In the early stages of pre-production, the question of video length comes up, and often, our clients want a video that is much longer than what is necessary. It’s understandable, and one of our jobs is to help educate clients on the best way to get their stories and messages across.
We often say a version of this statement, “If we have repetitive scenes in which nothing genuinely new is communicated nor layered on what came before it, then you’ll lose the audience, and your video’s impact will be weakened.”
It’s not always easy to know how long a finished video will be, especially in unscripted interview-based videos. Experience is a guide in this, and thankfully there is one goal that illuminates when we’ve reached the end.
Satisfy the audience, but leave them wanting more.
What do I mean? Depending on the distribution, the video will come with certain audience expectations. If you do your video right, it will satisfy the audience's expectations. They will get what they came for.
But, overindulge in a lengthier video, and an opposite effect occurs. Instead of becoming more satisfying, the longer it goes past the end, the audience’s engagement morphs quickly into boredom.
Just enough, but not too much.
That sounds great in theory, but how do we do this practically and know your video is the precise length it needs to be?
There are two missions we have in the edit, and they are:
Isolate the message.
Cut extraneous material.
Let’s say we’ve filmed a promo video about a new service your company offers. Instead of writing a script with a clear beginning and end, we go more documentary style with interviews and footage of your service and plan for us to craft the message in the edit. We shoot for a day or two and have a couple of hours of interview material that we hone into 3 minutes.
The following week I’m sitting in the edit listening to your interviews. I start pulling out the good sound bites and end up with 10-15 minutes of solid material. From there, I order the video to hit the messaging target. What’s left is a well-structured 6-8 minute video of solid content.
So why not call it a day?
In our experience (and your own if you think about the length of marketing videos you watch), 6-8 minutes is almost always too long. Most people will turn it off unless a compelling narrative is attached to the video.
It’s here that the essential message has to be isolated. I ask every line to say something compelling and directly support the essential message. You, as the brand, and we, as the brand storytellers, need to know the message. If you cannot fit it into one written sentence, then the communication is confused, or there’s too much going on in your video.
Isolating the message will get us closer to the perfect length, but not all the way there.
The next step is to cut extraneous material. In writing, we call it:
“killing your darlings.”
Often, I’ll come across two sound bites that sound great. They support the video's message, and on first listen, they even sound different from each other. But as I edit the video, I can tell something is wrong. It still drags. That’s when I look at each sound bite and ask,
“What is this line saying exactly?” If two lines are saying the same thing, one of them has to go.
It’s challenging to cut extraneous lines because, on their own, they sound fantastic. But it's extraneous if it doesn’t add something new and build on the line prior.
Sometimes our clients think that if the video is longer, it’ll cost more, and if it’s shorter, it’ll cost less. This makes sense, and sometimes that’s the case. However, the shorter video is more expensive in the above scenario because it requires more time to hone the story into its leanest and most engaging form.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote a long letter in which he apologized, saying,
“I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.”
What is the first goal of all marketing videos? To be watched. It’s worth investing the money and time in post-production to make your content the perfect length.