Media Production

The 3 Secrets of More Effective Short Films

Recently, Technologies for Worship magazine asked me the question:  If you could share with our readers your advice on making better quality short films, what would you tell them?”  Trust me, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because in some ways, the future of our company, Cooke Media Group, rests in the answer.  And after considerable thinking, here’s the most important things I’d tell you:

1.  Learn the art of storytelling.  We hear the word “story” so much these days, it’s becoming trite, but the truth is, it’s the heart of a great film, TV, or video project.  It’s most evident when I receive films and programming sent to me from church media producers around the country.  The graphics are great, the music is cool, and the editing is clean.  But over and over, I find they don’t know how to tell stories.  No matter how short the video, make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end.  Take the audience on a journey and make them glad they went on the trip.

2.  Understand a “call to action.”  Your job as a video director isn’t to impress the audience with your creativity, it’s to compel them toward an action.  Perhaps it’s buying the pastor’s new teaching series, coming to an event, or promoting some outreach of the church.  Maybe it’s simply illustrating a scripture.  Whatever the point, it’s not enough just to tell the story, you also need to call the audience to action.  Be creative, but don’t be afraid to be direct, and always be clear.  Audiences won’t understand your intention unless you tell them.

3.  Finally, move me.  If you’re sharing information, use a printed piece or a website.  Video is about emotion, so don’t load it down with text or numbers, make it a powerful emotional experience.  If it’s a product driven video, then create a sense of urgency.  If it’s sharing an update on your homeless ministry, make the audience feel their struggle.  Whatever the purpose, don’t just tell me, make me feel it.

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  1. Great advice and a great reminder. It so easy to get lost in the i middle of a project and make it complicated or too wordy. I just read the DV Rebel by Stu Manchowitz and when he storyboards he asks of each frame, “what is he/she feeling.” Emotion and simplicity are key.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Good stuff, Phil, One extra suggestion: Watch other people’s work. Doing so will help keep you fresh and from getting stuck in a rut. Yes, be original, but expand your tent poles by viewing great clips from film fests and websites. I watch 2-3 new short films most everyday on Vimeo. Animation, narrative fiction, sci-fi, docs. There is some AMAZING talent out there. It’s like a painter walking through a gallery to appreciate what other artists are creating.

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