Those of us who make videos for our organizations have a great challenge – we’re trying to use this visual medium to build engagement, often by stirring emotions. This is especially true for those of us working in the fields of health care, philanthropy, community activism, nonprofit business, etc. We want to create dramatic videos to evoke those feelings that make others want to take action and support our respective missions.
So what makes for a dramatic video? There are several techniques, and for today’s post, I’ll discuss some of them. At the end of the page, I’ve embedded a few videos that include one or several of these techniques so that you can see them put into action. But for now, let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?
Certainly, color video can be dramatic, but black-and-white brings about a greater sense of significance. Would Schindler’s List have been as powerful in color? Maybe. But no doubt the cinematic element of black-and-white provided that greater sense of drama.
Black-and-white helps the audience focus on the content and the story. Color, by comparison, can sometimes be distracting with the high degree of visual elements. Black-and-white makes us concentrate on and think more critically about what’s happening in the frame.
Buster Keaton is credited for the quote, “Tragedy is a close-up, comedy is a long shot.” The thinking behind that statement is that if you want to evoke a serious emotion from your characters, shoot them close up to see the sentiment in their faces, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, etc.
Even more dramatic are footage in which the subject looks directly at the camera. It’s what’s known in the theater and film as “breaking the fourth wall.” The subject of the video uses the camera to speak directly to the audience, which can make us feel that we’re a part of the content.
Wide Shots, Too
While Keaton’s quote makes a good point, it’s also too simple to be true. Close-ups can certainly portray a sense of drama, but so can a wide shot. In particular, if the environment surrounding a character provides information about that actor, it can create the same emotions as a close-up shot.
A patient included in the wide shot of a hospital room; a worker in the forefront of a wide shot of a factory; a child running in the wide shot of an open field… these can all have a great visual impact and set the mood for a video.
When trying to portray a serious tone, videographers and filmmakers often use a slow-motion effect. They’re literally slowing down time so that we can absorb what we’re watching and understand the connection between us and the person, place, action, etc. Even a blink or an upward head tilt by an actor in slow motion provides a dramatic, serious quality.
Filters included in today’s editing software has allowed even amateurs to become skilled cinematographers. You don’t have to choose a certain type of film or buy a lot of expensive lights and gels – you simply need to shoot your footage and add effects later that can give you warm tones or dramatic lighting. After all your footage is edited and your video is complete, giving your piece an impactful look is as easy as a few clicks.
Music has always been a big part of movies and television. The emotions felt when watching a film or TV show are due in large part to the music that’s included either subtly or overtly. Think about those scenes that made you cry… there were probably violins or a piano playing slowly. Choosing the right music to underscore your video and knowing in which parts to make it louder or softer are important parts of the editing process. Including the wrong music might evoke emotions different than what you intended, so choose wisely.
When interviewing someone, keep the camera rolling as much as possible. You will most likely capture candid moments – a tear, laughter, a sorrowful look, etc. – that you can include in the editing process to add a greater human element. Because it diverts from the interview format, interjecting these unscripted moments makes your subject more real and can help form a greater bond with your audience.
At the bottom of this post are three videos that use one or several of the elements discussed here. Check them out and see how all of these characteristics work together to induce a dramatic tone and evoke certain emotions in us. And if you’ve seen any dramatic videos that you liked (or maybe you’ve made a few), be sure to link to them in the Comment section below.
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