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.


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.

10 Things to Remember Before You Start Color Correcting


I had an opportunity to attend a two-day color correction and grading workshop recently and I wanted to share a few basic tips that are important to keep in mind before you start color correcting your own project. In another post, I discussed the difference between color correction and color grading. But for this post, I will use the term color correction to apply to both processes.

  1. There are two main components of color correction: a) fix a problem; b) create a look
  2. If you can, use a client monitor with its own waveform.
  3. Black on the IRE scale is 7.5% not 0%
  4. 235 RGB is considered video white; 16 RGB is video black
  5. Always correct the worst shot first.
  6. The one thing that has to look right is skin tone.
  7. Assume that everything you color correct will be broadcast, so keep your levels broadcast safe.
  8. Don't auto white balance by picking the brightest spot in the frame. That spot may not be white. It may just be overexposed. 
  9. Set the baseline grade, then go back to match shots, and then finally apply your look across the entire scene.
  10. The look you apply should be motivated. What is the reason behind your grade?

What other color correction tips do you have? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

Save Time Editing With Top And Tail


Two of the editing features that have been part of Avid Media Composer for quite some time are the Top and Tail commands. Using both will save you a little bit of time as you make your edit. Here's a basic rundown of how each command works:

  • Top - This command will remove the portion of the selected video and/or audio clip located to the left of the playhead.
  • Tail - This command will remove the portion of the selected video and/or audio clip located to the right of the playhead.
Notice the Top and Tail commands in the Edit section of the Command Palette

Notice the Top and Tail commands in the Edit section of the Command Palette

You can use Top and Tail to quickly remove sections of a clip you won't need in your sequence, rather than setting an In point, an Out point, and then lifting or extracting the clip.

By default, the Top and Tail commands are not mapped to the keyboard, so you will need to set up keyboard shortcuts to use them. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings tab in your project window.
  2. Scroll down until you see the Keyboard listing and double click to bring up your current keyboard shortcuts (or you can just type "k" in your Settings window).
  3. Hit Cmd + 3 to bring up your Command palette and browse over to the Edit tab. The Top and Tail commands will be there.
  4. Make sure the "Button to Button" button at the bottom of the Command Palette window is selected.
  5. Click and drag the Top button and the Tail button to the keys on your keyboard you have designated (Some editors map them to the "E" and "R" keys. I have them mapped to SHIFT + I and SHIFT + O).

That's it. When you are ready to use each command, all you need to do is hit the designated short cut keys. Make sure, however, that you have the specific Video and/or Audio track(s) selected first.

Do you have any other Avid tips? Leave them in the Comments section.