fly, when they know what they’re doing.

Today I’d like to take you on a journey into a recent viral video, the first
truly feel-good story of 2011. There are a lot of lessons for making videos
here. This is the story behind the making of the Man With the Golden Voice.

Great Video is Great Pictures
Great video is a combination of many things. Good pictures, good sound
and a good story. This one had them all. But evidently it was too good to
keep on YouTube. Within the space of one week, a video that received
over 11,000,000 views in 48 hours was pulled over copyright.

However, another one that went up a day later that used that same footage
got over 6,000,000 views within a week. What was going on here? The
lessons are both profound and subtle. Here’s the new video:

But it’s the Sound, Too
People just sort of glaze over sometimes when I tell them that 60% of the
effect of a video comes from the audio. Enter Ted Williams, the homeless
man with the golden voice. When people heard him for the first time, the
effect was electric. But there was another factor that made this video sing.

Now Meet the Invisible Hero
Much less known about is the guy who shot this video with the attention to
detail that only unconscious competence can manage. His name is Doral
Chenowith, who works for the Cleveland Dispatch. He was in traffic,
using a Flip cam…

Doral Chenowith

Doral Chenowith

…and still managed to compose the shot properly, get decent audio, and
create a storyline to go with it.

Ted Williams

Let’s analyze the structure of this storyline and if possible, draw some
useful conclusions. We’ll look at the elements in sequence.

He created suspense as he was driving up to the man in his car talking
into the camera about what was about to happen.

Personal Involvement
He made himself a part of the story by saying “Gonna make you work
for that dollar. Say something with that great radio voice.”

Then we see a shot of a typical pathetic cardboard sign held by a guy who,
unfortunately, looks like he’s near the end of days.

Moment of Truth
Then the camera tilts up to his face and we go into what can only be
described as extreme cognitive dissonance. This sound can’t be coming
from this man, we think. So confident, relaxed, self-assured. It’s the
voice of a man in full control of his faculties.

Driving home the point, the homeless man intones 3 more phrases
interrupted by “God Bless You” “thank you”, pulling us back to reality.
But we’re not back to reality. This is a new reality, and has been forever

Pretty much the perfect time to make a change in the video. Because
something else has now taken hold of us. And Chenowith pulls back the
curtain just a little bit, to help us satisfy this new itch.

Perfect Timing
Chenowith chooses that very moment to cut to an interview. Why?
Because in that moment we become insatiably curious about who
this strange man is. Will he live up to our stereotypical assessment
of how he got in this situation?

The editing gives us just enough to feel comfortable in our judgements,
yet confused about what we’re seeing. How can he still sound this
self-assured and yet be living on the street in the middle of winter?

The original video ends leaving us wondering. It’s one of the great
cliff-hangers, isn’t it? Will the homeless man with the Golden Voice
find happiness?

An amazing story shown in the space of 45 seconds.

The Rest of the Story
The reason we give this video our attention in the first place is not only
the editing (which Mr. Chenowith was not happy with as the story didn’t
resolve to his satisfaction), but the shooting.

The shooting, you ask? “But it was just a cheap Flip cam. The shooting had
nothing to do with it!” I hear you say. Au contraire. In the right hands,
even a Flip can make magic.

Perfect Composition

Tic-Tac-Toe? Yes. But a Game? No Way!
It’s a simple thing, but what he did made us feel comfortable with the
picture. He placed Williams at the junction of the top third of the frame,
like the top corner of a tic-tac-toe board. That’s a natural place for our
eyes to rest. That means that the picture didn’t make us work to overcome bad composition. Our minds could easily focus on the audio coming out
of this man’s mouth; to marvel at the gold shining within the dross.

Another Challenge of Audio
What’s more, Chenowith used the extremely modest talents of the Flip’s
audio capabilities to their absolute fullest by getting as close as he possibly
could to his subject, ever mindful of the fact that he had no external mic
(which would have given him more options.)

The Moral
Ted Williams has been given more advice in the last week than he has
perhaps in the last 10 years. Will he know who to listen to? Who knows?
But we’ll be rooting for him. However, we don’t have to root for the man
who made it all happen. He’s a master of his craft, no matter his tools.

That’s why we’re. To give you mastery over the tools of video marketing
to help you make you way confidently in the world.

After all, who would you really rather be, Ted Williams or Doral Chenowith?

    9 replies to "How a Video Hero Saved the Homeless Man With the Golden Voice"

    • Paul Wolfe


      Great post – great deconstruction. Learned a lot from it…..just going to post a link back on my blog!


    • Jake

      Ted Williams the golden voice guy is on the Dr. Phil show on my TV right now 1/11/11 , they showed the flip phone guy’s story.

      One guys life enriched in more than financial terms by viral video

    • Steve

      Well put. And so true. It also shows the somewhat terrifying power that comes with the responsibility of knowing how to do this stuff. I really hope Mr. Williams doesn’t get eaten up by the media machine. But somehow, just knowing what his mother is like, he may be OK after all 🙂

    • Joe Thoron

      Interesting analysis, Steve. It’s helpful to see the grid superimposed over the man’s face. But you’re also right to point out the storytelling elements. Just framing someone’s face right isn’t enough to keep us watching.

    • Steve

      Oh, I don’t know. Being framed is very dramatic, isn’t it?

      Sure, Joe. I agree. I just wanted to point out that there were so many different elements at play. So many things he got right. And they all come together to serve a common purpose. And while framing him well wasn’t enough to keep us watching, framing him poorly would not have helped, especially with that unfortunate camera he was using.

    • Shaun O'Reilly

      I think that the key thing driving the spread of this
      video was the power of the storyline…

      After seeing the video, it was something you simply
      had to tell others about.

      A bit like the Susan Boyle video that went viral over
      a year ago. The incongruity between the appearance
      and the voice was irresistible. Plus, seeing unused
      talent is a story that people can relate to in their
      own lives.

      For those who’ve studied how to tell effective stories,
      you’ll see spot that it was a classic storyline revolving
      around rags and riches.

      People love a rags to riches story and a riches to rags
      story and this had them both.

      Ted told the story of how his career was going well
      and then he fell on hard times through drugs and
      alcohol. (Riches to Rags).

      Now the storyline is being propelled by Ted’s success
      in getting job offers because of his wonderful voice.
      (Rags to Riches).

      Now, his career is on the up and up and I wish him

      The media, like always, will look for opportunities to
      knock Ted and begin the Riches to Rags storyline.

      Apart from Ted’s wonderful voice, his candor and
      willingness to be vulnerable was alluring.

      All this, added spice to make it an irresistible story
      worth spreading.

      Dedicated to mutual success,


    • Steve

      Wonderful insights, Shaun. I love the way you deconstructed the story itself!
      And yes, let’s hope the media doesn’t have their way with him.

      Ted, are you listening?

    • Dean Carlton

      great deconstruction – as an relatively new user of Avid MC and Pro Tools, I’m taking in as much good info as I can find – which I have here!

      Thanks to Paul W for bringing your blog to my attention.

      BTW – spurrious ‘.’ between your forename.surname on your twitter id on this site!

      • Steven Washer

        Thanks much, Carlton! You may win the prize for catching the bug of the month…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.