How to Evoke Viewer Emotion In Your Next Video

People who work in video production want two main things from every video they produce:

  1. High production value

  2. Emotional response from viewers

The first can be achieved with the proper equipment and the proper technical training. The second, however, can be more elusive.

How do you create a story that stimulates a meaningful, emotional response from viewers that inspires them to act?

Obviously, if there was one tried-and-true answer to that question that I could bottle and sell, I could retire now. But the following episode from the podcast Revisionist History provides some fantastic insight on human emotion. I think if you work in video production it’s worth a listen. There are some important lessons to be learned and practices to implement that will help your next story illicit the kind of emotion that you want.

Here’s the episode. In it, Gladwell explores the country music industry and why its songs feel so much sadder than any rock ‘n roll ballad. If you can’t listen to the full 45-minute episode, here are a few sections you can skip to:

  • 00:00-06:45

  • 08:10-10:00

  • 15:04-18:40

  • 18:56-19:35

  • 20:35-21:09

  • 28:04-32:00

Rather than provide you with my own take-aways, I’d like to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the Comments section. What stood out to you? What can we all do as video production professionals to ensure that our stories resonate with viewers?

And if you haven’t subscribed to Revisionist History, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fantastic podcast.

How to Use A-Roll Effectively

The concept of editing, whether it’s a news piece, documentary, or corporate video, is fairly straightforward. First you assemble your A-Roll, which consists of all the sound bites you want to use in your video. Second, you add B-Roll on top of all the interviews, in order to illustrate what the subjects are talking about. Third, you cut between the two.

That’s the concept. The reality is that editing is an art, full of nuance. Each cut has a purpose and the way in which cuts are assembled can have a dramatic impact on viewer emotions.

The question then is, “How does an editor know when to cut?” Or “Why does an editor make a cut at a certain point?” 

Cutting away from a b-roll shot to a talking head shouldn’t be an afterthought. You shouldn’t place your interview subject on the screen just because you ran out of b-roll. Like every other edit in your piece, there should be a reason behind that edit. Why are we looking at your interview subject at this particular moment?

Here are a few of my own guidelines for when you need to show your interview subject: 

Introductions and Re-Introductions 

When introducing an interview subject for the first time, you definitely want to show who’s speaking.

Sometimes an interview subject is heard first, then seen. An editor may choose to insert the subject’s voice underneath a sequence of b-roll shots. Then the editor will cut to the talking head, so viewers can put a face with a voice. If this is the way you choose to introduce your subject to the viewer, be sure not to wait too long before showing the viewer who it is who’s speaking.

In situations where a variety of interview subjects appear throughout the piece (like in the case of a feature-length documentary), you will want to re-introduce your audience to your subject so viewers don’t get confused as to who’s speaking (“Who’s this guy again? I know I saw him earlier.”) This is especially true of you’re editing for television and you know when commercial breaks will occur. It may be necessary to reintroduce viewers to your interview subjects after the commercial breaks.

Emotional Beats 

I usually cut to a talking head when the subject is particularly emotional when discussing a certain topic. Real human emotion resonates with viewers, so if your subject is distraught, upset, teary-eyed, etc. it’s a good idea to show that on screen, but be strategic about it. Show it too often and the weight of that emotion dissipates greatly.

Personal Quirks 

Sometimes you can learn a lot about an individual based on certain facial expressions. A subject may tell you one thing, but his or her face may tell you something completely different. If this inner conflict can be seen on the subject’s face, let’s see it.

You might have an interview subject who smiles after finishing a thought, or scowls, or seems conflicted, or pensive. If so, let’s see it.

It’s great when you can glean information from an interview subject about a certain topic, but it’s better if you can both learn the information and also get a sense of how the person feels about what was just said.

Emphasis

When viewers watch a video, they’re taking in a lot of stimulus at once. They’re listening to an interview. They’re watching b-roll images. They’re reading subtitles, signage, or graphic elements. It could be easy to miss certain details, like an important point your interview subject is trying to make. So, if you really want to make sure your audience doesn’t miss a particular detail, strip everything else away and simply show your subject. Just as a writer will use bold or italic words to focus a reader’s attention, so too can an editor emphasize a point by showing the interview subject on screen.

Bridging Two Story Beats

Editors might choose to show their interview subject as a bridge between two story beats. One chapter is concluding, another one is beginning. So, audiences might see a talking head on screen making one final point before the story moves in a new direction.

Remember, when you’re editing, think strategically about when to show your interview subject. Make sure there’s a good reason for it. In fact, you might not need to show your interview subject at all. In the HBO documentary Come Inside My Mind, which details the life and career of Robin Williams, viewers never seen Robin Williams actually sitting in an interview telling his story, even though it’s his voice narrating the film. I’ve edited short docs before where I never show the interview subject. There just wasn’t a good reason to.

Have any other editing tips? Leave them in the Comments section below.

Avid Tutorial - How to Set Default Font Sizes

By default, the font size in Avid Media Composer for both your Project window and for all of your bins is 11. If you're like me, you need a slightly larger font size so your eyes aren't strained. However, you don't want to go through the trouble of adjusting the font size for all of your bins one at a time. Fortunately, there is a way to set the default font size for all of your bins and the project window. Watch the video to find out.

  1. At the top of your Project window, find the Settings button and click it.
  2. Scroll down until you find the settings for Interface (or just type "i" on your keyboard to jump all the way down to all settings options that start with "i").
  3. Double click Interface to pull up the Interface window
  4. Make sure the boxes next to "Override all Bin font sizes" and "Override Project font size" are checked.
  5. Type in your desired font size for each.
  6. Click "Apply" in the bottom right corner of the Interface window.

That's it. What other Avid Media Composer tips do you have? Leave them in the Comments section.

3 Tips for Editing a Short Film Trailer

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Why would anyone want to produce a trailer for a short film? That's a valid question. After all, a short film is just that - short. So, you run the risk of giving too much away if you produce a trailer. But there are two good reasons why you need one:

  • It creates interest in your project.
  • Some festivals and competitions will ask for one.

So if you have a short film project in the can and need to cut a trailer, here are a three tips based on my own experiences. Feel free to add your own in the Comments section.

1. SET THE TONE AND CREATE HYPE

The main goal of the trailer is to create interest in your project. This is extremely important if you plan on running a crowdfunding campaign to help offset post-production costs or marketing and submission expenses. Potential contributors want to know what your film is about. They want to see if their money is going to a competent filmmaker who knows his/her craft. So use the trailer as an opportunity to showcase some of the best shots in the film. Use the pace of the edit and the musical score to establish mood, tone, and perhaps genre. Here's the trailer for my upcoming short Big and Tall

2. KEEP IT SHORT

This cannot be overstated. Remember, you are editing a trailer for a short film. I've seen trailers for short films that are over 2 minutes long and they practically tell you everything that happens in the film. Think about what a 2-minute trailer would give away if the entirety of the film was only 6 minutes. More often than not, you should treat the trailer for your short like a teaser, anywhere from 10-30 seconds. Here's the trailer for a 6-minute short I worked on called Sanctum. 

And here's the trailer for another 6-minute short I directed called Exodus Road. 

Your trailer should give away nothing more than what you've already written in the logline (the one-sentence synopsis of the film). Take Exodus Road for example. The logline for that film is "A young couple makes a bold decision that will forever change their lives and open them up to a world beyond their own." And the trailer supports the premise, giving away nothing more substantial than that.

 3. NO NAMES

You know how most big-budget, studio-backed, feature trailers use titles like, "From the Director of ___________  starring Academy-Award Winner _____________ ?" Of course you do. We've all seen them. However, unless your short also stars an actor with some renown, don't do this. Just set up the premise, the mood, and the tone of the film. Then give us the title. That's it. No one is really interested in who wrote and directed the film, or who stars in it. Remember, your goal is to create interest in your project. You do that through the visuals and the sound.

That's it. Three quick tips that have helped me when editing short film trailers. Care to share your own experiences? Do so in the Comments.