from the Second Edition of the book
Marketing With Digital Video.
© Copyright Oak Tree Press ALL RIGHTS RESERVED by Hal Landen
This book will guide you through the three interrelated steps of every video and film: pre-production, production and post- production. For now, think of them as: scripting, shooting and editing. And you will recognize the techniques of filmmaking. Most haven’t changed much since filmmaking began 100 years ago. The fast moving sequence like the car chase in the 1971 film, The French Connection with Gene Hackman riveted viewers to the screen the same way a scene from 1925 Russian film, The Battleship Potemkin did. They both used close-ups, action shots and quick cutting to produce remarkable scenes. Even if you’ve never seen these films, you have seen this kind of scene in hundreds of movies.
All videos and films are created from the same elements like close-up shots, titles, music and narration. When skillfully combined, these visual and audio elements become a powerful tapestry much greater than the sum of its parts. To produce your first business video let’s begin by identifying these elements.
RECONSTRUCTING THE VIDEO SCRIPT
By taking a completed film, even a TV commercial, and describing it’s elements on paper you will reconstruct its script and in doing so, learn about its elements. The script is a blueprint for creating an effective film of any kind. Study the blueprint of any successful project and you can learn how it was made and imitate that success.
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The sound track, which is often music and dialogue, helps the shots flow smoothly into one entity, but even more significantly, the sound track often transcends the impact of the visual elements, leading the viewer to experience the film or video on an emotional level.
There are 4 basic types of audio: music, narration, synch sound and sound effects.
Many videos and most commercials starts with music and this music fades up. The same music may continue throughout, or it may cut or dissolve to another piece of music. Commercials use rock ‘n roll, classical, country, opera and every other type of music. It may be purely instrumental or have lyrics sung by a vocalist.
Some scriptwriters specify exactly which song is to be edited into their commercial. Others only describe a mood – upbeat, contemporary, happy – and let the editor find just the right music.
Different types of music, accompanying the same visuals, can dramatically change the mood and impact. For instance, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” will have a very different effect than Bluegrass music would over the same commercial, even though each may work quite well. Many of the music selections used in commercials have a lively beat which helps drive the visuals and makes the film more compelling.
Narration is called voice over (V.O.) because it goes over the pictures. Usually you don’t see the narrator who may be male, female, young or old. Some of the great narrators are actors you know like James Earl Jones, Martin Sheen and Gene Hackman. Others are sound-alikes who only seem to be actors you know.
The script often describes the character of the voice e.g. helpful young man, wise grandfather, the voice of authority. While most narrators are still male voices, I applaud the trend toward females narrators. Male or female, they all sound friendly and believable. Whether you know them or not, you’d probably talk to them on the phone if they called.
Sometimes you do see the narrator on the screen. He’s looking right at you and sincerely talking to you. He may be in an office setting or in front of a plain studio background. While he’s talking, the camera may cut to other scenes he describes, but his voice continues over these other visuals. The scene may end by cutting back to him on camera as he continues talking to you. In scripts these are referred to as an on-camera narrator and an off-camera narrator or Voice Over (V.O.). There may be more than one narrator. Sometimes a second or third narrator has a dialogue with the first.
Synch sound is sound that seems to come from a visual. You see two people in the kitchen and hear them talking. Their dialogue is synch sound. It’s called that because the sound is
synchronized with the picture. Your camcorder records sound and picture simultaneously (in synch). Most bigger budget commercials are shot with a camera which records only the picture and a separate tape recorder which records sound. Before editing begins, these separate pieces of film, one with the pictures the other with the sound track, must be synchronized so that the actors’ lips move exactly when you hear him speak. When they do, the picture and sound track are in synch.
Synch sound records every sound present when the camera is running. Whether any or all of these sounds are used is a decision that’s made when the film is edited.
Many sounds you hear in a film appear to be synch sound that one assumes was recorded when the pictures were filmed. In fact, a great many are sound effects that were recorded later in a special studio. Gun shots are a good example. Compare the sound of a gun shot in a feature film to the sound of a gun shot in a news show of street violence or a war. Gun shots in the news sound like a small “pops” and you rarely hear the bullet ricochet as it bounces off hard surfaces. Compare this to gun shots in feature films. They have a big, very full sound. A split second after the “big bang” you hear their bullet ricochet with a sound that sings for a second or two. These gun shots are created by sound effects people after the filming and during the editing.
Another common sound effect is footsteps. These enhanced footstep sounds are created by foley artists. According to Elisha Birnbaum, a foley artist in New York, the word foley comes from Jack Foley who pioneered this art in film. These sound effects had long been used in radio shows. In film these effects had to be exactly synchronized with the picture. These were originally called synch sound effects. Jack Foley, a sound editor in motion pictures did much of the early sound effects. Other technicians found the name “synch sound effects” too unwieldy and so renamed the art “foley.” These foley artists recreate many of the sounds that the audience takes for granted like punches and footsteps.
The same transitions that join visuals are used to join the audio cuts. If you listen carefully, you may notice that the music fades down slightly as the narrator’s voice begins. The music may fade out at the end of the commercial. The bird chirp is probably a straight cut. Some sounds overlap just like a dissolve overlaps two shots.
The audio or sound track can have a remarkable effect on the visuals. Many sound tracks of commercials can stand alone without visuals. They could be complete radio commercials and, occasionally, you’ll hear them used that way. The only visuals are those images that your mind creates as you listen to the story. The golden age of radio demonstrated how powerful this kind of storytelling could be. When a film’s sound track is married to its visuals as in a commercial, the result is different and often bigger than the sum of the two parts.
If you’ve managed to dissect a commercial into it’s various elements, you’ve learned some of the language of filmmaking. (The book “Marketing With Digital Video” shows you how to reconstruct the script of a TV commercial.) Now that you’ve been behind the scenes, I hope this will change the way you view, not only commercials, but all kinds of films. They’re all created from these same basic elements which we will be discussing throughout this book. This is a great beginning toward making your own film.
The shots and sounds that you’ve painstakingly identified and described flow together in a sequence that tells a little story about one thing. Since commercials are so short, they may only have one such sequence, but longer films will have many sequences. They’re called scenes. Each scene tells a small story that’s part of a bigger story. Think of scenes as chapters in a book. They flow logically one from another, each building on the last.
In commercials there are several types of scenes that are ideal to use in your marketing video. In fact marketing videos are often described as long form commercials. In the next Chapter we’ll look at how these scenes might be used in your marketing video.