August 1, 1981 — that's the day that "Video Killed the Radio Star". With the launch of MTV, the direction and production values of music videos continually evolved, with their techniques seeping into all aspects of television, Internet and business videos. But has that been a good thing?
Fast cutting now seems to be the norm, with camera angles changing every two to three seconds. Originally used in Hollywood art films to "imply either energy or chaos" (see Wikipedia), the excuse for its use now in music videos and television is to combat the boredom that people supposedly have. The claim is that people process information faster now, so we have to give them more stimulus so that they don't change the channel.
But could it have the opposite effect? Could it actually make the viewers more frustrated? Because just when you start to process the image on the screen, they cut to something else.
This is especially obvious when watching a band perform. Instead of being able to take in and enjoy the entire group, the producers keep jumping from camera to camera. And often trying to use "creative" angles. It is especially frustrating if you have an interest in the playing of an instrument, as they rarely will be showing the actual musician that is playing a solo at that moment. And when they do show the correct musician, they'll instead show a close-up of their face rather than the instrument itself.
What is that doing to our brains? We're trying to convince ourselves that this is satisfying and enjoyable, but are our bodies reacting otherwise?
Another irritating technique often used in interviews is having the camera at an angle while the person is looking and talking in a different direction. Instead of having the feeling that that person is making a direct connection with us, we're instead left to feel that we're an unwanted eavesdropper. And that's not a feeling that's conducive to learning and absorbing information.
What got me thinking about this is that this is the season for my wife and I to watch the Christmas videos in our collection. And one was a very enjoyable half-hour spent with two Hollywood legends.
Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank was an episode of Frank Sinatra's weekly show on ABC, and was broadcast on December 20, 1957. I first discovered it around 40 years ago in a record store, as the entire show's soundtrack was released on a 33 1/3 LP. I didn't realize that it was a television show until the DVD came out in 2003, and I bought it sometime after that.
What makes this so different compared to today's shows is just how relaxed it made us feel.
I attributed this to the use of primarily a single stationary camera during most of the show and its songs. Our brains did not have to compensate for any movement or weird camera angles. Instead we were treated to Sinatra and Bing Crosby looking straight into the camera and singing directly to us. Two cameras were often used during dialogue when Frank and Bing were physically separated, but again it was shot as if they were looking straight at the viewer.
How does this apply to the business videos you or your company shoot and the scripts written for them? Well, think of how you act when you are engaged in a conversation with someone. Do you change your position around the table or look at them from odd angles every few seconds? Of course not. If you did, they would find it next to impossible to concentrate and carry on any sort of meaningful dialogue with you.
So the next time, forget about trying to mimic the latest techniques used in music videos. Simply hold the camera still, look directly into it, and let your viewers relax and absorb the important information you have to give them.
© 2018 Michael Marrer, Silver Lake Wordsmiths & Marrer Enterprises, Inc.