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I walked into the office on Tuesday morning to see a note on my desk:

A scavenger hunt!? I followed the clues into the freezer, under Emmys, in magazines… until I reached my assignment: Complete a Reel Durham in one day.

Now if you’re wondering “What the heck is Reel Durham?” Let me break it down:

  • Reel Durham is a 1-minute video that highlights interesting people/places/things in Durham. To start the process, we…
  • Research, email, call, etc. to find a subject with a compelling story to tell.
  • Make contact with that subject and hope that they have time and willingness to talk to us on camera.
  • Go to where that person is, get to know them and make them comfortable enough to open up and share their story with us.
  • Ask the right questions to get good audio, then record video footage to make the video interesting and shoot it with them.
  • Edit the audio interview into a compelling narrative from the conversation you had, then go through all your video and edit each clip to match what is being talked about.
  • Edit the audio and video together, add transitions, smooth audio, edit the color balance of each video clip and finally… export. 🙂

For reference, I’ve finished one Reel Durham in the month and a half I’ve been working here at StoryDriven. So when I got to the last clue of the scavenger hunt… I was super nervous to accept the challenge. I felt unsure of my ability to complete it. With that said, there was only one option worse than my potential failure: quitting before I even started.

So I ran over to my computer, started researching, and after a full day of challenges and triumphs, here are some of my takeaways from producing a Reel Durham in a day:

  1. Using connections you already have.
    – I reached out to Musical Empowerment, a non-profit I volunteer with, to see if they had any leads on kids with cool stories. They did, so I jumped in the car four minutes later.
  2. Move fast and utilize every moment.
    – My story subject was a 25-minute drive away, so I used the silence of the car ride to imagine the questions I’d ask and plan out the shots I wanted.
  3. Honor your subject.
    – When I got to my subjects house, I was out of breath, stressed, and already counting the minutes until I needed to high-tail it back to the office. But I took 20 seconds in the car to recenter, calm down and remember what I was working for was to tell her story. Never forget what an honor it is for someone to share their heart with you.
  4. Don’t force the story.
    – When we started interviewing, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to ask and I thought I knew what she was going to say. The great thing about storytelling is that people are dynamic and don’t always say what you expect. In my case, I was surprised by her answers, so reoriented my questions to what her story really was once we started talking.

With all that said… by the end of the day, I was amazed to have actually completed the challenge. Here’s Melodie’s story:


A soft light drifts through the living room window to touch 12-year-old Melodie Tun’s shiny brown hair as she leans over the black and white keys on her keyboard. McGee, the family Pomeranian-Yorkie mix, scampers around her feet while Melodie practices pressing down the sustaining pedal.

Melodie started taking voice and piano lessons when she was 8 years old. But music lessons are really, really expensive. Melodie’s parents came to the U.S. as refugees from Burma with very little money. So when they had Melodie and noticed her gift for music, they found Musical Empowerment, a national non-profit that provides free music lesson to children in the community, and signed her up.

Melodie is now an energetic rising-7th grader. While middle-school years are tough for many young students, Melodie has had a secret weapon for making friends.

“I’m that girl who’s shy at first,” explains Melodie. She said transitioning into middle school was hard. “I was really nervous because I didn’t know how long it would take me to make new friends.”

But when there was a school talent show coming up, Melodie’s talent for singing and music filled her with confidence. She found a group of girls who wanted to be in the talent show and suggested, “Maybe I can play piano and you guys can sing and we’ll just have a blast.”

The group of girls entered the talent show together. Melodie recounts how people cheered their names in the crowd during the performance. After the show, the girls were inseparable best friends.

“That’s how I got to know my friends more. Because without that we wouldn’t have that musical bond, I guess,” Melodie explains. “Now we even have a name… The Fabulous Four.”

Since performing in the talent show, her friends have encouraged her to sing and share her talent at school.

In the future “I want myself to be a kind of a local singer,” says Melodie.

Melodie’s dad works at Duke, and in the future, Melodie hopes to share her music in Durham. “Just starting off like Durham Bulls,” Melodie says, “Then maybe a basketball game. That would be awesome.”

Anne Marie Hagerty

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