Time flies (except in video)

Could you reasonably call your video an epic based on its length? Then it is, sort of. A mistake of epic proportions.

Viewers lose interest in all but the most engaging videos after a surprisingly short period of time. How short? Estimates vary, but it could be as little as 15 seconds. Maybe even less, if it’s clear from the beginning that you’re beating around the bush (or that there isn’t even an identifiable bush to beat).

Say hello to our little friends. Knowing when to break out the editing shears will help keep your video short and sweet

Say hello to our little friends. Knowing when to break out the editing shears will help keep your video short and sweet

Attention spans among the average video audience have been dwindling for years. This mirrors a similar trend in the film industry. Now if you’re under 50, get ready for a laugh. There was a time, believe it or not, when movies were so long that some actually had built-in intermissions. Yes, the movie stopped about halfway through, and a slide saying “intermission” would appear on the screen. This was so that people could get up, stretch, get some refreshments, or have a cigarette (remember, this is way back, when cigarettes were marketed as being better than vitamins). This certainly wasn’t every movie, but it happened in several, including Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, and Shoes of the FishermanGandhi had an intermission too in some screenings, and may have been the last mainstream film to boast such a brief reprieve.

Studios figured out fairly quickly that most audiences didn’t want to spend three hours or more in a movie theater. Remember,  for most people it was a night on the town. If things went well then you’d be smoking a cigarette after doing something much more interesting than waiting for Lawrence of Arabia to resume plodding through the desert while dealing with an identity crisis. So, studios began scaling back the length of their flicks. The trend for neat 90-minute packages continued until Kevin Costner decided his epic (there’s that word again)  Dances with Wolves was so good that audiences should part with three hours of their lives for the privilege of seeing it. With no intermission (and not much dancing with wolves either). Unconfirmed reports said many people changed their names to “Bladder has Burst” after sitting through the film, because they had no idea how long it was going to be.

People have far less reason to sit through an extended video on your website or YouTube. Remember, those poor victims of Costner’s shelled out good money for the movie. The only thing the people watching your video are shelling out is their time, and these days everyone agrees that time a precious commodity. No one wants to waste it. To make sure your video has proper impact, you have to make every second count and keep those seconds to a minimum.

Is it over yet? I've been watching this video since I was 32 years old

Is it over yet? I’ve been watching this video since I was 32 years old

There’s no hard and fast rule to how long your video should be, but you can get some clues from various media. Remember, Vine only gives you a few seconds for your social media video posts. If it wasn’t doable or appealing to a lot of people, do you think they’d be cutting things short like that? Also, spend time watching television. Notice anything about the ads? They’ve been getting shorter and shorter, because ad companies know people will lose interest if ads are too long. The one exception seems to be the ads for various new medicines, but that’s mostly so they can list the horrible side-effects, which seem to be limitless. And for that matter, worse than the initial illness the medicine is supposed to be treating.

Hopefully you won’t feel the need to wax poetic about the wide variety of ways people can die by misusing your product or service. Most of that is just speculative anyway. We hope. Now comes the hard part: getting your beautiful video pared down to a manageable length without sacrificing the main message. The best time to do that is in the storyboarding and scripting phases of pre-production.

Ironically, the best way to start is to go big. While you don’t want the final product to make Titanic seem like a Three Stooges short, you have a better chance of making sure you get all the important points into your final video if you list everything you want to say during the first round or two of concept development and storyboarding. If you’re really adroit, you can organize the list by priority, so that you can scratch out the least necessary elements. At this point, neither you nor the production company should worry about writing a full script, although there should be an intensive effort to get the storyboards as exact as possible. When you finally decide what you need to include and what you need to cut, then the scriptwriting can begin.

And guess what? After you get a script, you’ll be treated to another round of cutting and paring down. That’s because it’s very difficult to give a client exactly what they want, with no changes, in a script of reasonable length. By this time, you may have had second thoughts about what you took out during the initial script planning phase and want to add something back in. Hopefully you will also have made a list of what you can sacrifice from the existing script so that the length stays the same.

As painstaking as this process seems, it’s absolutely necessary if you want the final video to be spot on without being overwhelming. The time to make all the tweaks and adjustments, and to come to an agreement with the production company, is well before even the first frame of video is shot. This will help you avoid two of the biggest ills in video production: going over budget and falling behind schedule. It’s easy to fall into those quagmires if you try to cut down the script (while keeping it understandable) during the shooting or post-production process. Remember the old adage: measure twice, cut once.

At Hencar we take pride in giving videos all the room they need to breathe without hyperventilating. Or causing your viewers to yawn. Ultimately, since you’re the client, we want you to be happy with the product. But when approaching any video project, remember that your passion for the topic isn’t always going to be shared by your viewers. Instead of walking a mile in their shoes, you need only put yourself in their place for 15 seconds to get a new perspective. By narrowing your video’s focus, you’ll greatly expand your opportunities to win people over.