Your pace or mine?
Just because a video needs to cover a lot of ground doesn’t mean it has to be frenetically paced. What drives the pace of a video should be the unfolding story.
Most website videos (especially explainers) tend to be short – and usually have a fair bit to say. It might seem to follow then, that a general rule is that explainers need to have a quick pace in order to cover all of the key points.
That’s not really the case.
Let’s think about what ‘pace’ is in a video. Pace is the momentum with which you pull the viewer through the story.
There are several mechanisms which affect the perceived pace of the video. Cuts between different shots is one: on a simplistic level, adding more cuts delivers a quicker pace.
The content of the shot is another: for example, you could shoot someone driving a car, showing gentle turns of the steering wheel to deliver a slow place – or show a close-up of the wheel as the tyre burns rubber at a tight bend to deliver a quick place. Same subject, different creative decision.
Music is another: a video can be given a radically different feel by just changing the music alone.
The voiceover (if one is present) is another: not just the speed at which the script is read, but also the way it’s read and the way it’s written (everything from the writer’s choice of words to the way it drives – or perhaps ambles – towards a conclusion).
In fact, audio has a great deal of bearing on the perceived pace of a video – and I personally tend to build the visuals around the audio. Part of this is practical (video is more effective when cuts, movement and changes are timed to the soundtrack) but actually most of it is ‘emotional’ – because managing the pace of a video is very much about how the video feels.
The emotional aspect of filmmaking isn’t just important, it’s essential. Pace in a video is something that people feel, rather than measure. You could create an arbitrary rule to add a cut every five seconds, or three seconds, but that alone wouldn’t necessarily deliver the right pace, or even a quicker pace; indeed, if rapid cuts don’t fit in with the story, they can be very jarring or even downright disturbing.
What should really drive the pace is how you want the story to unfold. This starts before the script, when working with the client – discussing the project’s goals. For explainer videos, it’s about understanding many things: the business itself, the needs of the customers of that business, the value to those customers of the video’s subject matter – and so on. Quick isn’t always better. A video for a hospice will likely need to reassure, to be evenly paced or perhaps gentle – whereas a new software product is more likely to need greater momentum, with key points almost covered as punches.
Pace doesn’t have to be consistent. It can be sped up towards the end, for example – many documentaries do this as a signal to the viewer that the conclusion is coming, by adding more cuts, speeding the music, and perhaps using the script or interviews to reinforce points previously made.
Again, any decision to ratchet the pace up or down should be driven by the story itself. Video/film is an interesting medium – it’s passive (in that the viewer doesn’t have to turn the page in the way a reader does) but we get them to participate in the story by using pace as a means of engagement.