I’m a firm believer in learning from failure. Not just from our own failures – I make them all the time – but in the collective professional errors all of us make. You can learn so much from getting it wrong and, indeed, from seeing somebody else get it wrong. That might sound mean-spirited, but it really isn’t. This isn’t about schadenfreude. Failure is so useful in creativity. It’s how we improve.
Video production is a world of fast trends. Things change at lightning pace. Audiences prefer this kind of video – Google says your video should be shorter – what about drone footage? There are so many things to think about, both in terms of content and style. Unfortunately, in many ways, video production is kind of a rich kid’s arms-race. There are new toys available all the time, and if you have the funds, you can certainly have the edge in terms of what you can do with the camera. The prosumer end of the equipment bin is becoming far more populated with amazing tools – from sliders, to gimbals, to drones. The list is becoming endless.
But is having all the gear always the best option when you’re making video content for clients? Let’s take this example video of an edited interview with a famous person. In this case – TV and film comedian Ricky Gervais:
He’s a high-profile name, so we already know it’ll be a popular video and likely shared widely on various platforms and viewed on different types of devices. So, for starters, it needs to be good technically – with a good camera, a good lens, good lighting and, probably most importantly, GOOD SOUND! – but does it really need all this editorial and technical flare? In this 3 min 38 sec video there’s around 51 cuts (emphasis on “around” there, I might not have counted fast enough). That’s a cut just over every 4 seconds. These are jump cuts in time and to several different camera angles including a slider set-up. In watching the video back, I must ask, was all this necessary? In my experience, the most interesting thing in a video isn’t the camera – or what can be done with the camera – it’s the subject you’ve got in front of your lens.
Now, we all must edit. And you can certainly do that with technical flare. When this video was filmed, the footage shot probably amounted to several times the length of the finished video. Video editing is dealing with the shrinkage of time. But therein lies the art form of video editing – ideally, you want your viewer to be unaware of this time shrinkage, or “cutting” as we call it. You want any changes you’ve made to passively wash over your viewer as they watch the video. In my opinion, the above video fails spectacularly here – 51 cuts in 3 mins 38 seconds is almost nauseating. And there is little to no attempt to “disguise” these cuts. In the industry, this process of “disguising” cuts is often referred to as “cutaways” or “B roll” – additional footage shot of other subjects related to the interview plays over to allow cuts to happen “invisibly”. This editorial technique is the staple of shrinking time without the viewer being aware. Some simple shots of different items around Gervais’ desk whilst the cuts occur, for example, might have added some quirky interest.
I believe there is a big argument in video for “less is more”. One way to approach this is to think of yourself as a writer – I believe learning how to write can prepare you so much for being a good storyteller on video – and view video editing much like how readability can improve when a good writer uses 6 words instead of 12 to make the same point. It just flows better. Editing video is no different. For example, when a writer only uses flowery “big” words when completely necessary – in the context of video, this is where you should only use the tools appropriate for the job. I love a camera slider shot and regularly use one myself, but was it necessary for this interview piece? As a YouTube viewer sarcastically wrote in the comments section “If only this video also had some drone shots too” Has the addition of the slider shot added anything beyond bombarding the viewer with a different type of camera movement?
But I think flawed videos like this are so important and should be studied by anyone thinking of getting into video. Looking at how not to make a video will teach you all you need to know about how to make a good video.
In video, as in many creative ventures, less can be so much more.