Where To Begin?

While it is popular to inject the term “storytelling” into every aspect of filmmaking, I’ll skip it and instead focus on my job as an editor—communicating a message to an audience.

Sometimes that message involves storytelling, and sometimes it doesn’t. Terminology aside, what’s critical is creating a piece of content that works. And how that content starts, a seemingly simple concept, is very important.

Before taking a look at the actual content, think about the audience. How will they view it? If it’s a feature in a theater, there are endless previews and other short films before the main feature. This gives the audience time to settle down and get ready to watch. Heck, the theater might even douse the already dim lights just before the “feature presentation.”

The key point? When the movie starts, people are ready to watch.

Let’s look at another situation: you’ve been charged with cutting together a “meeting opener” for an international sales meeting for a major electronics manufacturer. You have two minutes to “fire up the troops and set the tone for the rest of the event.” So you work on an impressive 10-second beginning to the video.

But will anybody see it? Will many people hear it? There aren’t any previews to get everybody in their seats and there’s a distinct possibility the lights won’t dim, either. All that work, while great looking in the rehearsal, may not have any effect on the audience.

Where to begin? How about talking with the client about having some sort of countdown to show start? Taking a clue from drive-in theaters, this gives the audience a chance to sit down and shut up (my words) before show start.

A countdown’s not in the budget? Then maybe you need to think about taking a precious few seconds at the beginning of your program to get people to start focusing on the presentation. Use attention-getting content, whose role is just that—getting attention, not trying to communicate a message (though you do want some tie-in with the theme).

Maybe it’s just sound. I’m not talking Quint in Jaws (#nailsonchalkboard), but maybe it’s something just as startling. Or maybe it’s a simple sound design that builds, drawing the audience in. It also might be something visually jarring, or maybe it’s more subtle. But it should be something that causes Carol from HQ to turn around while greeting John from the San Francisco office and wonder what’s happening on the big screen.

But also recognize that in this situation, it’s possible that a possibly significant portion of the audience will miss part of this open—so maybe it shouldn’t be important content. Though, with luck, a majority will be watching and waiting for what’s next.

Speaking of what’s next, next time I’ll talk about how “where to begin” applies to the small screen.