Dark Side of the Lens is a short video I’ve always found extremely inspiring. Through my recent interest in visual storytelling, I’ve studied this video again and would like to explain how amazingly brilliant this video is – and how it could have worked as a content marketing piece.

Visual monologue

Dark Side of the Lens is a visual monologue written, filmed and narrated by Mickey Smith, an Irish surfing cinematographer. Smith’s words are a poetic and philosophical story about his life and passion, which is filming surfing. In the process of speaking about his life, Smith shells out quite a few one-liners:

If I only scrape a living, at least it’s living worth scraping. If there is no future in it, at least it’s a present worth remembering.

I feel genuinely lucky to hand on heart say that I love doing what I do and though I never be a rich man, if I live long enough I’ll have a tale or two for the nephews.

Combined with these deeply personal lines spoken with an insanely charming Celtic accent come some gorgeous shots of surfing and rough Irish coasts. The color grading on these images is quite heavy and moody, the shots seem (intentionally) underexposed and a heavy vignette is present. We totally get a feel for Smith’s day in day out life: battling the rough conditions to pursue his passion of shooting what he loves. As a final element, the video comes with a somewhat melancholic but at the same time uplifting score, which perfectly mirrors the rough coasts.

Sole subject: Mickey Smith’s passion

I think the thing I love most about this video is the fact that it is pure and centers on just one person. There is no obvious plot, no additional characters, no sense of place and time, the only subject is Mickey Smith’s passion for what he does. There is no monetary aspect to this passion, Mickey isn’t trying to ‘make it’. He just wants to do what he does, and he does it well. The video inspires me to look inward and think about what I want to do in life, and why I want to do it. Why do I pursue a career in photography, in shooting with athletes and passionate people? Why do I pick up my camera?

It’s not just me that’s been inspired by the short though, the video has garnered some 2.6 million views on Vimeo and elicited about 1660 comments, some of which are quite telling:

I come back to this every few months. every time something else gets me in the script.

After 6 years. I can still watch this as if I am a little kid, and get inspired. One of my very favourites and always motivated me.
Beautifully done..every aspect of it.

I’ve watched this over a dozen times, and it still gives me the goosebumps. Every time I’ve doubted a decision this summer, I thought back to this short and knew I’d made the right steps. Bloody amazing piece of work!

Potential as a visual storytelling marketing piece

Now given my recent interest in visual storytelling as a content marketing instrument, I found this video hugely captivating. Let me first start off by saying that I understand Smith created this video out of an authentic motivation to tell his story and just create something beautiful for the sake of it. There doesn’t have to be a commercial element to everything that is created.

I think it’s interesting to consider how this video could have been used by a brand to promote its vision and core values. A link with a photography or surf brand would’ve been easily made and a natural fit. Caution would have to be taken when featuring the products in the video, but I’m fairly convinced this could’ve been done in an authentic way.

Read my thoughts about product placement in visual storytelling right here

Alternatively, stories like Mickey’s are very usable on a more abstract level. Clearly, this cinematographer is pure and authentic in his motivation and passion. It is quite easy for any brand to subscribe to Mickey’s passion and drive. I even feel that there’s no need for any product to be visible in a story like this in order for the video to work as a content marketing piece. Merely publishing this content on a brand’s social media challenges is enough to win over customers’ hearts. By helping viewers associate a guy like Mickey with a specific brand, that brand scores infinite sympathy points. What I’m trying to say is that stories like Mickey’s are a sort of universal story that is bound to do well as a marketing piece, granted the brand that delivers it isn’t a total mismatch.