The Miracle That Is Reading with Josh Clark of the Bodine School blows me away every time I watch it. Very rarely, does a video you work on come out exactly the way you planned it.
Josh Clark is not an animator or a director. In fact, he says, the only experience he has making videos, is taking home movies of his kids using iMovie. Josh Clark is the headmaster at The Bodine School. The Bodine School’s focus is to teach dyslexic children how to read.
When I first heard Josh Clark’s presentation on The Miracle That is Reading, I was floored. The excitement in his voice, the way he broken down complex thoughts – it was like listening to a TED Talk speech. I could have listen to his presentation for hours. In fact, I kind of did. By the time he was finished, a whole hour had past. Josh finished his presentation and asked, “So, how do we make this into a video?”
I told him, no voice-over artist will ever capture the spirit of your presentation. The only person who could recreate the feelings we all felt, was Josh himself. Plus, why even bother writing a new script? What he said was perfect. So, I did what I’ve never done before in my entire video career. I stuck Josh Clark in an audio booth and just started recording without a script. He got his hour long speech down to 10 minutes. We eventually cut it down to 3 minutes.
Let’s hear from the man himself.
Why is reading so hard?
The fact that 80% of the population can pull it off, is amazing. Reading and intelligence only make sense because we live in such a print saturated world. Prior to Gutenberg and the printing press, no one’s intellect was associated with their ability to read.
It is so easy for people to misunderstand dyslexia. Every time I talk with someone about what I do, I say, I work at a school for dyslexic kids… inevitably we start talking about their autistic cousin. Autism is a need as well, but it has nothing to do with what we do. People don’t understand that. Reading is universal. People can appreciate a difficulty with reading, especially when we layer on how complex the process is. That gives us a new platform to work from.
How did you come up with the idea for the presentation?
It’s definitely evolved over time, since I first started at the Bodine School. I’m much better now off the cuff. None of those ideas are my ideas. They’re all founded in science and history.
There’s a presenter named Maryanne Wolf. She wrote a book called Proust and the Squid. I first read that book when I got this job. Within of two weeks of reading it, I was at the International Dyslexia Association conference and she was the keynote speaker. I’ve never seen an academic with such a strong presentation like hers. It was unbelievable and truly inspiring. A lot of my presentation was evolved from her ideas and her approach. She took some incredibly complex ideas and made it very approachable.
We actually had her come out and do a talk. As a result of that talk, a lot of people walked away and said, “We had no idea reading is so complex. We need to find a way to share this with more people.” The inspiration for the video was a reaction to her presentation.
Did you always see your presentation in animation form?
Yes and no. Not until we started talking about it. I didn’t realize it lended itself to this kind of visual narrative. When I do the presentation, it’s much less exciting visually. Once the idea was planted, and we started talking about it, it made perfect sense. It takes this incredibly complex topic and it puts it in a way that makes sense and is memorable.
I have never, in my career in television, approached a project so freestyle. We skipped the scripting stage and just went straight into the audio booth. It could have been a disaster.
When I do the full presentation, it’s an hour long. I’m still, to this day, shocked how we got it down to three minutes. I went through my notes and tried to think of the things I wanted to highlight. Even then, it timed out to ten minutes. It forced me to focus the point of the project. It’s less about dyslexia and more about reading. Dyslexia would be a whole other video. Highlighting how complex reading is, might help people understand why someone might have a difficult time with it.
What do you find most interesting about this topic?
Reading and dyslexia are not my academic background. I was trying to think back, what were the big a-ha moments for me when I was discovering things? I found the whole Socrates story mind-blowing. The idea that we weren’t biologically made to read, I found fascinating.
Most clients would say, “Make the logo bigger. Mention the name of the school seven times.” Yet, we only referenced the Bodine School graphically at the beginning and end. This video is an ad but it doesn’t feel like one.
It’s definitely an ad. If we went more of a direct route, it would sound like something we’re trying to sell. It wouldn’t be interesting. People won’t want to share it on social media. Instead, what we tried to do is position ourselves as the experts in reading. If you need help, or you have questions, Bodine is the place to be.