What Video Films Are Good At. And When Videos Are the Wrong Medium

The right tool for every problem?

Watching movies and consuming TV does not automatically make you a video and filmmaker and know what video is good at. Videos are easy to watch. In this apparent simplicity lie the difficulties.

Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses. This statement is far less interesting than what it means for videos. What can video films achieve? And where is it better to do without video production?

You need to know

  • The secret of video’s success lies in the movement of the image.
  • Movements trigger attention, but also require perception time. This is because our brain subconsciously perceives the moving image as reality.
  • The power of video lies not only in the movement, but also in the immersion (the possibility to dive into the world of images). That’s why video films with a story create a higher impact than those that do without storytelling.

It is always the human being

If you want to understand why videos can do what they can, there’s a simple way to do it yourself. This requires a hotplate and your own hand (if you are right-handed, please use your left hand for the experiment).

The test goes like this:

Set the stove top to maximum temperature, close your eyes, relax and count to 100, then place your hand on the hot stove top. What will most likely happen: Your hand will instantly snap back in a split second. Why? Because the human brain is programmed that way.

Our grey cells nicely still make sure, even in the digital age, that we can still hunt our meals ourselves in the tundra tomorrow. For this hunt, man needs not only the hand, but also, of course, the ability to recognize movement. After all, a piece of tree bark for breakfast is far less fun than a nice slice of ham. (Unfortunately, predators see it that way too!).

Movement is the key

Responding to movement is as vital to human survival as the ability to make decisions. The moving image benefits from this. A slight movement is all it takes to get our attention. But once we look, that’s when it really starts: we can’t help but try to fit what we see into our universe. This classification is demanding.

First of all, at this moment we are still dangerously close to Neanderthal, the question arises as to who we are dealing with.

Boyfriend? Enemy? Is the counterpart a potential multiplier for the successful transmission of one’s own genes? Why do the majority of humanity stammer when they suddenly encounter an attractive specimen of their own species? Not out of stupidity or embarrassment, but because exactly these basic processes from prehistoric times first want to be processed in our cortex (forebrain).

This first blocks our ability to think rationally for a few seconds.

What video can do…

Translated to film, this means that identification figures must be carefully established. There are perceptual-psychological rules for this. You have to know them.

If these rules are disregarded, dramaturgy and effect are lost.

Film is not a photograph. But, to borrow a quote from the fabulous Jean-Luc Goddard, the truth divided into 25 frames per second.

Not only photographers who want to become filmmakers despair of this, but also viewers: those who don’t get a chance to engage with this truth because of a lack of basic knowledge will abandon the cinematic forced gratification in frustration.

What movies can do:

  • tell an exciting story
  • produce emotions
  • impart information
  • Present complex issues clearly
  • create context
  • Show life facts and products from new perspectives

Video content can only ever work for the viewer if there is a plan behind it.

The plan is to know what video can do. It is the expertise, the tools of the filmmaker’s trade.

Sensibly, this knowledge also includes awareness of the problem of effect equivalence. This comprises four levels:

  1. Describing a film in words is one thing. Translating these words into moving images, the other. Every video starts in a clever mind with an idea.
  2. This idea needs to be written down in the next steps for a variety of reasons.
  3. Once these words have been released, usually in the form of a script or concept, the written language must be translated into moving images by the filmmaker.
  4. Once the video has been produced, it must be understood by the viewer in order to make sense of it, i.e. decoded again.

The aim of effect equivalence is to ensure that statements do not lose their communicative power despite being translated into a different form and language world.

It’s always about impact.

Video films have a purpose. They convey a well thought-out, predefined mix of emotions and information in order to fulfil a specific purpose. Not anymore. No less.

For some years now, more and more film agencies and production houses have been happy to share the necessary expertise with their clients. Despite the increasing learning curves of the clients, they do not lose any customers. Simply because customers, being both nice and smart people, quickly learn that successful videography requires not only sound know-how, but also experience and talent.

Competence can be benchmarked like experience. Talent doesn’t. Of course, even outstanding talent has a market price. But, and here we come full circle, only a balance of these three elements that is appropriate to the task at hand can guarantee full impact equivalence. It’s not without reason that among old hands in the film business: if there’s not enough budget to make a video, the best possible alternative you can propose to the client as a producer is not to make a film.

… and when video film is the wrong medium.

Surprisingly, many videotapes not only solve those problems that you would not have without them. The diffuse belief persists that films can be used as a magic bullet to achieve goals that have not been defined in advance, or have only been partially defined.

If you have an experienced film agency as your counterpart in this case, you have a good chance of getting a differentiated list of questions returned in response to a briefing that is too open. Conversely, the production partner, who defines himself only as a film craftsman, will accept the order enthusiastically, but will assure the client at the latest at the film approval that the work thus created is the best possible result on the basis of the briefing received.

A little mind game:

You hurt your knee playing sports. The pain is annoying and they want to get rid of it. Coincidentally, you meet a nice person who taught himself to use arthroscopy to operate on a knee. Thrilled by this nice person’s enthusiasm for your serious knee problem, and impressed by all kinds of impressive technical terms and stories this person throws around your ears, you make an appointment for the surgery.


Of course, you’d never do that to yourself or your knee. After all, except for Christian Morgenstern, a knee never goes around the world alone, but is integrated into a complex universe of mutually dependent functionalities. Imagine what would happen to her walking ability if the self-appointed knee specialist failed to realize during surgery that the causative problem was not the meniscus, but a tear in the kneecap. Storytelling is no different.

What is a good story for a video film?

Deciding what is a good storyline for us in Europe and what we consider to be a working story goes back to the heart of European cultural history and, since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, has also been seasoned with a strong pinch of politics.

Those who have no idea of the story behind the story do not play virtuously with rules and the viewer’s perception, but with chance.

What movies can’t do:

  • Replace Excel spreadsheets
  • Address every conceivable audience simultaneously
  • Being without narrative perspective and attitude
  • Make up for a lack of distribution strategy (for the completed video).
  • Creating fascination where there is no reason for fascination
  • Ignoring the viewer

As a precision surgeon of moving image communication, one then feels close to the great Harald Schmidt, who most mischievously stated: Because smart people have noticed that there are more stupid viewers than smart viewers, there are more stupid people involved in the production of moving image content than smart people.

Sounds good, but it’s still wrong.

Communication with moving images is always about achieving maximum impact with a minimum of risk, rather than randomly. The Neanderthal man could not understand this and died out. Videographers who won’t accept that end up as anemic zombies on YouTube.

In summary

Films are there to effectively solve communication problems. They do not solve problems that have to be solved in advance on the side of the client! Nor are there any problems that the filmmaker encounters in the production process because he doesn’t know how to guide his client or channel the power of video.

If you want to produce a video, you only have to decide one question for yourself: Should the video consist of filming a fact? Or do its impact goals go beyond that?

Pointing a camera at it, posting video online and seeing what happens next works perfectly as a selfie.

For everything else, you need a competence partner. If you take this advice to heart and bear in mind that good video films do not just happen by chance to involve a fair amount of skill, talent and experience on the part of the filmmaker, then you can safely refrain from trying out the power of the moving image on a glowing hotplate.

A good film will move its audience. It can change and shape people, markets and products.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Kristian Widmer
About Kristian Widmer 21 Articles
Kristian Widmer ist Mitglied der Schweizer Filmakademie. Der promovierte Jurist und Inhaber eines MBA der Universität St. Gallen HSG war langjähriger CEO der 1947 gegründeten und mit einem Academy Award™ ausgezeichneten Condor Films AG.

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