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Internet, Video Work

Good Videography Rule #1: All Shots Must Add


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ChevroletCommercialMaddie-Timeline

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

ChevroletCommercialMaddie-Timeline

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.


Thanks for reading! Liked it? Give it a star or consider following for more content like this, Or, you know, you can leave a comment below. What do you think about this rule? Is Maddie at the vet? Is this goodbye?
Internet, Social Media, Tech, Video Work

How to Keep People Watching Your Social Media Video Ads


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You have seen this before. You are at work, your phone is up, Facebook is open, and you are scrolling through your feed. This scrolling movement is not smooth. You are like a sad-somebody with a poison ivy rash in all the worst places stumbling through a CVS first aid aisle. You just cannot not stop from watching at least one video, from reaching your arms out and scooping all of the “videos” off the shelves. Your thumbs, fingers, whatever appendage that you are using, generally move in the same way that your eyes move. Jerkily. In saccades.

Our eyes jump from spot to spot, subject to subject, video to video. They do not scan. The term for each little movement in the same direction is a saccade. Like our eyes, our thumbs move through Facebook and other social media in quick little movements.

Advertisers get this tiny window of opportunity to capture a viewer’s attention as they scroll. Think of it as just one tiny moment.

And in that tiny moment, it is all about the “pattern interrupt.”

On social media, our brains are met with endless new content. Whether the content is a dog walking on its front legs or a baby who cannot stop laughing, our brains seek to organize all that content, to condense it into similar categories, to file it away so that we can move on to other thoughts.

The more social media we see, the less we notice it. We have labeled it. We have put it all into patterns. One sport video ad looks the same as another sport video ad.

Successful video ads break those patterns. They interrupt the filing process going on in our heads. With videos, we have just that one second to interrupt someone’s pattern before they move on. The more a video breaks that pattern, the more exposure the video will get. And greater exposure means more potential website traffic conversions, if that is your goal.

In pursuing the pattern interrupt, there are a few rules that I have learned to follow.

 

Avoid a Static Shot

And I mean the definition of static here. Shots without action, movement, or change look like photos. If your goal is to get conversions through video advertising, and if you know that video ads perform better than photo ads, then your objective should be to avoid shots that could be identified as a plain-old photo by the scrolling viewer. You lose the advantages of video here.

 

Use an Open Loop

Some call this the Buzzfeed-effect. Others associate it with click bait advertising. The open loop strategy is to use an incomplete thought (called the open loop) in the title or in the content of the video that compels the viewer to click through to the answer (to close the loop). The title or video, from the viewer’s perspective, screams “Marco!” They feel an urge to answer “Polo!”

The New York Times has gotten very good at this lately with their phone notifications. I will get an alert that goes something like this, “From a few thermoses of tea brewed in his kitchen to a 15,000 bottle request from Whole Foods, this grad student began his multimillion-dollar tea venture.”

The alert raises a few narrow questions. Who is the grad student? What company is it? The key point about the open loop strategy is that it generates questions with limited answers. Unless you are a tea connoisseur, you probably know of only a few tea companies. The questions are not so much about getting the viewer to ask “what” or “who” but about getting them to ask “which.”

This open loop news alert is about Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea.

 

Create Perspective

The interface of social media is flat. It is a canvas for you. Your video, whether it be 16×9, 4×5, or 1×1 in ratio, is your opportunity to break open that canvas. Open up a hole for the viewer. Give them a sense of depth. Make that thumb feel like it is going to fall through the screen.

 

Change Your Ratio

Square videos perform better than videos using the traditional 16×9 ratio. The cause seems pretty obvious. It takes longer to scroll by a square video than a video with a 16×9 ratio. That extra time gives the viewer more of a chance to get hooked. Bufferapp.com did an awesome study comparing 16×9 and square videos. They found that square videos perform better and cost less on mobile than 16×9 videos. Bonus: Avoid letterboxing square videos. Videos that fill the square provide more movement throughout the frame versus text in the top and bottom boxes.

 

Use Captions

When on social media, how often do you click on that little loudspeaker in the bottom right of videos to enable sound? Publishers on social media have written that as little as 15 percent of their video views happen with the sound turned on. That means that as much as 85 percent of video views occur in silence. If your video’s pattern interrupt strategy depends on the dialogue and you do not include captions, then most mobile users will not hear the dialogue. Your strategy will be ineffective. Both Facebook and YouTube have auto-captioning tools that you can use to create captions.

 

Take Advantage of FOMO/EOJI

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

What can you do with the content of your video ad to get the viewer to feel like they are missing out on an opportunity? Before going further into this, I want to say that I thought about not including FOMO in this list as it can be somewhat unethical.

Here is an example. Imagine that your video ad is for a beverage company. You decide to show imagery of a family at a barbecue. The parents are at the grill. The kids are running through the sprinkler. You hear the sizzle of the burgers. You see the chosen beverages glistening in a halo of light on a mountain of ice. Though the background is out of focus, you can still see the parents behind the beverages. You can see them lean in for a kiss. You can hear the kids playing.

For me, this scene evokes a desire to join in on the barbecue. I associate (“Association,” another hot word in advertising) the scene with my family barbecues in the past and the beverages give me a tool for once again achieving that association.

But, I do not fear missing out on this barbecue experience. In other words, my emotional well-being is not disturbed by this ad to the point that I am emotionally upset about missing a fictional future barbecue.

I would say that this ad is using an “Excitement of Joining In” strategy, where the overriding goal is to first generate good feelings around the product by association and then to propose a way for the viewer to join in on the good feelings.

On the flip side, the concept FOMO taps into the fear of getting banished from the herd, of being ostracized by a society. In the days before long johns, say, out in the wilderness, banishment from society would mean an early death. Ads that utilize the FOMO strategy are effective because they seem to poke at the general location of the thoughts surrounding our mortality. It is a sore spot. Think of banishment, loneliness, failure, depression, and loss.

To me, ads that emotionally destabilize the viewer by poking at that sore spot for the sake of providing a product remedy are not living up to any modern code of ethics.

Strategically, though, ads that first associate a product with an experience and then reveal that the product is the means to achieving that experience are very effective. This can be done in a positive way by encouraging the viewer’s excitement about joining in on the experience with the product. This is Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).