This Video Isn't Working For Me, And Here's Why

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I was re-watching The Avengers the other night and as the climactic battle sequence raged, I couldn’t help but compare this sequence to a similar scene in another super hero film, Man of Steel.

If you haven’t seen either The Avengers or Man of Steel, warning: minor spoilers ahead.

In The Avengers, an army of alien invaders makes their way through a space/time portal and descends upon New York City. It’s up to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow to team up and thwart the villainous alien plan to take over the Earth and install Loki as ruler. What follows is a spectacular action scene right in the heart of lower Manhattan that causes millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

In Man of Steel, General Zod and his army invade earth, looking to capture Kal-El. They descend upon Metropolis and use a world-building engine to terraform earth into a carbon copy of Krypton. Zod wants to restore Krypton on the Earth. It’s up to Superman to save the day. And, like in The Avengers, what follows is a spectacular fight between two superior alien beings that wreaks havoc throughout the city. And again, there is millions and millions of dollars in property damage.

Now, to my point.

Both films show cities getting demolished in the wake of superhero battles. And yet when Man of Steel was released, some of the criticisms I read about the film centered on the level of destruction in that final battle scene. It seems like an unfair criticism to me. So, I posted my thoughts to Facebook and got the conversation started.

In the discussion that followed, people brought up different issues they had with Man of Steel, like tone, character development, plot devices, and character motivations; all valid points, most of which I can get behind. Here are some of the comments I received:

All that destruction is part of the continued story line. Increased regulations, heroes turn on each other, etc.


Yeah, but that’s actually addressed in civil war. The destruction in that and avengers two kinda sets up that storyline. Plus the tones in both action scenes are vastly different, making the audience have different reactions.


I would go back to tone to explain why people accept avengers a bit easier. The action is very light-hearted and fun. You can’t say the same for man of steel. It wants the audience to take it seriously.


Isn't part of it that audiences believe Superman could have more easily directed the fight (which involved him and a few adversaries of relatively equal strength, mobility, etc) away from people than the Avengers (who were facing a small army of people and monsters vastly more powerful and mobile) could have? It was for me.


At least in Avengers the heroes show concern for civilians and make an effort to save as many as possible. Superman showed none of that.

These responses got me thinking…:

Maybe it wasn’t the destruction per se that some viewers took issue with. Perhaps there were other legitimate criticisms people had with the film and they couldn’t quite adequately express their thoughts and so they fixated on the destruction aspect.

And that led me to these thoughts pertaining to client relations…

  • Sometimes a video you’ve produced for a client doesn’t receive the response you anticipated.

  • There’s something about the video that doesn’t quite work for the client.

  • The client, however, can’t articulately explain what it is about your video that he/she doesn’t like.

  • In his/her attempt to explain what’s wrong, he/she fixates on a particular aspect of the video that, to you, seems a bit unfair or irrational.

If you encounter this with a client at some point in your career, don’t get frustrated. Your job at that point as a video producer is to find out the core issue that bothers your client. Like a medical doctor in an emergency room setting, you need to rule out other possibilities and get to the root of the problem.

For example, I once delivered a human interest short documentary to a client for approval who told me that, tonally, it was one of the darkest stories she had ever seen and that it wouldn’t fit with the other videos she had already released. She was ready to scrap the whole project.

I knew, however, that my story wasn’t nearly as somber as others. So it wasn’t tone that concerned my client.

But what was it?

After listening to her concerns, speaking with her, and then rewatching the video a few times myself I realized that the issue was with my main interview subject. This individual told a personal story in a very matter-of-fact way, so any emotional sound bite I used in the piece didn’t feel authentic, because the interview subject never really got emotional. It was the perceived inauthenticity of my main subject that created the issue.

To solve this problem, I went back through the edit and just let the interview subject tell the story. I removed any sound bites that were editorial or emotional in nature. And you know what? These revisions worked for the client.

So the next time you receive feedback from a client that confuses you, or just feels arbitrary and without merit, take the time to have a one-on-one conversation. Talk through the edit. Find out what’s really going on.

The issue may not be the fact that you decided to level Metropolis.

Here's Why Your Short Film Script Isn't Working

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I really enjoy working in short films. Over the years I've written, directed, and edited close to 20 shorts. I've read many short film scripts. I've seen dozens of shorts at various festivals. I've judged short film screenplay competitions. The more I see, the more I read, and the more I create, the more I start to see and understand why certain short films succeed, and why others fall short.

Here are a few common denominators I've seen among those short films (including my own) that just don't work. If you avoid these while writing your next script, the finished film will be a lot stronger.

Too much backstory

Short films offer audiences brief glimpses into a world. We don't necessarily need to know how we got where we are. What's most important is what's happening right now, in this moment. Eliminate anything that has to do with backstory. 

Too much set up

Have you ever listened to people at a party try to tell a joke, but they get so bogged down in the details of the setup, that by the time they finally reach the punchline you've lost interest? The same is true for short films. If you take too long to get to the core essence of what you're film is about, then viewers will lose interest.

Too much exposition

Christopher McQuarrie, writer and director of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and Mission:Impossible - Fallout, said (in an interview on The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith) that "Information is the death of emotion." Don't have your characters tell each other exactly what they're thinking or feeling. Use subtext. Don't tell the audience exactly what's going on. Convey that information visually.

Too much voice-over

In my opinion, voice-over is often unnecessary for one main reason - it doesn't add anything to the story that can't already be ascertained by what's happening on screen. When executed correctly, voice-over can provide the viewer with necessary context. It can also be used for comedic effect. But if you're thinking about using voice-over, I would recommend first writing your script without it. See if the story works. If not, then carefully introduce voice-over in very strategic spots.

Too many flashbacks

Flashbacks are dangerous in a feature-length film because they can completely kill the forward momentum of the story. So they should definitely be avoided in a short film. But hey, we've all used them before. I know I have. However, I've since learned my lesson. Remember, you want your short film to get straight to the point. Flashbacks only add to the time it takes to get your audience from A to B.

Too on-the-nose

One of the great things about art, be it paintings, books, or films, is that it's always up to interpretation. It's fun to discuss art; its themes, emotions, motivations, etc. So it's disappointing when I see short films or read scripts that tell me exactly what it's all about. It feels like some kind of after-school special, where characters tell us the main lesson just before the credits roll. "See Timmy, good friends make all the difference." Don't preach to your audience. Be subtle. Don't be afraid to be ambiguous. Life is messy. Some things are better left unsaid. If your character motivations are clear, and the story lean and concise, the themes will be evident.

As you read through these tips you may have noticed how many times I used the phrase "Too much..." That's because the best short films are the ones that keep everything simple.

What other tips do you have for creating a really strong short film? Leave them in the Comments section below.

Two Ways to Build a Solid Reputation in Your Local Film Community

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There's one thing ALL low/no-budget short films have in common: most everyone is working for free. It never ceases to amaze me how many talented people are willing to donate their time and their talents to work on a film project, just because they believe in the material and genuinely enjoy the craft. And it's remarkable what you can achieve if you simply ask.

But "nice" will only get you so far. In addition to being nice, you have to be respectful. Your cast and crew have given up their nights and weekends because they a) love the process of filmmaking, b) believe in you, c) love the material, or d) all of the above.

If you want to maintain a good reputation in the local film community, always do the following:

  • Come to set prepared. Be respectful of everyone's time. Show up to set with a solid schedule, a clear vision, and a thorough shot list. A short film set is not a social club. You aren't there to hang out. You're there to work. Believe me, your cast and crew will have a fun time on set if you provide clear direction throughout the day. Having fun is the result of being prepared. If your set is chaotic and disorganized, people will be less inclined to help you in the future.
  • Finish the film and get it out there. Nothing is worse than when talented actors and crew members donate their time for a short film project only to find out months later that the director a) didn't even finish the film, or b) finished it but doesn't want anyone to see it because he/she is too displeased with it. Let the cast and crew see the fruits of their labor. You don't have to submit it to film festivals. You don't have to post it online. But at least coordinate a private viewing party so everyone can see the final product.

Have any other tips for building a solid reputation as a low/no-budget filmmaker? Leave them in the Comments.

The Story Behind NASA's Legendary Logo Design

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Whenever I come across interesting articles on the creative industry (filmmaking, video production & post, advertising, design, etc.), I clip them and send them out in a weekly e-newsletter.

A few weeks ago I read this article on the famous NASA logo, which traces its history and its legacy. I encourage you to read the story if you work in a creative field, even if it isn't design. I'm sure you can find applications to your own work.

Here are a few things that stood out to me as I read the story:

  • Establish consistency and continuity. Whether it's setting design standards, or any other creative endeavor, make sure that everyone (managers, employees, vendors, etc.) are working together and understand the parameters. 
  • Think minimal. The original NASA logo was intricate, hard to reproduce, and busy. The redesigned logo was clean, minimal, easy to reproduce, legible from distances, and could easily be placed on everything from ID badges to vehicles.
  • Stay true to your vision. Anyone who has worked in a creative field knows that some clients will push back on a proposed idea. A client's objection might not be because of your idea. It may be because the client doesn't quite understand your vision. It might take some convincing on your part. Be prepared to defend your choices and know how to answer a client's questions.
  • Things don't always end well. Even after all the time and energy invested in a creative project, a client may just decide to move in a different direction. There have been moments in my career when I've been very proud of the videos I've produced, only to see the client pivot at the last minute and go in a different direction. I know I'm not the only one.

What do you think? What other lessons can be learned from this story? Leave your thoughts in the Comments.