If you have ever done any sort of writing then you know of the daunting task called the topic sentence. It is the opening sentence that captures the readers attention, tells them what you intended to discuss and it really the foundation of all that is about to come forward. Actually in sitting to write this, I was wondering what that opening sentence was going to be. Formal writing has you state your case right away “The first shot of any film or web video is the most important element of all your work”. But in todays world, things are a bit more lax so we can go with a sort of informal, casual look at things such as the sentence I choose. And actually, I never even wrote drafts…this is a blog so for the most part is off the top of my head…but I digress (fucking ADD)
Much like writing, the opening shot of anything that you make in the video and film world has to have enough weight to:
- hold the viewers attention
- capture their imagination
- give them a reason to emotionally invest in what is going to happen
- tell them that you know what you are doing and this is worth watching
- let them know what this video/film is about
Now in making a full feature – you get some leeway here – most times the people have paid and have an idea of what the film is about. They have made a commitment to be there and participate in it. BUT in the web video world, it is totally different. Especially with the large amounts of content out there competing for your audience.
Also, in film, you get more time to develop, but the time a film has developed to tell you more about what is about to happen, most web videos are over. But still, the first shot is just as important.
Picking the masterpiece is beyond difficult and many times is the one thing that I really struggle with in an edit. But I have learned a couple things over the years and here are some suggestions for picking that first thing people will see on screen
- Don’t make the first thing someone sees a talking head – unless it is someone instantly recognizable to your audience (you know like the President, Leo DiCaprio, etc..)
- Find something that you could publish as a photo – really this rule works for me pretty good. Could this be a compelling photograph that evokes emotion, displays the mood of the entire piece, showcases a certain amount of artistic knowledge, gives insight into the mission of the piece…look at it like a photographer…you might be surprised..
- It is the BEST shot in your film. I mean the most beautiful one – the one that you are the most proud of. Where in logging you said to yourself “wow”– because if you “wow’d” your self…you will most likely wow everyone else.
Some other funny things about the first shot…it does not have to relate one bit to the sequence you are setting up. It can be something showing the resolution, the after party, what ever! WE just need to capture some attention here and deliver a single knock out punch to capture interest and imagination. Seriously, it is almost a disconnected piece of content – but it is the most important one in your whole film or video.
I recently started watching an event video that was 8 minutes in length. Opening shot was an interview, no music, no B roll, just a talking head. The audio was terrible and I felt like I was about to watch a home movie. They did this for over 2 minutes, I was over it. I was bored. I wanted to move on. Ironically, the event was in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and they even had drone footage later on in the video. Had they moved that drone footage up to the first frame it would have changed the entire dynamic of the video for me. It would have told me “ok there is investment in this piece, the place is beautiful…there may be some good eye candy in this”. Instead we had people standing in the dark of trees and you know what’s funny – I don’t even remember the topic if the interview… that is how compelling the first half of the video was…
You, as an editor, are in the job of making an impact on your audience. It is what we are called to do. In doing so, you are making an impact on yourself as well (whether you know it or not). But that impact has no chance if you pick the opening shot of your sequence to be something that is just there because it seemed “right”. Go farther, find that one shot that may be totally unrelated, but tells a story in itself.
Some samples from work I have just on my hard drive of this computer…
QB Clinic video – opening shot says “This is a video with Dave Kalama and involves Quickblade” was the most artistic shot of the day since it was really a full day of people sitting and listening and some paddling.
QB Trifecta video – this opener shows the cool clean lines, has a light panning across the paddle so it went from dark to this lit up shot. I felt it told the audience “this is different” – in essence we were going after the look of a sleek car commercial
Dave Kalama “Have Fun”- this was an interview with assorted B Roll and this shot for whatever reason stood out to me. I could have framed this one it was just so neat looking. Shot with a Lensbaby of wind driven water on the rocks in Maui. The shot to me said “we are in Maui, it’s bright, it’s happy and this video is about having fun”