Friday, March 26, 2010

The nuances of a good video

Musing on the power of video to make a point. It does have that power, no doubt (see: Commercials, TV). But how? What makes a good video a good video and a bad video painful? Well, my answer is in the nuances. But they aren't really nuances once you start thinking about them. Here are a few:

1. Anticipation. The audience needs something to expect. Even if it's a minute long, they have to know there's a kicker coming. Think about the anticipation you feel when you see that Geico Rod-Serling-ish guy saying, "Can Geico really save you fifteen thousand dollars or more on car insurance?" Something clever, interesting, worth seeing is coming. You know that. So you watch. (Or at least, I do).

2. Unexpectedness. Completely the opposite of anticipation, unless of course you're anticipating the unexpected, which creates a whole different level of nuance. But you can't always give them what they expect. "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em; Tell 'em; and Tell what you told 'em" may be good instructional design (in fact most instructional design approaches include variations of this), but it's death as the entire recipe for a video. You can do all that... but you should also tell 'em a few things you didn't tell 'em you were going to tell 'em. And you should tell 'em you told 'em a few things that you didn't actually tell 'em. (If that's not clear, I trust you can work it out. I'm not telling you again what I just told you).

3. Challenge. Don't tell them everything. Make them work a few things out for themselves.

4. Creative Messaging. By this I don't mean a catchy phrase like, "Getting it done is priority one." Do that if you must, but what I mean is that the message should be interwoven with a story, with themes, with characters. That the presentation builds to the message. If you've got a pyramid of ideas, make a physical pyramid that someone actually puts together on screen. This makes it interesting, and memorable.

5. Sparkle. Closely related to fun (see number 7 below), sparkle is that quality that instantly tells people someone cared enough to put something extra into this. There's a sense of energy and creativity here. Nothing was phoned in. Someone thought this was worth putting their stamp on, being proud of. It's special. Warning: after making it special, let it go and make the next one special. Nothing's sadder than someone producing a video and thinking it didn't get enough credit, or airplay, or awards, or whatever.

6. The Unstated. What you don't say, or don't show, is what gives a video depth. If you're producing these things, you should learn to manage the interplay between what is left in and what is left out--there is power in the tension between the two. You can get people to want to see something by not showing it. The old horror movies always did this. I remember how Elephant Man, the movie, showed several people's horrified reactions to the title character while I only heard his calm, sweet voice. By the time I saw how horrible his face actually was, I had already decided I would not react with revulsion. Avatar, more recently, showed the hero's Navi self in a huge fish tank, then, a while later, some maintenance workers were washing out the fish tank. He's gone... somewhere. And it made you really want to see him. Make an audience want to see what you're not showing them. They will love you for it when you do show it.

7. Fun. I'm not saying humor--humor is hard. Do it if you have the talent in place to pull it off. But fun, anyone can do. It's mostly about making sure that everyone involved is finding the process energizing. I learned in the first day of my first producing job (TV News) that the number one thing I could do to create a quality product was to keep the on-camera talent happy and relaxed. Also the number two, three, and four things. If they were having fun, the audience would like it.

Not really nuances. Not really all that subtle. But not paint-by-numbers, either.

1 comment:

  1. Tell em what you are going to show them, show it, then tell em what you showed ... Geico.
    People have to know the subject and something has to grab their attention so they want to watch it. Self-interest usually works, but there are other interest grabbing devices.
    Unexpectedness is the key to humor. Blindside them with something they didn't see coming (even if you told them it was).