Story With Video In 6 Seconds or 6 Minutes

Tell Your Story With Video—In 6 Seconds or 6 Minutes

By Jon Parker, Published September 22, 2013

The web might not have time limits, but your audience does. Follow these tips to drive engagement.

The good news about video-based storytelling is also the bad news.

Conventional wisdom says for a video to go viral, it has to be short. Then videos like Randy Pausch’s 76-minute “Last Lecture” come along to prove the very opposite. In a world where it seems rules are meant to be broken, are there any essential truths about storytelling?

The importance of story, length and emotion

First, you need a story worth telling. If you can’t think of a good reason for telling it, then it’s unlikely anyone will want to hear it. Consider what its most distinctive and original aspects might be — such as plot, theme, voice, point of view, cinematic or visual style — and develop your story from there.

Another key element of storytelling is time. Do you have an hour, a minute, or 30 seconds to engage your audience? Does your story need the instant impact of a dismissible pre-roll web ad? Or are you creating video for the social-sharing app Vine, where your story has to be compact enough for a six-second loop? No matter what the length, respect your audience by making your story clear, concise, and purposeful. The words of New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman ring true of the “attention economy” too: “Nobody has to read what you write” — or watch what you make, so — “You have to provide the hook, the pitch, whatever you want to call it, that pulls them in. It’s part of the job.” If you can do that, chances are good that your audience will be willing to stay with you (as long as you continue to hold up your end of the bargain).

Finally, if you want your story to be memorable, you’ll also need to capture emotion. A good story feels as though it’s reaching through the screen and grabbing hold of us — whether through surprise, delight, humor, knowledge, or outrage, even — and changes the way we see everything after it. It makes us want to tell our closest friends about it. When you’ve connected with an audience in a meaningful way, you’ll know you’ve achieved storytelling success.

Here are some examples of great storytelling, from shortest to longest.

A six-second (looping) story

The Vine loop is still a new medium, and who knows how long it’s going to last. For now, it’s changing the way people make and share videos, and some people (and brands) are doing incredibly creative things with it. Six seconds is a lot harder to do well than it might seem!

Creative agency BBDO is using the format for Lowe’s hardware stores, by sharing household tips in six-second stop-motion videos. For insights on how to master this medium, here’s advice from an MIT student on how journalists can use it, and tips from a filmmaker and active user.

30 seconds

For the Blu-Ray release of Ridley Scott’s puzzling sci-fi action flick Prometheus, director Cat Solen flips the script on the super-serious hair-raising trailer format.

In the just-for-fun category, 30 seconds is just enough for Felipe Lima’s Don’t Mind If I Do…

One minute

The one-minute story Golden Eagle Snatches Kid was a viral sensation created by four 3-D animation students. Although some were angry to realize it was a “hoax,” the video is nonetheless an effective use of special effects as well as storytelling in very short form.

Another example is this promotional film that explains the complicated role of CIMMYT — a non-profit agricultural research center —in an easy-to-digest way.

Three minutes

The Secret of Trees is a short documentary by Albert Maysles about a 13-year-old kid who figures out a new way to generate solar power based on what happens in nature. Maysles uses custom interview footage, existing footage from a conference, and still images to compose this brief, yet insightful piece.

Also in this time frame, Casey Neistat made this film for the New York Times about texting while walking. Casey, who stars in many of his own films, uses a public service announcement–style of storytelling that serves his subject well.

Six minutes

Cesar Kuyima recorded one second of footage (nearly) daily for one year and edited them together to create One Second Everyday. The result is a much more complex picture of one man’s life than you might expect.

A slower-paced six-minute film is this short documentary about a beekeeper by Made by Hand Films.

Author: Jon Parker Jon Parker is the brand director for Dissolve, a new stock video startup which sells stock footage starting at $5 per HD clip. Jon’s passion: clear communication, from manifestos to mouseprint. He has built brands, concepts, and campaigns for the likes of Corbis, Veer, Getty Images, and Adobe. Jon lives in Brooklyn,… View full profile


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