Small Story: Pole Vaulting with Allison Stokke

Here’s a Small Story video that will blow your mind:

GoPro shares a lot of great videos on their YouTube channel.

That said, many of them are really just video montages set to music. This one is different.

I recommend you watch the video above, read through these notes, and then watch the video again. It’s a great lesson in effective Small Storytelling.

(By the way, I want to emphasize that I’m not affiliated with this video. I watched it yesterday when GoPro emailed it as their “Video of the Week”. I’m sharing it here because it’s awesome.)

Let’s go through some of the elements of a good Small Story…

A variety of shots

They got wildly creative with mounting their GoPro cameras in several different places:

  • On her head.
  • On the pole
  • On the mat
  • In the bucket
  • High angles
  • Low angles

And how about that slow motion shot? Amazing.

Strong opening and closing shots

The first and last shots of a video story are important. They give you a first impression and a lasting impression.

In this case, the first shot could be shot from a drone. The last shot is clearly mounted to the pole as it falls away. These are very strong spectacle elements.


The narration tells the story and the visuals support the narration. Notice the “tunnel vision” line and then the tunnel-like transition that happens immediately afterwards.

Great music selection

The music is a good choice, and we can clearly hear what the narrator is saying, even when there’s music.

It helps tell the story instead of distracting from it.

A complete story in under two minutes

Afterwards, we aren’t left thinking “Wait, there’s more to the story. This video is incomplete!” No, the story feels complete. It comes to a satisfying end.

Answers the Important Questions

We know who she is. We know what she’s doing. She tells us why she’s doing it. We can see where she is. We get a sense that the when is recent.

This is a great Small Story. Kudos to the folks who made this video.

14 thoughts on “Small Story: Pole Vaulting with Allison Stokke

  1. This is really great.
    There is one place where you can see the shadow of the go pro she is wearing on her head. This is not a criticism I have no idea how to avoid that; and it was very small. If one is watching the main action you may not even notice.
    But it gave her shadow the appearance of wearing tefflin!

  2. The video was visually interesting but I don’t think it told a story. It showcased the GoPro and certainly cemented my opinion about pole vaulting being amazing. However, IMHO, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. I feel like this had just a middle and that makes it the latest example of a steaming pile of videos produced by camera operators as opposed to videos produced by story tellers.
    Does that make sense, Izzy? Am I off base?

    1. Chuck, I see what you’re saying but I disagree regarding this being a complete story. It sounds like you might be wanting more (nothing wrong with that). Here’s why I think it works as a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end:

      It’s framed around the story of a jump (a very small story):

      Beginning: Running down the path with the pole in hand.
      Middle: Being hurled into the air.
      End: Landing on the pad.

      And the story includes interesting details about her feelings regarding pole vaulting, along with visually rich camera angles. It’s a very simple story, sure, but I think it totally qualifies as a small story.

      If they were to include much more in the story, it would start to turn into a Big Story (which might also be interesting), but it would be a different animal.

      Anyway, I hope that helps clarify. :)

      1. Izzy, I see what you mean and it adds to my perspective. I forgot about this post, sorry about the delay in replying…

    2. I agree – goPro commercial. No story. Seems like Izzy may be looking at it with a technical eye. It’s like a musician telling someone that a song is great because it has a hard to play base line. Use of the GoPros was the most interesting thing I saw. Music didn’t get in the way because it is forgettable. Not sure what the story is, GoPros are cool? Maybe I should watch it again. But if it’s a powerful story then I shouldn’t have to watch it again.

      1. Just read Izzy’s explanation as to how it was a story –
        with that said- Pretty much anything is a story then –
        – beginning – bought food
        -middle – ate food
        -end – burped
        Throw in interesting camera angles and there ya go – Short story.
        If it wasn’t an ad for gopro I think the film-maker could of had b – roll cutaways of trophy cases with/or alarm clocks going off at 5:00 am for practice etc. something to show the commitment – maybe even a clip of a win at a competition at the end / crowd cheering – hug from coach etc. – something shows me the struggle that that girl has gone through to make it to that moment of making that jump and the payoff.

      2. Yes, but if you cut the GoPro stuff off the ends it would not be a commercial. If it was presented that way we would not have been aware of it being anything more than pole vault video. I interpreted the small story instructions to mean that the video was not about the product all the way through.
        This was not 2 minutes of “look at my Go Pro”, “See what you can do with a Go Pro”.
        Is it an ad, yes. But it is a small story sandwiched between to ad spots.

  3. Oh my God, just when I was beginning to think I could do a short story. And the dry elegant narrative … The whole thing is superb.

    1. David, you definitely CAN do a Small Story video (or many). This one is a highly professional example, but if you watch the simple one I posted with the original manifesto, you’ll see the other end of the spectrum. The important thing is to practice making them.

      To remind you how simple and non-professional they can be, please watch my simple example again.

      I was a little worried about sharing GoPro’s amazing video because I didn’t want to scare anyone off. But it was such a great example of the ideal, I had to share it. :)

  4. Some people make movies that make filmmakers gush. Others make movies that make audiences gush. The camera shadows may have been present; the audio might need something. But honestly, all I really remember is how the clip captured my attention and brought me into the pole vaulter’s world. That’s what touched me. As Quincy Jones has stated, “it ain’t the equipment…”. Thanks Izzy! #AllAboutThatStory

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