Online Video Versus Traditional Moving Pictures

Most people recognize on some level that online video is different than the two traditional forms of moving pictures: television and the silver screen.  They identify that a computer screen is different than a television screen or movie screen in terms of size and context, but they don't necessarily realize that when watching online video the expectations and needs of the viewer, as well as the way the viewer behaves is vastly different than what one encounters with the other two formats, and thus, when creating online video the approach must also be different.  

If you spend some time with your ear pressed to the digital filmmaking wall, you'll hear about people who make a web series and then turn it into a film with the hopes of gaining more "legitimate" exposure.  This is a classic mistake.  To my mind, it's like transcribing an interview and then calling it a book.  

Your form of distribution must be taken into consideration when crafting your moving picture.  So if your plan is to have your video flashing around on a massive screen then the way you plan your shots and tell your story is going to be different than if you are going to have your video distributed online where you know people will be mostly watching it on a tiny player.  

With online video of any kind you need to recognize three main things:

1.  Your viewer can and will click away at any moment, most especially in the early moments of viewing.  They have nothing invested and thus nothing to lose.  (Every time I see five seconds of black screen with white credits hanging out at the front of an online video, I wonder what the editor/director was thinking, and then I click away.)

2.  When dealing with a tiny media player such as what you get with YouTube, Vimeo and Wistia, you must deal predominantly in extreme close ups, close ups, and medium shots, and you can pretty much toss out anything you ever learned about establishing shots and wide shots.  Translation:  Focus on shooting people from the waist up and closer.  And don't plan on showing any sweeping vistas.  They won't look so sweeping on someone's iPhone or laptop.  

3.  Grab people with dialogue right away.  It's really common these days for people to be uploading or surfing on multiple tabs.  They'll start a video on one tab and then immediately click away to another tab.  By diving right into dialogue you've grabbed your viewer by the ears.  It's harder to avoid sound then it is to avoid a visual.  Ever noticed that scary movies aren't so scary with no sound?  Or that annoying sounds are hard to sleep through.  That's because sound has greater power to tug on one's emotions than a mere visual (no matter how arresting the visual is).  

There might be cases where because of the way your online video distribution works, you don't need to worry so much about these things.  But they will be the exceptions not the rules.

-Colette Nichol, Vancouver