Directing, shooting and editing projects for the web vs. the big screen

Reader’s question:

Thanks for your email and invitation to pose questions.

From a technical standpoint, how does web-based format influence camerawork, editing, etc.?  Does the shorter length of a web-based episode influence technique?

My answer:

Great question!  In my experience directing for the web does not necessarily call for changes to be made to one’s directing, camerawork or editing styles.  It is generally true that if the video works well on a certain screen, it will work just as well on a smaller screen.  Obviously watching it on a smaller screen is less enjoyable, but this does not generally have stylistic implications other than those mandated by the video’s purpose.

That said, there is one caveat worth mentioning: if the video will be watched on the web, do make sure that you use a few tight close-ups, as it can be very frustrating to watch a small video in which we never get a decent close-up of the subjects.  The reverse is also potentially dangerous: it is incredibly oppressive to watch a video with too many close-ups.  It’s important to back off and let the audience breathe, regardless of the screen size. The judicious use of tight and wide shots is one of the keys to compelling filmmaking.

With regard to pacing, make sure that you grab the viewers’ attention immediately, from the very first frame, or they will simply move on to their next online errand. Additionally, make sure the video loads quickly, for the same reason. This is not as much of a problem as it used to be, but you still lose viewers for every extra second that the video takes to start playing.

I would caution that the real danger lies in the reverse process: editing a project using a computer screen and then showing it to people on a large screen.  You see, during the actual shoot, you never see the shots on anything bigger than the production monitor you use to review the takes.  You then go to your editing suite and you spend all the time editing and watching your project on a small screen.  The result is that you view the project on a small screen all the time, and calibrate your editing style to that format, whether you realize it or not. This is when things can go wrong if the project’s ultimate purpose is to be shown on a large screen, because the pacing and quality of the edit might feel very different once you watch it on the big screen.  Specifically, if you only ever watch the project on a tiny screen while you assemble it, the edit might feel too fast and rough when watched on a big screen.

In short, if a project works on a big screen it will also work on a smaller screen, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

The solution to this is to watch the video on a large screen on a regular basis during the edit, to make sure that it actually works on the big screen.

I hope this helps — good luck with your project!

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