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I was talking to a guy up in Virginia this afternoon about a possible video project. As we were talking, I began to remember some things I’ve learned over the years from Steve Czajaikowski, Bruce Mitchell, and others. Little tricks, really.

1. Edit to the music, not to the voice over. There are two kinds of people (well maybe three): auditory, visual, (and maybe verbal). Art school art directors and video editors tend to be visual. Agency writers, account people, and client-side marketing people tend to be verbal or quantitative (okay that’s four…just work with me here). A visual person tends to want to edit to a visual rhythm…wait for the end of the shot…wait for the point in the shot where the design is perfect (this is okay if you have plenty of money for post-production soundtrack). Verbal people tend to want to base their cut points on cues in the voice over or dialog. The fact is, pacing | rhythm of the video is driven by the music track. Editing to the music gets a viewer nodding along with the rhythm of the video. Music video producers have always known this. So has Joe Eszterhas —but that’s another story all together.

2. Spend money on music. To get jaw-dropping footage, you need jaw-dropping subject matter, jaw-dropping talent, jaw-dropping styling, jaw-dropping lighting, and probably a jaw-dropping budget for post. All that translates into cash. Not a bad thing to do with your cash if you have it, but it’s still cash. Then, if you cut that breathtaking footage to some thin | lame music … the video will look bad. On the flip side, if you have some pretty nice footage, maybe even some flawed footage, but a killer music track…believe it or not…the music will make the footage look better than it is (especially if you follow point #1). Furthermore, the cost of creating (or buying for that matter) some killer music is a fraction of that of shooting | creating kick-to-the-solar-plexus footage. So, when you’re deciding where to spend and where to scrimp…plan to spend on music.

3. One distinctive sound effect. And only one. A distinctive sound effect…strategically placed (and by that I mean down to the frame count)…tells people that this is the crucial part of the piece. And, correctly selected, the sound effect will tell people how to feel at the crucial point. Go back and watch all of the scenes of While E. Coyote falling off cliffs. Note the sounds they used as he splatted on the ground—and the precise placement of those sounds. More than one sound effect is confusing, corny, or both.

4. Pack it tight. One thing I hate about high school English teachers is their emphasis on quantity over quality. They pollute people’s minds with the idea that longer is better. With video, your better off to use all of your footage…but use it in half the time. Shoot 100 scenes and pack them into three minutes. A short video is always better than a long one. Always. So the question should be, “How short can we make it?”

5. Cut the copy. Clint Eastwood became a superstar by not talking. As you work to make the video shorter, work to make the copy even shorter. Allow the soundtrack to fill up gaps. Allow people to rest on visuals. Allow people to think about what you’re saying. Stop screaming.

6. Work fast. Change speeds. Throw strikes. The great pitching coach, Bill Miller, always had this as his three-point strategy | pitching philosophy. Works with video too. Keep the thing moving (work fast), and never let it be any longer than it has to be (see point #4). Keep the rhythm going, but don’t be slavish to it. Surprise my eyes with an “out of place” shot, a repetition, a pause, an old-fashioned freeze dissolve (if you remember what that is), an anticipation (go to the next scene visually before you go there audibly), a suspension (go to the next scene audibly before you go there visually), a rhythm break (eg: three quick scenes in a row…boom, boom, boom). And, always keep the overall momentum of the video moving toward the logical ending (throw strikes).

There’s more. But I’ll save that for another day. Meanwhile, go listen to some cool music and imagine what video would look like next to it.

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