All shots must add to the narrative direction of your videos.
In writing, if a sentence does not add to the story, say, for example, its existence is based on how pretty it sounds or how it smartens the writing, then it gets cut. Think of each sentence as a line connecting the previous sentence to the next one. In “good” writing, a reader would ride down an entire paragraph, whole pages even, without getting caught or slipping off the line.
A necessary sentence continues the one before it and prepares the one after it. A superfluous sentence breaks that line. A reader gets caught, pulled away, distracted by the workings of the person behind the curtain.
In videography, every shot is a sentence. Every shot is a line. Every shot must add to the video’s narrative direction. Any shot that does not add takes the viewer away from the video’s message. This message could be about being happy, remembering a wedding, a company’s mission, a product’s benefits, etc. You do not want to wager the impact of a video on a few unnecessary shots.
A good example is the Chevrolet commercial “Maddie” directed by Lloyd Lee Choi. The 42 shots and 12 scenes in this 1:13 length commercial sketch the life of a girl as she grows up alongside her golden retriever, Maddie. Every shot carries the narrative forward.
The first scene takes place in a gloomy, sterile environment. The overhead lamp casts a sickly white glow over Maddie. Most of the woman’s head is left in shadow. Maddie is the subject of this gloomy room here, and given the metal lamp and gauge in the background, I think of the vet. My main question is immediately about if this scene is a goodbye. Is she looking at Maddie for the last time? Paired with a sad piano score, this scene brings on the onions.
The following two shots in the scene support the first shot. We catch her face looking down at her dog in shot 2, and then her hand as it passes over her dog in shot 3. These two shots tell the viewer that she is thinking about her dog. And the location tells the viewer that she is doing all of that thinking at the vet.
What is also important is that these shots concentrate the focus on both the woman and the dog. This is about the woman just as much as it is about Maddie.
What I love about this commercial, and why I chose it for this example, is how the scenes connect. They join on primary movement, cutting on the action of what’s happening in front of the camera. Scene 1 connects to scene 2 with the movement of the woman’s hand.
Scene 2 and scene 3 connect with their shared lack of movement and similar subject distance.
Scenes 3 and 4 are joined by walking shots.
Scenes 5 and 6 connect on two shots of her parents.
We get cuts-on-action 9 times throughout the commercial. Choi and writer Chris Cannon may have intended to create the smooth flow of memory with these cuts. If so, then these shots are essential to making the woman’s memory smooth.
Scene 1 is also shown again in the second to last shot. In the writing process, Choi and Cannon must have wanted to use scene 1 as the sandwich buns between all the middle scenes to give the viewer a grounding point for their emotions. They wanted to highlight that loving relationship.
Each shot in scene 2, 3, and 4 reinforce the present loving relationship between the woman and Maddie. She pets her on the couch and takes her for walks in these initial scenes.
The scenes after the fourth are not as present as in the first four, but they still reinforce that loving relationship of scene 1. The woman arrives at college in scene 5. Scene 6 takes us to her graduation. She breaks up with her boyfriend in scene 7 and tries to kiss him in scene 8 (we are going back in time here. Forward would be awkward). She learns to drive in scene 9 and blows out candles on her eighth birthday in scene 10. We see her reading with Maddie as a puppy in scene 11.
The final scene, number 12, takes us all the way back to when she first picks out Maddie from the litter of puppies. She runs out of the Chevy van, parents following behind. She hurdles down the hill to the lone basket of puppies (it is not the best spot for a basket of puppies, but it makes for a good commercial). She reaches into the basket and lifts one of them up. It is at this moment that we are taken back to scene 1 at the vet.
Why did the writers choose to bring back a shot from scene 1 in scene 12? When thinking about how all shots must add, this shot from scene 1 returns us to the present. We see her hello with how she names and then kisses Maddie in scene 12 and we see her goodbye with how she kisses her at the vet in scene 1. The kiss in the shot in scene 1 completes the narrative arc of the commercial. Without it, we would be left wondering why she is at the vet with a vague feeling that this is Maddie’s last day. The kiss seals it, makes certain that this is the end (at least that is my interpretation).
If you scan through all 42 shots in this commercial, you will find that each one serves to advance the narrative. Choi kept out shots that did not add. If this commercial were in writing, it would be one continuous line right to the end.